Thursday, May 23, 2013
JOINT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION
***Testimony of Miriam R. Arbeit, M.A. in support of***
***H. 450/S. 209 An Act Relative to Healthy Youth***
May 14, 2013
Chairwoman Chang-Diaz, Chairwoman Peisch, and members of the Joint Committee on Education, I, Miriam R. Arbeit, am pleased to offer this testimony in support of H. 450/S. 209, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth.
I am a third-year doctoral student working on my Ph.D. in Child Development at Tufts University. As a youth development researcher, I enthusiastically commend the beneficial impact this bill would have on the youth and families of the Commonwealth.
An Act Relative to Healthy Youth is a critical legislative initiative that will help more young people have access to comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate sexual health education. It will also ensure that no young people are shamed or taught lies about their bodies and their choices while in public school.
In my research institute at Tufts, we study Positive Youth Development in diverse adolescents across the country, which means we see young people as resources to be developed, not as problems to be managed1. This approach makes a vital difference when it comes to supporting adolescent health. For all of us – youth and adults – sex is an area of our lives that can be both positive and challenging – and, yes, even risky2. The best way to promote sexual health and address sexual risk is to talk about it. Sex education is a perfect opportunity for youth to develop skills like communication, healthy relationships, decision-making, planning, and critical thinking3. Such life skills can contribute to their positive development throughout adolescence and into adulthood4.
The power of this bill is that it sets meaningful standards for our schools. We don’t have to tell districts that they must include algebra in their math curricula, or that they cannot say triangles have five sides. But, unfortunately, we very much need to send these messages to districts regarding sex education: they cannot spread lies and they cannot omit vital information.
I used to be a health teacher in a Massachusetts school district. The health curriculum explicitly included sex ed and it was my job to teach HIV prevention to all of my students. But I was warned NOT to teach about homosexuality, condoms, or birth control, and not to discuss oral or anal sex.
How is anyone supposed to teach HIV prevention without discussing the life-saving potential of a correctly-used latex condom? How is anyone supposed to teach pregnancy prevention without discussing safe hormonal birth control methods and other medically available options? How is anyone supposed to promote sexual health without acknowledging the sexual world students already observe in the media every day5,6?
I made a worksheet on the concept of consent. The goal was to establish the standard that when two people kiss each other or engage in other activities, it must be something they both want and agree to do.
I was reprimanded for making this worksheet and prohibited from discussing it with my students.
In 2011, 84% of high school students in the Commonwealth said they learned about HIV/AIDS in school and 49% said they learned how to use a condom7. That means that over one-third of our high school students learned about HIV without learning how to use condoms. What were they learning? There was nothing in place to protect those young people from the lies and shame that are too frequently invoked in the name of prevention. Such an approach leaves young people vulnerable to sexual coercion and more likely to have sex without protection8,9.
It does not have to be this way. If schools provide sex education, we must require them to do it well.
We all agree that young people need quality education. And quality education includes medically-accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health information. An Act Relative to Healthy Youth is one important step towards promoting the positive development of young people and helping them thrive in all areas of their lives.
Please Give a Favorable Report to An Act Relative to Healthy Youth
(H. 450/S. 209)
1. Lerner RM, Lerner JV, von Eye A, Bowers EP, Lewin-Bizan S. Individual and contextual bases of thriving in adolescence: a view of the issues. Journal of adolescence. 2011;34(6):1107–14. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22056088. Accessed June 13, 2012.
2. Tolman DL, McClelland SI. Normative Sexuality Development in Adolescence: A Decade in Review, 2000-2009. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2011;21(1):242–255. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00726.x. Accessed March 8, 2013.
3. Kirby D. Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; 2007:72–81. Available at: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf.
4. Lerner RM. Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among American youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2004.
5. Kim JL, Sorsoli CL, Collins K, et al. From sex to sexuality: exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of sex research. 2007;44(2):145–57. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17599272.
6. Ward LM. Understanding the role of entertainment media in the sexual socialization of American youth: A review of empirical research. Developmental Review. 2003;23(3):347–388. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273229703000133. Accessed February 28, 2013.
7. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth. 2012;(May). Available at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/cnp/hprograms/yrbs/2011Report.pdf.
8. Fine MM, McClelland SI. Still Missing after All These Years. Harvard Educational Review. 2006;76(3):297–338.
9. Santelli J, Ott MA, Lyon M, et al. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: a review of U.S. policies and programs. The Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006;38(1):72–81. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16387256. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
I've been asked by JewishBoston.com to write a weekly column, "The Debrief," offering advice and commentary about sex, dating, and relationships for Jewish young adults in our 20s and 30s in the Greater Boston area.
Even if you don't quite fit into or identify with this demographic, please check out my new work!
If you have a story to share, a question to ask, or an article/issue you want me to discuss in my new column, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org so I can write a column in response. All questions will be posted anonymously to maintain confidentiality, unless you request otherwise.
You can read my introductory post here to find out more about The Debrief.
As I focus on this new project, I will not be continuing to post here at Sex Ed Transforms. I've had an incredible experience learning about myself and growing in so many ways since I started this blog four years ago. Thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and commented on my posts. Words can't express how much your support means to me. I hope you continue to enjoy the archives of my journey thus far.
And look out for a new column of The Debrief every Wednesday!
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Regret has been my go-to emotion these days.
The times in my life I most regret are the times when I have succumbed to inauthenticity. When I have not been my authentic self. When I have turned away from myself in order to turn towards something else, and then that something else ended up being really bad.
I can’t go back to any of those times and wake myself up. I can’t enter those key moments and decide to listen to myself, decide to take myself more seriously, decide that I am worth facing challenges for.
I can’t go back. That’s the whole point. That’s the one rule in all of this. I only have now and in the future.
This recent wave of regret has been triggered by something that feels rather silly in the context of all this existential reflection. But still, it is real and it matters and it’s bringing up some really strong feelings for me. It’s that Feministing contest.
Many of you were so overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic when I made it into the final round of the Feministing.com “So You Think You Can Blog” contest. I got the email on a Tuesday afternoon at work—I had arrived at work late after spending the morning presenting a lecture on adolescent sexuality at a Boston College class on Positive Youth Development and then getting lunch with the professor (at Inna’s Kitchen!). I was totally amped about the lecture and discussion and the prospect of more teaching about sex and sexuality.
Then I got the email that I was selected as a finalist, and I couldn’t stop shaking in disbelief. In fact, I didn’t stop shaking until I got the email three weeks later that I wasn’t selected as a winner.
And I just think—I can’t help but feel—my understanding of my own situation is that it was that very disbelief, that very shaking, that very frozen-in-time, this-can’t-be-happening feeling that pulled me out of myself and threw me into a state of inauthenticity bordering on emotional paralysis—and now remembering that state of being is at the core of my current regret. I regret that I didn’t slow down enough in order to enter the last round of the contest as myself. From the minute I got the email, I was thinking about how to fit into their club—how to write the way they wanted me to write and write about the topics they wanted me to write about—I wasn’t thinking about how to be myself and be true to myself. I ended up writing blog posts that I thought were smart and well-written, but I personally wasn’t anywhere in those posts. They could have been written by anyone.
My biggest challenge was the one instruction they gave us—to be timely. When I blog, it’s always timely, but to me, to my timeline. I’m blogging about the one thing that I’ve been stuck on recently, the one piece of my life, past or present, that is eating away at me and that I want to come to understand by communicating it to others. I don’t tend to discuss current events or pop culture, and I’d never written a post on-demand before. And instead of slowing down and considering how I would proceed were I to actually win the contest and become a more scheduled, more public blogger, I plowed forward without reflection. I was plowing forward without myself, because I wasn’t giving myself time to catch up.
I don’t know if any of this is making sense to you. I can only get it to make sense to me part of the time. But it’s really at the core of what I’ve been feeling and thinking about these days, and it seemed to be more honest and authentic than the “why I hate competitions” or the “what does this mean about my professional identity and career goals” posts that I was considering writing as another form of reflection on the Feministing contest. Maybe those will be important posts for me to write at some point in the future, but today I needed to write about regret. Because noticing this regret about the times when I haven’t slowed down to address myself, to try to be true to myself, to attend to my own feelings and boundaries and goals—noticing all of that regret regarding the blog posts I wrote made me notice all the other regrets I have, too: regrets about times when I turned away from myself in ways that had much worse consequences than losing a contest.
I got the email on Tuesday, October 9: I was selected as one of six finalists for the Feministing.com "So You Think You Can Blog" contest. The winners of the contest would become regular contributors to the site. The final round was simple: we each selected a four-hour shift the following week in which we would write three posts for the main page.
Although I did not win the contest, I worked carefully on these entries before posting them on Monday, October 15. Here are the links, for prosperity.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Sex Ed Team at the Moishe Kavod House in Brookline, MA had our first ever (first annual?) team retreat ten day ago. We wanted to spend a whole day talking together about sex, sexuality, and relationships in our lives and in our communities so that we could create a safe space in which to really dive into the trickier, stickier, more complex questions that came up during our workshops this past year.
We had 18 people in attendance, including people who had been integrally involved in the team for the past year or more as well as people for whom the retreat was their first team event. Many people wanted to join us but couldn’t make it, so I thought I’d provide here a little taste of the questions we asked each other:
*How does your Judaism [religion, spirituality] impact your sexuality? How does your sexuality impact your Judaism [religion, spirituality]?
*What happens when I don’t fit into the question you’re asking?
*What are the two most salient pieces of your identity? How do these identities make you feel powerful, powerless, or both at different times throughout your life?
*Do your sexual ethics change in different relationships?
*What personal needs does sex ed meet for you? What personal needs could sex ed meet for you in the future?
*How can we broaden and deepen our impact on the world through sex ed?
We also had three small groups break out for an hour in the afternoon. Their discussions focused on three different themes: jealousy, asexuality, and body image.
By the end of the day, I could feel that the people in the room were very excited and ready to take on leadership of the team in the coming year and get some great work done. We want to do a thorough revision of our six-part curriculum, paying special attention to issues of power, privilege, and identity in framing the activities and informing the discussions, as well as working to integrate Judaism and Jewish learning in a variety of ways. We will also continue to make space for structured and unstructured conversations in our community about relevant topics related to sex, sexuality, and relationships. In addition, we will explore the process of building power so that we can engage in outreach work, take action, and have an impact on the world at large.
If you want to hear more about our work or maybe get involved, feel free to contact me directly or email our team leaders at EthicalSexuality (at) kavodhouse (dot) com.
Monday, June 25, 2012
In sex education, we use ground rules to build safe space during structured conversations. A lot of these safe space rules can be useful guidelines in everyday life, as well. In response to certain experiences from this past weekend, I’ve decided to remix these ground rules to apply to a specific situation in which groups of people come together to make themselves vulnerable: dance parties. What are some simple guidelines that we can use if we want to build a safe space in which to dance together for an evening?
Please tell me what you think, and add your own ideas to this list, in the comments.
· Check for enthusiastic consent before dancing with someone.
· When someone says “no” to dancing with you, you say “okay, thanks.”
· Note that consent is specific: Yes to dancing is a yes to dancing, not to anything else. You need to ask again if you want something else. And they may or may not say yes again.
· Respect other people: their bodies, their dance moves, their clothes, their choices…
· Respect the physical space: help keep it clean, watch where you put your things, clean up after yourself…
3. Sharing space.
· Step out of the center of the dance floor to give other people and other circles a chance to fill it.
· Watch where you fall and flail so you don’t hurt other people.
· Be aware of which spaces are getting too crowded, and where there is more space available.
4. Drink responsibly (or not at all).
· Know that “I’m drunk” is no excuse for violating any of the other safe space guidelines.
· Stop drinking before you get sloppy.
· Or on second thought, maybe “no drinking” is another option.
· Enjoy the ways in which dancing connects you to your own body; respect the ways in which other people are enjoying their own bodies.
· Limit (or avoid) explicitly sexual behavior, for example, dance-floor make-out sessions.
· The dance floor is a communal space and is not for public display.
· Ask for consent before taking or posting pictures.
· Avoid gossiping about people’s dance-floor behaviors after the party is over.
· Go where you need to be: Dance alone when it feels good; dance with a dance partner when it feels good; join a group when it feels good.
· Ask for help when you need it.
· Speak up if someone hurts you or makes you uncomfortable, even if you think it’s by accident.
· Building safe space is an ongoing process; be open to feedback about your behavior.
· Be sensitive to and aware of other people’s boundaries and comfort levels.
· Avoid making assumptions about other people.
9. Love your DJ.
· Show appreciation that the DJ is an artist bringing you a gift.
· Do not touch the DJ’s equipment.
· Make meaningful requests that you think your fellow dancers would enjoy, too.
· Make your body feel good; make yourself feel good.
· Include everyone in the celebration.
· Encourage everyone to express themselves through dance.
My hope is that these guidelines would help people create a space together in which they could all really let loose and personally get the most out of their dancing experience while also connecting with each other through the process of dancing.
These are just my ideas, and I’m just getting started. I look forward to getting your feedback and working through this draft to produce something that can really be useful in future dance party situations. Please tell me what works for you, what feels unreasonable, what seems off, what you think is missing, etc.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I didn’t realize it would be so hard to be queer after I got married. Seems like it should have been obvious to me, right? Marry a heterosexual cis-man, turn in queer club card, do not pass go, still collect hundreds of dollars of apparently-straight privilege. Is that how it has to be?
I had a boyfriend in college who once told a friend I was bisexual. His friend asked, “Is she actively bisexual?” Actively? What does that mean? At this very moment? My boyfriend told me this story in order to laugh at that friend’s ignorance. Silly friend, he must think that being bisexual requires actively pursuing multiple partners at the same time. Clearly, us enlightened folks knew I could be bisexual and just have a boyfriend and no other partners. No problem with that, right?
At the time, I feel a problem with that at all. My sexual orientation was about my identity, and it was about my past and my future as much as my present. I never even really identified as bisexual. Mostly, I identified as queer, which allowed me to position myself as “not heterosexual” while not succumbing to a word with the prefix “bi,” referring to a binary conception of gender in which I do not believe.
Actually, it wasn’t until deep into my current relationship that I started identifying as bisexual sometimes. “Bisexual” seems like a more specific identity than “queer,” staking a claim in the queer community that can more easily be reconciled with my current relationship status. But the truth is, it’s not like I walk around with a “bisexual” sticker on my forehead, and not a lot of people ask me how I identify. So it only seems to come up when I bring it up.
I’ve been partnered with a cismale for four years, and last year we publicly committed to each other through that complicated ritual commonly known as a wedding. Our relationship is monogamous, so I am not “actively” bisexual, since I am not pursuing sexual liaisons with anyone besides my partner. Given my current situation, what would it mean for me to be somehow “meaningfully” queer/bisexual? In my last relationship, my sexual orientation signified the diversity of my past and my future liasons. But I have no plans to pursue other relationships now or in the future. Without opening up our relationship or engaging in some form of non-monogamy, what would it mean for me to have a meaningful queer identity in the present?
The Klein scale has seven categories for assessing sexual orientation: attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle preference, and self-identification. It is only in the “sexual behavior” category that change has occurred for me. So my identity inside really hasn’t change much, but the most visible marker that communicates my identity to other people has certainly changed. What I’m trying to figure out is, what effect does this have on my life, and on my membership in queer community?
I want to take a minute to discuss privilege, which, not so coincidentally, I also wrote about privilege last year on pride weekend. As David Levy wrote recently, the Pride Parade is a celebration as well as a political action. Since I benefit from all kinds of heterosexual privilege in my life, in what ways is this protest/celebration my parade, and in what ways is it not? I try to keep myself from taking up too much space, and I try to stay sensitive to the times when I should step back and take a position as an ally rather than claiming queer celebration as my own. But maybe I’m wrong, because it feels wrong when I do that, because queer is my own.
I’ve met a few people recently at queer events whom I really liked, and I might have vaguely led them to believe I’m queer, simply through context and association, and maybe also discussion of our life histories. It isn’t actually leading them on, since I am queer. But then later, they find out about my current situation. Do they still believe me that I’m queer? Do they feel I lied to them or led them on? Did I somehow owe it to them to be super-clear and upfront about my orientation and relationship status, even though they didn’t ask? Am I doing something wrong? Or not? Or should I just drop all this self-doubt and get over it?
Bisexual invisibility is a very tricky issue, because it is a privilege and a pain at the same time. I benefit from an extraordinary amount of material and cultural hetero-privilege. At the same time, I feel invisible within my queer community because I don’t know if people think I’m legit, or if I can ever be legit, or if I am taking up too much space, or if I’m needlessly shooting myself down with internalized biphobia or some other crap. It’s all very confusing and complicated. I have a feeling that there really aren’t clear answers, but I have a bunch of questions, and I would love to know what you think.