Domestic Abuse: Is it Getting Worse?

I recently facilitated an education session that I called “It’s in the News Again”. This was around the time the story emerged about Ray Rice and his partner, Janay Palmer. Unfortunately, it seems this issue is escalating in terms of how often we hear about it in the media. Whether it is a celebrity or an everyday Joe or Jane, it feels like not a day goes by that we don’t hear, read or see something about domestic abuse.

Indiana has the second highest teen dating violence rate in the country. Teen relationships are often where old family patterns begin to repeat. The Domestic Violence Network’s 24th Annual Commemoration event was held on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at Broadway United Methodist Church. We learned that 67 people in Indiana died as a result of domestic violence. Among them was an IMPD officer who was killed by her ex-husband – a fellow IMPD officer.

So what is it that perpetuates these high rates of violence in Indiana and around the country? Undoubtedly, we see it more because of modern media and technology. I believe it’s more than that though. While we can recognize abuse in its worst forms – hitting, beating, shooting, stabbing, killing – often, more subtle forms of coercion and abuse are not recognized. Examples include:  controlling behaviors, jealousy, and verbal abuse. These are behaviors that many people would not consider abusive, but are often woven into the pattern of behaviors that could and often do escalate to more recognizable forms of abuse.

When children and teens witness domestic abuse day after day in their homes and neighborhoods, it becomes expected. For them, it is ‘normal’. This was never more poignant to me than when I was working with a young woman in a public housing community. She told me that she would not get married until age 50 (she was about 11 or 12 at the time, so 50 seemed ancient to her) – “because that way when he beats me it won’t matter.” I was stunned and frightened for her. I tried to provide her with examples that disproved her belief that this was the way it had to be. She remained firm though, in her belief that being abused is a normal part of having a spouse. No matter what I said, she was resigned to the idea that she would suffer abuse if she married. This incident was many years ago, but I still remember that young woman’s words. I can only hope that by some miracle, she was able to broaden her experience and learn that she does not have to accept that as her fate. Thinking about the pervasiveness of domestic abuse in our daily lives in Indiana and Kentucky, perhaps it is me who was disproved.

Young people learn from us by watching how we behave. Many will adopt the same behaviors they see us display. What non-verbal messages are you sending the young people in your life? They also benefit from the opportunity to discuss or maybe even role-play with us solutions to relationship problems and concerns. Are you “askable”? Would a young person be able to dialogue with you without feeling judged? October is “Let’s Talk” Month. This is a great time to talk to the young people in your life about healthy relationships.  If we can start early and keep an open mind and open door, imagine how we might change things.

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From Dreaming to Making It Stick

This past October, our PPINK educators hosted a retreat for peer education teens from Indianapolis and Louisville. In one activity, the teens formed small groups, debated the most intense problem teens in their cities face, and came up with a plan to solve it. Their ideas were presented to the entire group and one was chosen. All agreed that the most important issue teens face was a lack of consent or unclear definitions of consent. They felt strongly about this issue in particular because they all knew someone who had struggled with the definition, was confused by media representations, or simply had a partner try to push their own definitions. In order to solve this problem they worked to first define consent and then create a bumper sticker using this definition. The result is below; peer eds created the definition, designed the sticker, and worked to get it approved.

consent 10

One of our peer educators in Indianapolis had the following story to share about the stickers:
“This happened on a Tuesday night shortly after I got home from a Teen Council meeting in which I picked up 10 or 11 of our #DefiningConsent stickers. Another student from Brownsburg High School posted a vaguely sexist tweet about what happens to girls on spring break. When other students from the school questioned him, they were met with jokes pertaining to drugs and rape from other students, which infuriated me. I took a picture of the consent stickers I had, and tweeted that they are up for grabs for anyone who may want them, and I will be placing some around the school if anyone would like to help; a fellow student replied and told me that she would be happy to. I gave half of the stickers I had left to her, and a couple more to other students. I placed the remaining three stickers I had left in various spots in BHS’s senior academy: on the door of the boys’ restroom, by the vending machines, and in a stairwell.
Shortly after that, I saw people taking pictures of the stickers I had up, and I also overheard other students talking about the stickers in a positive light. I even heard from word of mouth that the girl I gave the rest of my stickers to placed them in other parts of the building, and they caused a stir in that area of the school as well. I had some students ask me what exactly I meant to say in handing out the stickers and what my motives behind it were, and after some explaining, many of them told me they didn’t realize how large of an issue it was, and that they thought it was neat that I was interested in the cause. I’ve also given the stickers to my immediate family, and have gotten them more involved in backing the cause. There are many people who initially thought Planned Parenthood only dealt with abortion who now know the many issues Planned Parenthood deals with in terms of safe sex education and sexual health as a result of the consent stickers being passed around.
When I was placing and handing out the stickers, I did not expect them to cause this large of a movement at my school, but I could not be happier with the outcome. I look forward to handing out more stickers, and I think it would be absolutely fantastic if this could happen in other schools and settings as well!”
To learn more about the stickers, Teen Council (peer education), or PPINK programs please contact

TC Retreat 5

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More than “No Means No”: Moving Toward a Culture of Consent

By: Diane, Educator/Trainer

no means no 1

As a sexuality educator, I use the phrase “no means no” quite a bit when discussing consent for sexual activity. I frequently find myself frustrated at the reaction I get from young people on this topic. Some common responses include:
• “No doesn’t always mean no.”
• “She’s just playing hard-to-get and she wants me to try harder.”
• “She has to say no so that she doesn’t seem like a slut, but she really wants it.”
• “He let me do other things in bed, so he must want to go all the way.”

It often doesn’t occur to young people that their partners genuinely may not want to have sex, or that they might want to be sexual in some ways but not others. Many justify having sex with someone who has said “no” by convincing themselves that despite what they have said, their partner really does want it.

But why do so many people assume that no doesn’t necessarily mean no? Why do we so often convince ourselves that a victim of sexual violence somehow “asked for it” or provoked the assault? I believe much of the cause lies with the way we talk about and act out consent throughout our lives.

From childhood, we are taught that it is sometimes acceptable to touch others without their consent. Think of an elementary school playground: amid the happy chaos of children playing, two young boys begin scuffling. A teacher separates them, but takes no further action because “boys will be boys.” A whimpering girl reports that a boy has been teasing her and pulling her hair. Rather than reprimanding the boy, the teacher just winks at the girl and says, “That just means he likes you.”

As these examples indicate children often learn about consent as a flexible concept. If they are taught that they are entitled to keep pushing for what they want even if it violates another person’s comfort level, than why would we think this attitude wouldn’t be extended to sexual relationships?

On television and in the movies, we are inundated with images of men taking what they want rather than respecting the boundaries set by their love interests. Even when it rises to the level of physical violence, the encounter is still portrayed as a romantic ideal. When movies teach us that the guy always gets the girl if he just tries hard enough, how can we expect people to accept “no” as a final answer?

So how do we solve this problem? We begin to create a culture that values consent. There are many things we can be doing to work toward this goal; here are a few:

1. Start from the beginning.
We need to change the way we talk about consent from the very beginning. We need to teach our children that their bodies are their own and belong to no one else. No one should be allowed to touch them if they don’t want it, and if they are touching someone else they need to make sure the other person wants to be touched. (Check out this mom’s awesome letter to her sons for more guidance on having these conversations.)

2. Speak up!
Don’t be afraid to speak up when a potential partner is coming on too strong. If that person gets upset that you don’t want to be sexual, that’s their problem, not yours!

Step in to help if you see someone vulnerable to sexual assault because of drugs or alcohol. Intervene if one of your buddies is pressuring a girl or calling her a bitch for not wanting to be sexual with him.

3. Say “YES!” to sex you want!
The attitude that women should be ashamed of their sexual desires is dangerous. It teaches women that they should play hard-to-get before agreeing to have sex in order to avoid seeming promiscuous. Rachael Kay Albers put it well, “When we send the message that resistance is a form of flirtation . . . we romanticize the imposition of one human being’s will on another.” We should instead empower people to enthusiastically say “Yes!” when they want to have sex.

Set boundaries at your own comfort level, and be clear with your partner about what you want, but be sure to respect your partner’s boundaries as well.

4. Make consent sexy!
Instead of approaching consent as, “I’ll keep going until he/she stops me,” engage in active consent. Make consent a part of sexual interactions by allowing your partner to tell you what he or she wants you to do in bed. Communicating about what you want doesn’t have to be awkward or negative; consent can be sexy!

Phrases like “boys will be boys,” “she shouldn’t have been drinking/wearing a short skirt/hanging out with that crowd,” and “she was just playing hard-to-get,” reveal how screwed up our cultural views about consent have become. It’s time to change the message.

When we talk about consent, we need to talk about more than “no means no.” We need to get across the messages that our bodies belong only to ourselves; that there is absolutely nothing that entitles a person to violate your wishes; and that actively engaging in a process of consent can enhance sexual experiences.

What else do you think people can do to create a culture of consent? Leave your answer in the comments!


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Words can Wound

By: Jessica, a sexuality educator

“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is one of the tools I was taught as a child to help me stand up to the hurtful words that bullies often sling. I remember singing that little ditty (or others like it) and then walking away with my friends, feeling safe and secure. Sometimes the hurtful words came from my friends, they didn’t mean it, somehow the words had become a part of our language and we were kids just looking to be accepted and “cool.” Let’s be honest, the words did hurt me, no matter how many little ditties I sang. When I was young it was easy to avoid the obvious bullies, the kids who weren’t on my side. I grew up in a world before technology, a world before the internet and social media.

As I sit here and reminisce about my childhood, on this day on Twitter the word “fag” has been used 19,043 times, the word “dyke” has been used 1,700 times and the phrase “so gay” has been used 5,313 times and counting…

• “Almost 90% of LGBT students are verbally harassed, 44% are physically harassed and nearly 1/4 are physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation.
• And 2/3 of LGBT students are verbally harassed, 30% are physically harassed and 14% are physically assaulted at school because of their gender expression.”2

Words are often unintentionally hurtful, especially when we are confronted with thoughts, ideas or concepts we may not completely understand, like sexual orientation or gender expression. Sexual orientation refers to the type of sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction a person feels for another person. Whereas, the way a person dresses, behaves socially, their demeanor is referred to as their gender expression. These might not be terms you are familiar with – regardless it is important to learn more about them so that you understand what your words are actually saying.

sticks and stones blog

Words become a part of our lingo, a part of our slang, but that doesn’t eliminate their power. I wonder how many of those tweets were unintentionally hurtful; I don’t want to wonder how many of them were fully intentional. I have a suggestion—let’s stop singing nursery rhymes; stop being a bystander and start using our words with intention.

• Be a Leader: Say something original.

• Speak up: If you feel safe, let those who behave disrespectfully know that you don’t appreciate it.

• Be a Friend: Support the targets of hurtful words.

Take Action: Plan an event that will educate others about bullying.

Learn More at a PPINK education session.

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From the Desk of the Empowering Educator

By Jasmine, Sexuality Educator

by: Camille
When I look in the mirror;
I feel okay about myself,
not too bad or not too good.
Although, I don’t feel beautiful,
I know that I do several things really well and I celebrate those things.
Kids teased me in elementary school;
that went all the way through college.
When I look in the mirror,
I feel proud of who I am,
my mixed heritage, the way I dress,
and my love for helping others.
When I look in the mirror,
I feel beautiful, strong, and confident.

I haven’t always been this way. I started out staring at the mirror for long periods of time during my teenage years hoping my reflection would change. I loved others, but I neglected to love myself and it affected every area of my life. I shied away from certain opportunities, because I did not want to be in the spotlight where people could tease me. I could not see the positive things about myself. I wanted to feel good about myself, but I didn’t know how. A friend of mine suggested a few of the following tips by Margo Maine, Ph.D., and through them, I have grown to love myself.

• Tip #1: Keep a list of 10 positive things about yourself—without mentioning your appearance. Add to it.
• Tip #2: Put a sign on your mirror saying, “I’m beautiful inside and out.”
• Tip #3: Start saying to yourself, “Life is too short to waste time hating my body this way.”
• Tip #4: Find a method of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly. Don’t exercise to lose weight or to fight your body. Do it to make your body healthy and strong and because it makes you feel good. Exercise for the Three F’s: Fun, Fitness, and Friendship.
• Tip #5: Choose to find beauty in the world and in yourself.

I know I’m not the only one with body image issues – often times we are so critical of ourselves. Did you know that “The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds (Martin, 2010)” ?Making comparisons to celebrities in media leaves us feeling inadequate. Developing a healthy self-esteem is a process that takes time and conscious effort. I challenge you to think of 2 positive thoughts for every negative thought that you have about yourself.

positive self-image


I find tip #1 is very helpful. You can keep a list in your purse or a notebook to remind yourself of your accomplishments and the things that you do well. Rehearsing the affirmation, “I’m beautiful inside and out.” every day will certainly boost your self-esteem. Make it a habit to repeat it at least 3 times when getting dressed in the morning. Positive thoughts carry a lot of weight and can change our perception when used in conjunction with other things. Finding a workout routine or going to the gym consistently will help you feel more positive about your body as well; one of my other favorite tips is to do something that only takes five minutes-everyone can fit a quick five minutes of exercise into their day. Maine puts things in perspective with this quote, “Think of your body as the vehicle to your dreams. Honor it. Respect it. Fuel it.” Make the choice to feel good about yourself and practice the tips that we have included above, it will make a positive change on your life; after all you are awesome and you deserve to be happy!

Loving yourself will help you experience a more meaningful relationship with a partner. It is a great foundation and it will allow you to make healthy relationship choices, because you respect and love yourself. We all know that confidence is sexy. It’s hard to pinpoint why that it is but research backs up this claim time and time again. In short, we know you can get to a healthier, more self-confident you that is ready for all relationships – especially those romantic ones.

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Awkward Moments in Sexual Communication

By: Diane, a Sexuality Educator

Let’s face it: there can be some uncomfortable moments when it comes to communicating with a potential or current partner about sex. Whether you are asking if your partner has been recently tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also known as STDs) or discussing using condoms, communicating about sexuality can sometimes be downright awkward.

awkward condom pic 1

Take the following story told by a friend. She was taking birth control pills and wanted to explore the possibility of no longer using condoms with her boyfriend. First though, she had to make sure they were not at risk for STIs:

We were sitting there and I was the one who said, “Okay, neither one of us like using condoms and I am on the pill and I have been tested, I am clean….” I just sat there not wanting to look him in the eye because it all kind of came out in an awkward rush.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to have these kinds of talks without the awkwardness? Well the Educators at SARPHE can help you with those difficult conversations about birth control or STI testing. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding an excuse to bring the topic up, like these conversation starters:

“I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow and she asked me if I needed an STI test. It got me thinking; maybe we both should get tested, just to be safe.”

“I heard that 1 in 2 sexually active people will get an STD by age 25 — and most won’t even know it. Maybe we should get tested just to be sure we’re both OK.”

Remember, your partner might be thinking the same thing and just not know how to bring it up!
If your partner doesn’t like using condoms, ask why. Condoms come in a variety of different sizes, materials, textures, and even flavors. You might find that using a different type of condom solves the problem. For example, if your partner finds condoms to be desensitizing, you could suggest a sheer condom to increase the sensation. (Check out Jessica’s SARPHE blog post for fun condom info and tips for use!)

If your partner is making excuses for not wanting to use condoms, here are some ways to respond:
“I don’t like sex as much with a rubber, it doesn’t feel the same.”
“This is the only way I feel comfortable having sex but believe me, it’ll still be good even with protection! And it lets us both just focus on each other instead of worrying about accidentally getting pregnant.”

“I don’t have a disease, don’t you trust me?”
“Of course I trust you, but anyone can have an STI and not even know it. This is just a way to take care of both of us.”

“I didn’t bring any condoms.”
“I have some, right here.”
Check out the American Sexual Health Association website for more tips on talking about condoms!

Communicating with your partner is a great way to make sure that you are both on the same page about your sex life. Being able to talk honestly about your STI status, birth control, the kind of relationship you want, and your sexual boundaries can create a more satisfying and healthy relationship for both of you.

By the way, the benefits of sexual communication don’t end with the birth control and STI protection. Recent research has found that communication during sex is linked with higher levels of sexual satisfaction. In other words, communicating with your partner about what kinds of touches feel the best for you and desires you might have, can take your sex life to a whole new level. Remember, no one is a mind reader – your partner can’t know what you like if you don’t say anything!

Hopefully you and your partner can be comfortable having honest and open communication about sex. But even if it is a little uncomfortable at first, you and your partner can say what needs to be said and at the end of the day you can laugh about how awkward it was.

awkward condom pic 2

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened when my friend asked her boyfriend about STI testing, this was his reply:

“Well, I just switched my health insurance, and I had to get tested. I came back with clean test results sooo….”

And they lived sexually healthily ever after, thanks to awkward moments in sexual communication.

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The Cervix, the Future and You

by: Leslie

Why think about cervical health? As a sexuality educator I get lots of questions about STIs, Guardasil, pregnancy, and fertility. Did you know these are all actually questions about or related to the cervix?



When I was growing up and thinking about being a mother, I never thought about how important it was for me to take care of my reproductive health. Honestly I didn’t even know what that meant! I didn’t know what a cervix was, where it was or how it might be connected to my future children. In my experience young people today don’t know about it either, although many may someday want to be parents, like I did. For those that want to be parents someday it’s important to practice good cervical health. That means getting annual exams, PAP smears, and getting vaccinations.

Today there are vaccines available to help take care of your cervical health including Gardisil and Cervarix. These vaccines protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer and genital warts. Both vaccines are administered as a 3-dose series over a 6 month period. It is very important to get all 3 doses of HPV vaccine to get the full benefits. (via:

cervical health info graph

Several years ago when Gardasil was first introduced, they had a commercial with little girls jumping rope and chanting “I want to be one less.” I loved these commercials because they emphasized how the vaccine prevents cervical cancer in a meaningful way. Both vaccines are proven effective at preventing the types of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancers. Gardasil is also effective at preventing HPV strains that cause most genital warts. In addition they have also prevented some cancers of the anus, vulva and vagina. They are most effective if taken before one becomes sexually active and are given to females and males between the ages of 9 – 26 years. Yes, males should get the vaccine too!

When I am doing education with parents, many of them are saying that their daughters, and in some instances, sons, have had the vaccine. This is great news. And although we now have the ability to prevent some cervical cancers and genital warts; it’s important to remember those who weren’t able to get the vaccine, share their stories and encourage young people to get it. I have a poster of a young woman, Kristen Forbes (an Indiana resident), who was unfortunately, not “one less”. She got one of the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer and eventually died from the cancer as have many others before and after her. (via: ). “Each year about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. About 4,000 women die of it every year (via:”

The vaccines along with Pap tests and HPV testing at recommended intervals are powerful, safe and effective tools that will go a long way toward preventing needless deaths and illness due to HPV. So, let’s take care of our cervix! If we do, there will be “one less” and “one less” and “one less” until every cervix is healthy.

Make an appointment at your local Planned Parenthood of Indiana today. Call us at 1-800-230-PLAN or visit our site to find the nearest location.

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The Passionate Educator

As a sexuality educator, I am passionate about reproductive rights because I have had women tell me personal stories about the days before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Many of them knew someone who died or experienced serious complications from a back-alley abortion. Roe v Wade puts the decision to terminate a pregnancy in the hands of the woman where it belongs. Neither those women, nor I, want to go backwards.

Tuesday, January 22, marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. The second week in March marks the Abortion Provider Appreciation week. The landmark Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteed that the right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution protects the right of a woman to choose whether to continue a pregnancy to term or have a safe and legal abortion.


Over the last few years, we’ve seen certain politicians alienate women across the country and attempt to undermine Roe. This is frustrating because many of these politicians also oppose birth control services and sexuality education for young people, which can reduce the need for abortion. The simple fact is that a majority of Americans respect the decision each woman must make about her own pregnancy. {}

It’s important to continue educating folks about sexuality topics, so that there is greater comfort in discussing sexuality and an individual’s ability to become more informed about healthy, safer ways to reduce risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Parents, schools and faith-based organizations also assume key roles in providing young people with healthy age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality information which can empower young people to make healthy, informed choices.

The March 10 National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers recognizes the amazing abortion health care providers around the country, along with the clinic directors, nurses, medical students, clinic escorts, and volunteers who dedicate their lives to ensuring women have access to safe abortion care; this is important because all too often these jobs come with very high risk. Abortion providers are often faced with TRAP laws, threats and are even killed. It’s important that we recognize their wonderful dedication on March 10 and throughout the year.

By educating and empowering one another to become more informed about reproductive rights issues and why they are important to preserve (again, we don’t want to go backward), we can work together to ensure that women’s health is protected and supported and that Roe vs. Wade remains the law of the land.

Betty Memmer
Regional Education and Outreach Manager

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Rubbers, Covers, Snake Charmers…Oh My!

By: Jessica

I love condoms! And it isn’t just because I’m a sexuality educator and I know how effective they can be. Read more and perhaps you’ll be as excited as I am!

Did you know that the earliest known illustration of a man using a condom is a 12,000–15,000-year-old painting on the wall of a cave in France?[1] Or that the modern condom is one of the most accessible and inexpensive forms of birth control available? (The cost of condoms can be as low as $0.04 each2.) Or that the famous lover, Casanova, mentions the use of the condoms in his autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life)–he called them assurance caps.”

vday 1 1 This picture of a condomfrom the 1640s shows what condoms looked like—this could be similar to the “assurance caps” that Casanova used.

With such a fascinating history, it’s no wonder the condom has its own week of celebration in February! National Condom Week originated at The University of California – Berkeley3 and has grown over the years to be celebrated across the nation. Many of us have a great love of the condom. Why is that? Well condoms, when used consistently and correctly, provide the best protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV (among others), and they help prevent unplanned pregnancy. This is important to know since the CDC estimates that there are 19 million cases of STIs reported every year in the US.4

I understand that not everyone loves condoms because they feel sex is not as pleasurable when wearing one. Some people find that adding lube on the inside and outside of the condom increases the pleasure for both partners. Other people prefer textured or flavored condoms. Consider the confidence to be gained. Many women and men say they find sex more enjoyable when they’re protected because they aren’t worrying about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections[i].

vday 2

Ready for some more facts about condoms?
■A regular condom can hold about 4 quarts of liquid.5
■There is a right and wrong side to a condom. If it doesn’t unroll smoothly from the rim on the outside, then it’s upside down and you will need to get a new condom.
■The worst place to carry a condom is in your back pocket; a shirt pocket or protective case is better.
■Condoms have expiration dates: three years with spermicide, five years without spermicide.
–“The most commonly used spermicide in the U.S. is called nonoxynol-9. Nonoxynol-9 has certain risks. If it is used many times a day, or if it is used by people at risk for HIV, it may irritate tissue and increase the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.” 5
■There is a male and a female condom.
■Women worldwide purchase 40-70% of condoms.5
■Oils and lotions can cause the latex of the condom to break down. That is why you should only use water based lubricants (i.e. KY Jelly, Astroglide and other lubricants made specifically for condoms).
■Condoms come in a variety of styles, sizes and flavors.

So let’s celebrate the rubber, the glove, the hat, the prophylactic, the raincoat, the… (tell us your favorite name for the condom in the comments)

Your local Planned Parenthood of Indiana sells condoms and has other forms of birth control for you to choose from. Call 1-800-230-PLAN or visit our site to find your nearest location to make your appointment.

vday 3

1.Parisot, Jeannette. Johnny Come Lately: A Short History of the Condom, 1985. London: Journeyman Press Ltd
2.UNAIDS. (2010). Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010. Geneva: UNAIDS

[1] Girl, C. (n.d.). History of Condomsl. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from Condom Girl:


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Sexuality Education: Just Say Know

Growing up, my experience of sexuality education was of the abstinence-only variety. Not only did I find it ineffective in convincing my peers and me to abstain from sex, but I also found the messages of judgment and shame to be damaging to my understanding of sexuality.

The abstinence program at my middle school focused on the negative consequences of having sex before marriage rather than on benefits of abstinence or waiting to have sex. I distinctly remember one activity where all of the students spit into the same paper cup. We were told, ‘Having sex with someone, especially someone who has had other partners, is like drinking the cup of everyone’s spit and getting all of their germs.’ We didn’t talk about safer sex techniques to prevent pregnancy or STD transmission, or the reality that many of us would in fact have sex before marriage.

Interestingly, the topic of abstinence itself wasn’t really discussed. What does it mean to be abstinent? Does that mean masturbation is allowed, or not? How about oral sex? If the goal is to not put ourselves at risk for unwanted pregnancy or STDs, which behaviors are more risky than others? If the goal is to “save ourselves” for our spouses, where are we supposed to draw the line? Hand-holding? Behaviors where everyone keeps their clothes on? These questions were never answered.

When I reached high school, the sexuality education was more of the same. A motivational speaker came to school to tell us that remaining abstinent until marriage was the only healthy choice a person could make. He used sexist, outdated stereotypes and misinformation, including:
• only men actually desire sexual activity, while women allow themselves to be used for sex in an attempt to gain love
• men (and only men) will always pressure their partners into sex
• pre-marital sex inevitably makes you feel ashamed, dirty, and worthless

What we really needed to know, is that in reality, people’s motivations to engage in sex are complex – and by the way, women want sex just as much as men do and men want love just as much as women. Both men and women have been known to pressure their partners into engaging in activity their partners may not be ready for. To imply only men do this creates a dangerous assumption among students that men cannot be victimized; it also entirely excludes same-sex couples from the conversation. Further, there are many young couples who choose to have sex not because of peer pressure or coercion, but because they both want to have sex. The truth is that many people find a sexual relationship empowering, fulfilling and healthy, but we were never shown this side of the story.

In addition to this pessimistic view of sexuality and relationships, we were given patently false information about reproductive health and safer sex. Rather than being instructed on how to effectively use condoms, we were simply told that condoms are not very effective. We were told that hormonal birth control is bad for our health; possible side effects were exaggerated. Statistics were twisted to suggest that birth control has a very high failure rate.

When I got to college, I signed up for a Human Sexuality class because I thought it would be fun, interesting, and maybe just a little bit risqué. After the first day my mind was blown. I had no idea how much information had been kept from me in my ‘abstinence-only’ education.

I soaked up the information like a sponge. I took another class, and then another. I took classes on sexual health, sexual diversity, gender roles, social regulation of sexual bodies, sexual orientation and gender identity – anything I could get my hands on. Eventually I earned a minor in Human Sexuality from my university. I became passionate about the need for comprehensive sexuality education for young people. That includes talking to young people about sexuality being a part of their whole self – the social and emotional aspects as well as the anatomy between their legs.

So, why do I teach sexuality education? I do it so that rather than being scared into not having sex using fear tactics, which doesn’t actually work to prevent sex from happening anyway, young people will learn to explore their own values and learn how to make responsible decisions for themselves. I do it so that I can help young people to feel empowered rather than ashamed by their sexuality. To help them to stand up for themselves and make their own choices, rather than lecturing to them about what they should do.

I teach sexuality education so that young people won’t be shamed into thinking sex is dirty and immoral, and instead, will learn about sexuality as being a natural, healthy, positive part of being a human being.

Diane Pike, Northwest Indiana SARPHE Educator

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