Temperature Afghan, Because I Live on the Edge

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m making a temperature afghan, because that’s a thing I do now. Crochet. I feel compelled to make fun of it, weirdly. Oh, yes, I crochet, because I am a nerd. But, yes, I am a nerd, and I’m comfortable with that label. Also, if anyone ever tries to tell you that crocheting or knitting is super easy, just ignore their lies. I learned to knit a couple of years ago, and was never particularly great at it, but I enjoy taking something that seems so small (yarn) and making it into something big and useful (the blanket, obvs).

So, what’s a temperature afghan you ask. Well, it’s a thing I saw on Facebook a few months ago where you make a color key where each different color represents a range of temperatures. Each day I take the high from my weather app and then crochet one line in that color. So by the end of the year I should have 365 rows. The color charts I kept finding didn’t accurately represent Iowa weather, so I made my own chart. Please see the very professional and polished example below:

Very Professional and Polished Temperature Afghan Chart

As the weather changes I’ll need to buy more colors, but Iowa is going to be pretty solidly within the colors I already have for a while. If I were doing the “real feel” I would need a ton of purple, but so far the high hasn’t been below zero yet.

So far it’s going well. I’ve managed to do one row a day for five days (I haven’t done today’s row yet). I’m a little nervous that once the weather starts to get nicer, you know, in May, that I won’t make time to do a row every day and I’m going to have to try and catch up occasionally. But, we’ll see. Here’s what I have so far:


My mom has assured me that it will become less curly once I get more rows on, so I’m not letting it bother me yet. My mom learned to crochet from her mom, and so it’s a nice tradition that I’ve wanted to learn for a while now. And some day I aspire to learn more than just the single crochet stitch.

Today’s row will be “Jade” since the high for Cedar Rapids was 9 degrees fahrenheit. It’s the lighter blue color that the last two rows have been. Also, I’ve been sick for the last couple of days, and today I napped from 3:30-5:30. Laying down when it was full daylight and waking up when it was mostly dark was backwards and somewhat disorienting.  Today I’m grateful for sick leave at work.








Let’s Talk About Periods

Image Source: This Huffington Post article about why tampons are a human right.

Did the title of this post make you uncomfortable?

I have a really weird internal/emotional relationship with periods. Every so often I’m in a position where I am forced to confront the discomfort I feel when I think about being on my period. I’m a Health Educator. Part of my job is to talk to classrooms full of kids and young adults about periods. It’s important. If no one had taken my 5th grade self, along with all of the other 5th grade girls, and sat us down to learn about periods and puberty in school I would have known very little about it. As I’ve grown up and become a more aware adult I have learned a lot about what would have helped me when I was younger that no one ever told me, so I try and make sure to tell all of those things to the groups of students I see. I do my best to normalize periods and make sure that I never connect any kind of shame with these discussions. Because for a very long time I felt very deeply ashamed of this natural biological process.

I just watched this BuzzFeed video about free bleeding that is trying to raise awareness about the fact that thousands of women in the US face their periods without a guarantee that they will have any kind of period products. Pads and tampons and Diva Cups, and the other methods of controlling and catching period blood are expensive. Take a minute to watch their experiment.

I sat here uncomfortable the entire time I watched the video. How did it make you feel? They showed the blood on the puppy pads from their chairs, and I cringed every time. Because I was taught, accidentally and unknowingly, to be ashamed of my period. My mom is amazing, and she did her best to get me whatever type of period product I needed to make me comfortable. But I think that she is also very uncomfortable with periods. This was projected to me. The whispered conversations about whether or not I needed more pads. Not even liking to say the word tampon. I internalized these things, and spent years dreading the seven to ten days every month that I had to deal with this awful thing that happened to my body.

I remember very vividly the fact that the upstairs bathrooms of my high school only had partial doors on the stalls. For some reason they had decided to use doors that had one whole corner missing diagonally. If you were sitting it was fine, but if you needed to stand up to replace a tampon every person who happened by could see. I would hold off as long as I could before going to the bathroom. This made my cramps worse and also made me feel slightly sick.

But I always had the products I needed. One time my mom left work and drove across town just to bring me tampons because I didn’t want to ask at the office.

As an adult I have embraced my period. I am no longer afraid of the noise a pad wrapper makes in a quiet bathroom. I am not afraid to carry a tampon in my hand as I go to the bathroom at work. (I work in an office composed almost entirely of women.) I can ask other women if they have a tampon if I’m out. I boldly buy my box of tampons, pack of pads, and bar of chocolate at the register regardless of whether the cashier is male or female. But this was not always the case. I learned to do these things as an act of defiance. An act of rebellion. Why should I be ashamed of this? Everyone knows that menstrual periods happen. I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to suffer in silence. I reject the idea that being on my period makes me less myself. I will boldly bleed.

And I have that luxury. I am privileged enough to never know what it’s like to not know where I’m going to get pads when I need them. I am in a position where I can talk with groups of students and try and project this normalization of periods. I can talk with groups of girls about what makes them feel embarrassed. Because it wasn’t just me who grew up mortified by this experience. We have a tendency to teach most young girls that bleeding is secret. It’s a private act that needs to be dealt with silently. But I will not be a part of that. I will teach that periods are just another part of growing up. Yeah, they suck, but you can manage this. Being in excruciating pain every month is not normal. Being in so much pain that you miss school because you can’t stand up is not normal. Cramps happen. An internal organ is actively shredding its lining and pushing it out of your body. But you don’t need to suffer in silence. There are a number of medical conditions that affect girls and women that make their periods unusually painful, and there are treatments for these. But because we surround menstruation in this culture of silence so many people suffer needlessly.

Speak up. Speak out. Have your period loudly until the people around you aren’t weirded out by it any longer. Support others who are on their period.

And if you can, donate period products to a local homeless shelter. If you are going to give a bag of supplies to a woman asking for help on the side of the street include pads and/or tampons. This is a necessity. Not a luxury. And no one needs to be ashamed.








Millennials Aren’t Having Babies, and Other Unimportant Things

So, I read this article that a few of my Facebook friends shared/commented on, because I always like to see what people are blaming on Millennials now. And I had a similar reaction to it as I do the others: resignation that older generations like to blame every problem on us and a simmering rage that they completely ignore the reality of our lived experience and the fact that it was THEIR actions which caused all of the bullshit in the world we all live in today.

The article is titled, “9 Brutally real reasons why millennials refuse to have kids.” The reasons are as follows:

  1. The world kinda sucks now.
  2. We’re poor as hell.
  3. Traffic and high rents make life miserable for the people that already exist.
  4. Pregnancy is… not… hot.
  5. Because these days, people have kids for selfish reasons.
  6. We’ll ruin them up with terrible parenting. (ruin them up?)
  7. We want careers. So sue us.
  8. Because they’re not going to fix anything.
  9. We don’t even need a reason;we just don’t want them, so stop asking!

I agree with many of these, and they do largely represent my views on becoming a parent. I am a Millennial after all, but most of them aren’t actually the deciding factor for me.

For me, really close to the top; possibly tied for first place with number 2 and number 9, is number 4. The others are part of it, but there are primarily three reasons that I don’t want to have a baby. I wouldn’t have chosen that title for number 4, but the sentiment still stands. Have you ever been in a room with a bunch of pregnant women and mothers discussing what happened to their body during pregnancy, giving birth, and after birth? It’s horrifying. Truly nightmare-inducing in a very real way. Not sarcastically. If I hadn’t already been sure of the fact that my body will only ever support my own life the conversation I witnessed between some of my coworkers about giant blood clots after giving birth would have been more than enough to convince me. Post baby bleeding for weeks. WEEKS. I’m inconvenienced by the 3-5 days a month that I have to put up with it already.

Add to that the fact that I know what happens to all of your internal organs as the fetus grows up out of your pelvis. They literally just squish up and crowd your lungs. No thanks. I have asthma, and my lungs need all the space they can get. And your poor bladder. I experience profound, sleepy rage when I have to pee in the middle of the night and can’t just ignore it. Dragging my stumbling self to the bathroom twenty minutes before my alarm goes off just to sit and experience this all-consuming rage at everything only to go back to bed and try my best to go back to sleep at the same time as my head hits the pillow. Because I refuse to get up even one minute before I have decided I have to. That’s not something a parent gets to decide anymore. I remember being terrified of our bathroom growing up. I would walk past the door very carefully not looking at it, and would go and wake my mom up so she could come with me when I had to pee in the middle of the night. And she did it. She got herself out of bed and went and sat on the side of the tub as her child peed and washed her hands, and then she went back to bed. And, because I have the best mom in the universe, not once did she project to my little kid self that she was filled with fiery rage.

I don’t know if I could do that. I might just get really good at cleaning urine out of a mattress or something. That’s how important sleep is to me.

The entire pregnancy/birth/parent process is terrifying and not infrequently disgusting to me. I have watched more than one mom lick food off of her babies hand because it was easier than juggling their squirming baby and the food and spoon etc. so they could reach a towel or wipe or whatever. You know what’s on that hand? Someone else’s saliva and chewed food. And who knows what else. Children have no concept of cleanliness for a lot of years. My nephew still occasionally wipes his nose on me instead of bothering to get a tissue or to use his own clothes. That’s a thing that he occasionally does because he doesn’t understand just how gross that is or adult boundaries. And I don’t even live with him. I shudder to think what substances he might have or still does wipe on his parents.

Which brings me to number 2 (I’m ignoring that obvious parental innuendo.) We’re poor as hell. In many cases I think that too many people say that they are poor with no concept of what it means to be truly poor. But this does’t hold up with many many millennials. We are drowning in thousands upon thousands of dollars of student debt and can rarely find jobs that pay us enough to afford the student loan payments let alone afford rent and food and transportation to and from our sub-par jobs. We live well below the poverty line in many cases. If we’re lucky enough (and this lucky is meant sarcastically, as we’ve just spent 4-8 years getting a degree to make us qualified) to get a job in our chosen field it is underpaid, and we’re often expected to have first had at least two years of experience even though no one will hire us so we can get that experience, so we often do unpaid internships and move back in with our parents if we’re fortunate enough to have that option.

When someone can’t even afford to take care of everything they need to survive, how could they possibly provide all of the things that a baby needs to thrive? Hey, mom, I know that I moved out eight years ago, but can my partner and I and our baby move back in with you? (Yet another thing that millennials often get criticized for doing.)

And finally, I just don’t want to be pregnant or give birth. We were raised to believe that everything is within our reach (a blatant lie fed to 90s kids through popular media) And that we could “have it all.” But I gotta tell you, “having it all” does not mean the same thing to Millennials that it does to older generations. “Having it all” to a Millennial often means having a job that we don’t hate that pays us enough to afford to live in an apartment, buy groceries, take care of our rescue cat, and occasionally do something fun. I often see articles stating that Millennials travel more than any other generation, but that is part of larger, often invisible system of sacrifice. Millennials are buying fewer houses, owning fewer possessions, and there is a reason why the whole DIY movement is happening right now. We can’t afford to buy that cool thing, but we might be able to make it.

We are largely educated, and have an understanding of the impact of humanity on the environment as well as working knowledge of all the harmful chemicals that go into our food. So we grow container gardens in the windows of our overpriced studio apartments and we own three chairs that we found for $10 at a flea market. And we recycle things into other things. And we live communally and without children. We live in the world that our parents and grandparents and great grandparents etc. made for us. Many of the people who are being criticized for not having kids graduated high school just a couple of years before the economic collapse of 2008. We graduated college in a world where B.A. degrees were being devalued, older adults were occupying the entry-level jobs that should have been available for us because they had found themselves recently unemployed, where the US government treats student loans as a revenue source, and where child care often costs thousands of dollars a year if it’s available at all. Gas was also at record highs, and commuting was becoming more necessary to find jobs.

We became adults during the worst recession since the Great Depression in a world that refused to acknowledge the effect this was having on us. So, yes. Millennials are refusing to have children. But it’s not because we’re lazy or entitled. It’s because we understand that we have the right to govern our bodies and it’s because we have lived first hand the reality of just how completely our society has failed us.











Finicky Food

Do you ever have that one thing that you crave all of a sudden that refuses to be ignored until you’ve eaten it? Or until you’ve eaten it three or four times? Every so often I want to eat a specific thing so bad that it’s all I want until my craving is satisfied. And then, depending on how in control I was, sometimes I don’t want to eat whatever it was for months.

A few weeks ago I was craving the specific burrito I get at Pancheros, and I restrained the craving for a week before I gave in and had the burrito. And then I had another one three days later. And then I had to convince myself that I did not need to go and get a burrito for breakfast the next day, and was successful. (Possibly because they weren’t open, or possibly because of will power. You’ll never know.) But then I had one for lunch the following Monday because I had spent the entire weekend not eating this burrito. But that last one did it, and I haven’t craved it since. Although it does still sound good for sometime in the future.

But before that it was my sandwich at a local shop. I thought about that sandwich every day for three days, and finally went and got it. And then I proceeded to eat the sandwich almost every other day for a week. And then finally I couldn’t stand it. I made it halfway through the Last Sandwich, and had to stop because I was disgusted by it. And I haven’t been able to enjoy a sandwich from that place since then. That was at least a year ago.

The same thing happened to me with peanut butter cookies. My great aunt, Helen, and I used to make them all the time. It was our thing for a while. I always made the little criss-cross marks on top with the fork. But one day we made the cookies and I took one bite and couldn’t go on. I haven’t liked peanut butter cookies since. And that was a decade ago at least. And this dislike of peanut butter cookies has translated itself to all other things peanut butter flavored. (Besides actual peanuts and peanut butter used only as a spread and never mixed into anything ever at all.)

Is this just me? Am I the only one to permanently ruin delicious things for myself? Or do I just have really food-resilient friends and family?

It should be said that I don’t crave things very often at all. This makes meal planning difficult, but isn’t an issue in general. It’s like my body doesn’t crave anything for a long time, but saves it all up and then uses it all on one specific thing every so often. I also have the ability to completely divorce something from the food-recognition receptors in my brain. (Are those a thing?) I will see a peanut butter cookie and as soon as I know what it is I stop registering it as food. My brain literally overlooks it as an option. The same thing happens to me with most seafood and a large majority of types of beans. I don’t even see them as food, which is silly, but it’s always been that way. This used to be the case for a lot of other foods as well, but I have forced myself to try more things and have overcome a lot of it.

The entire reason I bring this up is because I have a bag of veggie chips (sweets mix – beets and sweet potatoes, etc) sitting in my desk drawer, and have just come to the realization that I’m not going to eat them. I love veggie chips, and I’ve not specifically ever craved them, but I took them out of my lunchbox and put them in the drawer because I didn’t feel like eating them just then. And I know now that I’m not going to do it. At least not any time soon. They have ceased to be food to me. This is a constant, although not particularly important, struggle in my day-to-day life.

To anyone who made it to the end of this mostly useless post, I hope you have a really awesome day and find a dollar on the ground. Have you ever experienced anything like this? Or is it just me?


PS: My Health and Sexuality Educator brain occasionally has the emotional maturity of a 14 year old, and refuses to not see this whole post as potentially one giant “that’s what she said.” Please forgive her. She has to be constantly on her toes so she doesn’t say something in a class that could be made into this type of joke by her very mature 9th graders. (The third person speak was weird. I’ll try not to do it again.)

Make America What, Again?

As I was driving to work today I experienced a series of unsettling things. First, NPR changed Morning Edition to Horror Hour without telling anyone. They kept saying things like the Republican Party has officially nomination Donald Trump for President of the United States, and the theme of today’s Republican National Convention is, “Make America First Again.” And there was a semi driving behind me who had a Confederate Flag painted onto the grill of their truck. And then one of D-Trump’s kids actually said the words, “We’re the only children of a billionaire that feel just as comfortable in the cab of a caterpillar as we do in our cars,” unironically. And he mentioned the fact that people telling his dad that a kid from Brooklyn would never make it in Manhattan only served to spur Drump on. And NPR helpfully added that no one believes in the young man heading to make is way in Manhattan with only 35 million in his pocket.

And I can’t any more. I’ve started to become the person I don’t want to be on Facebook. I rarely use Facebook for anything more than a distraction while I wait in a line or first thing in the morning as I’m waking up. But I kept finding out that this “friend” (acquaintance, usually) is racist, or that “friend” has absolutely no concept of the world we all actually live in, letting their privilege and bias shine through in the memes they were posting. And I found myself itching to comment on them just exactly why they are offensive or the facts that they are ignoring, etc.

And I don’t want to be that person. Everyone has the right to post whatever they want on their social media, but the articles I’ve read on how youth have a breakdown of understanding between the private discourse that happens interpersonally vs the public discourse that happens on social media left out the fact that adults do too. I have seen so many adults I know post something offensive that I can’t imagine them ever saying out loud in real life. And I wanted to textually yell all of the reasons they’re wrong at them. And even though I don’t want to be that person I can’t just ignore it and say nothing.

Enter this blog. Because this is where I get to control content and post what I want on my social media, and I am angry. And I am tired. But mostly this morning I am done.

And don’t get me wrong, if I thought that it could be an actual conversation between me and whichever FB Friend I would 100% try to start that conversation. But so many of the things I see are issues that people seem to be so unwilling to see from a different angle. And no, I’m not blind to the irony that I’m writing that in this post right now. Because I do try and look at multiple sides of an issue that I feel strongly about. I can understand why some of the people are saying the things that they are. I can see the root of the issue that they are concerned about, and I understand their motivation. But that doesn’t make their racism or bigotry or ignorance okay.

Make America First Again is one of the most honest things Donald Trump has said. It completely lies bare his narcissistic need to be Number One. He wants to win the presidency because it’s an important title that he thinks he needs. He wants to build a wall to keep immigrants who are people of color out of the US so he can say that he did it. Other countries are trying to do it, or have succeeded, but he wants to be the one who finally gets it done in the US. He wants to be the first President of the US who ran on nothing but sensationalism and racism with no attempt at actual policy. And he wants to be the one who Wins because of it.

The United States was built on the backs of Native Americans and slaves from Africa and other continents. And we have been run on racist fears ever since. Look at the pictures in the article I linked above. Do they look familiar to you? Because I remember seeing similar images in history class when they actually taught us a little about the effect that all of the wars and events we were glorifying had on the people.


This image from Turkey in 2015 from the above article looks a lot like this one from a Japanese Internment Camp from 1943:


We have lived this before. There are a lot of Americans still alive today who remember being sent to these camps “for their protection” and losing everything. The inflammatory rhetoric that DT uses is how this started. The American people were afraid of the people they saw as Japanese because their leaders were telling them that they should be. And this is already happening with Muslims today. Why do we learn history in school if no one ever seems to learn from it?

So today I live in a world where a billionaire narcissist and all around terrible person was democratically elected by majority as candidate for President of the US after he ran on a platform of nothing. Where 49 innocent people were shot just for celebrating who they were (I linked it in case you forgot). Where police are killing African Americans and then being called heroes. Where one angry man has destabilized an entire community just as they were hitting their stride towards a safer, more inclusive atmosphere. And people are still shouting “guns don’t kill people, people do,” and “All Lives Matter!” and “Blue Lives Matter.” And gun regulation is still at a stand still even though the majority of Americans believe that it should be more difficult to get a gun.

And even though Trump has said an incomprehensible number of morally corrupt and offensive things, the biggest focus for a ton of people is that Hillary Clinton used the wrong email address, (EVEN THOUGH IT WAS LEGAL FOR HER TO DO SO) just like many Secretaries of State before her. And I’m not saying that that’s not a big deal, because it is. But does that really make her worse than Trump? I wish Bernie Sanders had won the nomination, but he didn’t, and I do believe that Clinton will make a good president. Although there are definitely some sketchy things in her past that should not be ignored, how can anyone think that Donald Trump is a better option? There’s no comparison. A career politician who has held other major government office and who has shown that she is (usually) willing to admit and learn from her mistakes vs an overexposed man-child who goes on a rampage when someone hurts his feelings.

This is not a rock and a hard place situation as so many people seem to think. This is a reasonable choice vs a potentially ruinous mistake. But the majority of Republicans still elected Trump for candidate. And I can’t understand it.

I try to look for the helpers. I do. But sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the seer amount of willful ignorance that I see in this election cycle.


Sleeping Beauty: A Metaphor

I have just had one of those mini epiphanies where you suddenly see something that you have always known about but something new clicks and you see it in a completely new light.

I have to admit, somewhat shamefully for my 90s child self, that I have never seen Sleeping Beauty – the Disney version or otherwise. And I just now read the Brothers Grim version of the story, “Little Briar-rose.” Who names their daughter Briar-rose though, seriously? (Someone reaching for symbolism, obviously.)

In the story, in case you’re like me or just need a refresher, the king’s wife (everything is very patriarchal-centered here) has a beautiful daughter, and he’s so happy that she’s so pretty that he has a feast and invites all of the important people in his kingdom except for one Wise Woman, because he runs out of dishes. (I’m pretty sure he could have found one more plate for her. He was the King, but whatever.)

So this  jilted Wise Woman comes and curses the beautiful Briar-rose so that she will prick her finger and fall into a 100 year sleep on her fifteenth birthday (more or less). And the king and queen are so terrified of this coming true that they attempt to get rid of every spinning wheel in the castle, but of course they don’t, and on her fifteenth birthday Briar-rose pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep that lasts for 100 years. But that’s not all. The Wise Woman was so mad at being excluded from the party that she made her curse so strong that the entire castle from the king to the stable dogs fall into this sleep with the princess. And did I mention that while they’re all sleeping a killer briar patch grows up around the castle killing every prince who tries to sneak in to creep on witness the beauty of the sleeping princess? Because that happened. And then 100 years later a prince comes and finds that the murderous briar patch has turned into, you guessed it, a patch of beautiful briar roses, and kisses the princess on the day she was destined to wake up anyway. And of course he gets all the credit for ending the slumber and they get married and live happily ever after. So, now we’re all caught up.

But when I was reading this it was super obvious that if the king and queen had just sat beautiful, modest, gorgeous Briar-rose down and told her, “okay so a Wise Woman was mad that I didn’t invite her to the party I threw to congratulate myself on making such a beautiful baby and so she cursed you. She said that you’re going to prick your finger on a spindle on your fifteenth birthday and fall asleep for 100 years. So we need you to avoid spindles. We’re not saying that you can’t ever touch a spindle, but if you do decide to touch one we’d like you to make sure that you’re ready and then wear these gloves specifically designed to prevent spindle pricks.”

See where I’m going?

Instead of seeing the prick from the spindle as an inevitability with terrible consequences for the entire castle that only the perfect man (a Prince, of course) can swoop in and save everyone from by marrying the princess, why not giver her a little agency? Teach her what she needs to know about spindles. Let her look at diagrams of how spinning wheels are put together, and tell her all of the risks and benefits that can come from using one. Show her how to wear the special protective gloves, and then trust that she will make the right choice. Maybe she’ll avoid spinning wheels all together because she doesn’t want to risk getting pricked. Maybe she doesn’t even like spinning wheels, and so doesn’t need to worry about it. Maybe, understanding the entire process involved in making spinning wheels and how someone might get pricked by a spindle she will always make sure to carry the protective gloves with her when she decided to roam about the castle.

If the king and queen had done all of this instead of just saying, “no spindles ever! You don’t need to worry about it. Fifteen is way too young to be thinking about spindles. We’ll just limit your exposure to them and hope really hard that you never come into contact with one.” the princess would have been so informed that she would have made a choice that did not end in 100 years of sleep.

They could have prepared their child for a lot of different possibilities. She could have learned that it’s important to know the possible outcomes of spinning thread. Even if she never wants to use a spinning wheel there are still a lot of ways she can protect herself while making thread. Because even if she never comes into contact with a spindle she could still get dye or lint on her hands or, you know, something like that. It would have been beneficial to teach her that it’s okay to be curious about spinning wheels, but she doesn’t need to fear spinning wheels and spindles because as long as she wears her gloves it is very unlikely that she’ll have any sort of outcome that she doesn’t want. And it’s okay if she never has any interest in them (or any part of the thread-making process at all).

And they could have let her know that if she ever had any questions about spinning wheels, spindles, or the thread-making process she could come and talk to them about it. And they could have made thread-making a subject in her school because sometimes it’s necessary for young people to hear from an outside perspective all of the details about thread-making and the necessary tools. And because not all families are comfortable taking to their kids about thread-making, but they should still get accurate information. Because some youth like to make thread, and no matter how much society tries to tell them they shouldn’t they are still going to do it.

But anyways, just some thoughts I have on Sleeping Beauty/Little Briar-rose. And why it’s important to advocate for medically accurate, judgment free, inclusive sex and sexuality education in schools.


Musings on The History of Sex Ed

Okay, so this is not a comprehensive history by any means. I don’t want to mislead you. I am a Health and Sexuality Educator at a non-profit youth-serving organization. I have recently been going through old files from previous Educators to see what to keep, and some of the lesson plans and collected research goes back to the late ’90s. One of the overarching themes that I’ve seen in older materials is HIV/AIDS education in odd places.

For example, there was a lesson on healthy communication, and at the end there was a section on AIDS prevention. In my healthy communication lesson I don’t usually mention any Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV, unless someone specifically asks a question about it. It’s just not all that relevant to the lesson. There was another lesson on how building a healthy relationship can lead to more honest communication and can prevent the spread of AIDS (specifically AIDS, not HIV) because it makes condom negotiation easier.

I understand the reasoning of these HIV additions . On of the main theories behind the education I do today is that building self-efficacy will lead to overall healthier young people and will reduce the spread of STIs like HIV because the youth will feel more empowered to make and stand behind healthier decisions.Research shows that if we teach youth the facts about things like condoms, birth control, and STIs including HIV they will be able to make more informed decisions. If we help them build their self esteem and critical thinking skills when it comes to media and peer pressure they will be able to make more logical decisions that they feel proud of. And all of this leads to the rise in age of first sexual experience, more widespread and consistent condom use, a reduction in the spread of STIs, fewer teenage pregnancies, and youth who accept themselves and others for who they are in all their complexities and diversity.

All good things.

So in most of my lessons today we are considering the whole youth learning experience and I do still teach targeted lessons on STI and HIV reduction, but don’t necessarily include STIs in every lesson I teach. But I’ve been thinking a lot about HIV and the history of the AIDS Epidemic. It’s Pride month, and I recently watched The Normal Heart on HBO. (If you ever have time to watch The Normal Heart and then ugly cry for at least a half an hour afterward I highly recommend it.) And I think about this every time I teach about HIV.

In the Eighties thousands of people – most notably gay men – were dying, and the government was ignoring it. AIDS research was not being funded. It was a natural disaster that received no relief efforts at all for many years. And it changed the entire way the U.S. and the world thought about sexuality and sex and the spread of diseases. Organizations like Act Up were founded specifically to educate the government and the public at large about the truth behind the HIV virus, because they were refusing to educate themselves. And this history is found in current sex and sexuality education. In my job. And it’s something that I take very seriously and that I am working to educate myself on more thoroughly.

In the materials that I’ve been going through one article stood out to me as a really good example of how the AIDS Crisis truly shaped the way we teach our youth about sex and safety. The article is, Sex – The Words and The Music by Pamela Wilson, MSW. It was published in 1998 in “When Sex is the Subject, Attitudes and Answers for Young Children.” The main purpose of the article is to call for trusted adults to give accurate and unbiased sex ed info to youth in a calm and confident way. She likens it to watching a musical. You leave a musical performance humming the melodies, but can’t really remember most of the words. The tune is there. The feeling you got from the songs is there, but the words are not.

When Sex Ed is taught in a negative way or if the person teaching is noticeably uncomfortable the youth will have a negative or uncomfortable attitude towards sex and sexuality, and might not really remember why they feel that way.

In the late ’90s reports were coming in that youth were having sex at younger and younger ages, teenage pregnancy was on the rise, and sexual abuse was just beginning to be talked about. Wilson says,

“In light of these sobering realities many school and community programs have focused on ‘disaster prevention’ – educational efforts designed to help children avoid specific sexuality related problems. Thus some states mandate AIDS education without providing any sexuality education. Many primary classrooms offer child-sexual-abuse prevention though often in a broader discussion of family life and sexuality. This sexual learning environment is potentially hazardous for children. What message would you get about sex if the only thing you were told in formal settings was that some adults force children to have sex and that sex can lead to AIDS?”

I think that this attitude – that of educating the whole person – is what led to the way I was taught to teach health and sexuality information today. We do a lot of bias inventories at trainings. What biases do you have, and how do you overcome those or set them aside to provide the necessary accurate, judgement-free education that is so important? We get instruction on how to properly answer a values-laden question without imposing any of our values onto a student. And we teach youth about their whole selves. Puberty, reproductive anatomy, communication, consent, healthy relationships, STIs, contraception, gender and sexuality. And sexuality as orientation not as sex as a whole. (Although that’s sometimes an important part of the conversation.)

Abstinence-only education is harmful. It teaches values where a child and their family should be the one to make that decision. It is stigmatizing and often contains negative information (if any) about the LGBTQIA+ community. And it is shaming, especially for the survivors of sexual abuse and assault who might be sitting in the classroom. Abstinence-only education is what Wilson was talking about as hazardous. We aren’t going to talk about sex before marriage unless it leads to a disease like AIDS (even though it’s HIV that is transmitted and not AIDS – language is important, friends). This type of education is the negative and stigmatizing form of education that is harmful. And it’s just not effective. Countless research studies show that abstinence-only regions have higher numbers of teenage pregnancy and higher rates of STI transmission.

Teenagers have sex. They do. About half of all STIs diagnosed in the U.S. are diagnosed in someone between the ages of 15 and 24 (25% of the sexually active population). I know that we’re taught to ignore it as an issue in a sort of, well if I don’t know about it then it’s not happening sort of way. And youth will have sex even if their parents and teachers tell them not to, only they probably won’t use condoms because they don’t know how or where to get them and are afraid that someone might see them buying them and tell their parents. (Hence the teenage pregnancies and STIs.) And it is our responsibilities as trusted adults to give them the information that can keep them safe. We have to tell them about condoms and show them condoms and not let them see any sort of discomfort at all. Condoms are tools to keep you safe. And 85% of youth do use them. But that number could be much higher.

Birth Control prevents pregnancies, and there are even methods that you have inserted by a doctor and then don’t have to think about for YEARS. How convenient for a teenager who can’t remember to eat breakfast before they rush off to school or to do the dishes before Mom gets home.

HIV is a big deal. It exists in our communities. It’s actually on the rise in Iowa, although is slowly declining overall in the U.S. And if youth know those things. If we can help them to understand just how serious HIV was just a few decades ago, and that they are still at risk today. If we can arm them with the knowledge of ways to keep themselves safe. If we can make sexuality just a normal part of life that they need to consider just like they do everything else? Then progress can happen.

I will continue to think about the historical beginnings of what I do on a daily basis. And I will make every effort to keep the progress going. We’ve come a long way since the ’80s, and sometimes that makes people forget and take things lightly. But I will do my best to not let that historical aspect of fear and triumph and perseverance disappear in the lessons I teach. I very much feel the weight of responsibility of the pioneers of sex and sexuality education.


Edit: I was just re-reading this, and I want to clarify that I do not teach fear. What I was trying to say in that last paragraph was that I try and help students understand some of the complexities of the history of HIV and why accurate sex ed is so important.