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Posts tagged: sexuality

Female orgasm is a different story. Shhh, don’t talk about that – it makes people uncomfortable. Think about it—how many slang terms for female orgasm can you think of? Can you make a list? Are there mainstream movies that depict or discuss girls or women masturbating? Although I can think of a few exceptions (Pleasantville, The OH in Ohio), if female masturbation occurs in mainstream films, it is often told from a male pornographic fantasy perspective (e.g., American Pie). Such media depictions suggest that men have uncontrollable sexual drives, (which, apparently, women do not) that must be satisfied immediately by any means necessary. Unlike men’s, women’s sexual desires are peripheral to our conversations about sex and sexuality.
“Enthusiastic consent” is about asking and listening. And it’s a powerful feminist concept that could change our entire world. The consent-positive movement is about more than “no.” It’s about “yes.” It’s about waiting for someone to verbally, enthusiastically, consent to having sex with you before you start having sex with them. No still means no. Violating that no is still wrong. But in addition, only “yes” can mean yes: not silence, or a short skirt, or the fact that we met you at Jello Wrestling and fucked you last week. Consent is about being able to say “I want this / I don’t want this” and being respected. It’s about expecting to hear some variation of one of those phrases when you begin to engage in sex. It’s about a completely safe, comfortable, and pleasurable kind of sex. Consent makes it possible for every single person in the world to have completely different boundaries and desires and still feel fulfilled and respected in bed. I liked that.
One of the most important tools we can give young people — boys and girls alike — is the reminder that their sexuality belongs to them. Pleasure is a deep and profound good, and for all of what we imagine to be their self-indulgence, young people today don’t have nearly as much healthy pleasure as they need. This is about more than teaching young people to masturbate without shame (though that’s never a bad idea.) It’s about giving them the time and space and privacy to reflect on their sexuality as something that belongs to them. With young women, it’s about teaching the difference between the desire to be desired and desire itself. (I’ll deal with young men in another post.) It only takes a girl a few seconds to realize what someone else may want from her sexually. It often takes her much longer to figure out what she really wants, to discern the pleasure she gets from bringing pleasure to another from the pleasure she wants for herself. And once she’s figured that out, it’s vital to work to create a culture where she can articulate that want without shame.
Sexuality education in the United States has evolved to teach everything besides sex itself. Although teenagers in more progressive schools may learn how to slide a condom onto a banana, they rarely learn how to access birth control conveniently and affordably. Instead, students in both abstinence only and comprehensive programs are given projects that test and assess their knowledge of how to avoid sex, rather than their knowledge of sexual health. At the end of a typical course, many students know that they can “go to the movies” or “play soccer” instead of having sex, but they do not know what to do in case their alternative activities plan falls through and the condom breaks.
The Religious Reasons Why Abortion is a Moral Decision

Over the past 35 years, I have counseled thousands of women faced with unintended pregnancies. Almost every one of them wrestled with what would be best in her life circumstances and with what her faith taught her. Many struggled because they incorrectly believed the prevailing rhetoric that people of faith oppose abortion, that Scripture opposes abortion, and that having an abortion would be a sin. Many believed that a religious woman would not choose to have an abortion, despite the fact that women of all faiths have abortions. Few knew that many faiths recognize that women are moral agents who have the capacity, right, and responsibility to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances, and that men have a moral obligation to support women’s decision making.

The Christian and Hebrew scriptures neither condemn nor prohibit abortion; in fact, abortion is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, despite it being present in biblical times. Scripture calls us to act compassionately and justly when facing difficult moral decisions. The scriptural commitment to the most marginalized means that pregnancy, childbearing, and abortion should be safe for all women. Religious traditions have different beliefs on the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses. However, the teaching of many religious traditions is that the health and life of the woman must take precedence over the life of the fetus, a position supported by Exodus 21:22-23:

When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life …

The death of the fetus was punished by a monetary fine; the death of the pregnant woman herself required punishment by death. Although this passage is not directly a statement on abortion, it demonstrates that the woman, in contrast to the fetus, at that time had the legal status of an independent human being.

Religious leaders have been in the forefront of the movement for abortion rights for more than fifty years, advocating for women to be able to make their own moral decisions. Before abortion was legal in the United States, the Clergy Consultation Service helped women obtain safe abortions, and clergy were in the lead in the fight for the repeal of abortion laws. During the past forty years, many religious denominations have passed policies in support of legalized abortion, including the Christian Church (the Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, The United Methodist Church, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

It is because of my religious beliefs that I am unwavering in my support for abortion, family planning and sexuality education. It is because life is sacred and parenthood so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. Millions of people ground their moral commitment to abortion in their religious beliefs. We understand that the sanctity of human life is best upheld when it is created intentionally. As religious leaders, we seek to create a world where abortion is safe, legal, accessible, and rarely a decision that women and couples need to face.

Several years ago, the Religious Institute along with a leading group of theologians created the “Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision.” The central grounding of the Open Letter is that abortion is always a serious moral decision. It can uphold and protect the life, health, and future of the women, her partner, and her family. Almost 1500 clergy have endorsed the “Open Letter”, and more than 3600 clergy have signed the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing calling for a faith based commitment to access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.

I, of course, acknowledge that not all religious traditions or leaders support abortion. However, no single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on reproductive health services, nor should government take sides on religious differences. Any attempt to make specific religious doctrine concerning family planning, pregnancy, or abortion the law for all Americans or for the women of the world must be vigorously opposed by those of us committed to religious pluralism.

Surely there is common ground across the religious spectrum to work together to reduce unintended and unwanted pregnancies. Poverty, social inequities, ignorance, sexism, racism, and unsupportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely. And surely people of all faiths would agree that no woman anywhere in the world should die giving birth to the next generation because of a lack of contraception, prenatal care, emergency obstetric care, safe delivery and post-natal services, and post-abortion care.

Religious leaders must not cede the right to speak out on family planning and abortion to those leaders and organizations on the right who claim to speak for all religious perspectives, and we must use our pulpits and our public opportunities to support reproductive justice. Our religious message is clear and simple: Our faith-based commitment to the moral agency of women means every woman must have the right to make her own decisions about when and whether to have children, and every woman must have access to the broad range of safe and legal reproductive health services.

May it one day be so.

Read the full text of the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision.

The Reverend Dr. Debra W. Haffner is the co-founder and executive director of the Religious Institute. She is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and a certified sexuality educator.

Sex Exists…?

Okay, so I was sitting in Psychology today and our class begun to take a little self-assessment quiz about OCD. It was the kind where you have to rate your anxiety level pertaining to how you feel during certain situations. One of the statements was “I feel sexually inhibited.” The second someone mentioned the question (as in asking what inhibited meant), whispered remarks filled the room and our teacher’s nervous tension could be felt in the back row. A few students openly spoke to the entire class about what the statement meant, but our teacher rebutted them with, “No, no, that’s not what it means. SKIP IT.”

How many times have teens been told to skip over sexuality?

I mean, this certainly wasn’t my first instance of being forced not to acknowledge the existence of sexuality. It has happened many times, in many different classrooms. And not just in public school.

And the worst part of this wasn’t that the teacher refused to acknowledge it, but that the students were also afraid of talking about it. One even commented with, “Why do my teachers want to know about my sex life?” They don’t, but I’m sure they’d love it if YOU knew about it.

The problem in America is that adults AND teens [for the most part] don’t want to accept the fact that there is such a thing as teen sexuality. This ignorance has led to the rise in teen pregnancy, STDs, and lack of contraceptive use. Just look at this excerpt from Community/Public Health Nursing Practice by Frances A. Maurer and Claudia M. Smith:

"Teenagers in the United States are less likely to be aware of contraceptive methods, to know or to explore how to obtain and use contraceptives, and to initiate action to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies either before or just after their first sexual experience (AGI, 1994; AGI, 2001; Schwartz, 1996). The reason for such sexually risky behavior is at least partially the result of how sexuality and sexual behaviors are addressed in the United States.

In other developed countries, information about sexual intercourse and birth control is regularly provided to teenagers. Government-sponsored sex education programs in the school systems are common. Programs include health teaching on contraceptive methods, encouragement of responsible sexual activity, and easy access to contraceptives. Service is generally provided in a nonjudgmental fashion. The United States provides little information on contraceptives, and contraception is not an important element of most school-based sex education programs (AGI, 2001; Schwartz, 1996). In contrast, sexuality and contraception education is mandatory in public schools in England, Wales, France, and Sweden and most Canadian schools.

The United States has also been ambivalent about providing contraceptive services to teenagers. In some instances, federal or state funding for clinics serving large numbers of young disadvantaged females has been reduced or discontinued (see Chapters 4, 20, and 27). A significant number of U.S. teenagers and their families have no health insurance and find access to any kind of health care service (including contraceptive services) difficult. Some federal programs have actively attempted to restrict rather than increase access to reproductive services. Parental permission requirements and abstinence-only programs are two methods supported at the federal level. Approximately 35% of school districts with mandated sexuality education dictate abstinence-only programs, rather than more comprehensive approaches (AGI, 2001).”

If you would like to learn more about healthy sexuality, check out

Want more about the history and future of teen sexuality? Hysteria, Youth, and Sexuality