Sex Education on the Ballot & What Not to Do with Condoms (Part 2)
This week we are watching, many of us in horror, as Senate Republicans ram through a Supreme Court confirmation hearing during the presidential election. Their hypocrisy is stunning but not at all surprising—we all knew that McConnell’s no-SCOTUS-hearings-during-an-election-year rule only applied to Democratic presidents. Their nominee, poised to take over for legendary defender of women’s rights Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is an inexperienced conservative judge who told Notre Dame Law School graduates that their legal careers were just a means to an end “…and that end is the Kingdom of God.” It’s hard to imagine she will uphold the right to abortion, same-sex marriage, or birth control access, to name just a few. During the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I channeled my rage into an impromptu lecture for my students that I called, “Why the Supreme Court Matters to Your Sex Life, and Why You Don’t Want a Conservative Ideologue in that Seat.” It was surprisingly cathartic. Sadly, I’m not teaching this semester, but I did already vote!
Sex Education on the Ballot in Washington State
With the control of the White House and Senate and the future of the Supreme Court at stake, it’s not a stretch to say that sexual and reproductive health is on the ballot across the country. But it’s literally true in Washington as voters there will have the final word on a statewide sex education mandate.
Washington State has supported sexuality education for many years. In 2007, the state passed the Healthy Youth Act which required sex ed in the schools to be medically and scientifically accurate as well as appropriate for all students regardless of their gender, race, disability status, or sexual orientation. That act also said that schools could not teach abstinence to the exclusion of information on contraception and disease prevention. As state laws about sex education go, this was a pretty good one (some require schools to stress abstinence and others don’t allow any positive discussion of contraception or same-sex relationships). The state reinforced the law with the release of new standards for health education in 2016.
But neither the law nor the standards required schools to teach sex education which led to wide disparities across school districts. To remedy this situation, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5395 which was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in March of this year. The law mandates that all school districts provide sexuality education, including a component on affirmative consent, to students in grades K-12.
Parents across the state freaked out. Or, more accurately, a small minority of very loud parents—calling themselves Parents for Safe Schools—freaked out, as some tend to do when you mention kindergartners and sex ed in the same sentence. Instead of looking at what the new law actually required, which is teaching young kids about body parts and emotions and continuing high quality sex education for older students, they complained that it took away local and parental control, prioritized sex education over math and reading, and would be required to include “graphic sexual subject matter taught at a very young age.”
The group has spearheaded an effort to repeal the law before it ever goes into effect and managed to gather more than double the signatures needed to get Proposition 90 on the ballot. Now voters get to decide. Though it seems like a bit of double negative, if Proposition 90 is approved by voters, the law will go into effect; if it’s rejected, it will be repealed.
To be clear, under the new law, school districts would still be allowed to choose their own curriculum and parents would be allowed to pull their children out of the class (known as an opt-out provision). And, there is nothing extreme about this law. In fact, according to a voluntary survey, 60% of Washington schools are already teaching comprehensive sexuality education. The goal here was to make sure all students had access to this kind of program.
More importantly, sex education is good for young people. It helps them make responsible decisions about their sexual health (like having fewer partners and using contraception when they do become sexually active). It helps them think critically. And, it can help all of us change cultural norms and stereotypes, like those around race, gender, sexual orientation, and consent.
Read More Me: See what I wrote about efforts to fix bad sex ed laws earlier this year.
No More Forgotten Pills with This “Smart” Case
Unlike most prescription medications, birth control pills don’t come in a brown bottle with a childproof top. Part of their charm is the discreet plastic case that comes with them. Each brand’s clam shell case has always been a little different—think turquoise rectangles, light purple ovals with embossed flowers, or sleek white half circles—with a hole or holes cut out of the back for pills to pop through. (Though, now, some just give you the blister pack in a vinyl sleeve.) These cases, which came a few years after the 1960 introduction of the pill, were an important invention in and of themselves. They display an entire cycle’s worth of pills, with the days of the week labeled, so that users can know instantly if they’ve missed a day.
The pill primarily acts to block ovulation and is just about 99% effective when taken regularly, but efficacy goes down if users miss doses. One missed dose of a combination pill (the kind that contains estrogen and progestin) is likely not a problem, but missing more than two doses could allow for ovulation. The progestin-only, or mini-pill, is even more sensitive to late or skipped doses. By labeling days of the week, pill packets have helped generations of birth control users avoid pregnancy, but, like everything else, they’re now going high tech.
The Bluetooth-enabled Emme Smart Case sells for $99 and is compatible with over 100 brands of birth control pills. It uses sensors to determine when a dose has been taken and automatically syncs to an app on the user’s phone. If a user misses a dose, the app will send them persistent notifications until they take that pill. It also provides other relevant health information (like whether a back-up method of contraception is recommended) and helps users follow their cycles with tracking for mood, PMS symptoms, and side effects. According to the manufacturer, this system cut down on missed pills by 80%, and 85% of users felt more confident in the pill when using the case.
In truth, most pill users are pretty good at taking them regularly. The National Survey of Family Growth found that only 16% of recent pill users who had had sex in the last year said they’d missed two pills in the four weeks prior to the survey. So, the high tech solution might not be necessary for everyone, but for those who frequently open their pill pack on a Wednesday only to see Monday’s and Tuesday’s pills staring back at them, this could be a great option.
What Not to Do to a Condom, Part 2
Last week, I wrote about a scheme to clean and resell used condoms and reminded everyone that these are one-time use devices. This week—based on two separate headlines—it looks like I need to remind the world that it’s not okay to poke holes in the condom you and your partner have agreed to use.
Serial reality television contestant Kaitlyn Bristowe joked on her podcast that if she wins this season of Dancing with the Stars, she would start poking holes in her boyfriend’s condoms. Bristowe, 35, who was on both the Bachelor and the Bachelorette before taking her spin around the DWTS dance floor, has told numerous media outlets that she is ready for motherhood, that her boyfriend is on the same page, and that they have already chosen the names for their two children. That’s great. Though for his part, boyfriend Jason Tartick, also a Bachelorette alum but from a different season, has said ideally, he’d like them to be married first.
I don’t know this couple (I like my television scripted and let my People subscription lapse), but I’m not above giving strangers unsolicited advice. So here it goes: If you even have to joke about sabotaging your birth control, you and your partner are not on the same page about getting pregnant. And going through with such a plan is dishonest, immoral, and potentially illegal.
Which brings us to the other headline of the week. A British man was sentenced to four years in prison for rape after he admitted to pricking holes in the condoms he used with an unsuspecting sex partner. His attorney explained that he wasn’t trying to get her pregnant but was hoping to change her mind about protected sex. He thought the small holes would lead the condom to split or rupture so they could have a “more intimate” experience. There are so many things wrong with this.
Poking holes in condoms, or removing them without a partner’s knowledge, has become known as stealthing. In an article published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, attorney Alexandra Brodsky calls this practice “rape-adjacent” as it turns a consensual sexual experience into one that violates trust and autonomy and exposes an unwilling partner to risks of pregnancy and/or STIs. Laws vary, and it can be hard for victims of stealthing to prove that a crime had been committed, but this case shows that it can happen. Brodsky suggests setting up a new tort that would give victims a recourse in civil court as well.
Consent is everything. If you have agreed to use a condom, use an intact condom. If you want to get pregnant or have a condomless experience for some other reason, ask your partner. Just ask.