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Archive for the ‘Sex’ Category

Like last year, I missed Back Up Your Birth Control Day. However, it’s never too late to share some facts about back-up birth control, otherwise known as emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill. So, here are some (they may or may not be the same ones I posted last year.)

The most common form of EC is emergency contraceptive pills, which contain concentrated dosages of the same hormones found in daily birth control pills, meaning either progestin alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin. However, EC is not as effective as regular birth control.

People 17 and older can purchase EC without a prescription, and people under 17 need a prescription, except in a few states.

EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant and EC will not cause
defects if a woman takes it when she is already pregnant.

EC will not affect a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant in the future.

EC is not RU-486, otherwise known as the “abortion pill.”

EC, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89% after a single act of unprotected sex. Effectiveness declines as the interval between
intercourse and the start of treatment increases.

In the first 24 hours after intercourse, EC can prevent 95% of expected pregnancies.

EC can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but the sooner it is used, the better.

Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, and more than half occur among women who are using a regular method of contraception.

Back Up Your Birth Control Day has an entire section of the website dedicated to facts and information, if you want more. Mess-ups happen, and it’s important to remember that there are ways to deal with them.

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Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton (SAVE), a collection of groups working to fight sexual assault in Edmonton, Canada announced Friday the creation of the “Don’t Be That Guy” Campaign. The title sounds strange, but the campaign itself is definitely worth looking at.

The ads, which are supposed to target males between the ages of 18 and 24, will be posted in print, on buses, and in urinals in bars. There will be three different ads, and their messages read as follows:

“Just because you help her home … doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.”

“Just because she isn’t saying no … doesn’t mean she’s saying yes.” (This features an image of a woman passed out on a couch.)

“Just because she’s drunk doesn’t mean she wants to f***.”

The messages were chosen after testing among focus groups showed that the messages clearly resonated with young men. The Edmonton police reports that over half of the sexual assault cases it dealt with last year had alcohol as a factor.

The linked article mentions a study in the UK that showed that 48% of men ages 18 to 25 who were polled did not consider it rape if the woman was too drunk to know what was happening. I find that to be incredibly scary–and it makes me think that these ads are not only useful, but necessary. There is often a lot of talk about the ambiguous line of who is to blame for rape when the girl chooses to drink enough to become intoxicated, and these discussions, when respectful, can be interesting and important to have–but it is still important to remember that a woman who is passed out or drunk beyond cognizance cannot give consent. Rather than dealing with this blame game after the fact, this ad campaign is trying to prevent rape from happening by reminding men that consent is still consent, and that even if you can take advantage of a drunk person, you should choose not to.

There are a lot of campaigns out there targeting women and urging them to be uber-cautious when going out with men–and there are people who finds these campaigns to be excessive and dismissive of women’s sexual desires and choices. Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with reminding women to be careful when they go out, and to make sure that they’re safe–it’s just smart. Telling women to be careful is not equivalent to telling them not to have sex; it is simply telling them to look out for themselves.

That being said, I think this campaign is important because it moves beyond simply encouraging women to look out for themselves and turns to men, the people being accused of rape, and reminds them that consent from women who are unconscious or extremely drunk is not actually consent. It targets them (hopefully) preemptively–and therefore can hopefully lead to a change in the mindset of men who once thought it would be okay to take advantage of an incredibly drunk woman. In order to prevent rape, both women and men need to be aware of how it happens and try to prevent it through their personal actions.

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Ever since I saw Sex and the City 2 a week ago, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say in this blog post. I’m a huge fan of the series, and (I won’t even try to link here, because there are so many people who disagree/agree with this statement) I do believe that it had a sense of feminism to it, from the way it portrayed strong female friendships to the way that it worked to normalize women’s sexual needs. But the first movie seemed overblown and excessive to me, and I found this to be even worse. Not just because the plot seemed to be missing, but also because I left feeling that its attempt at feminism was somewhat…offensive.

Take, for example, the portrayal of Muslim women as completely oppressed. In one scene, Carrie and the others stare (somewhat creepily) at a woman in a niqab (she is completely covered up), marveling at how she manages to eat a French fry and at how she has no freedom. Now, there are a lot of issues for women in the Muslim world—such as not being allowed to drive on public roads in Saudi Arabia. But, as this article in Salon points out, not once do the female protagonists try to engage Muslim women in conversation on these issues. The only interactions we see are at the end, when a group of Muslim women help them to run away from an angry mob of men—kind, certainly, but somewhat unrealistic. Having actual discussions with Muslim women about their society and their religious world and choices, or at least about their fashion or something would have given those women a voice, exactly what Carrie is complaining that they don’t have.

Similarly, singing “I am Woman” on karaoke and having the entire room (full of Arab men, belly-dancers, etc.) join in seems nice, but a weird juxtaposition to the extreme oppression portrayed throughout the rest of the movie. That’s another theme that runs throughout the movie—contradictions. On one hand, Samantha, as usual, demands that women be allowed to express themselves sexually by proudly holding up packs of condoms in the souk to prove that women do, in fact, have sex; this could be seen as quite the attempt at feminism. However, for me, at least, feminism also has comes hand in hand with some kind of respect. A respect of women, their bodies, and their wishes, but also a respect of other people at the same time. And while personally, I am glad to live in a country where women can wear low-cut shirts without feeling out of place or inciting a mob, going to a country where women are expected to dress modestly and blatantly doing the opposite is, well, rude. Yes, she was suffering through the hot flashes of menopause, I know, and had her medicines taken away by the government. But respect is still respect, and the other three women seemed to be able to deal with not covering up completely while still acting with more respect.

I have a lot more to say about this movie. I chose to write about respect and religion because I think it relates to from the rib and the way that Judaism also struggles to balance respect for people’s beliefs with more modern ideas. But, briefly another topic, here is an interesting defense of the movie for allowing women to complain about how hard marriage is, for allowing women to talk about not always loving the responsibilities of parenting, and for what it is—a movie about luxury. I found the consumerism and blatant excess to be much, much too much, but I knew that it would be going into the movie, and I even knew that from watching the series, so I think it is something to get past. I also do agree that the movie did provide for some interesting female dialogue—some dialogue that would have been better served had it been in a different movie.

I knew I would go see this movie, and if there’s a third one, I’ll see it again. That’s the kind of fan I am. But I miss the series and the way that I walked away from each episode thinking that while these women had problems to deal with (because that’s life), they also knew how to take care of themselves and each other. This time, I walked away feeling that the characters who I had grown to love were kind of pathetic. And that is a sad feeling to have.

PS: Did no one else find it weird that the solution to Carrie’s cheating was to give her an engagement ring two years after their wedding? Because the trials of marriage, love, and commitment can be solved by having a man put his mark on a woman with a sparkly ring…?

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This post is cross-posted at JWA

I was a little surprised to see how much frank talk about sex was featured in The Sisterhood this week. As a teenager, I am used to people around me talking about sex a lot–in real life, in movies, in songs, in basically every medium except in Jewish blogs. But that is no longer!

It was interesting for me to read about how many women have been affected by the lack of frank discussion of sex and sexuality in Judaism, and how many women go through their lives without really talking about sex or their sexual needs. On one hand, I find that foreign, because people around me talk about sex all the time. On the other hand, when I thought about it, so much of the portrayal of sex in the media is skewed–there is a lot of woman-bashing, perpetuation of sexual stereotypes, and very little emphasis on what women actually want. Sounds kind of similar to the complaints Jewish women have about their own lack of sexual literacy.

So I thought that I’d share this music video by Rihanna, an internationally known pop artist, as an example of some of the contradictions in the portrayal of sex in the media today and what they mean for the way women see their sexuality.

On one hand, the video is clearly very sexual, to the point that it is somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Rihanna wears very little clothing, and the entire video could be seen as demeaning to Rihanna in the way that she uses her body to get people to watch her video and listen to her music. However, if you listen to the lyrics, the discussion gets somewhat more complicated when she says things like “Boy, I want, want, want whatchu want, want, want,” “Relax, let me do it how I wanna” and “Babe, if I don’t feel it I ain’t faking, no, no.” She declares that she has sexual needs just like any man and makes it clear that she expects to be satisfied. The picture she paints is nowhere near perfect, clearly–Rude Boy doesn’t teach any kind of actual safe sex education. However, it still paints the picture of a strong woman who will not settle for a man who will not please her.

Personally, I think that it is important that songs like this exist. Its not my favorite song, to say the least, but I find it somewhat empowering to know that a woman can write a song about her sexual demands just like so many men write songs about what they want from women. And while it is easy to write Rude Boy off as an overly sexual pop video (which I believe it is, to an extent), it also serves as a counterpoint to too many overly sexual pop videos that portray women as having no sexual needs. Girls today, used to hearing songs like Right Round and Gimme Head (this is not a joke), have gotten used to only thinking about sex in terms of men’s needs. Is Rude Boy perfect? No. But is it a step in the right direction? I believe that it is.

Read the rest here

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The main article in Time magazine this week is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the FDA approval of the Pill. I don’t usually read Time, so I was happy to discover it and read the somewhat surprising things it has to say about birth control. Many people attribute the advent of the birth control with the rise of a sexual revolution and increased promiscuity, but the article argues that there was no such revolution: in the 1960s, people seeking the Pill were required to be married, and by 1953, way before the Pill was approved by the FDA, half of the women studied in the Kinsey Report had sex out of marriage.

So what did the Pill do? They took away an excuse for employers not to hire women, as women would no longer be expected to need to quit for having a baby. It went hand in hand with Title IX in ’72, which banned discrimination in education:

The Pill played a role, argues Harvard economist Goldin, in persuading colleges and graduate schools not to reject female applicants on the assumption that they would just wind up getting pregnant and dropping out. After 1970, as states lowered the age of majority and young people were granted more rights, college and graduate students had easier access to contraception. From 1970 to ’80, Goldin notes, women went from comprising 10% of first-year law students to 36% and from 4% of business-school students to 28%. “I’ve taken a lot of grief by people who insist the Pill had nothing to do with this, it’s all the women’s movement,” she says. But her research showed the connection between the point at which different states allowed access to the Pill and the progress women in those states made.

The Pill did, and has done, a lot for women—opening the door to control over their bodies and procreation. And yes, there are still a lot of problems with it, namely the fact that 63% of young men and women say that they know little or nothing about birth control pills. Education about contraception is clearly lacking, but at least the Pill is there.

So what does Judaism say about the Pill? Traditionally, Judaism encourages sex, but only inside of a marriage. Not only this, but in Judaism it is a Mitzvah to procreate and to have children, and a sin to “waste seed.” So where does contraception come in, in light of this?

More liberal and modern aspects of Judaism allow contraception in all forms. Traditional groups stress that having a baby should not be pushed off altogether, but that contraception may be used when pregnancy or childbirth might harm the mother, to limit the number of children in a family for the sake of the family, or to space out having children. The methods that are generally approved of are the Pill, sometimes the diaphragm, and the IUD, because they do not involve “wasting sperm” like the condom would. There’s also a story of a woman being allowed to drink a potion to make her infertile, which is the precedent in Judaism for the Pill.

It’s weird for me, at least, to have grown up in society where the Pill is so mainstream and condoms are handed out at festivals and concerts, but to be a part of Judaism where there are such limits on what kinds of contraception can be used. And obviously, that’s a very traditional view—Reform Judaism, for instance, encourages people to have babies only when they are good and ready. But still, thinking about it to me is a clash of worlds: the modern world, in which the Pill has changed the way women fit into it, and the traditional religious world, where women’s roles have been somewhat set for generations. And I guess it’s a choice that people make for themselves, choosing the world they see themselves fit into best. And the reason they can make that choice for themselves? Because the Pill is available, accessible, and legal.

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“Ellie, is your doll a boy?”

“Noooo.”

“Is your doll a girl?”

“Noooooo.”

“Then what is your doll?”

“Baby!”

This is a conversation I witnessed between my stepmother and my 2-year-old sister. The frustrated claims of a toddler best represent what gender theorists have been saying for years: you acquire gender and are not born with it.

In my sister’s eyes, babies are neither boys nor girls; they are androgynous. They have yet to learn the ritual dance that is gender. She sees me putting on my bra and immediately associates it with “Mommy” (i.e. women), but because she does not do so yet, she is exempt from both the title and the classification. I whip out my blue eyeliner and she’s quick to associate it with her babysitter, but not femininity as a whole. She has yet to subscribe to the prescribed patterns of daily life we are told to live by.

And this is just in the secular world! In Orthodoxy, the gender roles I perform daily are compounded by another set of laws that dictate how to perform gender religiously and in the eyes of God. According to halacha, my sister has another year before she begins to take on gender and even at the age of three, halacha permits that she only takes on gender in relation to and through the rituals performed by her male peers.

When he turns three, my sister’s playmate will have an Upsherin, a ritual haircut that will remove his waist-length blond locks so he will be distinguishable as a boy. He will no longer be one of the “babies” my sister refers to as androgynous; he will have a gender he can perform and, only by association, his female peers will too.

Because girls do not get a ritual initiation into gender, an Upsherin is yet another example of how girls are expected to express gender only through the dictates of male rituals. It is hard to find a gender-based ritual for girls by girls in halachic texts. Furthermore, these children do not decide their gender based on personal identity; they define gender based on accepted or rejected ritual practices.

What does this say about how we perform/deviate from gender? How does biological sex become gender at a certain age through a didactic religious practice? And why, oh why, must Jewish masculinity continue to serve as a benchmark for femininity?

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Frum porn?

So, I was reading Jewcy today and I stumbled upon this, a discussion of a growing interest in “frum porn” and things like Chasidic  sex ads, and it’s strange, to say the least, to think about, especially because like the article mentions 

by definition frum porn would be oxymoronic – that would mean that the porn stars would have to be dressed modestly and this would defeat the entire purpose of porn in the first place.

The concept of an Orthodox Jewish sex industry is very foreign to me. In theory, Orthodox people are not supposed to engage in onanism and extra-marital sex, but a lot of things are supposed to happen in theory that don’t necessarily happen in reality. So I guess it’s only natural that a sex industry developed for the Orthodox crowd just as it has developed for everyone else, but it’s still a little shocking to me. (And maybe that shock effect is what attracts some people to it?)

Interestingly enough, the article never actually defines what “frum porn” constitutes, so for many of us the question still remains: what is “frum porn”, and what is its appeal?

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