February 07, 2013

Reminder that whether you are ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ has nothing to do with whether or not you, personally, would have an abortion.

Contrary to popular belief, “pro-choice” simply means you think abortion should remain legal and accessible.  If you think people should have the choice, even if it wouldn’t be your choice, you are pro-choice. See how that works? So if you support Roe v. Wade, congratulations! You are pro-choice! Welcome to the club.
You think a person has the right to be in charge of their own uterus? High-five!
I have seen many people who are under the impression that they are "pro-life" because they would never choose to terminate a pregnancy themselves. According to Gallup, 53% of people think Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. You'd think this meant that 53% of people would identify themselves as pro-choice, but apparently only 48% of people claim that label. What gives? Is there a stigma against identifying as pro-choice?

Planned Parenthood, a known leader in the fight for reproductive freedom, has recently let go of the "pro-choice" label for a small collection of reasons, the most notable being that it "suggests that what a [person] does about a pregnancy is simply another choice like picking a red or blue car, thereby trivializing the abortion decision".

Another criticism of the pro-choice label is that it, well, implies abortion is always truly a "choice" when sometimes it is actually a necessity: "[People] don’t always have a true “choice.” Choice is only possible when [people] have the resources to select either option. When there is no funding for abortion or no clinic to go to, [people] don’t really have a “choice.” The opposite is also true. [People] who have abortions often say they feel like they have “no choice.” They don’t mean they were coerced; the abortions are their decisions. They mean that they do not have the economic resources, social support, or capacity to care for a child." (via)

I'd like to think that the reason many people avoid calling themselves pro-choice is for the aforementioned reasons; not because there is anything wrong or shameful about having an abortion, but because they feel that the term itself is a poor fit for the movement. But something tells me that the striking 52% of people who do not identify as pro-choice do so for the following reasons:
  1. Simply being ill-informed on what the term really means (as stated in the beginning of this article -- they are under the impression that because they would not abort, they are "pro-life").
  2. They feel that because the alternative to "pro-choice" is "pro-life", that being pro-choice must mean that they are "anti-life" (which is, of course, ridiculous -- studies show that in areas where abortion is legal, pregnant people are much less likely to die from back-alley abortions).
  3. They want abortion to be illegal.

Whether you proudly label yourself pro-choice or not, one thing is certain: if you want access to abortion to stick around, you should use your voice and speak up. While support for other liberal ideals, such as same sex marriage, have been steadily increasing for years now, support for abortion is actually slipping lower. As of 2013, 53% of people would not support the overturn of Roe v. Wade -- but in 2006 that number was at 66%. This is bad news, folks, but the fight's not over yet. Get out there and show your support.

February 03, 2013

What's Wrong With the United States Public Education System?

Despite being the richest country in the world, the United States education system again and again provides sub-par results when looked at from an international perspective. Students are not being prepared for a life after school. The effects of these failings become evident on both the individual and the national levels. So, what exactly is wrong with public schooling? 
  • Too much emphasis on standardized testing. The core of the modern public school system, everything from funding to ratings, relies on the system of standardized testing. Tests of that nature have to be simplified to ensure consistency, so it’s boiled down to facts that can be memorized, which is not necessarily an indicator of understanding. This leads to students with a good memory or test-taking skills excelling, while students who don't (even if they have a working understanding of the content) being left behind.
  • Too much emphasis on math and science. While vital subjects, they should not be the only respected fields. This emphasis seems to tie in to the prior point: these fields are emphasized in part because they can be graded more easily than other subjects. As well, because the impact of advanced knowledge in these fields is more easily verified. Nevertheless, a balanced approach is best. Other subjects improve the competitiveness and economy of a country, even if they are less easily quantifiable.
  • Teachers aren't paid enough. Arguably, teaching is the most influential profession for a country’s growth. And if you want to attract the most talented individuals, you need to offer incentive. At the moment, the average high school teacher in the United States earns about 28% less than the average college-educated worker in the United States. This is a much wider gap than other rich countries, where teachers still often earn less, but only by about 10% or so.
  • On top of monetary compensation, societal respect for teachers needs to be much higher. While many Americans generally act as if they hold teachers in high regard under hypothetical circumstances, the reality of the situation is not so. When in recent times teachers' unions have organized and fought for better pay and work conditions, they have been ridiculed and demonized. If we want the best for our children, we must ensure that we listen to the needs of their educators. 
  • There’s a hierarchy that needs to be shaken up. Have you ever noticed that the best, most experienced teachers tend to be given the honors courses? If you excel at school at an early age, you will be given the best education that your area offers. However, if you initially struggle, then it is tremendously difficult to catch up, given that your teachers are just not as skilled as those that teach higher-level courses. We must work on providing an equal educational opportunity for all.
The benefits of well-educated students are numerous; they range from creating a better understanding of the world to causing a surge in our economy. However, our educational system won't progress on its own. If we want to better our country, we must consciously and actively work on making educational improvement a priority.

January 10, 2013

An Incomplete List of What Sexual Consent Is Not

HEADS UP: This article frankly discusses the topic of rape.
  • Five "no"s and one "yes" is not consent.  You cannot pester someone until they finally cave and have sex with you -- well, technically you can, but it would make you a rapist. This is one of those really really REALLY bad ideas being reinforced again and again and again by the media. Think about the movies and television shows you've watched: there's a scene where a girl is sitting on a bed looking uncomfortable, she tells her boyfriend that she does not want to have sex with him, he's nagging at her with pleadings of "c'mon..." and "don't you love me?" and "why not?!" Pretty often, she gives in. More often, the audience is prompted to laugh at this behavior. We really ought to think about what this is teaching young people -- teaching them that their "no" is not good enough, that they must explain their "no" or it is not valid ("but WHY won't you fuck me?!") and, simply, that their own desires on what is to be done with their body do not matter; that it is okay to put this sort of pressure on their peers and that it's okay to ignore what they want. It isn't. 
  • Dating/being married to someone is not automatic consent. This is the mindset that leads to date rape and marital rape; just because someone has agreed to go out on a date with you, to be your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, or even agreed to marry you, this does not mean you have the right to help yourself to their body. No one ever owes you sex, and just being in a relationship with someone does not revoke their right to say "no". 
  • Someone who is drunk/otherwise under the influence cannot consent. Yet another scene we're used to seeing in movies: the characters are going to be attending a party that night, one character rejoices in the fact that there are going to be "so many drunk chicks!!!" there that night, presumably because drunk girls are easier to fuck. This sort of predatory behavior -- of actively seeking out partners who are not in the right state of mind to deny you -- is a rapist's mindset. Rapists know that a victim who has been drinking is less likely to be taken seriously; her behavior ("why did you go out to a party by yourself?!") is what's going to be scrutinized. The rapist knows it, and his victims will probably know it too; which might even prompt them to never even report a rape
Asking for consent is not difficult.
  • If it's not "yes", it's no. Unless it is made obvious to you (you've asked them like in the example above, they're enthusiastically reciprocating your touch, or they've blatantly told you "yes, I would like to have sex") you've gotta take it as a "no". If they're silent, it's "no." If they're being completely still, it's "no". If they're not kissing you back, not reciprocating, it's "no". If they say "I'm not sure...", "I don't know about this...", "wait...", or some other hesitant response, it's "no" -- and you have to take their answer as final, because as discussed in the first bullet, you also can't beg someone til they cave. If they end up changing their mind (on their own, without you pushing them to do it), I'm sure they'll let you know. But for now, you have to back off and leave them alone. 
  • It's not consent if you make them afraid to say "no". This goes for the obvious things, such as rape at gunpoint/knifepoint, but it also counts if you intimidate them without the use of a weapon. Twisting their arm, backing them into a corner, telling them you won't drive them home unless they comply with your desires. Consent is given willingly; not pulled from someone out of fear.
  • Someone who is asleep/passed out cannot consent.  It's appalling that this needs to be stated, but there have been many times when a rapist has taken advantage of someone who is unconscious. Putting your hands on someone who is blacked out on a couch at a party is rape. Sneakily putting your hands on someone who is asleep is rape. If they're not, you know, conscious, there's no way for them to say "yes, I want this", and that makes it rape. 
  • Just because you received consent from someone once doesn't mean you have consent forever. Consent is active; it must constantly be reaffirmed. Maybe they slept with you that one time at that one party, but that doesn't mean you're allowed to put your hands on them forever and always -- because, hey, maybe they only wanted it to happen once! Consent is never something that, under any circumstances, can be assumed, and it can also be revoked in a moment's notice -- even in the middle of a sexual act. It's also important to remember that just because someone has consented to one sexual act does not mean they've consented to every sexual act. If you want to try something new, you must ask. 
  • Someone's outfit does not imply consent.  If you want to hook up with someone, you have to ask them, not their mini skirt. People often make the mistake of assuming that a person who is dressed in provocative clothing must want to have sex, but this is a product of sexism; it's a women-are-my-property mindset that leads rapists to think "if they're dressing this way, they're dressing this way for me". It doesn't even occur to them that this person could be wearing the low-cut dress because they like it.

You'll notice that this article is an "incomplete" list -- because this is not the final word on what consent is not, and sometimes these things need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Sexual consent is something that is enthusiastic; given freely without any pressure or fear. Consent is listening to your partner, taking note of their body language, and asking, "Is this okay? Do you like this?". And sexual contact without consent is rape. If you're unsure of whether a person is consenting or is able to consent, then stop.

January 08, 2013

What Most People Call the "Vagina" Is Not Actually Your Vagina

Did you know that vagina actually only refers to the part of your anatomy that things can be inserted into? That's right, your "vagina" is only the hole. What most people are talking about when they reference their vagina is actually the vulva. 'Vulva' is "a term used to describe those external organs that may be visible [...]. The vulva consists of the following organs: mons pubis, labia minora and majora, hymen, clitoris, vestibule, urethra..."(via) Did I just blow your mind?

I've spoken before about my absolute displeasure with the state of sexual education in public schools. The tragedy that always comes to mind when we think of the consequences of skipping sexual education is teen pregnancy, but I'm noticing another one: kids don't know shit about their own bodies.

With the lack of sex ed, kids don't know anything about their own anatomy. Then, they turn in to adults who don't know anything about their own anatomy and, in turn, fail to teach their own kids anything about their own anatomy. It's just a chain of ignorance here and it's lead to one of the widest misconceptions about sexual anatomy out there.

Vulva Patch made and sold by Grace Elizabeth
Lack of information leaves many young (and old!) people under the impression that there's something "wrong" or "abnormal" about their vulvas. This likely has something to do with the fact that they've never actually seen photos of the spectrum of what normal, healthy fun-bits can look like (because that would be pornography!!! apparently). I remember being twelve years old, in the throes of puberty, using Google to get a sense of whether or not my genitals were normal and instead finding sites about labiaplastySo to any self-conscious vulva-owners reading this, please take a gander at Love Large Labia to actually get some idea of the very wide definition of  "normal".

Basically, any time you're trying to refer to your junk as a whole, the word you want is "vulva".  This is such a wide-spread misconception that it's going to take a whole lot of work and a whole lot of information to undo the damage.  How many people have even heard the word "vulva"? I have heard so many people use the phrase "shaved vagina" -- but people don't even grow hair on their vagina! And sticking a razor in there would be quite painful, I'd imagine.

Keeping reproductive anatomy a mystery is just another facet of sexism in our society: trying to discourage girls from being sexually liberated. The more you know about your body, the more educated you'll be on how to enjoy it safely, and a lot of people don't really want you to do that. But it's also dangerous: if we don't arm people with the correct vocabulary to describe their anatomy, they won't know how to explain various health issues they might experience; they won't know how to accurately tell their doctors what's going on. And if we continue acting like knowing your sexual anatomy is shameful, they're not going to want to speak up when something is wrong.

I encourage anyone reading this to get to know yourself if you haven't already. That is, take a hand-mirror, lock yourself in the bathroom, drop your underwear, and, yes: explore between your legs. Use a diagram as a guide and start learning.

December 05, 2012

Hormonal Methods of Birth Control: The Pill

So -- what is it?

Birth control pills -- often referred to as "The Pill" or "oral contraceptives" -- are a hormonal method of birth control. There are actually two types of birth control pills -- pills that contain both estrogen and progestin (these are called "combination pills") and pills that are progestin-only. Most people, however, use the combined pill. 

Birth control pills come in small, discreet packs and you take one every day to prevent pregnancy. The hormones in these pills work to prevent pregnancy in two ways: 
  • preventing ovulation; ie, keeping the ovaries from releasing an egg (if there's no egg, there's nothing for the sperm to fertilize)
  • thickening the cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to swim and preventing them from reaching the eggs
When used properly, the pill is highly effective.
How effective is it/how do you use it?

When taken correctly, the pill is a highly effective birth control method. Less than 1 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year if they always take the pill each day as directed. However, with typical use, about 9 out of 100 people will get pregnant each year because they don’t always take the pill each day as directed. As you'd probably expect, the effectiveness varies greatly depending on whether or not you take them the right way.

"Perfect use" varies slightly in meaning with the pill, depending on the type you're taking. 
  • If you're using progestin-only pills, you have to take it at the same time each day. Same. Time. 
  • Combination pills must simply be taken once a day, with less importance being placed on the time you take it. 
When I was on the pill for two years, I had two daily alarms set on my phone to make sure I took my pill every single day; a primary alarm and a back-up one ten minutes later. While it matters less if you're not on the progestin-only pills, I still personally suggest taking your pill at roughly the same time every day so it becomes a regular and expected part of your routine. This way, you're less likely to accidentally skip a day.
A 28-pack of combination pills, with a week of "inactive" pills at the bottom.
In the photo above, you'll notice that this pill packet has one week of white pills at the bottom. That's a pack of combination pills. The combination pill comes in packs of either 21 or 28. In both of these, the pack contains 21 "active" pills (pills with hormones). In 28-day packs, there are one week of "inactive" pills (pills without hormones) at the bottom, also called "placebos". During the week of "inactive" pills is when you should, roughly, have your period each month. Even though these pills have no hormones in them, you're still protected from pregnancy during this week. The only reason that week of inactive pills are present in 28-day packs are to keep you in the habit of taking it each and every day. In 21-day packs, this inactive week is not present. With those, you simply take your pill daily for three weeks, go without taking it for exactly one week, then start a new pack -- but you really gotta make sure you start taking them on the right day!

Some packs of combination pills come with months worth of active pills. These are specifically designed to reduce the number of periods you have in a year. Some people also continuously take active pills -- that is, they skip their inactive week and immediately start taking their next pack -- to avoid their periods.

However, progestin-only pills only come in 28-day packs. There are no inactive pills with progestin-only packs. With these, several things could happen -- you might get your period during the fourth week, get no periods at all, or have bleeding on and off throughout the month. 


What happens if I don't take my pill correctly?

Oops. Mistakes happen. If you accidentally skip a day, yet again, what you do next varies a little bit depending upon which type of pill you're taking. 

Combination Pills

How at-risk for pregnancy you are depends on when you missed a pill and how many of them you missed. The risk gets a lot higher if you went seven or more days without having any hormones -- this might happen if you don't start your new pack on time, and/or if you forget to take the last one or two pills.

If you have PIV sex during the seven days after one of your missed pills, you'll want to use a back up method, such as a condom. You can also take emergency contraception for up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. This is a great option if you had PIV sex before you realized you missed any pills. The sooner you take emergency contraception, the better it works, so don't stall!

This table tells you what to do if you miss any pills from a 21-day or 28-day pack of combination pills:

Chart from PlannedParenthood.org

Progestin-Only Pills

You can become pregnant if you take progrestin-only pills more than three hours later than your regular time. If this happens: 
  • Take the pill the moment you remember.
  • Take the next pill at the usual time (this could mean you take two pills in a day).
  • Continue to take the rest of your pack at your regular time.
  • If you have PIV sex within the next 48 hours, use a back-up method, such as a condom.
  • If you had PIV sex before realizing you missed your pill, you can also use emergency contraception for up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.  Like I said earlier, the faster you take it, the better it works, so hop-to.
Even if you quickly correct your mistake, missing a pill often leads to spotting/irregular bleeding, so don't be alarmed if this happens. Taking two pills in a day can also lead to some nausea and general feelings of crappiness, but don't worry, it'll pass soon.

An important thing to note -- if you vomit shortly after taking one of your pills, you should consider that pill "missed". The general rule of thumb is 30 minutes. Follow the missed-pill instructions above if this happens or contact your doctor and ask them for directions on what to do next. 


Many people love relying on the pill as a means of birth control because it's easy, effective, and offers a range of benefits. For example, both the combined pill and the progestin-only pills reduce menstrual cramps, make your periods lighter, and offer some protection against Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Combination pills offer many more benefits, such as protection against acne, bone thinning, non-cancerous breast growths, ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, irregular periods, and extreme PMS symptoms, such as depression and headaches. 

If you want to use hormonal birth control but don't think you can remember to take a daily pill, you might want to look into another hormonal method, such as the vaginal ring, the Implant, or the IUD

It's important to remember that the pill does nothing to protect you from sexually transmitted infections.  Unless you are in a relationship where you know for a fact that everyone involved has been tested and is free of STIs, you should still use a condom when having sex.

Most times, birth control pills cannot be obtained without a prescription. If you don't have insurance, there are health clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) who are willing to give it to you for a reduced price. To get on the pill, a doctor will give you a brief check-up and ask you questions about your medical and sexual past to decide if this is the right method for you and which of the two sorts of pills would be best for you.