Navigate

JOIN SMART YOUTH

If you want to make a difference and help others while learning about sexual health and keeping yourself safe, then you need to join SMART Youth! You can come to any of our events around the city or come to one of our movie nights or Open Mic events. Check out our schedule to learn what we are doing or e-mail sync.nyc@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hot Topics: Gender and Sexuality Spectrum

This past Friday marked our last Hot Topics meeting, in which we talked about the gender and sexuality spectrum. We discussed that there are many dimensions that make up our sexual identities, such as gender identity, gender expression, biological (or assigned) sex, and sexual orientation.

We focused mostly on gender identity, which is a person’s perception of their own gender. Many people think of gender as just two things, man or woman. This is called a gender binary, but there are so many other ways our gender can be identified, which includes genderqueer, genderless, and more.

Gender expression is the way someone chooses to display themselves (mannerisms, clothing choice, etc) and can range from being masculine, feminine, androgynous, femme, butch, agender and more.  

Biological sex, or sex assigned at birth, is categorized by our sexual organs and hormones. Usually, people also refer to biological sex as a binary – male or female – but there are more categories such as intersex.

Sexual orientation is about who we are attracted to, which can include straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc.



Two of our guests at our meeting spoke about their experiences being transgender, which is when your assigned sex at birth does not match your gender identity. They shared what it was like being a transgender youth and their journey to adulthood. They also explained that transgender is an umbrella term and that there are many types of ways to be transgender, including female-to-male, male-to-female, two-spirit, bigender, and many more.

Each dimension stands alone, meaning that your identity in one category does not necessarily affect or change your identity in another category. For instance, someone was assigned female at birth and is attracted to men. If they identify as a man, this does not mean their attraction changes; they can still be attracted to men.

Although there were some labels listed for each dimension, there are infinite ways to categorize (or not categorize) ourselves. So many aspects of our lives make us unique, and our sexuality is no different.

Friday, October 17, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: To Wax or Not to Wax – That is the Question

Okay, so waxing had nothing to do with the life question Hamlet was grappling with, but it’s something that many of us have thought about, especially relating to pubic hair. There are multiple debates, both in the bedroom and publically, as to whether we should let it be au naturale or if we should groom it to some degree (trimming or complete hair removal). 

We, especially women, are constantly bombarded with messages from the media about how we should maintain our private gardens, but are any of them valid? Is there a ‘correct’ way to upkeep our pubic hair?

The History

Worrying about our pubic hair is not as new as we may think. Actually, the practice has been around for thousands of years! In the Middle East and other areas with hot climates, it was common hygienic or religious practice for both women and men to remove their body hair.

Flash forward to modern times – Removing hair from the bikini line became trendy in the United Sates during the 1940’s, when bathing suit bottoms became more revealing. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s that the practice of waxing all of your pubic hair became a trend. It was introduced by the Brazilian J.Sisters who opened a salon in NYC in 1987 and popularized by an episode of Sex in the City where Carrie Bradshaw went to get a Brazilian wax. 



Today, removing pubic hair is almost seen as the norm. It’s common to see many salons offering the service, and many people also trim/remove their pubic hair at home. Although women receive the most messages about how to maintain their pubic hair, this is not only a women’s concern. There is a rising trend in men also trimming or removing their pubic hair, also called “manscaping.”

Types of Hair Removal

There tend to be three categories in which people generally style their pubic hair:
  • Natural – This is when the pubic hair is left untouched
  • Trimmed – This is when the pubic hair is cut to a shorter length, but not removed,
  • Shaped/Removed – This is when the pubic hair is removed either completely from the area, or is shaped depending on your preference. This can range from removing just the hair on your “bikini line”, to going completely bare.


Methods of Hair Removal

There are many ways you can trim or remove pubic hair. Each technique yields different results, as well as has its own pros and cons.

Shaving: This is when you use a razor to cut hair down to the skin. While shaving is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of hair removal (you can do it yourself in the shower!), it only cuts the hair off, meaning your hair will grow back at its normal rate. Shaving also means that the hair is cut off bluntly, which not only makes your hair feel courser and prickly when it grows back, but also puts you at greater risk for ingrown hairs.

Waxing/Sugaring: This is when a very tacky paste, such as hot wax, is spread across and quickly pulled from the skin, removing the hair from its root (follicle). Because the hair is removed from the root, it slows the rate the hair will grow back. The hair also grows back softer because it’s not cut. This method is not only costly, but is also painful because the pubic area is very sensitive. It is best to get it done professionally.

Depilatories: This is a chemical paste that removes the hair by dissolving it. It’s a fairly easy, painless, and inexpensive process. Since harsh chemicals are used, it’s very important to read the directions on any depilatory product…especially because the pubic area is sensitive. Only use depilatories that are specifically for pubic hair removal.

Long term/Permanent Removal: There are two methods of long term hair removal. Laser hair removal involves removing hair by pulsating laser light onto the hair follicle and destroying the root. This allows hair growth to be slower and slower over time, although not permanent. On the other hand, electrolysis is the only permanent hair removal technique, given that it actually destroys the hair cells responsible for growth. Both procedures are painful and extremely expensive, so they’re recommended for smaller areas on the body.



The Great Debate

For as many people who are fans of pubic hair grooming, there are just as many who are not. There are multiple arguments for and against grooming. Some believe that it is most hygienic to be “bare down there”, with people crediting pubic hair removal for the eradication of pubic lice. Others believe that removing all of your pubic hair is wrong because it perpetuates “porn culture.” Many people feel that the porn industry is responsible –through the way they display women’s labia in porn scenes – for convincing both men and women that having no pubic hair is more attractive, which creates a beauty standard.

There are multiple reasons for why people choose or don’t choose to keep or remove their pubic hair, but you should never feel that you have to do anything to your pubic hair – let alone any part of your body – to please someone or to follow a trend. If you think it is right for you, you can access safety tips for shaving and waxing linked here and here.

Do what’s right and comfortable for you. Your choice to wax, shave, or trim is just as valid as your choice not to; and that’s what it is, YOUR choice!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hot Topics: PrEP and PEP

Last Friday, Gloria Searson from SMART and COPE joined SMART Youth to talk about something that’s been buzzing in the news lately: PrEP and PEP

For those who may not know, PrEP – which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – is a pill that a person who is HIV-negative can take once a day to dramatically decrease their risk of getting HIV. It has to be taken consistently in order for the medication to be most effective. On the other hand, PEP – which stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis – is medication an HIV-negative person take after they may have been exposed to the HIV virus to decrease the chances of the virus replicating in their body. The medication works better when taken as soon as possible, but can be taken up to 72 hours after exposure to the virus. Both of these medicines have to be prescribed by a doctor. For this meeting, we focused mostly on PrEP.


We discussed that there is a difference between who the drug is being marketed to versus who would benefit most from the drug. According to public health guidelines, PrEP is recommended for HIV-negative people who:
  • are in a sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-positive
  • are in a non-mutually monogamous sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-Negative and is someone who is considered to be in a high-risk group
  • injects drugs and shares equipment with others
The drug is primarily marketed towards people who fall into these categories; but our youth brought up other groups who would also benefit from the medication yet are being ignored, such as sex workers. Sex workers face a particular barrier to accessing this drug because sex work is illegal in many parts of the world, including the US. PrEP is an expensive drug PrEP (it can cost $8,000-$14,000 a year), and because sex workers do not receive health insurance for their jobs, they would have to pay out-of-pocket for it. This would be a problem for other people who are poor or uninsured.


There are also people who fear that without proper education, people will misuse the drug (which would make it less effective) or start to engage in riskier sexual activity that could increase the rates of other sexually transmitted diseases.

PrEP may be best for one person, but may not be best for another person; that is a decision that is discussed between you and your doctor. As young people, it is important to make sure we learn about the things that affect our sexual lives because education and information helps us to make more informed decisions about our health, whatever decision that may be.

For more information about PrEP or PEP, check out the links below:

Friday, October 10, 2014

‘Tis the season to be haunted!

Join SMART Youth for our 9th Annual Halloween Party at Lucky Strike Bowling, located at 624-660 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036 (At W 42nd St and 12th Ave). The date and time is Sunday, October 26th from 12:30-3:30pm!

There will be food, candy, an awesome DJ, a makeup artist, and a costume contest with great prizes! You do not want to miss this! Bring your friends, but keep in mind that you're only allowed into the party if you are between the ages of 13 and 22.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hot Topics: HIV Criminalization

We continued our Hot Topics series with our third topic: HIV Criminalization. We at SMART Youth have discussed this topic before on a policy-level and talked about ways to advocate for those affected by these unjust and discriminatory laws. These are laws and policies that prosecute people who are HIV-positive for engaging in consensual sex or other activities without disclosing their HIV status, regardless of actual risk of transmission. For our meeting last Friday, we focused on how these laws affect us on a personal-level.


We watched a video [featuring one of our SMART Youth leaders!] that showcased the many ways these laws negatively affect people who are HIV-positive. Other than not knowing their HIV status, there are many reasons why people do not disclose to their partner. HIV is still a heavily stigmatized condition that means potentially negative consequences for those who choose to reveal their status, including loss of social support from friends and family, job loss, or having their personal information spread to other people.


The purpose of these laws is to force those with HIV to disclose their status to others, but when there are factors discouraging people from doing so, it puts them in a dilemma. One would have to choose between disclosing and getting backlash, or not disclosing and being arrested; both results are harmful. Many times, people avoid getting tested because in the eyes of the law, not knowing about your HIV status is better than knowing. This is the opposite of what we want, which is to eliminate stigma and encourage people to know their status in order to take charge of their health.

In order for people to feel comfortable and safe to disclose their status, we all have a responsibility to create an environment for that. One way to do that is to fight against these unfair laws and policies through educating ourselves and our peers.

For more information on HIV Criminalization laws or disclosure, please see links to our previous blog posts below:
  • HIV Criminalization: http://smartyouthnyc.blogspot.com/2014/06/smart-youth-discuss-hiv-criminalization.html 
  • Disclosure: http://smartyouthnyc.blogspot.com/2014/06/smart-youth-and-mnn-youth-channel.html 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hot Topics: Where is the Justice?

Last Friday, SMART Youth continued our Hot Topics series with a meeting called “Where is the Justice?” where we discussed how crime and punishment can vary depending on who is accused or where you live. This can lead to different legal outcomes.

Our youth brought up many examples of how violence is perceived based on who you are. In the case of Ray Rice, the NFL player who was caught on camera assaulting his the fiancĂ©e in an elevator, his violence was seen much differently than when Solange Knowles (Beyonce’s sister) was caught on camera assaulting Jay-Z in an elevator. Because of the gender differences, Ray Rice’s situation became a very serious matter (as it should have been), yet Solange’s situation was generally laughed off.



Sometimes, these differences also lead to discriminatory outcomes for those accused of crimes. An example of this is how there are racial and class differences in the way students are disciplined in schools. Students of color are more likely to be seen as disruptive in school and more likely to be suspended or expelled. This discrimination contributes to higher rates of students of color getting left back or not completing school.

Who is responsible for serving justice? In the many examples that were talked about, the punishments were given by groups not traditionally seen as enforcers. For instance, the NFL suspended Ray Rice indefinitely for the assault. Some feel that this was the right move by the NFL, but others feel that it is not the organization’s responsibility to punish their players for criminal offenses; that it should only be the responsibility of law enforcement.

For sexual assault on school campuses, campus disciplinary boards are the ones deliberating these cases instead of law enforcement. Part of the reason why these groups are seen as responsible is because law enforcement often fails to hold perpetrators accountable for offenses like domestic violence and sexual assault. On the flip side, school discipline has moved from the hands of school administrators to law enforcement, which many feel is excessive because it exposes children to the justice system instead of dealing with discipline in-house. This also has negative effects on children.


Our justice system is far from perfect, something that our youth have talked about regarding multiple circumstances, including HIV Criminalization. We as youth should be committed to advocating for those who are unfairly treated by the system in the hopes that it will be practiced fairly for everyone in the near future.



Monday, September 29, 2014

SMART Youth September & October Calendar

We have many interesting events coming up, including our SMART Youth Halloween party at Lucky Strike! Check out our calendar below. Hope to see you soon!