Teaching Consent

Consent is this empowering, sexy, terrific thing. Your body is yours. It does not belong to your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your dad, your mom, your preacher, your religion, your government. Your permission must not be assumed, implied, or revoked. That body is yours, lady! And it is awesome.

Consent is the linchpin of the life I want for my daughter.

I have been particularly haunted lately with a handful of memories that make me want to go back and give myself a big hug (and spit in a few faces). I had comprehensive sexual education. I knew that no was supposed to mean no, and sadly, that no means yes is a punchline. What I didn’t learn was a good working definition of consent, and how to wield it: Not just how to say no, but how to say yes, and how to insist your own body is treated with the respect it deserves — by others, and also yourself.

There are many negative consequences stemming from the fear of youth sexuality,  as well as the fear of female sexuality. One thing that happens is not teaching our girls about sexuality in a realistic way. Sexuality is more often taught to girls as something to be guarded against as sinful (it’s not) or a source of contagion (an unhelpful frame). As a culture we don’t even teach our girls to accept themselves, much less their bodies, and we certainly don’t teach our girls to accept how their bodies might care to be or not be sexual. Instead we need to give our girls a meaningful understanding of how sexuality is something to be accepted on your own terms.

These days my daughter is young, just over a year old. When I think about trying to do a better job teaching her consent than life taught me, I think about honoring her wishes not to be held or touched by other people when she makes it clear she doesn’t want that, and I think about responding to her nods “yes” and shakes “no” as much as practical.

What have you done to help teach the young girls you know the concept of consent? Respond in the comments.

Video: January 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed the Vatican sex abuse hearing at the United Nations and the FDA’s rejection of a drug some call “the female Viagra.” You can watch a video of the show here or here:

VIDEO: September 2013 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary. We discussed the Pope’s latest comments on abortion, birth control and sexual orientation; the United Nations Millennium Development Goals; and a new film about a Saudi girl who wants to ride a bicycle. You can check out the video here:

My Morning With The Morning After Pill

You can be a good person, you can be responsible and you can still find yourself, without warning, in an uncomfortable and stigmatized situation.

One night after having sex with someone I was dating, I saw the condom broke. Not like a little. Totally shredded. This scared the hell out of me but I played it cool.

“Are you okay,” he asked. I brushed it off.

“I’m fine,” I lied. “Don’t worry about this.”

Sometimes in a moment of crisis the safest thing to do is not let others know you see it as a moment of crisis. This was one of those moments.

As he slept through the night, I kept my body motionless, bored my eyes into the dark ceiling that seemed ready to suffocate me and FREAKED OUT. “I can’t believe this just happened to me. How could this happen to me? How could I let this happen to me?” The whole gamut of denial and fear and shame.

A calmer synopsis:

At the time I did not want to become a parent, and my life circumstances wouldn’t have made it possible for me to be the kind of parent I want to be today. We, in the context of that relationship, were not suited to be parents together. It wasn’t a bad relationship. It was a decent relationship. But it did not include a shared desire to build a family together. We didn’t even discuss those issues. Some people are scandalized by those who have sex with no intention of getting married and having children, but I didn’t and don’t think there’s anything wrong with adults in their twenties, which we were, who have consensual sex. It’s normal.

This happened at a time when if you needed emergency contraception fast, which I did, your options were to call your doctor, try an emergency room or go to Planned Parenthood. The easiest and quickest thing was what I wanted. Hyper after a sleepless and terrified night, I called Planned Parenthood within minutes of opening, and did not waste any time to have breakfast, drink coffee, shower, brush my teeth or do anything else before going to to pick up some Plan B. I walked up to the front desk, showed them my driver’s license to prove my age, paid what I could afford and that was that.

In the car ride home I wept. I beat myself up for finding myself alone with a box of Plan B in a relationship where I felt most comfortable doing what needed to be done in silence. Alone. I thought of all the horrible things said by sexual fundamentalists who want to make or keep illegal every sex act that doesn’t produce a baby, and I started to internalize them. Emergency contraception is abortion and abortion is murder, they say. Never mind that there’s no science to back that up. When you feel really alone and really scared it’s easy to beat yourself up with others’ words, even ones that are incorrect and you find offensive.

Home at last. It was not even nine in the morning, I was wearing clothes from the day before and I felt like I had been walking up a difficult mountain for weeks. I kept crying in my apartment. I didn’t want to be someone who had irresponsible sex. I was trying to be responsible this time, I swear. I didn’t want to be someone who took emergency contraception without telling her boyfriend. This situation was built for other people — not me — other people. I was, as now, an ardent feminist and an advocate for emergency contraception. This was just not a situation I had been anticipating that morning. I didn’t want it. I wanted to be at work in a boring meeting. I wanted to erase and start over.

Drinking a glass of water to calm down, I read the instructions in the box. I opened the box. I told myself I would go to the bathroom, and then I would take it. I breathed. And, in the bathroom, in those moments before I was going to take the pill I wanted to scream at, I discovered that my period had started.

This story is very personal, but I’ve decided to write about it because in hindsight I’ve gained perspectives on a few themes within this story that I feel need to be said at this point in time.

First, this week’s court decision overturning the Obama administration’s order to, against the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration, block over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for women of all ages is an important milestone for public health. As someone who has gone to get the morning after pill the morning after, I can tell you that time is not a resource to be wasted when you need to avoid a pregnancy effective now. Time is agony. Further, situations can be such that you don’t want to talk to anyone about it, even a pharmacist.

Second, I read what I just wrote and while I was beating the crap out of myself at the time, I think that what I did was incredibly mature. While I was in my twenties then, I think this holds true for women of all ages, including women in high school. Getting emergency contraception as quickly as you can when have already had unprotected sex and don’t want to be pregnant is taking control of your health, your life, your future. Teen pregnancy prevention was supposed to be a bipartisan cause. No one, including the president of the United States, should be looking at young women who know they need emergency contraception as anything but incredibly mature.

Third, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s normal to have a wide range of feelings about reproductive health care. Sexuality and reproduction are intensely personal matters. I felt very sad at the time, and I was a reproductive rights advocate then. I’m one now. Having felt intense feelings nowhere near “I am woman, hear me roar” when preparing to take emergency contraception doesn’t make me any less of a feminist or a strong woman. It’s okay to talk about tough times as tough times. Tough times happen to good people, and acknowledging tough times as they are can help make all of us better people.

Fourth, I’m quite pregnant as I type this today. In fact I’m looking over a huge bubble in my abdomen, holding my future daughter. In contrast to some of the negative self-talk I engaged in then, it is so crystal clear to me at this time that preventing pregnancy is nothing like ending a pregnancy. They should not be talked about as equivalent, and shame on the mainstream media for often allowing this confusion to continue. Having used contraception regularly until I decided to become pregnant is one of the best gifts I’m giving my future daughter, because now I’m ready to have her and give her the best life I can.

If she ever needs emergency contraception and chooses to tell me about it, I will be so proud of her. Sexuality and sexual health can be really hard, sometimes. If she ever cries to me I will not judge her, but support her. I think about these things when reflecting on my morning with the morning after pill.

Mitt, Assault Weapons and Single Parents

Last night, Mitt Romney appeared to blame mass shootings on single-parent families.

His non-sequitur response to debate moderator “Don’t You Silence Me” Candy Crowley’s delightfully rogue question as to whether the Republican presidential nominee would support the reinstatement of expired bans on assault weaponry that used to enjoy Republican support is important for several reasons.

1. We have a fundamental violence problem.

Violence cuts across poverty, it cuts across wealth, it cuts across privilege. The problem is not who does it but that we as a culture refuse to confront guns, we refuse to confront dominance, we refuse to confront the reality that the only accomplishment of the sham war on drugs is the mass incarceration of African American men. Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan and his House Republicans buddies refuse to reauthorize 18 years of bipartisan support for the Violence Against Women Act. It is as dangerous to lay the blame for violence on the feet of single parents as it is to lay it on Marilyn Manson, because naming a black sheep is exactly how to pull attention away from the fact the whole farm is burning.

2. It’s time to get real about guns.

Whether you are a PhD student in Aurora, a mentally ill undergrad in Virginia, two Littleton high school students from wealthy two-parent families, an abuser whose girlfriend is trying to leave, or frankly anyone in the United States, guns are easier to get your hands on than the more popular Happy Meal toys. The Supreme Court is an outpost of the National Rifle Association devoted to trampling the rights of local governments to regulate guns. There is not a single defensible reason to have assault weapons on the consumer market. In this climate, the gun lobby sits there smugly like a Grover Norquist of mass death above the silence of elected officials. No action was taken after a sitting member of Congress was shot.

3. Basically, Mitt told those slutty women to put assault weapons between the knees.

Single parent families are part of life, and a class divide is at work. More than 40 percent of births take place outside a marriage, with just 10 percent of those attributed to college-educated women. Last night Mitt outright lied about his well-documented intention to allow employers to dictate which women can get birth control and which can’t, and it’s also unclear how his plan to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, his desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, and his running mates’ assertion that rape is a “method of conception” will increase two-parent families so there won’t be any more violence.

Let’s face it, people are driven to have consensual sex (how fun!) and half the population is encouraged to grow up with toy guns and violent entertainment until they too are big enough to carry a concealed AK-47 wherever they want.

For some time Mitt Romney has appeared to agree with those who believe a woman with an IUD is committing mass murder for years at a time. What is most frightening is that now he is saying a woman who raises children without the watchful eye of a man is responsible for mass murder in our streets, schools and movie theaters.

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