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As we discussed in Part One of this series, a lot of us didn’t receive great sexual health education when we were in high school. And even if you did, you might have totally different concerns now than you did when you were that age. Sexuality is a lifelong process—it’s something you can always learn more about. So whether you want to supplement a pretty decent education or make up for an awful one, read on for some ways you can take charge and give yourself the sex ed you deserve.

Learn the basics. SexualityandU, run by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, gives a good overview of different birth control and STI prevention options, and has a cool app that helps you figure out what to do if you forget to take your birth control pill. CATIE has an awesome pamphlet on safer sex for queer women, and TheSexYouWant, created by the AIDS Committee of Toronto, is a great safer sex resource for queer men. Want to brush up on what enthusiastic consent means and how to talk about your sexual preferences with a partner? Look no further than this amazing comic. And Scarleteen has great info on pretty much everything, from gender identity to masturbation to kink to polyamory.

Explore your desires. Masturbating, fantasizing, discussing your fantasies with others, and reading or watching porn can be great ways to explore what turns you on physically and mentally in a low-pressure way. Note, though, that while there’s some really awesome porn out there, there’s also a lot of stuff that’s problematic in its depiction of sexual consent and gender roles, so if you can afford to, consider actually paying(!) for videos or a membership from sites that you know abide by a code of ethics similar to your own. Always wanted to try some particular sexual thing? Talk about it with your sexual partner(s) and see if they’d be down. Not really sure what you’re into? Scarleteen has a great “Yes/No/Maybe” checklist to help you articulate what you like, don’t like, and might want to try. Not really sure if you’re into any of this at all? You might want to check out the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

Learn some more. Obviously these links should just be jumping-off points. There are books, websites, and real live people out there that can help you learn about pretty much any sex-related topic. Figure out what you want to learn about, and empower yourself to do so.

Get involved. Think sex education is important? Want to do something to make sure young people have access to info you may not have been given? Head and Hands and the Outreach branch of SACOMSS both run workshops in high schools on sex-related topics. You could also get involved with the Shag Shop, the 2110 Centre, the Union for Gender Empowerment, or any of the many other McGill and Montreal based organizations that educate people on these topics. And start a conversation! Share your new-found knowledge with your friends, and if you have a young person in your life, consider letting them know you’re available to talk, and answer their questions honestly.

And have fun 🙂

For most of us, sexuality is something we thought about a lot as teenagers—whether we were deciding whether or not to have sex for the first time, questioning our sexual orientation or gender identity or the things that turned us on, dealing with peer or cultural pressures to act a certain way sexually, or wondering what all the fuss was about. If we were lucky, we weren’t left alone to untangle the confusing web of desires, identities and experiences that make up our sexual selves. Maybe we had friends or family who were knowledgeable and willing to talk about sexuality with us. Maybe we had access to books or websites or phone lines that provided us with accurate and non-judgemental info. And maybe—just maybe—we had decent high school sex ed.

The sex education I got in high school—for a two-week block of my physical education class in Grade 9—was far from perfect. Some of the information we were given was outdated, like the advice to use spermicide, which is no longer as highly recommended as they used to be. Our discussion of consent mostly focused on how to say no to sex—as if none of us would want to say yes. We never talked about the existence of queer or trans* individuals, and I remember the teacher getting flustered when I asked about dental dams.

But I was actually pretty lucky. That class taught me how to put a condom on a banana (the teacher searched several different stores to find non-lubricated condoms, so we wouldn’t be grossed out from getting lube all over our hands). I learned where the nearest abortion clinic was, and where I could buy the emergency contraceptive pill. The teacher talked about what an orgasm was and assured us that it was OK to masturbate, and she did answer my question about dams in the end.

It’s no wonder the information I received in my sex ed class was a bit outdated. The sexual education curriculum in Ontario, where I went to high school, hasn’t been updated since the 1990’s. An updated curriculum, written in 2010, hasn’t been implemented because a small but vocal group of parents object to the inclusion of topics like gay and lesbian parents in a Grade 3 class on diverse families, and an acknowledgement that masturbation can be a healthy way to explore your sexuality in a Grade 6 class on puberty.

But at least I didn’t go to a school that taught abstinence-only sex ed. The fact that my teacher was even allowed to talk about subjects like contraception and abortion means my sex ed class was more comprehensive than the sex ed in most classrooms in the United States. Since 1996, 1.5 billion dollars have been given to school boards by the US government for abstinence-only sex education. Much of this funding is provided on the condition that schools do not discuss contraception or sexual activity outside marriage in a positive way. These programs have not been shown to decrease sexual activity, but they have been shown to lower the likelihood of teens using barriers/contraceptives when they do engage in sexual activity.

Actually, I was very lucky to receive formal sex ed at all. Since 2005, Quebec has not mandated any dedicated sex ed unit, expecting discussions of sexuality to be integrated into other classes. Not surprisingly, this means that the extent to which sex is discussed, and the topics that are covered, vary widely across the province. Some organizations, like Head and Hands in NDG, and SACOMSS (that’s us!), run workshops on sexual health topics in high schools to try to pick up some of the slack, but how many students these programs reach is dependent on how many schools are willing to let these organizations come in and speak to their students.

Personally, I think that young people have the right to accurate, comprehensive, and non-judgemental sexual health information, and while schools aren’t the only place they can get that information, they’re a pretty crucial one. Most high school aged folks are in school, and schools are places where—ideally—we should be provided with information on topics that are relevant to our lives, as well as assisted in developing critical thinking skills to decide how we feel and what we believe about this information. It’s a pretty big deal that schools aren’t doing that with sex ed.

So what to do? Check out part two of this series, on how to take your sexual education into your own hands (no pun intended) and empower other people to do so.

According to the US Justice Department, Native American women face rates of rape more than double that of the national average, but as the New York Times reports, they receive very little protection from rape or sexual assault. Particularly vulnerable are Native women in rural Alaska; in a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural Alaskan communities is 12 times that of the national average. Despite these high rates, Indian Health Services hospitals lack resources to aid survivors of sexual assault, such as proper training and sexual assault kits. Native American women also have limited access to birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill.

In the face of these issues, Congress is struggling to implement protective measures against rape and sexual violence in Native communities. The US Senate passed a new version of the  Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that would allow tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. The House, however, removed this authority in the version of the bill they passed. Both House Republicans and Senate Republicans fear the power it would give to tribal courts, despite the fact that 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men.

The Emmonak Women’s Shelter has offered protection for many years to Native women who have been abused or raped, but will likely face closure.  Due to the frequency of assault and rarity of prosecution, this shelter is often the only option Native American women in the surrounding Alaskan villages have, however in 2005 Alaska chose to cut off funding to the shelter.

Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, says rape has become the norm.

“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped. That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”

When it comes to fighting the frighteningly high levels of rape, Native American women are left behind by the tribal, federal, and state level. With insufficient funding and resources to combat sexual violence, it seems likely their rates will continue to soar above the national averages.

For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice [NY Times]

As reported by the Huffington Post, Argentina has advanced rights for freedom of gender identity in significant ways. Yesterday, the senate approved a gender rights law which mandates that private and public health care cover a sex-change surgery or hormone therapy, and will also allow people to specify how their gender is listed in the civil survey, regardless of physical characteristics. The senate unanimously passed the law; President Cristina Fernandez is in support of the law and will likely sign it. As Sen. Miguel Pichetto said during the debate, “This is truly a human right: the right to happiness.” Sen. Osvaldo Lopez, the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina, said, “This law is going to enable many of us to have light, to come out of the darkness, to appear.”

According to Katrina Karkazis, author of “Fixing Sex,” this type of law is “unheard of” because it does not ask people to change their body in order to change their gender. Sex change procedures can be painful and irreversible and this law allows people to legally assume their preferred gender identity without such drastic measures. If they do choose to proceed with either surgery or hormone therapy, however, both options will fall under their “Obligatory Medical Plan,” which means neither private nor public health care providers can charge extra for them.

Two years ago Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Its policymakers see this law as a natural progression to ensuring basic rights for all its citizens. According to Argentine paper Los Andes, this law will further the rights and increase the visibility of trans people in Argentina, many of whom work in prostitution and do not have secondary education. By instituting a that law will allow people autonomy over their own bodies and identities without the approval of doctors or judges, Argentina is setting itself at the forefront of gender rights.

Argentina Approves Transgender Rights Legislation, Makes Sex-Change Surgery A Legal Right [Huffington Post]

El Senado aprobĂł por unanimidad la Ley la Identidad de GĂ©nero [Los Andes]

On May 6, Nobel Peace Laureates and advocacy organizations around the world made a pledge to campaign for the end of rape and gender based violence in times of conflict. As outlined on the organization’s website, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict is dedicated to providing voices to survivors and compelling political leaders to taking preventative measures against rape and gender violence. Rape is often deliberately used as a tactic of terror, and too often as well are survivors stigmatized and left with the burden of shame in addition to physical trauma. The Campaign also states that current commitments to end rape and gender violence are inadequate or unenforced.

The Campaign website includes news updates, resources, information about rape as a weapon, and more. If you are interested in getting involved, their site offers ways to volunteer, use social media or offer donations to further the cause. You can also take a pledge as outlined on the home page.

Rape is not always an act of violence between two individuals, but oftentimes implicated on a much larger scale, as part of a much larger agenda. Gender violence can include and is not limited to, rape, sterilization, and sexual slavery. These kinds of tactics can be used to destroy communities by both state security and arme forces, even after peace has been established. For all the above reasons and more, this campaign is crucial to advocating for human rights that have been heretofore under or little addressed.

The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

Diff’rent Strokes star Todd Bridges went on CNN to speak out on the sexual abuse he faced while working as a child actor, a problem that is rife within the entertainment industry. As reported by The Root, Bridges and child actor Cory Feldman are making a public case for California legislation to offer protection to children working in entertainment from sexual predators.

Bridges demonstrates a huge amount of bravery in speaking about the molestation he faced at the hands of his publicist at the of 11. As a result of the abuse, Bridges says he felt ashamed, degraded confused about his sexuality. Even after revealing the abuse to his parents, Bridges was stalked by his abuser. Though his mother supported him, Bridges says his father did not believe his allegations.

With legislation that would require background checks on people working with child actors, such as publicists and managers, Bridges hopes to protect any child working on showbusiness from facing what he did. The desire of many parents to put their children into entertainment enables people in positions of influence to abuse their power and cause potentially long-lasting harm to children. The lack of protection for child actors makes showbusiness “an open field to child molesters,” in Bridges’ words.

Todd Bridges: Protect Child Actors From Sex Abuse [The Root]

Since 2010 Sweden has been able to call itself the most gender-equal country in the world, but some are lobbying for another step forward. According to Slate Swedish activists are now pushing for not just gender-equality, but gender-neutrality.

To achieve neutrality, gender-neutral advocates are lobbying for new policies, such as the recognition of all names as unisex, but the country has already taken some steps towards gender-neutrality. Some Swedish preschools do not allow teachers to address children by gendered categories such as “boys and girls” but rather by their names or gender-neutral terms like “buddies.” The image from the toy catalog above also presents its toys as unisex by swapping the traditional gender roles. The gender-neutral pronoun hen has recently been added to the country’s National Encyclopedia.

Not all have welcomed these changes though. Swedish columnist Elise Claeson has said that the move towards gender-neutrality would confuse children while their bodies are developing, and Swedish author Jan Guillou “referred to proponents of hen as ‘feminist activists who want to destroy our language.'” Some also find the Swedish school system’s restrictions on gender-coded behavior, such as banning traditionally boyish toy cars from schools, to be too extreme. Slate also criticizes the regulated language of schools to be simply replacing one set of rules with another equally restrictive set.

The comment section of the Slate article also shows a good deal of backlash. One commenter thought the move toward gender-neutrality when interacting with children “would create confusion which could very well lead to cross dressing, bisexuality and/or homosexuality.” Another commenter labeled Sweden a “a sick society” for proposing these changes.

It’s interesting that some of the detractors equate non-gender conforming behaviors, such as cross-dressing, with confusion. These reactions suggest that gender-normative behaviors are so entrenched in our thinking as “natural” or “normal” that acting outside of them is instantly perceived as wrong. A Finnish woman commented on this article to say that Finland already has a similar gender-neutral pronoun, hĂ€n. She now lives in the US and says, “As a Finnish woman I struggle with people’s opionion of me here in the states” due to some of the gendered stereotypes she has encountered.

The subtitle of the article, “A country tries to banish gender” seems misleading to me. The image above certainly shows an awareness of gendered objects and behaviors, and does not try to hide them, but instead presents them outside their traditional confines. The proposal of a neutral pronoun does not mean people cannot still use gendered forms of identification, but simply provides a way to identify people without assuming their gender. By offering children alternatives to the traditional gender roles, it allows them to make a more informed decision on which toys or activities best suit them, rather than determining these choices for them based simply on their sex at birth.

The effects of these new policies remains to be seen. Do you find them too restrictive or too radical? Or is Sweden providing a progressive model towards achieving widespread equality?

Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen [Slate]

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