Inspiration from a 9-Year Old and a Cardboard Arcade

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future.  Could it be that in just three short weeks I’ll be thrown in to the “real world” of post-graduate life?  I certainly think so.  It could also be that I spent 10 short minutes watching the story of a young boy who has worked really hard at fulfilling his dream, even though most didn’t believe in him.  Who knew a 9-year old could build a functioning arcade out of cardboard boxes?!

And strangely enough it got me thinking about what graduation really means these days, with all of our young minds at least somewhat occupied with how “bad” the economy is.  (Even if I have no idea what that really means, or why the guy on NPR insists on telling me that the Dow has moved 0.00000000001 points down today.)

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Sexist Language

Hey you guys!  What’s wrong with this picture?

Have you guys guessed it yet?

If you guys haven’t figured it out yet, it’s actually not that surprising.  At least in American society it has become the cultural norm to refer to a mixed-gender group collectively as “guys” no matter how many female-identified individuals are in that crowd.  No one seems to be immune to this practice, not even myself.  Until a colleague brought it to my attention about a year ago, I never realized that I often addressed my graduate cohort of over 40 women and 5 men during presentations or discussions as “you guys.”

Since then, I’ve worked hard to remove this kind of language.  I’ve done this because, as UNC Professor Sherryl  Kleinman has written, “male-based generics are another indicator — and more importantly, a reinforcer— of a system in which “man” in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women.”   Paying attention to this kind of seemingly innocuous language has also made me aware of other areas where we slip into the norm of male supremacy.  For instance, while discussing a case study in class the other day the entire group referred to the school principle as “he” and the teacher as “she” even though the case study did not actually specify the genders at all.

As a sexual health educator, I’ve also noticed how gendered language is reflected in and influenced by sexual norms.  Women are in charge of making sure they have a contraceptive method.  Men are in charge of having a condom and knowing how to properly use it.  These are just a few examples of the gendered norms that can keep individuals from fully expressing their sexuality, communicating with their partner, and enjoying their sex lives.

You might be thinking right now, why does it matter?  Who cares?  These are just words we use and they don’t mean anything.

It matters because language matters.  Many of us know this first hand as victims of derogatory words that are racist, classist, or sexist.  Even as I wrote this post I had to be mindful of using language that didn’t reinforce that there are only two genders (male or female) and might exclude individuals who identify outside of this binary, like the two-spirit people of some indigenous American groups.  For example I chose, ”it has become the cultural norm to refer to a mixed-gender group…”  instead of writing that “it has become the cultural norm to refer to a group of men and women…

So why don’t you try it on for size?  How easy or hard do you think it might be to stop using phrases like “you guys” or “man up” in your everyday language?  How do you think it might affect your friends, or the UNC community?

You won’t know unless you try!

To read Dr. Kleinman’s full article, check out

What Exactly Do Contraceptives Do?

What Exactly Do Contraceptives Do?

Taking a look at my Google Reader lately, it seems like contraception is getting more than its five minutes of fame in the news and media!  This shouldn’t be too surprising, especially when 99% of women in the United States report using some form of contraception in their lifetime (

Whether you are having a political debate or just seeing your doctor for a yearly physical, it’s important to have the facts on what options are available to you and how exactly they work to prevent pregnancy.  Generally, contraceptives can be categorized as a barrier method, hormonal method, sterilization, withdrawal, natural family planning, and abstinence.

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A Rose by Any Other Name….?

As it turns out, not so much with the rose I’m talking about today – the G-spot.  The G-spot was originally described in 1950 by Dr. Ernest Grafenberg when he wrote:

“an erotic zone always could be demonstrated on the anterior wall of the vaginal along the course of the urethra.”

This hunch was later confirmed in 1981 when researchers replicated Grafenberg’s findings and named the zone after him.  Ever since, women and their partners have been on the hunt for the G-spot on that anterior vaginal wall (the part of the vagina that faces a woman’s belly).

Turns out, however, that even though the majority of women believe that the G-spot exists, even if they don’t have one, we’ve all been fooled.  Sort of.

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Getting to Zero

As the semester winds to a close, many of us may have a few numbers on our mind.

The number of days until we can put away the books until the spring semester.

The number of  hours spent in the library or some other study location.

The number of family and friends we might get to see over the holiday break.

I for one, though, am thinking about the number 33.3 million.  According to USAID, that’s the number of people that were living with HIV around the world in 2009.

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How do you remember?

Writing it on your hand.  Making a Google task.  Asking your roommate or partner to remind you.

What do you think these things are trying to help someone remember to do?

Prevent pregnancy, of course!

These are just some of the many ways that I’ve heard women use to try and remember to take their birth control pill daily, change their patch weekly, or replace their ring monthly.  Considering that the last big study of pregnancy showed that about 50% of pregnancies in the United States were unintended, many of these methods might not be working so well.  Luckily there are some new ways to reliably remind you or your partner about their birth control and even doctors appointments.

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Carolina Show Your Pride

What does pride look like? This past weekend, pride looked like rainbow flags flying high above Franklin Street and processions of singing, dancing, and cheering people parading down Ninth Street in Durham. Pride wasn’t deterred by a torrential downpour, competing with a Duke football game, or even protesters. This weekend’s NC PrideFest was a wonderful show of pride by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, questioning, and allied (LGBTQIA) North Carolina citizens from all walks of life. Each year, it provides the opportunity for individuals and communities in Chapel Hill and Durham to outwardly express their pride and support for the kind of community they would like to live in – an inclusive and welcoming community for all.

Though this weekend was a very visible display that packed the streets of Durham with LGBT pride, it unfortunately only happens once a year. Fear not though! For the remaining 364 days there are so many ways to express our support for and actively work towards an inclusive and supportive community here at Carolina and beyond!

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I’m an ISTJ…What About You?

I’m also an Aries if you’re interested, but that is an entirely different post.  For those of you who don’t recognize what the strange combination of letters like ISTJ or ENFP represent, I’m talking about the results of a Meyers-Briggs test (MBTI).  The short explanation for the Meyers-Briggs is that it’s a questionnaire (or instrument in technical talk) that is used to show the ways in which you perceive and judge the world.  It is especially used in the work world to help colleagues figure out the best ways to work together as a team to be efficient, effective, and maybe have some fun at the same time.


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What Goldilocks and Condoms Have in Common

This week, I thought I would take some inspiration from Laetitia’s latest slippery exploration of the world of lubes and take you on a tour of their faithful companions – condoms! Luckily, condom technology has come a long way since the likes of these examples from the 16th a through the 18th centuries.

Condoms were originally made from animal by-products, like intestinal products.  YUCK!  Eventually, vulcanized rubber  (Thank you Mr.Goodyear) hit the scene and ever since, the majority of condoms have been made of rubber-based materials. These days condom options are nearly endless and can range from the mundane to just plain bizarre.  Like choosing lube, figuring out what is right for you and your partner can be downright daunting, so here are a few important points to consider. Continue reading

Sexual Health and the Tar Heel City

 Photo credit: das_sabrinchen

Ever wondered how the hit HBO show “Sex and the City” ran for six years with only a few passing nods to important sexual health topics such as birth control, HIV testing, or abortion?  Despite an endless supply of Sunday brunch banter about the sexual lives and partners of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and especially Samantha, hardly a word was mentioned about these topics.  And lest we think this is a primarily heterosexual media phenomena, the same goes for the group of women who partner primarily with women on Showtime’s popular series “The L Word”.

Ok, maybe you’ve never found yourself lying awake at night wondering about this because…..
1.  You watch these shows for their entertainment value and not to get a lesson on what to talk to your doctor about.
2.  You’re not as unabashedly focused on sexual health as I am.  Who knew you could be a sexual health nerd, right?

But really, even if you haven’t even watched the show, it’s not hard to imagine how shows and movies head straight to the good stuff about sex and conveniently leave out everything else.  Most people wouldn’t consider it “sexy” to talk about your preferred method of birth control or going to get an STI test, right?

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