Sex Ed: Questions from Teens, Misunderstandings from Adults

I grew up in Indiana. At public school, sex ed consisted of one week of “STD’s will kill you so just say no.” The health teachers treated sex like drugs, and taught that abstinence was the only safe choice.

Fast-forward some years, and now I am a teacher on the south side of Chicago. Recently, a whole bunch of teachers who are not licensed health educators decided to do some legwork to give our kids access to information vital for them to lead healthy lives. I would like to say that for kids who are already getting involved in physical relationships, we were FLOORED by the questions they had for us. There were some (basic, seemingly obvious) things that they really didn’t know. Even crazier? This week long health course was implemented school-wide, and some adults stepped forward and confessed that they really didn’t understand one part of the reproductive system until that lesson, or came to us asking if we could clarify something about their own reproductive health.

Weird! Crazy! But not altogether surprising, given the lack of resources and education regarding a topic that is so often taboo.

I tried to give my group of girls a perspective of personal sexual health that was women-friendly, empowering, and centered around choice, consent, hygiene, and understanding. I also wanted them to leave with tangible knowledge and with access to resources. They may not need to know where to find protection now, but but when they do they will know where to go.

Answering some of their questions was complicated, because I wanted to be clear that every person is unique and I never wanted to make these girls feel like they were wrong. Body hair is a personal choice- but their are pros and cons to having it or not. Sex may be hetero, homo, all of the above, or not at all, and that’s all okay! If someone is hurting you because it brings them pleasure, you do not and should not be in pain to please them. Above all else, you are in control of your body.

Some of the winning questions divided into relevant categories:

Man periods
Do men have periods? No. (They do have hormonal cycles, though.)
Why not? They don’t have the necessary organs.
Can men have babies? No, they do not have the necessary organs.
Can men take birth control? Yes, but they are weak.

Girl periods
Does it hurt?
Bleeding doesn’t hurt, but other physical pain may occur.
Can you get pregnant on your period? Yes.
How do you put in a tampon? Like this.
Will a tampon take your virginity. No. Explains the hymen is a thin piece of tissue, and how it may break prematurely due to active lifestyle, attempt to define virginity as a man-made concept in place to restrict women or shame them for their lifestyle… lost many students during this feminist impartment.
Do I have to use a tampon? No, there are also panty liners, maxi pads, and menstrual cups!
What is a period, anyway? That’s complicated.

Let’s talk about sex
What is sex?
 Sex is intercourse between a man and a woman. Sex is also sharing physical pleasure with a partner. Sex is a biological drive to reproduce. In the 21st century, sex does not need to end in reproduction. 
Does it hurt? It can, but it shouldn’t. Every body is different, and when it is time you need to figure out what works for you.
What is masturbation? See, “figure out what works for you.” A healthy understanding of what brings an individual pleasure is vital for a partnership where each person experiences pleasure.
Should I use two condoms? Never!
Where do I learn about/get birth control? Research and cross-compare every method imaginable at Bedsider. Learn more, and find safe, legal, and discreet access to what you need at Planned Parenthood.

Boob stuff
Why do my boobs hurt? You’re growing! Puberty’s a bitch.
Is it normal to have hair on your nipples? Yup! (But it’s not, not normal if you don’t.)
Should I shave pubic hair? That is your choice! Same goes for armpits and legs. For some women, removing hair helps maintain personal hygiene. For others, hair serves as a defense against lint and other outside contaminants.
How do I wash my vagina? Think outside, not inside. Wash around the outside of the vulva with gentle soap and hands. Do not put soap or wash cloth inside the vagina, it is a self-cleaning mechanism. 
How many holes does a girl have? If you watched that Orange is the New Black Episode, you should know the answer by now. Thanks Sophia! If not, take this quiz, and keep count! (We had our students label diagrams of internal and external male and female anatomy, so that we were able to use clear language and differentiate between parts of the body throughout these conversations.)




Dad Gifts (Last Minute Card Idea and Belated Amazon Orders!)


I’ve been thinking about getting this card for my coach at work. I think it is the perfect template for a Father’s Day DIY: what did your dad teach you to do? Mine taught me to identify tree species by their leaves and bark.

I asked Dad for his chili recipe once, and he gave me a stream of consciousness on a notecard. It would probably be really confusing for anyone who is not his child to read, but it is very personal- I hear it in his voice as he walks through how to chop the onions and which spices he adds in, and when. I think that this onion chopper would streamline the process.

Are you constantly stealing Dad clothes? I am sure my dad wonders what happened to all of his t-shirts and flannels. Pay him pack for all of those winning outfits you “borrowed” with a tee that represents programs he loves. Get him some National Park gear, these parks tees, or help him rep public radio.

Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to be quite the pop-culture figure, lately. I have seen him showing up in interviews, and he has a new book out: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. For anyone who watched Cosmos with their Dad as a kid- this is for you. Also check out his Amazon shop with colorful pro-science tees!

Admittedly, I always forget about these occasions until the last second. I don’t shell out much money on these Hallmark holidays. I’ve learned that my parents would rather have me call them or pay a belated visit home than mail expensive stuff that may or may not be useful. Just be sure to call the father figures in your life!

Four Things

No one is talking about it because everyone is watching it: Orange is the New Black. Has it really been 5 years, already??? The last season made me cry, almost every episode! The emotional reactions from this show are intense, it is fun and it is funny, it is sad and it is infuriating. I have only watched the first episode so far (NO SPOILERS!) and I really appreciate that Sophia shows her previously unrecognized medical expertise. It reminds us that these women were all members of society, many carrying jobs or going to school, making change in the world. Some of them, however, are more influential in prison than they were on the other side (Piper).


When it is hot outside, the single most refreshing thing for me (more than lemonade!) is a chocolate-covered frozen banana. They are usually more chocolatey and fresh if I dip them myself, and the crunchy toppings are a nice touch.



I enjoyed this slideshow of camp style. I often find myself in the true-American denim suit (left) but I identify with the Ranger Dad clothes on a spiritual level.



This weekend I tried cucumber dill hummus and my mind was blown. It was so cool and refreshing, and made the best beachside picnic snack! My sister had bought it at the local farmer’s market, but I am thinking of making this recipe for myself.

Related: fun things and summer greens

Weekend Bliss

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Weekends are for sunshine and iced coffee, days spent disappearing deep into a book or walking until the sun burns your skin. I am lingering at a coffee shop near a college campus in a small, small town and I have been reading a novel for 2 or maybe 3 hours; I am very content.

A college campus in the summer is so blissful. Everyone is curious and learning and making friends with the other lone souls who chose work or learning over their hometowns. In college, there is a lot of help with money- from guardians or big banks. The summers are allowed to be blissful and unstructured because the bills will get paid and everything moves slower here, over the summer.

I am considering options to continue my education, but I know that it will be different than my first 4 (and a half) years. This time, I have financial obligations and responsibilities, and extra time and classes and failures will be on my bill. The summer may not be time off- rather, time on- spent working. Maybe these lazy summers are not just found near college campuses, but it is hard to imagine such a slow pace at a place of year-round full time work. It is different, even, as a public school teacher, because the summer won’t fade into friends coming back from home and hours spent with my mind opening to new ideas. It feels like the summer will come gradually, but will end with a grinding, abrasive halt. Returning to the anger and apathy of adolescence.

Yikes. Until my summer is really truly here, I will accept a slow and sunny weekend spent with a cookie and a good book, pretending it is already summer.






Summer Resolution

Why do we save resolutions for the new year? I am always reinventing myself, and summer is no exception. Reflecting on the spring, I hiked The Grand Canyon, became a climbing badass, and started this blog! I feel rich in experience and prosperous in opportunity.

Looking ahead, I am less financially prepared for the summer than I planned to be. Please see this post to learn how I wanted to save and what mistakes I planned to avoid… mainly I was hoping to have enough saved to not rely on my credit card. Oops. (Side note: teachers don’t get paid enough).

I have seen some Summer Bucket Lists, and maybe I will write one of those in a minute, but this is a little more than that. Like a new year’s resolution, this is a goal for me to dedicate myself to throughout the summer. Additionally, I would like to start working on these goals now, and not wait until I am truly on summer break.

Summer Resolutions, 2017

•Run every day because I feel good when I do

Climb at least once or twice a week!

Play my instrument

•Camp and hike a lot

Write and call my grandparents

•Spend more than two weeks with my family

Develop this blog

Any summer resolutions yourself? These are small goals, and at various points in my life I have maintained some/all of them. These are actions that bring me satisfaction, and I look forward to a healthy, prosperous, and loving summer.


Summer Re-Reads

Do you re-read books? I don’t usually, but in the summer I get nostalgic and crave stories that I engulfed on past travels.

Regular Re-Reads

The Secret Garden  is a story that I read almost every summer. I was probably 10 years old the first time I read it, and I think I forgot how the story went and read it again a few years later as a refresher. Now, every summer while things bloom and leaves turn green and the world generally demonstrates good health, I yearn for this story of friendship and growing health, and the straightforward clarity that comes with this tone of youth.

Do you like to read sexy sciencey stories? Do you sometimes imagine what your life would be like if you designed medicines but also studied homeopathic remedies through the lenses of a cultural anthropologist? I do. If I weren’t a musician/teacher, I would hands down be a scientist/anthropologist. State of Wonder is science/ anthropology/ steamy/ jungle.

Euphoria was my attempt to read State of Wonder again. Not as good, but still sexy anthropologist. Some trippy/freaky love triangles going on here. A quick and dirty read.

A Moveable Feast is my travel book. I carry a hard copy (I know, I’m archaic) with me when I go somewhere new for an extended period of time. It’s my café book that says “I’m very comfortable traveling solo,” “I’m interesting but I don’t want to talk,” and “I’m American!” all at the same time. It is a great summary of the artistic process, detailing mental/physical cycles that affect artistic process and the complexities of living as a glamorous famous novelist on a poor “artist abroad” income. If you have ever wondered what living in Paris in the early 20th century, rubbing shoulders with artistic greats would have been like, this is a must read.

I started to read The Hobbit when I was pretty young (8, maybe?) and I just wasn’t ready. (I watched the crazy old cartoon movie version, though!) I was trying to read my dad’s beloved personal copy, passed down to him by family… and I lost it. I lost it for basically 12 years, and last summer I FINALLY FOUND IT. It was a big event- I was excited and proud that I had kept the book in tact buried in my room for so many years, my dad was appalled that I had been hoarding it for so long… also kind of over it because we had since purchased a new copy. Anyway, when I finally actually read it for real, I read it in Jamaica… which seems like a weird place to be reading Tolkein, but it was a blast! This was my first trip abroad, and my first true cultural learning experience. All of this was a bit of a shock to the system, in a good way, and felt like a fantasy. Reading a fantasy when I was living in such a dream like state was easy! I was feeling like a happy adventurer, and there is really no better way to describe Bilbo Baggins.

Other Ideas:

I have a friend who is re-reading all of the Harry Potter series…in Spanish! She learned Spanish growing up and is looking to sharpen her linguistic knowledge and skills. This is a very cool mission! I also know someone who once read Les Miserables in French.

When I was traveling abroad for a couple of months several years ago, I developed a deep appreciate for my Kindle. Having more downtime than I anticipated, and going through some personal trials, I immersed myself in new books every few days. I need to see if I can find my device download history from those two months in Europe, because I feel like I read 10-20 books during that time!

What’s New:

I and everyone else will be reading The Handmaid’s Tale this summer. My english teachers were always wonderful at supplying dystopian tales and feminist fables (The Lottery and The Awakening , anyone?) yet somehow this classic slipped by me. I am hooked on the Hulu series and will devour this book .

I read In a Dark, Dark Wood basically on one short flight, and recently loaned it to a friend enduring a brief internet installation crisis. She read it as quickly as I did, and ordered The Woman in Cabin 10 for us to share! The only reason I haven’t ordered it for myself is because the sneak peek in the back of the first book scared me so much while I read it alone at night that I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour! I guess I no longer have much excuse not to read this thriller!



via Daily Prompt: Climbing

My sister is a climber. She laces her shoes purposefully, ties the knots carefully, and chooses her handholds deliberately. She knows how to stretch to reach the next hold, or how to propel herself slightly higher. She gives other people this opportunity, guiding and hoisting, belaying them into a new sense of confidence.

When my sister was little, she climbed trees. So did I, but she always climbed a little bit further, and jumped down when she was done. When I was done, I sort of shimmied down, scraping my arms and legs bloody against the rough tree bark. I have climbed enough trees, though, to know the satisfaction it draws. Each branch, every scrape, each slipped then recovered foot hold, brings a new sense of accomplishment. I did it. I am higher than I was a moment ago. I am taller than I was a moment ago. I can see farther than the people on the ground.

Curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I’ve decided I would like to know how it feels to be a good climber. To climb a hard route successfully, without cheating. To boulder without falling, only jumping deliberately. To scale a cliffside in the great outdoors! In an effort to commit, I am planning to tryout Brooklyn Boulder’s “Beginner to Badass” program, a 30 day package where I can practice and train and learn and grow in new ways.

This week, my little sister turns twenty. In a way, I have watched her go from tree to rock; from follower to leader, from novice to expert, from student to teacher. I have watched my sister go from beginner to badass.

Happy (early) birthday, Kendra!


Happy Accidents

Sometimes known as luck.

Have you every had a happy accident? Maybe you made a small life change for convenience and later could accredit dramatic changes in your life to that one small change.

I have one. I decided to start having overnight oatmeal, for convenience. My sister convinced me to eliminate added sugar altogether and just top it with fruit.

I make 5 containers on Sunday night, using repurposed Talenti gelato jars. I scoop 1/2 cup of raw oats into the container, top it with strawberries and banana, and then pour enough milk to submerge the oats and fruit. No sugar, just oats, non-fat milk, and fruit.

I did all of that on purpose, but accidentally lost 7 pounds… without working out or dieting, literally just cutting out morning sugar.

What a happy accident! It is a visible weight loss, too. I have been receiving compliments from friends and coworkers.

Surprise weight loss is small happy accident. What stories do you have? Tried on an old pair of jeans and found $20 in the pocket? Accidentally ran into an former peer and fell in love? I would love to hear your stories!