Rape isn’t a Women’s Issue; it is a Hyper-Masculinity Issue

Recently I wrote in the RedEye about a North Dakota study that found 30% of young men would rape if they weren’t caught…and if you didn’t call it rape. It as a scary study but one that was not to surprising to me. We try to teach young people about consent in such a mechanical disconnected way I don’t see how anyone can actually relate it to their lives.

Here is a bit from my piece:

If we want to decrease sexual assault on college campuses, we need to work with our young men to help them unyoke masculinity and sex. Rape culture isn’t a woman’s issue—it is really a hypermasculinity issue.

Beyond teaching our young men that their gender identity is not tied to the amount of sex they can coerce, we also need to change how we teach kids about sex. The University of North Dakota study also found that men who intended to use force to get sex also tended to score high on sexual callousness, meaning they were detached during sex and saw sex as a depersonalized act instead of something intimate.

In a way it makes sense. We teach sex in a disconnected, dispassionate way. We talk about reproductive organs and put condoms on bananas. We create strict lines and boundaries on chalkboards that nowhere resemble what actual sex looks like.

We don’t teach our kids how to talk to their partner during sex, how to listen to their bodies or their partners’ bodies, how to ask for sex, how to say “slow down” during sex, how to stop in the middle of sex, how to start again. We don’t teach them about the maybes of sex, the negotiations, the connection or the intimacy. We teach sex as mechanical, a matter of logistics, not what it actually is—a highly emotional, complex act between two (or three or four) people.

We need to teach our young people that sex can be this fun, healthy, silly, sexy thing. It isn’t as big as we make it to be. It isn’t unspeakable. The more we break the silence about good sex, the easier it will be to stamp out the bad.


Writing about STIs

I’ve been meaning to write about STIs for a while now. As an insanely anxious and sexually active young person, STIs have always been fear #1 when it comes to sex. After I learned things like herpes and HPV can spread even with barriers, I freaked a little. I always had this fantasy that that magical little layer of latex, could give me all the pleasure of sex with none of the risk. Of course that wasn’t true, something I had to deal with when I got my first irregular PAP result. I was officially “adventurous women” zone.

Saying you should writing about STIs, knowing how much your story could help other is one thing; doing it of course is a whole other scary ball of vulnerability. When I pitched the idea to the RedEye, I was kind of banking on the idea that they would think the topic was too sensitive. Instead they said they loved it and wanted a draft in a week.

So there I was writing about my irregular pap, my freak-out, my lovely boyfriend and my sex life. When I was done writing it was almost 2,000 words which is 1,400 over the 600 word limit. Luckily my editor worked some magic. Of course I couldn’t capture it all but this is what I mainly wanted to say to young women: you have to be your own sexual health advocate in this world; you have to ask questions; you have to push for tests; and yes you are going to have to push through the inevitable shame that sex-negative doctors will unknowingly shove at you.

We are not living in a sex-positive world yet. And women are still not sexually equal to men. There are harmful stereotypes and soul-crushing negativity that will stomp out our sexual journeys, and possibly our health, if we don’t advocate for ourselves and our healthy sex lives.

The first step for me and for many young women is to talk about sex more vulnerability; talk about our fears, our STIs, our abortions, our pregnancy scares, our disastrous one-night stands, our mistakes; to talk about these things with self-love and compassion, knowing the only way forward is through.

My full unedited HPV story is below or you can check out the abbreviated version at the RedEye here. 

Like many middle-class white ladies in their twenties, before this summer what I knew about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), I knew from that one infamous HPV-freak-out episode of Girls. You know the one where Hannah freaks out about getting HPV and her ultra-bohemian friend eases her woes by telling her “all adventurous women do.” The episode is full of less-than-truths, lots of confusion, and a fair amount of anxiety, that left me assuming HPV was either synonymous with a regrettable ankle tattoo or something that would ultimately kill me. And yet I felt fairly comfortable with my limited, HBO-informed knowledge of this scary sounding STI, at least I did until my own pap results came back abnormal.

But before I get to that moment of instant irrational panic, let me tell the whole story. I’m a huge advocate for safe sex: I like to throw around condoms like they are magical stretchy bags of sex wonder; I get tested just about every time I’m in the doctor’s office because it’s easy and free; and despite my Girls-influenced misinformation about HPV, I tend to know my shit about STIs thanks to some well informed sex-positive friends. So when I started bleeding regularly after sex, I knew something was wrong.

After the usual battery of STI tests came back negative, my well-intentioned but clearly out-of-touch nurse practitioner suggested “taking a break from sex,” as if ignoring the problem is a solution. I cannot emphasize this enough, ladies: you have to be your own advocate. If you think something is wrong, you need to stand up for yourself in the doctor’s office even to sweet middle-age nurses who think you’re just exhausting your lady bits with too much fun sexy time. After persisting, I convinced my primary doctor to perform a pap, a test that checks for irregular and possibly cancerous cells on the cervix and is recommended for women every five years.  

The tests came back abnormal. I freaked a bit.

To be super clear here, I had a pap smear; I did not have an HPV test. The actual test for HPV is not recommended for women under 30. This is because most sexually-active will be exposed to HPV and most people’s bodies fight the virus effectively within two years. Occasionally certain strains of HPV will turn into genital warts or cancer. But for the majority of young women and men, HPV is something they will have and fight without ever knowing it. But many abnormal pap results indicate HPV.

A pap being abnormal meant some of the cells on my cervix were not quite right and further tests were needed, a punch biopsy of my cervix to be precise. Nobody likes the word biopsy but nobody with a cervix has any desire to have anything punch anywhere near their precious cervix. After talking to the rushed nurse, I scheduled the violent-sounding procedure, quickly hung up the phone and crumpled onto the floor.

I then proceeded to call every single lady I knew from my mom to my cousin to my best friend to tell them about my abnormal cervix. I was shocked by how many people had already been through the torture-biopsy. I made all of them describe the procedure in minute detail. I googled a lot. I called back my doctor and made them explain the procedure. By the third slightly tear-y call to the doctor, they also prescribed a Xanax to take before the procedure. I was a mess.

Luckily throughout my panic, I had a pretty incredible partner to be all logical and comforting, as I fell down the rabbit hole of webmd and HPV message boards. I would drink bourbon and tell him about the crazy things I read online and he would hold my hand and remind me that I was not HPVsurvivor49 and that I was going to be okay. Although there is no HPV test for men, having an honest conversation about STI risk can be an oddly bonding and intimate experience, especially when done over a bottle of Kentucky’s finest.

By the day of the biopsy, I was well-informed but still nervous as a natural hypochondriac would be. As I swallowed my Xanax and waited with my partner though, I will say I relaxed a bit. If Girls got anything right it is that all adventurous women do have this experience, not necessarily the punch-in-the-cervix experience, but the experience of walking into unknown, treacherous-appearing territory, with possibly-Xanaxed steady hearts.

The biopsy itself was similar to a pap smear with the traditional gown, stir ups and every one’s favorite speculum. The biopsy is a little pinch of skin from the cervix. Personally I didn’t feel the first two but as my cervix began to react to the tugs, the third hurt a bit and I was ready to be done by the fourth. After a glass of wine, a few Tylenol and some binge watching of Battlestar Galactica, I was almost embarrassed by how nervous I was. The next day I was up and kayaking, blissfully glad I had survived my little adventure

Then of course there was the waiting, waiting to find if the little irregular legions on my cervix were cancer. They weren’t.

They healed. Bleeding after sex stopped. I’m scheduled to have yearly paps until the results come back normal but for the most part, I survived not thanks to any of my own mis-information or fears but completely to the wonderfully supportive people I had in my life.

STIs are scary in large part because of the half-truths we learn from HBO shows, awkward health teachers and the internet. When we think of STIs we think of big scary photos of open herpes legions or people dying of AIDS. This fear leads to blame and shame. We think STIs are a consequence of silly sex mistakes, that only the slutty ones who deserve STIs are the ones impacted. Our fears and our shame keep us from talking to those around us, who are the ones in the end who will help us through this maze of sexual adventure.

What Does All This Glittery Celebrity Feminism Really Mean?

I’ve got to admit, that new Taylor Swift song “Shake It” is pretty damn catchy. And so is Ms. Swift’s new shiny feminism. But I’m afraid all that shaking and such, may have left some of the baby feminists a little confused about what feminism really is. So I wrote a little diddy in the RedEye about what it means to be a feminist in two easy steps.

Read all about it here.

“Feminism, at its nitty-gritty core, is a two-parter. First, feminism is the idea that men and women should be equal in the work force, at home, in society, on all of the levels. Most people except for some unsavory, trolly extremists can get behind this general notion. Please note that saying men and women should be equal is not saying they are the same; women don’t have to “act like” men or vice versa, and yes, the obvious biological differences still exist. It is saying women should not be treated as inferior in the eyes of governments, religions, societies or families. The second, more vital and often contentious part of feminism is the understanding that men and women currently are not treated equally. I think Part 2 is where a lot of young women and men balk against feminism because A) they don’t see the inequalities in their lives or B) they can’t or refuse to see the bias other women face because of their gender.”

Buying Condoms for the 1st Time

Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid (although not well) to write about these kinds of things! Recently I had my very first trip to the family planning aisle at CVS. The adventure was informative, overwhelming and in the end made me understand that we really don’t have very much understanding of our co-genders safe sex accessories.

Any tinge of excitement about purchasing my first condoms quickly dissolved to pure intimidation when I saw the sheer volume of options and ridiculous prices. Am I the only sad sack who didn’t know condoms, on average, are about $1 a pop?

I quickly passed over anything textured, because to be honest that stuff is a pointless gimmick. I vetoed the spermicide ones because those aren’t any more effective than normal condoms, plus they taste gross and can do some damage if you have sensitive lady parts. I glossed over the overpriced foreign condoms because, you know, America. That left me with a lovely purple box of lubricated Durex. Now all I had to decide is do I go for the normal 30 pack or spring for the value option.

Read more here 

What is a “normal” body?

The other day I was at Target and there was a crop top in the clearance aisle. At first I passed it up even though it was super cute because… well…. I’m not a size 2 and because I always feel like I “need” to be 10 pounds lighter. But then I remember Mindy Kaling talking about wearing a crop top because it was cute. So I grabbed the top, tried it on and it was actually pretty cute. Wearing it felt a bit revolutionary not to mention breezy. It’s all part of my re-thinking of what a “normal” body is and how to focus on being healthy and feeling sexy instead of always trying to lose another 10 pounds.

crop top

I wrote about our society’s lack of “normal” bodies in the media in the RedEye today. Check it out here or see a little snipet of it below


But usually in our culture of extremes we don’t hear from or see these women; swimsuit models jump from size zero to plus-size 16. Where’s the segment of size 8-ish women who go to the gym three times a week, do one of those intense spinning class once a month and like to eat pizza with their boyfriends? These women look normal, and they look good in bikinis too.

Last month, Mindy Kaling was on the Jimmy Kimmel show talking about what it means, at a size 8, to not represent the “traditional” standard of American beauty. “I, like, run and work out. It takes a lot of effort to look like a normal/chubby woman,” she said, to huge cheers from the audience.

I’m a pretty average, size-8 woman myself, and Mindy’s words drove home this idea that normal without reaching “perfection” can be healthy, sexy and pretty fantastic. I realized we don’t usually see normal women in the media; we don’t hear about their exercise routines or what they had for dinner. We don’t see them in their jobs and relationships, or just being successful in life.

I’m hoping for more examples of awesome, average women like Mindy Kaling and Robyn Lawley in the media. But while you’re waiting, go for a run — not to burn off the pizza from last night, but because it feels good. Throw out those ridiculous beauty magazines, because you already know that the Kardashian family is a hot mess. And for the love of God, wear whatever bikini you want. Every body is a bikini body.
Read more at http://www.redeyechicago.com/news/redeye-miss-indiana-opinion-20140617,0,6032855.column#HOJDwsA1JdSiQuCV.99

Growing Pains: Being a Transgender Ally

I’ve been working on a new study that deals with transgender identity and it’s made me realize: I’m not that great of an ally. For years I’ve been trained how to be a gay ally (along with lesbian and bi) but the T in the LGBT was often just disregarded. I’m realizing how bogus that is now and how much I need to work to confront my own privilege and become a true ally. Here’s a bit from my piece about my experience in the Daily Dot:

But what I really need is to spend more time listening and less time probing for information. Of course, I still have questions, many of which are born from privilege, but my questions do not take priority over the trans community telling their story authentically and in their own words. By focusing on the privileged interrogation of the cisgender community, we frame the story of the trans community—we say what is important, what we will listen to and what we won’t.

But if we want to be true allies, we need to stop trying to satisfy our curiosity and start learning what solidarity really means.

Read the whole of it here.

….And here is the comment that made writing this piece so worth it…..

best response ever

It bogus that we can all see pictures of Kate’s butt

From a piece I wrote for the Daily Dot….

“But perhaps more interesting than the “appropriateness” of Kate’s lack of underwear or the “civility” of the Germans for posting the pictures, let’s talk about why on God’s great booty-filled earth, a tabloid would ever print an accidental bare bottom shot of anyone who was not willing posing for a nudie photo and consenting for its publication. (We will ignore for the time being the fact that the amateur photographer has vowed to donate the money she received to charity in order to clear her own fucked-up conscience.)

The tabloid printed the picture, because like many residents of our global village, it believes the world has a right to see a woman’s body. This was the same logic used with the infamous bad girls of Hollywood crotch shots. (See: Britney SpearsParis Hilton, et al.) American tabloids have gone to extreme lengths to snap a pic of other celebs pantied or un-pantied crotches usually when these ladies are attempting to exit a car in heels.

The rule seems to be if you can angle your camera the right way, any part of a woman’s body is open to shoot and print; any part of a woman’s body can be sexualized, de-humanized then, of course, critiqued.

Because posting a picture of a woman’s private body is not enough—as a society we then feel we have the right to judge and comment on that body: it is too thin, too thick, too hairless, too hairy, too covered, too bare, too muscular, too flabby. Commenters seem to separate the photographed body from the actual human to which being it belongs. They forget that Kate Middleton’s butt actually belongs to, well, Kate Middleton, a human being who is more than her fabulous flowy dresses and toned ass.”

Read the full column here.