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Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

Condoms aren’t the only answer

Posted by Condomologist on March 9, 2010

I respect Serra Sippel and CHANGE, the organization she heads up, and I’m particularly grateful for their bringing me to a wonderful training in DC last year focused on increasing sexual health lobbying efforts. And they do wonderful work around female condoms and promoting them around the world. But let’s not oversimplify the end to the AIDS epidemic: condoms alone won’t solve our problems. A few days with teenagers in the work I do now, or a few days with the (mostly) men I worked with last year in Philly makes it pretty clear that simple condom availability is not the panacea we’ve long been seeking. There’s a whole lot of HIV happening to men and women who have access to free condoms. She briefly mentions stigma — though curiously does not elaborate — and certainly various forms of stigma lead to unsafe sex: asking to use a condom can lead to men accusing their female partners of promiscuity or lack of trust; the stigma and homophobia towards gay men leads to far too much secretive, anonymous, drug-fueled sex — to give two examples. But more than anything, people don’t like to use condoms much because it doesn’t feel good. Also, there is a lot of ignorance about the ill effects of not just HIV and AIDS, but the long-term effects of chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example; we don’t see the devastation it causes until it’s personal, and so we don’t take the precautionary steps we know exist. And then there are just far too many myths to count that lead to people the world over not believing HIV — or even pregnancy, for that matter — can happen to them.

Yes, let’s push for more political support for condoms. But contrary to what Ms. Sippel says, that’s not “it.” It is far more complex than that.


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Withdrawal as effective as condoms. Let’s be honest.

Posted by Condomologist on June 9, 2009

While I try to stay focused on condoms on the blog, the fact is that such a focus stems from my larger goal of promoting safer, more responsible sex. And that means providing a forum in which I discuss a means of contraception that can prevent both pregnancy and STDs. But occasionally the word “condom” keeps popping up amidst discussion of some other related topic — in this case the act of withdrawal, or “pulling out”, prior to ejaculation as a means to prevent pregnancy — and I can’t ignore it. The blogosphere is rife with debate and commentary since a piece came out in the June issue of the journal Contraception outlining data which shows withdrawal to be comparably effective to condoms: Couples will get pregnant 18% of the time with typical use of withdrawal, compared to 17% of condom users.  Props to my hometown Philadelphia Inquirer not just for summarizing the issue fairly well, but for highlighting the hypocrisy and dangerous views of some of the sex-postive sexual educator crowd. 

Science isn’t perfect here, as the data collection methods leave something to be desired in terms of providing greater insight and detail into how exclusively withdrawal is used, how exactly it’s used, how often it’s even reported as a method of contraception…but I won’t get into details, as the larger point stands that withdrawal is not only a decent option, but it’s fairly commonly used. Check out the blog from one of the co-authors of the study for a good synopsis of the debate. My goal is simply to bring awareness to the issue and make the point that we need to start addressing all forms of contraception openly and honestly and then believe that users — young people included — have the ability to make an informed decision. That includes information on condoms, of course, and it definitely includes information on abstinence and monogamy.

Still, we see and hear too much from professionals in my field espousing their own personal biases and essentially committing the same sin as the abstinence-only crowd by denying their students the truth — something they vehemently claim to support and practice. Case in point, from the above Philadelphia Inquirer article:

“I’m certainly not outraged by the article, but I’m concerned about how it could be interpreted,” said Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “The whole thing about withdrawal is that it’s hard to control yourself when you’re in the middle of the act. For someone who has no access to anything else, sure, it’s better than nothing.”

The “better than nothing” rap is one of several misconceptions about withdrawal, Jones and her coauthors say.

Really, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, for which I volunteer as an educator, is on record as saying withdrawal is simply “better than nothing?” She’s not arguing with the data — although, to be clear, Planned Parenthood hasn’t yet updated their website to account for this story, which summarizes data which has been around for quite some time — but rather arguing that men simply aren’t that good at controlling themselves. Well most men I know do know when they’re about to ejaculate, but regardless, the point here is that the numbers speak for themselves.

But Steinberg is not alone, and her company includes other very prominent sex educators:

“For plenty of young couples using withdrawal, it doesn’t take long to get to a time when a male partner decides to go without withdrawing on purpose – often without consulting his partner,” wrote Heather Corinna, a Seattle sex educator who runs, a popular sex advice Web site.

Yikes! All the comprehensive sex ed crowd is running for cover, quick to rationalize their years of avoiding the withdrawal discussion with stories of irresponsible, incompetent men who can’t be counted on to make withdrawal effective. It’s fair to mention the downsides of a contraceptive method, as Steinberg sort of does, and as we all do in our programming. But if we’ve reached the point where we’re essentially telling women that men can’t be trusted and that their intentions are selfish — and, as such, implying that men have little role to play in the safer sex process — then we’re a long way from doing our job.

Part of our failure to find common ground with the abstinence-only crowd is a failure to address the need to address the cultural values and sexual mores of young people that contribute to astronomical teen pregnancy rates in this country. And one step in that huge process of achieving meaningful dialogue involves accepting young people’s sexuality while encouraging them to engage in meaningful relationships in which they can communicate with and trust their partners. Achieving progress on that front means continuing on with our goal of making sexuality less taboo, but in the process treating teens like human beings capable of making difficult decisions; that might (and often should) mean postponing sexual intercourse until they’ve known their partner for some time, and then it will follow that, if and when they engage in vaginal intercourse, they’re able to discuss condoms, rings, patches, IUDs, pills, and — yes! — withdrawal. But as long as men are pushed to the side and dismissed as pointless in the reproductive health world, and as long as we condescendingly treat young people as not worthy of science-based information, then we have a long, long way to go.

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One more reason to support condoms

Posted by Condomologist on June 2, 2009

In the wake of the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, I think it important to reiterate a point I’ve long made as a professional in the reproductive and sexual health world: I fully support and understand the pro-life (or anti-choice, whatever you want to call it) position — in fact, I can come to no other conclusion, despite my my strong pro-choice views, that abortion does indeed take away life — but I cannot reconcile the views of those who are both pro-life and anti-contraception. If we as a nation seek to reduce the number of abortions, we must make clear to our children that condoms and other forms of contraception are highly effective in preventing pregnancy in the first place if they choose to have sex. Condoms work, they work well, and they have helped avoid untold numbers of abortions. The pro-life stance is respectable, but anti-abortion advocates would be wise to — among many other things, including condemning the kind of terrorism that led to Tiller’s death — step up to the plate and promote a sea change in the way we promote healthy sexuality in this country. And that means an understanding that teenagers and other adults will have pre-marital sex, and when they do, they deserve the right to have all the tools at their disposal to avoid becoming pregnant.

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Oh, Bristol, you just don’t get it

Posted by Condomologist on June 1, 2009

Bristol Palin, now an abstinence spokeswoman for the Candies Foundation, graces the pages of this week’s People magazine, and the cover quotes her as saying, “If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex. Trust me. Nobody.” No, Bristol, if girls realized the consequences of having unprotected sex, they may consider not having sex or they may consider having a sex and using a condom. You got pregnant because you didn’t use condoms, not because you had sex, which amounts to a failure to use protection, not a failure to abstain. Though you didn’t do that either.


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French First Lady takes on the Pope

Posted by Condomologist on May 28, 2009

From Women on the Web comes news that hottie French First Lady Carla Bruni blasts the Catholic Church’s stance on condoms. Bruni is quoted in the magazine Femme Actuelle:

I was born Catholic, I was baptised, but in my life I feel profoundly secular. I find that the controversy coming from the Pope’s message — albeit distorted by the media — is very damaging. I think the Church should evolve on this issue. It presents the condom as a contraceptive which, incidentally, it forbids, although it is the only existing protection.

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Pope Backlash Continues

Posted by Condomologist on May 18, 2009

There’s no doubt the Pope riled up emotions with his anti-condom stance a couple months back. But nothing I’ve seen or heard so far has the potential to stir up the masses quite like Belgian artist Ben Heine and this portrayal originally posted on (and then removed from) the Deviant Art website, as reported by Free Thinker, a British site giving voice to Athiest thought. Judge for yourself.



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Rock Legend Michael Sweet Says…

Posted by Condomologist on May 12, 2009

“Ain’t no safe way.” From 1994 comes this gem, via Video Sift, that I imagine must be used somewhere as a teaching tool in an ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage lesson, scaring the kids into recognizing that there “ain’t no safe way anymore/you got people with one, two, three, and four”…Kids? Infections? Condoms in their pocket? Warts on their genitals? I don’t know what the people have, but Sweet does make clear that you “better change your desire/or the hard way you will learn.” At least give the kids an alternative to intercourse if you’re going to nonsensically urge them to change their desire — you know, like masturbation or heavy petting or necking or whatever the kids are doing other than vaginal intercourse these days. (I learned a new one the other day: Apparently some douche bag guys at the douchey prep school I went to just got in big trouble for playing Stone Face with a young lady after-hours in the school cafeteria. I’ll send you a condom-related gadget if you can tell me what said game involves. I’m wondering yet if there’s hope for our youth after hearing this one.) Anyway, I thought it funny the tags attached to this video over at Video Sift: “terrible, christian rock, condoms, bullshit.” I concur. Other than those sentiments, I’m speechless.


Posted in Activism, Education, Videos | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

We missed you Bristol and Levi

Posted by Condomologist on May 7, 2009

Sorry to my few loyal readers for leaving you hanging these past 5 days or so. I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful summit focused on advocating for change in foreign policy to promote healthier lives for women across the globe. Thanks to the folks at CHANGE and all the dedicated, passionate participants who made my stay in DC an energizing, exciting few days. Upon reflection, I really needed some rejuvenation away from the day-to-day work I enjoy so much, and this trip provided just that. And part of clearing my head was not blogging. If only I had assistants, like Andrew Sullivan does, to keep the thing going while I take time off…Oh, my bad, back to condoms.

When Levi Johnston — he of Bristol and Sarah Palin fame — made his way unexpectedly into our lives during the terrifying campaign of the Alaska governor last fall, I would’ve said with 100% certainty that I would never prop up his words on sexuality education as a model of insight and thoughtfulness. How wrong I was. It’s sad that Levi and Bristol are more concerned with petty spats than coming together for their son, but their respective craving of the spotlight has at least brought the question of abstinence education to a mainstream media too often lacking any substance. I know, it’s still People mag-type journalism (wow,  I sure do miss reading said trashy magazine at my parents’ house every week), but it’s news nonetheless. And let’s not forget that while Bristol now advocates for abstinence as the right and realistic way to prevent pregnancy, a few months ago she was telling Greta Van Susteren a different story.

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No animals. No kids. No shit.

Posted by Condomologist on May 1, 2009

Those are the words of the legendary Dan Savage. But everything else goes. Enjoy.


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Obama and Sexual Health

Posted by Condomologist on April 28, 2009

Campus Progress, a wing of the lefty think tank Center for American Progress, takes a look at President Obama’s 2009 appropriations bill and 2010 budget and grades his positions on sexual health, using their nifty condom scale. 1 condoms is a failing grade, 5 condoms equals “awesome beyond recognition.” Their final grade for the President: 18 out of 25 condoms, or 72%. While there is clearly room for improvement, the left must recognize that compromise is necessary for a President to accomplish anything, and a C- grade poorly reflects on a man committed to progressive ideals, yet cognizant of the fact that Washington becomes paralyzed without (at least a modicum of) bi-partisan support.

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