Category Archives: sexual health

The Bruises and Kisses Our Bodies Don’t Show: ACT Mannequin Art Project on Teen Dating Violence Prevention

By Kathleen Wong, 18, California

Art created by ACT Against Teen Dating Violence

Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a peer health advocacy program at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California. ACT has chosen to advocate for the cause of teen dating violence prevention because this is an issue that seriously impacts our communities and youth.

Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by a partner to gain and maintain power and control over another. Statistics reveal that at least one in three high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.

Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15–44. Most people stay in their violent relationships—in part because victims usually blame themselves for causing the violence.

The purpose of ACT is: (1) to allow high school girls to be involved in and advocate for issues affecting women/girls in the community; (2) to reduce the violence in our communities; (3) to encourage youth to have healthy relationships that build a sense of well-being, (4) to increase awareness of the health issues stemming from dating violence; (5) to raise community awareness of available resources; and (6) to create systemic change in San Leandro and Oakland that will benefit present and future generations.

The ACT program consists of groups in San Leandro and Oakland. Participants are first educated about how to be advocates and they learn about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. ACT creates system change by recommending policy, based on our own research analysis, which is then presented to policymakers such as the San Leandro City Council and school administrators. Every month, ACT participants are required to educate at least four peers to enlighten them about the problems of teen dating violence and the benefits of having healthy relationships. In addition, ACT does advocacy, runs workshops, conducts research, and outreaches through social media to local high schools to educate and prevent teen dating violence in the community. Topics addressed include violence, misconceptions of rape, the cycle of abuse, power, and control, being an ally, setting boundaries, and many others.

Recently ACT participants used mannequins as a canvas to illustrate the effects of healthy and unhealthy relationships on our emotional, physical, and sexual health.  A division on the body of the mannequin indicates the contrasting effects of violent and nonviolent relationships on the body. Half of each mannequin shows the positive benefits of a nonviolent and respectful relationship characterized by equality; there are images of hearts and happiness, along with words of endearment on this part of the collage. The unhealthy sides of the mannequins have extensive imagery of cuts, wounds, and bruises, in addition to multiple insults and offensive words. One mannequin has a fencing—like the fencing that surrounds many homes—on the side of healthy imagery of a relationship—to convey the message that everything may seem all peachy and lovey-dovey on the outside, but behind closed doors, that is where the violence occurs.

All of these mannequins illustrate that teen dating violence is not only physical and sexual, but also emotional and mental, and likely to have lasting effects on the victims’ lives.  For example, dating violence can foster low self-esteem, and make its victims accustomed to violent partners and to being treated as unequal and unworthy.

My experience in ACT has been life changing. ACT has helped me grow as a person.  I’ve learned how to network. I have become more confident and less shy. And I have improved my public speaking skills. Overall, I’m becoming smart, strong, and bold! Also, being a part of ACT has changed my perspective on how I look at my community. Because of ACT, I am more aware of what goes on in my community. Before, I never would’ve thought that I could actually make a difference in helping my community. But now, thanks to ACT, I am very determined and passionate about doing whatever I can to make positive changes for my community.

My hope for ACT is that the program will continue as long as possible because it sends such a powerful and positive message to young people that we can advocate for change by working together. I would also like to see ACT become more involved in the community, which has started happening. ACT girls have been attending community meetings to learn more about violence prevention and ways to improve public education on this topic.  I hope this trend will continue and we will get even more involved in the community. One day, I hope the community will know the value of what we do. I hope the community already knows ACT is working to make improvements and that we care!

You can learn more about ACT’s move against teen dating violence by following ACT on Girls IncACT.tumblr.com, GirlsIncACT on Twitter, and by liking Advocating Change Together Girls Inc. of Alameda County on Facebook.

For more information on healthy dating relationships, see the Teen Voices article in the 2012 Teen Focus section of the online Boston Parents Paper, pages 6-8 at:  http://bostonparentspaper.digitalparenthood.com/DigitalAnywhere/viewer.aspx?id=8&pageId=1

There are other organziations that can help too:

Love is Respect

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Circle of Six

We happen to know of two Jewish organizations that offer fantastic teen dating violence prevention programs and curriculum,  Shalom Bayit in Oakland, California has Love Shouldn’t Hurt  and Jewish Women International has a prevention program for girls called Strong Girls and one for boys called Good Guys.

Planned Parenthood Rally

By Lauren Castner

Planned Parenthood has been around for almost a century, offering affordable healthcare to both men and women all over the U.S., and providing information to women so they can make informed choices about their healthcare.  A wide variety of services is available, from gynecological appointments and cancer screening, to sex education and family planning options, to STI (sexually-transmitted infections) testing and vaccinations.

Funding for Planned Parenthood is currently being threatened at the national level. Like many health centers, Planned Parenthood receives federal funding from Title X.  In existence since 1970, Title X was specifically enacted to provide funding for family planning services.  The program aims to make contraceptives, information, and other family planning supplies available to anyone who needs or wants them.  Title X gives priority to individuals from lower-income families.  Its overall goal is to help families be happy and healthy and have positive birth outcomes. Although an amendment that would have eliminated all Title X funding was defeated in the U.S. Senate, it is still being pushed by conservatives while a compromise is negotiated by White House, Senate, and House leaders. In addition, a Republican-sponsored bill tied to an amendment to specifically cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood—the Pence Amendment—has passed the House and may be taken up by the Senate.  Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has not yet indicated how he will vote.

In response, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) hosted a “Defend, Don’t Defund!” rally last Saturday, March 19th, to gain support for continued funding from Title X.  The rally was held in conjunction with other affiliates all over the country to generate a national day of action.  In Boston, more than 600 people turned out in support of PPLM and continued Title X funding.  They were able to sign postcards and petitions to send to members of their Congressional delegation requesting that they vote against the Senate bill.  Among the speakers at the rally were Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Congressman Mike Capuano, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, PPLM CEO Dianne Luby, and other leaders in the women’s health community.  PPLM made a conscious effort to make sure that supporters were aware of all of the comprehensive services offered by Planned Parenthood, not just the controversial ones.

Even some four legged friends turned out to support Planned Parenthood!

Teen Voices’ staff member Sarah Binning was in attendance and had some very positive things to say about what she saw!  One thing she found very powerful was “the diverse audience.  There weren’t just women rallying for women, but men, girls and women of all ages, and even whole families.  She felt that people all over Boston seemed to be receptive to the idea of the rally. For hours afterwards, as she was walking in different areas of the city, people came up to her and asked about her Planned Parenthood shirt and how the rally went.  Sarah also told me about how united the rally seemed to be; bright pink posters and t-shirts enabled everyone in attendance to show support and present a united front.

What do you think about the proposed budget cuts to Planned Parenthood?  Let us know in the comments section!  To see what other young people have to say, check out this video on Youtube.

Special thanks to Tricia Wajda, from PPLM!

Health Reform Law Could Spell Covered Contraception for Women

By Jessica Moore

A contraception revolution could be underway following the passage of health care reform, which contains a key provision allowing for women’s preventive care. Covered items could include birth control pills, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices, and patches; the law could also allow for free maternity care and pelvic exams.

But don’t put away your checkbook just yet. For contraception to be fully covered, it must fall under the definition of “preventive care” — and the looming debate over what counts as preventive will likely hinge on morals.

Conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Abstinence Education Association, are already coalescing around their opposition to the provision. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who came close to derailing passage of health reform over concerns that abortion could be included as a covered option, has written to the Department of Health and Human Services detailing their objection.

USCCB spokesman Richard Doerflinger told Minnesota Public Radio that the government should not mandate co-pay-free contraception for all insurance plans, since some members of those plans may object to birth control on moral grounds.

“It’ll be free of co-pay for those that want that coverage, which means it’ll be subsidized by those who don’t want the coverage,” Doerflinger said.

Covered birth control, however, could make economic sense for a population squeezed by recession. Women often spend $50 a month for birth control, while more reliable intrauterine devices (favored in countries that enjoy lower rates of abortion) cost $200 to $400.

Individual budgeting aside, the move could result in major savings for the U.S. economy, according to 2009 numbers from the Guttmacher Institute. The reproductive research group found that publicly-funded contraception saves taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent, preventing nearly 2 million pregnancies and 810,000 abortions every year. This could be a wise move for a country whose abortion rates are among the highest in the developed world.

The Department of Health and Human Services has asked the independent Institute of Medicine to parse through the health care legislation and recommend which elements of women’s care should be covered. The debate begins this month, with a final recommendation due August 1, 2011. HHS, with pro-choice Kathleen Sebelius as head, is expected to respond in favor of the provision, provided they can withstand pressure from conservative groups.

To gain support, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has launched a campaign, Birth Control Matters, which includes the commissioning of a poll to gauge popular support of covered birth control. Poll results show that 81% of women and 60% of men agree that contraception should be considered preventive.

We’ll be keeping our eyes on the debate, so stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, take our poll and let us know what YOU think!

Let’s Make Halloween About the BOO — Not the Boobs

By Michelle Golden and Jessica Moore

Word to the wise: When firefighters put out a house fire, they’re usually wearing pants, not booty shorts. When most of us see a bumblebee or ladybug, we don’t usually think, “Wow, that is one sexy insect!”  So we’re wondering why, when we go shopping for Halloween costumes, the options for girls and women run the gamut from sexy to…sexy, and often involve professions and objects that have nothing to do with sex.  There’s even a sexy candy corn costume floating around out there. Really? ‘Cos candy corn? Not really doing it for us.

Halloween used to be about going trick-or-treating with friends and family, watching Casper the Friendly Ghost, and stuffing your face with witch-shaped sugar cookies.  Costumes included innocently clothed Disney princesses or the usual black cat outfits. But recently, Halloween has made a terrifying transformation into a night where girls  turn into mini-porn stars and sexualized children’s storybook characters.

The kids’ section in your average Halloween store looks OK — the Snow White costume actually looks like Snow White’s outfit in the Disney film. Then  you hit the teen section, and Snow White’s dress gets shorter – much, much shorter. Her top transforms into a corset, her waist is thinner, and the “appropriate” shoes to wear with the outfit are black platforms or pumps. We’re pretty sure Snow White couldn’t have escaped from the evil queen wearing those shoes.

The women’s outfits add a whole other element to the story: Sexy Little Miss Muffet and Alice in Wonderland costumes for grown women are disturbing for the way they reduce women to children, encouraging boys and men to fantasize about images associated with little girls.

Now, we’re not saying everyone should wrap themselves from head to toe in toilet paper or spend Halloween dressed in a sack. What we are saying is that it would be great for girls and women to stop and think about why they want to look like they just jumped out of the pages of Playboy. Is it for male attention? Is it because that’s how the girls on America’s Next Top Model or The Girls Next Door dress? Why are we all so eager to look like cheap fantasies? We should also think about who is selling these pre-packaged sexy fill-in-the-blank costumes at every Halloween store in the country — and why they are all benefiting so well from our nationwide desire to take sexy over the top.

These overly sexual costumes imply that it’s only our physical appearance that matters –and we all know we have more to share than cleavage. We’re open-minded, individual girls who should be wearing creative, innovative costumes – and that doesn’t mean giving the impression that our one goal in life is to become a stripper or Hugh Hefner hanger-on when we grow up.

By all means, we should all go out and have a good time. Be safe and responsible. But before you slip into that corset and booty shorts, think about better ways to get the attention you’re looking for. Think about the 7-year-old you’ll pass on the street, and the way she’ll look up to you in your chosen costume. Why not go against the norm this year? Heck, you might even find an outfit that’s a bit warmer.

What’s your costume, and why did you choose it? Comment below and let us know!

GirlUp Connects Teens Around the World

By editorial intern Laura Paquette

As part of a typical day this summer, you might start working on your summer reading, get your yearly check-up, or help out at a summer camp. These activities may not sound particularly special, (in fact, some of them are major chores) but millions of girls in developing countries don’t have the opportunity to experience them. That’s why the United Nations Foundation created GirlUp, a program that supports teen and adolescent girls in developing countries in the areas of education, health care, safety, leadership — and simply being counted! (In Ethiopia, for example, only 7 percent of girls are registered at birth. GirlUp tries to get them identification cards so they can be counted as part of the population.) One girl featured on the GirlUp website ran away from home at the age of 14 to avoid an arranged marriage. Now, with the help of a GirlUp-sponsored school, she’s receiving health care and education to help her achieve her dream of becoming an engineer.

What’s unique about GirlUp, though, is that it encourages teenage American girls to work for change. According to a June article in The Huffington Post, “Girl Up rallies American girls to step up and become the next generation of impact philanthropist and empowerment activists.” Not only can girls learn more about problems girls their age face in other parts of the world, they can get involved by making a donation, using Facebook or Twitter to raise awareness, or by reading the Girlafesto, an empowerment poem which ends, “You see a girl. We see the future.” By giving American teens a voice and a way to make a difference, GirlUp allows them to connect with girls across the globe for a better life. To learn more, check out GirlUp.org.

Using Humor and Mannequins to Talk Sex with Teens

By Teen Voices editorial intern Kimya Kavehkar

Navigating the different and sometimes confusing messages about sex from your parents, the media, or friends can be frustrating. Filmmaker Kari Nevil wants to make the process a little easier for teens by giving websites with accurate facts to answer questions and provide guidance.

Nevil, of JuneBug Films Inc., was tongue-tied about how to speak to her own pre-teen daughter about sex, so she decided to get together a group of mothers from California’s Bay Area to create a YouTube PSA called “Mannequins: Teen Sex Education with A Twist.”

“I made a film with twisted humor and a place to take action for responsibility of self. I asked my daughter to help me write and edit the PSA and we had the discussion in an organic way as a result,” Nevil tells Teen Voices. “I still gave her the speech. When it was over she said, ‘Are you done with the lecture now, mom?’ Evidence that lecturing is the last thing teens want.”

“Mannequins” steers away from clichéd sex talk and gives straight facts about what sex is. It also dispels a few rumors in the process. The video is visually appealing, with humorous and historical photographs to accompany the no-nonsense voiceover, which directs viewers to websites for reliable information on sex, STD risks and contraception. These sites include PlannedParenthood.org, SeriouslySexuality.com, and Teen TalkCA.org.

According to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than half of teen girls and only 35 percent of teen boys get advice on methods of birth control from their parents. Because teens primarily digest information on sex from the media, this media portrayal of sex, including contraception, can deceive and confuse teens.

“Mannequins” emphasizes each person’s right to choose their own sexual path—which includes actively seeking the facts for themselves.

“The media is loaded with sexy images, songs and advertising campaigns. They [media aimed at teens] have a tendency to show that sexy equals cool, but do young people understand that sexy means something different to each of us?” Nevil asks. “You are the one who gets to decide when — or if — it is time to share your definition of sex/sexy, including if it means no sex at all. I just want youth to know what is what. Knowledge is power.”

The Vagina Monologues, Teen Voices style!

Vagina. That’s right — we said it. VAGINA. We live in a society where men are free to talk about their reproductive parts as much as they want. They can scratch and adjust in public and no one looks twice. But if we even mention our periods or anything south of our borders –- at least in a nonsexual way — guys sometimes act like we’re carrying the black plague.

Well, this week was Health Week at Teen Voices. The teen girls in our mentoring program watched Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking one-woman show The Vagina Monologues. Thanks to Ensler, vaginas everywhere are finally sharing their stories. They have their own “voices” and the freedom to talk about sex, love, periods, masturbation, and so much more.

So, inspired by Ensler, the girls wrote monologues for their vaginas. They even gave them fun names, like “Cherish” and “Kitty,” and then they took the stage.

What we found out in the monologues is that some of these vaginas are lonely! One of them, “Phoebe,” pointed out in her monologue, “No one talks to me … because I’m a vagina.”

The vaginas pointed out that they love the clothes we dress them up in: jewelry, satin, lace, thongs, and boy shorts. They also noted that they enjoy feeling a fresh breeze and some nice ocean water every now and then.

These opinionated vaginas want in on the decision to shave or not to shave. Some of these va-jay-jays finally gave their owners a piece of their minds, pointing out that a Brazilian wax is basically torture.

A lot of these vaginas talked about losing their virginity. Like Phoebe, many would like to have a visitor, but their owners are adamant that they wait for the right person to come along. “Lalani” doesn’t get why she shouldn’t be able to help with this decision. “Yeah,” this outspoken vagina said. “She’s my owner, but I should have an opinion too!”


The girls also talked about the importance of taking the right precautions against “gangs” like AIDS and other STDs. “These are not gangs you want anything to do with,” one vagina said. “Not at all.”

Throughout the show, the ladies at Teen Voices took pride in their bodies and the way they care for them and respect them. They were positive, caring, honest and blunt — and they get that their vaginas and sexuality are a part of them and help make them who they are.

So what about your vagina? Shouldn’t she get a chance to express herself too? If she had her own monologue, what would she say?