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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 call Janet at (917) 471-0216/e-mail sync.nyc@gmail.com.

Monday, August 4, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: Fetishes — Who Knew Popping Balloons Could Be Foreplay?

We all have that one thing that really gets us in the mood. It could be a certain song because the lyrics remind you of something, or that special scent that you love because your partner wears it; but have you ever felt like that one thing that turns you on isn't shared by others? Does it seem a little different or uncommon. You might have a fetish!

Remember that arousal is different for every person, and that’s okay. Exploring your sexuality in this way can be an exciting process!

The technical definition of a fetish “specifically refers to a strong sexual preoccupation with an object, material, or body part.”This object, material, or body part – the specific thing that is fetishized – often needs to be present, incorporated, or at least thought of in order for the person to reach sexual satisfaction. A fetish is a type of paraphilia, which generally “means compulsively responding in a sexual way to an unusual or socially acceptable stimulus."

These two definitions are very similar, so we’ll break it down with some examples: If the sight of feet really gets you going, it’s probably a foot paraphilia. If you require feet to be incorporated in your sex act (like touching, smelling, licking, etc) in order to experience sexual satisfaction, then it is probably a foot fetish. Most of the time when we talk about fetishes, we’re actually referring to paraphilia, which is why the meanings of these words get confused.

There are hundreds of fetishes and paraphilia. Some are well-known like the BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism) scene, which involves role-playing with the behaviors of dominance/submission and by receiving or inflicting pain. Some fetishes/paraphilia are viewed as uncommon or may seem strange to us, like popping balloons or wearing animal costumes while having sex.
For some, balloons are a source of sexual pleasure!
So— is it bad to have a fetish or paraphilia? If it interferes with your or someone’s life in a negative way, it isn't bad at all...even if they seem out of the ordinary for most people. For some, the biggest challenge of having a fetish or paraphilia is simply communicating to a partner about their sexual desires. This can make anyone feel awkward or vulnerable when disclosing personal information to our intimate partners. Like anything else when it comes to sex, it is very important to communicate with our sexual partners. Not only will this allow you and your partner to be on the same page, but they may be very willing to accommodate your desires. They may even share your same fetish or paraphilia!

Other people may also share your fetish/paraphilia. There are multiple communities of people with similar interests that not only provide a sense of belonging and acceptance, but are also great resources for information and finding friends or potential partners. These groups can be the first step in discovering your likes and dislikes. When exploring your specific fetish/paraphilia, it is still important to be safe. Safety can mean several things, like:
  • Doing research on your specific fetish/paraphilia. What are the community’s philosophies? Do they provide support or resources on how to begin and how to be safe?
  • Being mindful of which communities (physical or virtual) you’re connecting with. If you feel like you’re in danger, that you cannot trust the people you’re with, or that they’re involved in illegal activities, you do not have to be a part of that group.
  • Establishing rules of consent and safety with your sexual partners.  An example of this is using safewords. Safewords are specific words or phrases that are mutually agreed upon and used to let others know that we want to stop sexual activity. This is most commonly used in BDSM, where words like ‘stop’ or ‘no’ are not taken at face-value and are considered part of role-playing.
  • Being safe if you’re meeting someone from the internet. You can find great tips here.
However, certain fetishes or paraphilia can cause harm to yourself and others, or even be against the law. An extreme example of a harmful paraphilia is pedophilia, which is the strong sexual attraction to children. Anytime our sexual desires and actions become distressing in our lives or the lives of others, it is very important to seek professional counseling/intervention to address them. This way, we can lead both healthy and fulfilling sexual lives.

As mentioned before, there are hundreds of fetishes and paraphilia out there, and this post is just the tip of the iceberg!  If you want to learn more, here are some online resources available to help you explore this topic on a deeper level:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: Does Size Really Matter?

“Does penis size really matter when it comes to sex?”

Seems like an age-old question that is on most people’s minds (admit it, we know you've asked this question at least once in your life) and never has a definitive answer! The prevailing philosophy is that larger penises are more pleasurable…which is a lame and vague answer. We all feel differently about this question depending on our likes and dislikes. Even the research has different outcomes! There are many sides to this debate and we’re here to explain them!

Size may matter, but not the ways you think!
Some studies show that length may not be the factor in penis size, but girth (width) instead. In the case for women studied, size mattered for those who have orgasms primarily through vaginal penetration because there are pressure-sensitive nerves that can detect stretch, which may be more pleasurable. Men also feel the same sensations through anal sex, so men who prefer that feeling of “fullness” may want a partner with more girth.

Goldilocks Zone
In general, men and women don’t think size matters, as long as it is not on the extreme ends of the size spectrum. You may think this applies to just people who have smaller than average sizes, but this also applies to those with much larger than average penises. The average erect penis is about five to six inches long and has an average circumference of 4.8 inches. Also, the most pleasurable and sensitive parts of the vagina or the anus is the first two or three inches. This means that unless the erect penis is smaller than three inches, size shouldn't affect this level of pleasure. This also means that a larger penis won’t necessarily make things more pleasurable. When a penis is large (by either length or girth), it can lead to discomfort/ pain during vaginal or anal sex.


He Says, She Says
What’s big for someone may be small for someone else. We all have individual preferences and there isn't one way to have sex, so size may matter to one person…but it may not matter for another. Some people may like longer penises because of the sensation of it touching the cervix; some may want a shorter penis because directly stimulates the prostate; some may like penises with more girth because they like the stretching sensation; and some may like penises with less girth because it’s easier to penetrate. Remember that individual people have different sexual body parts, preferences, and needs; so assuming that everyone prefers a bigger penis is assuming that everyone has the same kind of sex.

It really is about the “Motion of the Ocean!”
You know the saying: It’s not about the size of the boat, it’s about the motion of the ocean; that is to say it’s not about what you have, it’s about what you do with it. Remember that sex is not always about penetration! Not only do we have other ways to pleasure our partners (such as using our hands, mouth, or sex toys), but sex is also about the intimate connection we make with people. As much as it is about your genitals, it’s also about how you feel and approach sex. With that being said, if you’re feeling less than confident about your genitals or your skills, it will show when you have sex!

It may just all be in our heads!
All in all, size only matters if you make it matter. Studies show that heterosexual men tend to be more concerned about their penis size than heterosexual women are. More times than not, what men consider to be small is actually considered average. In addition, penis size becomes a bigger factor for homosexual men. Research shows that size has a stronger link to dominance and power, so those that self-report being smaller in size are more likely to be “bottoms”and those who reported being average or bigger are more likely to be “tops”. In general, men are often obsessed with their size because they equate penis size with self-esteem and worth…something that is very damaging. Each of our bodies is unique and we should strive to be comfortable with the skin we’re in.


There’s more to your identity and sex life than penetration and penis size, and just because someone considers you “too small” or “too large” doesn’t mean you and your partner cannot have great sex! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SAY! Advocacy University – Communication 101

Last Friday marked day two of our SAY! Advocacy University. We focused on how to improve our communication skills in order to become better facilitators. Having these skills in our toolbox will allow us to spread the SMART Youth word about sexual health more effectively.

We discussed the importance and principles of public speaking, which include diction, posture, talking speed/volume, eye contact, and looking presentable. When we look and sound confident in what we’re talking about, the audience feeds off of our energy and are more likely to pay attention to what we’re saying. This means making eye contact with audience members; making sure we project our voice and enunciate while we speak; dressing and speaking appropriately depending on the audience; and avoiding verbal ticks such as ‘um’ and ‘like’. We also talked about what makes us afraid of public speaking and the ways we can combat those fears. These include breathing exercises and “faking it ‘till you make it” in order to calm our nerves or boost confidence. Practicing our presentation skills is very important because, like a resume, “how” we present is often holds more weight than “what” we present.




Next, we learned techniques on how to use our public speaking skills as group facilitators. It’s one thing to be able to present information well; it’s another thing to take those presentation skills and lead a group discussion. Being an open person and a good listener are some of the very helpful tips we learned that helps us to become better discussion leaders. Other people may have different – often opposing – viewpoints for a topic, but being able to successfully moderate those differences often creates fruitful discussions. Our youth were then put to the test and asked to practice their newly learned skills. Practice topics ranged from talking about One Direction to discussing if community service should be required for young people. 



As advocates, we want our messages to be heard loud and clear. Equipping our youth with these communication skills will ultimately help them to become better advocates and leaders! Come join us for our next SAY! Advocacy University workshop on Friday, August 8th!

Monday, July 14, 2014

SAY! Advocacy University – The FUNdamentals

This past Friday marked day one of our four-week intensive named SAY! Advocacy University. The Advocacy University is meant to prepare our youth to become better leaders and workshop facilitators in order to spread the word about sexual health to others. We kicked off the first workshop by going over the FUNdamentals!

We discussed what human rights were, why they’re important, and how they related to advocacy. There are many human rights doctrines, laws, and treaties that are created to promote the protection of our individual freedoms. These include freedoms like the right to life, liberty, and security of person; the right to health; and sexual and reproductive rights. The issue is that although these documents have great intentions, not only are there countries (including our own USA) that do not follow these guidelines, but international groups like the United Nations do not have the power to enforce them. This is why the push for human rights is also considered a social movement. We as advocates are extremely important because it is our advocacy power that holds governments and leaders accountable for their laws and actions. 


We then had a refresher on how US laws are policies are made. Using The Affordable Care Act (ACA) as an example, we discussed the process of this health care act; including the routes it took through both the House of Representatives and the Senate (The Legislative Branch), President Obama signing the act (The Executive Branch), and the Supreme Court deciding if the act was constitutional (The Judiciary Branch). We then brought it closer to home by talking about sexual health rights and how our laws both promote and hinder them.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision in the Supreme Court stated that corporations can opt out of covering certain medical benefits for religious reasons. For Hobby Lobby (a chain craft store headquartered in Oklahoma), this meant that they were legally allowed to not cover certain types of contraceptives because they were not in line with their religious beliefs. Not only does a decision like this only negatively affect one gender (Hobby Lobby still covers vasectomies and Viagra), but it would be more harmful for poor women and women of color because of the additional inequalities they face. 


This again showed us that our laws and policies don’t necessarily reflect science, and that the rights of some are valued more than the rights of others (the disadvantaged). This is why advocacy is important – we need to fight to make sure our rights as young people and as sexual beings are protected in our country and throughout the world.

Friday, July 11, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: What’s All the Buzz about Sex Toys?

Let’s talk about toys! Ahem…not children’s toys. We’re talking sex toys. Sex toys are tools that we use to give us sexual pleasure. We've talked about how self-pleasure and sexual exploration are healthy, and sex toys are a great start to that journey; but they don’t always have to be used for masturbation. Sex toys can be used with your partner as well and be a healthy way to find out each other’s likes and dislikes.

So you want to try a sex toy, but you don’t know where to start? If you’re new to the world of sex toys, here’s an introductory guide to help you navigate!

Ye Olde History of Sex Toys

Sex toys have a very long and funny history. Dildos have been around since the Stone Age…literally. They were made from polished stone! Many ancient civilizations used sex toys for purposes ranging from religious ceremonies to a soldier giving his wife a dildo to ensure she will be faithful while he’s fighting in a war.

Vibrators have a much shorter, yet more bizarre history.  During the Victorian Era, there was a supposed illness [that strangely only affected women…hmmm] called Hysteria, which had symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, and depression. The prescribed treatment was pelvic massages, which doctors would perform manually, until patients had a hysterical paroxysm (re: ORGASM!) This was at a time when female sexuality and pleasure was not considered at all, therefore there was very little known about it! Doctors complained about doing these very popular procedures because their hands got tired and it sometimes took patients long time to reach orgasm hysterical paroxysm, so companies started making electric vibrators for home use! It’s no shock that these devices flew off the shelves…that was until everyone caught on that women were using these devices sexually. Sales of personal vibrators dropped until they reappeared in the 1960’s!

Scene from Hysteria. You should watch this movie!
The Sexual Revolution was the time when vibrators and other sex toys made a comeback. The Sexual Revolution started in the 60’s and was a time when Western heteronormative views on sex and sexuality were challenged. With the popularization of sexuality in media throughout the 90’s and 2000’s (re: Samantha from Sex in the City and the Fifty Shades of Grey frenzy), sex toys are back and more popular than ever! And although the history of sex toys has been mostly focused on women, there are all kinds of sex toys that serve the pleasures of all genders, sexual preferences, and tastes! Sex toys are not just for cis-hetreosexual women, they’re for EVERYONE!

So now that you have your history down, let’s get to the nitty gritty!

Types of Toys

There are so many different types of toys out there, ranging from the type of material it’s made out of, to if it vibrates or doesn’t; but we’re going to break it down into a few different categories based on the toys’ functions. It’s important to note what these are not rigid categories; you can use a sex toy for any body part you wish, as long as you use it safely and hygienically! (Links to pictures are NOT SAFE FOR WORK!)

As stated before, dildos have been around since the Stone Age. Today, they come in all shapes, sizes, textures and materials [though not in stone]! Dildos are toys that rod-like (most times phallic) in shape and are used for sexual penetration. They can be used for both vaginal and anal penetration, although it is important to note that dildos without wide bases should NOT be used in the anus. Dildos can also be double ended, which is great for simultaneous partner pleasure. The defining characteristic of a dildo is that they do not vibrate! If you’re looking for a vibrating dildo, take a look at the Vibrators section further down this list.

Although dildos can be used for the anus, there are some toys that are just made specifically for anal penetration and designed to make it more comfortable and pleasurable. Some of the types include butt plugs, anal beads, and prostate massagers. Butt plugs are shorter and differently shaped than dildos. Most of them are conically shaped, with a very wide base to prevent the plug from getting lost in the rectum. Anal beads are a toy with a series of different sized balls attached to each other that is inserted and removed from the anus to enhance pleasure. Prostate massagers are specifically shaped to stimulate the prostate.

Long gone are the days when vibrators were attached to large machines that had to be powered by coal. Nowadays, vibrators can be plugged into outlets, can be battery-powered, or even be wireless. They can be the size of personal massagers (Hitachi Wand) or be the size of your thumb (bullet). Many vibrators have different speeds and variations of vibrations to choose from. Some vibrators also have attachments to them to further enhance pleasure, whether it’s an attachment to stimulate the clitoris or an attachment to stimulate the g-spot or prostate.

Suuuuper discrete! 
If you want to be able to use a dildo without using hands, then a Strap-On Harness may be right for you. A harness is something you wear around your hips that you can attach a dildo to penetrate a partner.

Toys for the Penis
There are a few toys that are made to enhance pleasure for the penis. Masturbation Sleeves are toys that are used on the penis and simulate penetration similar to a mouth, vagina, or anus. Sleeves can come with features such as vibrations, liquid, suction, and different textures throughout the toy in order to accurately replicate these body parts. C-Rings are rings that either go around the penis or scrotum to slow blood flow to the penis. This allows erections to last longer. They also delay orgasms and can cause orgasms to be more intense.

This is not an exhaustive list of toys, given that there are so many ways to give and receive pleasure. Taking a virtual trip to a sex toy website (or physically going to a sex toy shop) will introduce you to more options!

Lube it Up!

When using your sex toys, water-based lubricants are best! Although they don’t last as long and do need some reapplying, you can be sure that it’ll be safe for your toy! If you have a silicon or non-glass sex toy, do not use silicon-based lubricants. Silicon loves to bond with silicon, so when you use a silicon toy with silicon lube, they join together and become gummy and tacky…which is not what you want your toy to be! Stay away from oil-based lubricants also, as they are harder to clean and may deteriorate the outside of your toy depending on what material it’s made out of! If you’re using a condom on your sex toy, the rules for lubricant and condoms still apply

Safety’s First!

It is super important to clean your toys before and after use! To clean your toys, wash with antibacterial soap and warm water or wash with hydrogen peroxide and rinse with warm water. Some toys require you to boil them or put them in the dishwasher to ensure cleanliness. Make sure you read the cleaning instructions when you purchase your toy. Do not wash a toy while it’s still on or plugged in, nor submerge the mechanical parts in water. The more porous the toy (jelly toys tend to be porous), the harder it is to clean. If you’re using a sex toy between partners or using one between different parts of your body (especially switching from anal to anything else), it is especially important to keep your toys clean between use. Using a condom with the sex toy is a great alternative, too. Just make sure you use a new condom with each sex act and each partner!

Make sure you’re buying from reputable places! Sex toys are not government regulated, so makers of sex toys do not have to use materials that are suitable for bodily use. When you buy from a well-known or reputable store, you can be mostly assured that what you’re buying is okay to put inside of you.

So there you have it! Now go out there and have some hysterical paroxysms!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: What is Slut Shaming?

Growing up as a woman today can feel very complicated. They are judged on their clothing, weight, choices about jobs, and their sexual experiences. Sex is always a messy topic (sometimes literally), but a woman's sexuality and choices are often the default in how society and everyone around them defines them. Whore, ho, skank, thot, slut…not only are we familiar with these words, some of us have even used them before to describe a woman who we perceive to a lot of sexual partners. Ever notice there are no true equivalent insults to describe a man who fall under the same category? Sure there are words like player and stud to name a few, but none of those words have the same negative tone as the ones that describe a woman’s sexual behavior. None of them imply that having a lot of sex is immoral and shameful like the words used against women. Some of the words used for men are actually positive and seen as something to look up to!

http://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/nadia-elkharadly-lovin-on-the-road/
Basically, this is slut shaming in a nutshell: it’s a double standard that shames and attacks women for being sexual, while at the same time glorifies men for doing the same exact thing. It doesn’t even need to be as direct as calling someone a slut; when one speaks about someone’s sexual habits negatively, or perceptions of their sexual habits, slut shaming is still happening.

This falls under a social structure called “Patriarchy”, which is a system of male/masculine dominance and power. This is the same system that values “traditional” households (two heterosexual parents with the man as the head of the house), allows employers to generally pay women less than men for doing the same job, and contributes to women having higher rates of being sexually assaulted than men.

But slut shaming gets more complex than just women being called sluts for having a lot of sex. Patriarchy and slut shaming goes so deep that it affects many groups of women in different ways, as well as both men and women that are gender nonconforming. It is not only tied to sexism, but also to (and worsens) other inequalities like racism, classism, homophobia/femmephobia, and trans-misogyny. This means that women of color are more likely to be slut shamed than white women; poor women more than affluent women; transgender women more than cisgender women; gay/bisexual people more than straight people; and people who identify as feminine more than those who identify as masculine.


What makes slut shaming even more complicated is that there is no defined meaning for it. We just know that it’s someone who’s had sex with one too many people. How vague! There is no specific number of people someone has to sleep with to qualify as a slut; it’s all based on individual factors and perceptions such as who is being slut shamed, who’s doing the slut shaming, and the situation. Given that it’s so ambiguous, this is a clear sign that slut shaming isn't really about sex at all…it’s about using power and privilege to police sex and fit in society’s narrow views of gender and sexuality.

What makes slut shaming so horrible? Not only does it support structures of inequality like all of the –isms and –phobias mentioned before, it promotes bullying, sexual assault, and rape culture. Considering someone a slut is often the justification perpetrators use when committing sexual assault, as well as victims being slut shamed when they report sexual assault to family/friends or the authorities. This is very damaging, and has resulted in people taking their own lives because of the shame they feel. This also goes beyond just men calling women sluts or fearing sexual assault — patriarchy is so prevalent that women slut shame other women, gay men slut shame other gay men, etc. Because patriarchy is so dominant in our culture, even those who are affected by it can still perpetuate it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l3h8fzv-BM
So what can we do about this?

Don’t let anybody shame you for what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. Don’t let people bring you down! But it isn't always even about other people; how many of us can honestly say that we have never called another woman a slut? Unfortunately, not many. We need to stop perpetuating this! Change starts with us, and we need to recognize that it isn't okay to look down on women, or anybody, for how they choose to present themselves, or the number of partners they choose to sleep with. It is important to recognize the power that words and perceptions of people have over one’s feelings of self-worth and value in society.  If you are in a position of privilege, it is important to recognize the privilege that you hold and not use it to shame other people for their habits.  And if you are a victim of slut-shaming, it is important to know that you are not alone, and that what has been done, or is being done to you is not okay.

Resources:
http://cdn.inquisitr.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Slut-Shaming-Study-Claims-Sex-Fight-Is-Really-About-Class-Warfare-665x385.jpg


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

SMART Youth Learns How to Get Paid

Last Friday, we learned some great tips and techniques for how to land the job that we want. We first started off with talking about the importance of your resume. A resume is a detailed, yet concise way of showcasing our experiences so we can get hired. Our resumes are often our first impression to employers before they meet us, so it is very important that our resumes are as perfect as possible. Employers can have tens or even hundreds of resumes to look through (the longest they will look at your resume is fifteen seconds), and the first way they determine the qualified from the unqualified is through simply looking at your resume’s appearance. The second way is through searching for important keywords related to what they are looking for in an employee. This means having neat and consistent formatting, explaining relevant work or volunteer experiences with the same language used in the job description, and making sure that our resumes are totally free of spelling and grammatical errors.
Conservative Resume
Creative Resume
Both are acceptable. It depends on the field of work you're applying to!

Another first (or second) impression we make is through interviewing for the job. Whether it’s because we dropped in to find out if a place is hiring, or we were called back for a formal interview because our resume was impressive, we learned that the interview starts the moment we step into the workplace and ends on our first day at work. This means looking and being your best. One important tip we learned is bringing your resume and list of references with you to your interview. This way, not only do you have something to refer to during your interview, but many times you’ll be required to fill out additional paperwork before or after your interview – having your resume and references with you will come in handy instead of trying to recall all of that information. Some other interviewing tips and techniques we discussed included dressing the part for the interview, arriving ten minutes earlier than your scheduled time, being kind and respectful to everyone you encounter, looking attentive and interested throughout the interview, answering questions with specific examples of your skills and experiences, asking follow-up questions at the end, and sending a thank you note to the interviewer within twenty-four hours of the interview.
Regular white computer paper will do!
With these tips and more, we are now better equipped and more prepared to tackle the work world!

Below are some more resources about resumes and interviews!