A lot of people just seem to take it as a given that young people are living in the midst of a wild hook-up culture.   

Whether it is the authors of books who’s very titles reference this idea (see: Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, Unhooked, and Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children – to name but a few), or Hanna Rosin arguing that hook-up culture actually benefits a certain type of women, the assumption on various sides of the aisle seems to be that hooking up, or sex without commitment, is increasingly common. 

But is hooking-up really all that endemic, let alone all that modern? Maybe not. The Monitoring the Future study,  which is the only long-term survey that asks anything related to hooking-up, shows that there is absolutely no evidence that things have changed all that much over the past forty years. Rather it found that attitudes about hooking-up have remained fairly constant.

For example, when it asked high school seniors in 1975 if just one intimate partner is too restrictive for most people, 27% agreed. When that question was asked in 2008, that number was exactly the same. Similarly, the same survey asked first year college students if they thought it was okay to have sex with a partner they had just met. In 1975, 44% said yes. In 2008, at 45%, that number was only one percent higher.

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, doesn’t go back as far, but its findings are telling nonetheless. When it asked high school students in 1991 if they had had sex with more that four people in their lifetimes, almost 19% said, yes. When the same question was asked in 2011 that number had dropped to 15%.

And now a study out of the Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine suggests college students are not actually hooking up as much as one might think.  The study  (just published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health), found that among the students surveyed, sex with a romantic partner was twice as common as was casual sex. 

So whatever your take on hook-ups (for mine you can see Guess What? Casual Sex Won't Make You Go Insane), it might be helpful to realize that this isn't some brand new phenomenon that has edged out sex with more commitment. 

Sometime before 7am yesterday morning, my partner and I dragged our two sleepy kids out of bed and walked to the back of a long line outside a middle school in our central Brooklyn neighborhood. This line would eventually bring us to a gymnasium where we would cast our votes. 

But before we were able to do that, we hit a few minor glitches. First, when we actually got to the gym, no one could tell us what table to vote at. (This was not all that surprising since the method employed to do so involved shuffling through a messy pile of papers upon which handwritten addresses were scrawled). Luckily, I saw a neighbor in line behind a table for district #2, and joined that one. This line slowly brought people to a table where election workers confirmed voter identities against signatures found in the registry.  But when we made it to the front of the line, I discovered that despite having been registered to vote in New York since 1998, and at my current address since 2008, and even though I had voted in this very gym many times, my name was nowhere to be found.   One of the workers turned out to be a woman who lives across the hall from me. When the other person checking signature at the table hesitated, she said, "It's okay, she lives in my building," and I was given an affidavit and a paper ballot. I filled out the forms, turned in my ballot and was out of there in a little under two hours.

Other neighbors didn't fare as well. Throughout the day, I followed posts from confused and disheartened would be voters, got texts from friends waiting in endless lines and took a call from my upstairs neighbor asking if I knew which table in the gym our building voted at, since she was encountering the same blank states and shuffled papers that I had seen hours earlier. 

Then, getting off the train on the way home from work last night, I saw the father of a girl from my son's old daycare. He told me he had arrived at our polling station at 5:45am, and waited for two hours before being told that his name was nowhere to be found. He was informed that as a result, he couldn't vote. The dad went home to find his (unnecessary) voter card, came back, waited two more hours and finally found someone who let him fill out an affidavit and a paper ballot.

But while we were all slightly inconvenienced in ways we probably shouldn't have been, my building's super and his daughter Mona, were unable to vote at all.   Mona is a 21-year-old college student. Though she has voted in a few local elections, this was going to be her first presidential one. Her dad, Dan, is a native of Jamaica and had recently become an American citizen. This was going to be his first time voting at all. As Mona told me,  "He was really excited about it."  But neither father nor daughter ended up being able to to excercise this basic right.    Though they were registered voters, like me, their names weren't in the official registry. Upon discovering this, an ill-informed attendant sent them to another polling station, a good ways away. Once they arrived there, they stood on a long line only to be told to go back to their original station.  So back they returned, all the time enduring ever longer lines (we are talking hours of waiting at every turn).  

Along the way, another person in line told them they could fill out an affidavit and a paper ballot. In fact, their right to do this was ensured by an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the wake of super-storm Sandy. Nevertheless, when they asked for an affidavit and a paper ballot at our polling place, they were informed by multiple people that this was not an option! So eventually, after missing hours of work and school, and without getting their vote in, they left.

Whether this was the result of changed rules, redistricting, or the brand new scanner machines that no one seems to know how to use, what it comes down to is that people who should have been able to vote, were denied the opporrtunity to do so. 

We might not have faced the same scandals that plagued other parts of the country this election, but yesterday, voting was a mess in my neighborhood.

In case you feel like you've been missing something since the last season of Teen Mom 2 concluded just a few weeks ago, never fear. In a mere matter of days, yet another incarnation of the series will premiere.

Really, the popularity of the show, (a spin off of MTV's earlier, 16 and Pregnant) is not all that surprising given the fact that America is the leader in teen pregnancies and births among all fully industrialized nations.

This first place billing is nothing new and neither are attempts to address it. Throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000's those hoping to lower teen pregnancy rates tried to do so through education. Some, like myself, favored a comprehensive approach. Other adopted the abstinence-only method. Abstinence was a proven disaster, and while I stand by the material I still teach, I know it isn't enough.

Others agree, and in recent years more attention has turned to the external forces that may contribute to teen pregnancies.

Last week, for example, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania shared the findings of their research. These demonstrated a clear link between teen pregnancy and low levels of literacy in pre-teen girls.

There has also been a fair amount of research into poverty and teen pregnancy. A report released in March by Auburn University showed that areas with high poverty levels and low educational attainment among women also have a high rates of teen pregnancy and births. Earlier studies have looked at the relationship between poverty and low self-esteem, something that can make girls less likely to use birth control.  Additionally, there has been a discussion of the fact that poor girls are less likely to have abortions, which are often too expensive, or deeply stigmatized in many of their communities.

To be sure, these are important findings, but they aren't enough.

There is something else at play here, and that is the simple fact that a huge number of girls don't have access to the most basic preventative reproductive health care. Now so long as the Affordable Care Act--the future of which will be a little clearer on Tuesday--is upheld, hopefully that will begin to change, since this legislation is key both in terms of coverage for contraception, and in terms of getting teens covered themselves. (Appallingly, in 2010 almost 10% of the under 18 population had no health insurance!).

But even girls with insurance can find it challenging to prevent pregnancies.

Suburban and rural teens are often unable to travel to the doctor without their parents, and teens fearing that doctors won't respect their privacy may avoid needed visits altogether. Additionally, a significant number of drug stores refuse to sell teens condoms and emergency contraception.

In these situations, no amount of money, no level of confidence, and no style of sex education alone can truly prevent teen pregnancy.

So what can? As studies have found, abstinence-only education is a failure. What we need is to ensure that teens not only receive accurate information in the form of comprehensive sex education, but that that they are also able to put what they have learned into practice. This can be done by making reproductive health care and birth control easily available to them.

Increasing the use of school based health centers is one way to start. We also need to see legislation permitting girls under 18 to obtain emergency contraception without a prescription. Additionally, retailers must be required to respect laws mandating that they sell condoms regardless of age, and doctors need to be counseled on the importance of maintaining a minor's confidentially.

As teenage girls will tell you, knowledge is power and confidence is key, but when it comes to avoiding pregnancy, the importance of access to solid health care and contraception can't be ignored.
 

Since 1986, researchers working on something called the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) have been following the children of lesbian moms to see how they fared. This week, the results were published in the (rather unfortunately named) Journal of Homosexuality.

What the researchers discovered was that, overall, the children were doing extremely well.  Not only were they excelling in school, but most had close relationships with their parents and siblings. Additionally, the kids tended to see their moms as good role models, were open with others about the make-up of their families, and had a lot of friends.  And what they weren't doing--namely getting in trouble with the law or dropping out of school--was pretty positive as well. 

And that's just looking at them on their own. Compared to the average American teen, the children of lesbians sound even more impressive! As the authors of the study write, "At the age of 17, the NLLFS offspring were rated significantly higher in social, school and academic, and total competence, and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than an age-matched normative sample of American youth."

When I asked my lesbian mom friend, Aviva, if she was surprised by these findings, she immediately said no. "You just have a better shot at being a good parent if you really want to do it," she told me. Her partner, Farrah added, "A lot of women are raised to be nurturing and caretakers, so when you have two people like that, there's a lot of focus on the child."  

But while the positive outcome might seem self-evident to lesbian moms (or to anyone who has hung out with them or their kids), there are still plenty of people out there who hand-wring at the thought of same-sex couples as parents.

One of those hand-wringers is none other than, Mitt Romney, the man who wants to be the 45th president of the United States.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Romney has been vocal about his opposition towards gay marriage. This is something he has long had a beef with, since despite his objections, same sex unions were legalized in Massachusetts by the state's Supreme Judicial Court while he was serving as governor.  The presidential hopeful has also been clear about his hostility towards gay parenting, something he has a demonstrated track record of opposing. 

As Murray Waas reports in the Boston Globe, soon after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, Romney rejected a plan by the state Registry of Vital Records and Statistics to revise its birth certificate forms so that the box for “father” would now read “father or second parent.’’ Waas writes,

"Romney’s interventions mostly resulted in delays awarding birth certificates for women married to same-sex partners who gave birth. Gay men seeking parental rights were required to take a different route, by obtaining a court order. By law, birth certificates must be issued within 10 days of birth, and in some instances, those deadlines were not met. As a result, gay women attempting to obtain birth certificates for their children could encounter delays, while gay men seeking parental rights sometimes had to obtain them by court order."

This particular issue has long been rectified. But the fact is, plenty of people back these types of measures and the misguided views that drive them. And these views are definitely misguided!  For example, various organizations, including the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage recycle the false claim that gay parents are more likely to molest their children than are straight parents. Others turn to the old, "Children need a mom and a dad."  And while these folks clearly haven't taken much stock in the research debunking such assumptions, it is crucial that this research exists.

It is also crucial that more research, like the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, continues to be produced. Because even though the findings might seem obvious to those being studied and to their supporters (Jezebel titled a post on the study: No Fucking Duh, Lesbians Make Great Parents. Queerty's read: Lesbians Make Great Parents, World Is Round), it sure isn't obvious to an awful lot of the country.

Related: Hey Conservatives - Gays Are Better Parents Than You

Sometimes it seems like conducting a classroom lesson on sex education is a landmine with wrong steps possible at every turn. Take the experience of Faith Kramer, an 8th grade teacher from Staten Island, NY. In 2008, this 26-year teaching vet was removed from her classroom after the Department of Education claimed that she had violated a regulation prohibiting verbal abuse, or the use of language that could cause "fear, physical or mental distress," and charged her with using corporal punishment for doing so.

So what did Kramer do or say to her students? Nothing really. It seems she simply followed state guidelines on teaching about about HIV.

As the New York Times reports,

On Feb. 6, 2008, the teacher, Faith Kramer, a health and physical education teacher at Intermediate School 72 on Staten Island, taught a state-mandated lesson on the various behaviors that can transmit H.I.V./AIDS. According to legal documents filed with the case, she wrote down the polite words for sexual organs, sexual acts and bodily fluids on the board — and then asked her students to list any other terms they might know for those things.

[According to a judge reviewing the case] in doing so, she appeared to be following the spirit of a state syllabus that directed that students be encouraged to use sexual terms that they understood, so that they could relate those words to the more formal terminology. “If students use different terms,” the syllabus says, “make sure they understand the relationship between both sets of terms.”

Apparently, the principal who requested an investigation, and the Department of Education which conducted it, weren't exactly up to date on those curriculum guidelines. As a result, Kramer was taken out of the classroom for over six months and sent to an administrative detention center before she was able to resume her duties. Now--in a case that a federal judge decided could proceed despite the city's attempts to dismiss it--Kramer is seeking damages for mental anguish, lawyer’s fees and the loss of extra after-school work.

As someone who teaches sex ed, I have to say, Kramer's experience does sound pretty mentally anguishing. Teachers shouldn't have to censor themselves at every turn--especially if a topic or word is introduced by a student.

Obviously, it is important to be sensitive, careful and appropriate when talking about sex with teens. But, you also have to be clear and make sure that kids know what you are saying, even if that means clearing up misconceptions by using language that doesn't often get used in other classes. Really, one missed word can render an entire lesson meaningless. For example, you can't expect students to understand what you are saying if you tell them to avoid getting ejaculate into the vagina during intercourse by using a prophylactic, when the words they know in this context are cum, coochie, screwing and rubber.

Both Faith Kramer, and her state's mandated curriculum seem to get this. Too bad that principals like hers, not to mention, the New York City Department of Education, don't.

How many times do states need to push abstinence-only education before deciding that telling kids to just say no, just isn't working? In Utah's case, it seems like an awful lot. Thanks to Utah Senator, Orrin G. Hatch, the health bill, (which, thankfully, includes $375 million for comprehensive sex education), has set aside $250 million for abstinence funding.

Utah's teens have long had this brand of education. In fact, state law not only requires "emphasizing abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage," but it also prohibits teaching, "the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior; the advocacy of homosexuality; the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices; or the advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage."

So how's that working out for Utah? Apparently, not so well. A recent report found that between 2004 and 2008, Utah's teen birthrate grew by over 30%. During that time, chlamydia rates increased 70% among teen girls, while the rates of gonorrhea also rose at nearly that level.

Lynn Beltran, the HIV and STD program manager at Salt Lake Valley Health Department explained, “People want to say we don’t have a STD problem among teens here in Utah. We are here to say absolutely we do have a problem.”

Unfortunately, some of those people, say, Orrin Hatch, also seem to be dead set on forcing the rest of the country to absolutely have such problems as well.

This Mother's Day, the birth control pill turns fifty. Never far from debate, the pill has spent the past five decades being hailed as a women's liberator, scorned as a moral malady, and tweaked in an ongoing effort to reduce this medication's numerous side effects. But in all that tweaking one issue has never been at the forefront, namely an attempt to reduce the effect that the pill has on a user's libido.

Partly, that's because until recently, the fact that this was even a problem was only known anecdotally. However, a German study, just published in the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, can finally confirm this very real part of a lot of women's pill experiences. After looking at over 1,000 sexually active women, the researchers concluded that those using hormonal contraception were, indeed, less likely to be interested in having sex.

Now that this information is "officially" out there, I have a feeling that someone will begin to tinker with existing hormones in the hopes of creating a pill (or patch, or ring, or gel, or spray) that doesn't make women see the bedroom as only a place to get a good night's rest. And while that's all fine and good, it's not really enough.

Currently, women who can't use hormones are limited to barriers (like condoms and diaphragms) and IUDs for their birth control, neither of which is wildly popular. What we really need is a better non-hormonal option. Unfortunately, what we will probably get is simply more of the same; slightly tweaked hormones wrapped in a shiny new package and marketed as having less of a libidinal effect.

Until 1973, "homosexuality" was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. However, since then, the notion that sexual orientation is a condition that can be "cured" has faced increasing criticism from a wide range of professional organizations. These include such luminaries as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association, a group whose most recent position on the matter is: "efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies."

Yet until now, the state of California has had a statue on the books calling for research into cures for "homosexuality." This was found within a larger law passed in the panicy 1950s that required research into sex crimes. However, the law also had the distinction of explicitly equating gay men with child molesters, referring to them as sexual deviants and mandating the state to actively support the search for a cure for "homosexuality."

Earlier this month, Democratic Assembly woman, Bonnie Lowenthal, introduced a bill that would remove this section of the law. It unanimously passed the state assembly on Monday, and while it still needs to go to the state senate, it is expected to pass there as well.

Though it might seem like a token move, this bill makes an important statement in a climate where far too many religions still preach that faith should be enough to turn you straight. Or where kids are still forced into ex-gay “reparative” therapy by parents buying into the claim that being gay is deviance embodied.

Of course, in such an environment, it stands to reason that not everyone would back the law’s repeal. One group that has expressed open opposition is Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), an organization dedicated to the men and women they claim “make the personal decision to leave homosexuality.” The organization's California educational director, Jeralee Smith, told the AP she didn't support the bill because,"I just don't think any door should be closed when we're trying to stop attacks on children."

Right, because calling gay children “sexual deviants” and telling them to they should strive to change a core part of who they are is a good way to protect them from attacks?

Whether the Smiths of the world like it or not, not everyone is straight, yet these types continue to cling to long disproven theories and outdated myths in the hopes that doing so will bolster half-baked claims about the dangers of being gay. Happily, as the imminent repeal of California's archaic law clearly shows, such claims are getting harder and harder to make.

There are some ads that just stick with you. One that I’ve never forgotten was a 30 second commercial that began with a terrified blond woman wearing tight jeans, sky high heels and a bustier (it was the early 90s) and running down an alley as a chain saw wielding maniac chased her. After discovering an unlocked door, she flung it open and: SURPRISE!  All her friends were waiting with a birthday cake. And the guy she had been so desperately fleeing? Well, he followed in after her, pulled off his mask, and grinningly cut the cake with his chainsaw.  As the screen faded to a Guess Jeans logo, a sultry voice informed the viewer that these jeans were wearable in any situation. “Hmm,” I remember musing, “I kind of want those." Then, "Man, that was really messed-up." Using twisted concepts to sell a product is common, of course, and I am by no means the only woman who has ever been tempted despite (or maybe because of)  such tactics. Fashion magazines geared towards women are full of ads depicting everything from what appears to be a gang rape (Dolce & Gabanna) to a woman pulling her purse out of a pool next to a corpse (Jimmy Choo) to a lingerie clad model being strangled by a man’s tie (Duncan Quinn). But while the brands have clear motivations—develop an image, lure in customers, sell a product, have them coming back for more—the motivations of the female consumers who respond to such ads are more complicated. To learn more about this issue, researchers, Barbara J. Phillips and Edward F. McQuarrie, interviewed regular readers of fashion magazines and discovered that most women don’t consider the implications of violent sexist ads, but rather, they gravitate to them for the tantalizing narrative. They recently published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research and explain that the women who liked such ads, "Would be transported into the story world set in motion by the ad's pictures, asking themselves, 'What is happening here?' and 'What will happen next? These women would immerse themselves in the images, examining its lighting, colors, lines, composition, and creativity.” Still questions remain. Phillips and McQuarrie were drawing from a very small sample size (only 18 women were interviewed). So even if we can generalize their findings to the larger fashion magazine reading population, there still has to be more behind a positive response to this type of branding than simply the desire to follow a captivating story. Maybe women who find these images compelling have internalized the messages they are seeing and don’t find them offensive. Maybe they think the ads are edgy and counterculture.  Maybe they have tapped into sexual desires and fantasies. Maybe the response is part of a larger backlash against feminism. Maybe the woman are drawn to these ads like rubberneckers watching a car crash. The topic definitely needs more exploration. But ultimately, whatever women’s reasons are for finding such ads appealing, I still think that there has to be a better way to sell shoes.

We are halfway through April, which you may not have realized has been dubbed "Abortion Recovery Awareness Month" for the second year in a row by Texas Governor, Rick Perry and Minnesota Governor, Tim Pawlenty.

Just for the record: Abortion Recovery Awareness Month is not designed to offer comfort to women needing to recover from the experience of trying to obtain an abortion under ever more present restrictions (the newest being Nebraska's recent law requiring mental health screenings for women seeking the procedure). Nope, this "month" is simply another way for abortion opponents to showcase tired old scare tactics in the hopes of demonizing a procedure that 35% of all American woman will have before they are 45.

As Texas governor RIck Perry told the Christian Post, “An abortion is a tragic ending, not only because of the loss of a life, but also because of the physical and psychological trauma caused by the procedure itself."

That abortion is physically and psychologically traumatic is just a given to a lot of folks--even to many people who support a woman's right to a safe legal abortion. But this conventional wisdom isn't actually backed by science. In 2008, the American Psychological Association found that while having an abortion can be a difficult decision that can cause feelings of sadness, serious mental health issues are not a direct result of having an abortion.

According to this organization,

"Some people cite “post-abortion syndrome” as a consequence of having an abortion, although there is no medical diagnosis with this name. So-called post-abortion syndrome has been likened to post-traumatic stress disorder: a lasting depression, often resulting in substance abuse and sometimes even suicide attempts. The APA task force found that research to date does not show a direct connection between a single elective abortion and such mental health issues."

Furthermore, early abortions, performed by trained medical professionals, are generally uncomplicated medical procedures and are far safer for women than, say, carrying a pregnancy to term. The Guttmacher Institute explains, "Abortion is generally safe in settings where the procedure is legal and openly available."

Sadly, I have a feeling those things don't matter much to the Perry's and Pawlenty's of the world, people who it should be noted, will never need an abortion, yet who seem convinced that they know just how those who do will respond to one.