Sex-Ed-MAIN.widea-breaking up

Learning to Break Up

A shame-free approach to ending relationships

Sex-Ed-MAIN.widea-breaking up

Sex and breaking up have more in common than you might think.

Both take a certain level of self-awareness, acceptance and communication to get your needs met.

Unfortunately, we do a sub-par job of teaching people how to develop these skills. So most of us awkwardly stumble through both, often feeling hurt and unsatisfied.

About a month ago, I ended a relationship I had been in for six years. It was a messy, painful process to end a partnership that was mostly positive and transformative.

The best advice, for me, came from my mom. She passed along something she had heard a while ago in a workshop. The thing about breaking up, she says, is that it cracks your heart wide open to give and receive love in new ways.

Hearing this advice was exactly what I needed in that moment. But here’s the other thing about breaking up: Everyone needs to hear something different or go through a different mourning/growth process.

Most examples of breaking up that we see show people at their worst. And while that is the experience for lots of folks, I wish we had a wider variety of breakup models available.

We’re changing and growing throughout our lifetimes, and I think it’s more of a shame to deny happiness to yourself and your partners because ending the relationship is challenging.

As I was trying to figure out the best way to disentangle my life from someone who was very deeply integrated, I looked for resources about how to manage a breakup as gracefully and ethically as possible.

Some of my favorite tips from

  • Don’t listen to those who have timelines for how soon you should be getting over your heartbreak or moving on to a different stage. It’s your process, not theirs.
  • Do what feels right to you about getting laid. Hook up on Craigslist, go to a sex party, or just stay celibate for a while. It’s your timeline, and don’t feel pressured to do anything other than what feels right for you.
  • If you’re still friends with your ex on any social networking sites, stop that! Unfriend him/her!

Most “mainstream” breakup advice offered ideas like, “Don’t talk about it too much because you don’t want to bring your friends down too,” or “Keep it in your pants otherwise you’ll do something you’ll regret.”

We don’t give people the skills to deal with a breakup without shaming themselves or acting out toward their ex. And then there are threats like revenge porn, which is when people non-consensually post/distribute naked photos of their exes. It’s actually a big enough problem that a state legislator is talking about trying to pass a law about it next year. All this made me think that we need more and better information on breaking up without breaking down.

I reached out to people on social media about how they do breakups, and I received profound advice on how to take care of myself.

People suggested I pay attention to my feelings and needs and figure out what I wanted for healing and moving on. For example, I felt guilty for wanting to go out with friends and on dates. I felt that what I “should” be doing is moping and mourning. Societal norms and media have lead me to believe that if I’m not suffering, it means I don’t care.

Another fantastic, empowering resource was Zoë Femmetastica’s breakup survival guide on

While breaking up might seem like (and actually be) one of the most painful things you’ve ever done, it provides ample opportunities for growth and self-examination.

The beauty of the situation is that you get the opportunity to honestly look at what you want, who you are and what you want to be.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Dec. 2nd 2014.



Let’s Talk About Sex…ual Assault on College Campuses

Why you don’t have to be sorry forgetting real with college students


It makes me so sad that the University of New Mexico felt the need to apologize for offering sex education to students last month. They apologized because we talked openly about prevention of some very palpable threats to safety on and off college campuses.

We—folks from the Women’s Resource Center and myself—bring sex education from a place of empowerment, consent, safety and pleasure. That last one really gets some people angry, because they’ve been taught to never talk about sex in terms of pleasure. (God forbid people actually enjoy it!) It is a clear sign of where we are as a culture to see upper-level administrators publicly pull their support for the programming of UNM’s inaugural Sex Week.

Officials apologized after they say they received around 50 complaints from a few parents and anti-abortion campus groups. They complained because we used “provocative” titles that couldn’t possibly teach students anything other than pure hedonism.

Really, I’m glad they noticed. We made the lecture titles eye-catching on purpose. After years of hosting sex education, I know it’s pretty rare that you get 75 people to come to a class titled “How to Communicate for Better Oral Sex.”

So we had a bit of fun with it and used workshop titles that would get attention and draw people in, such as “O-Face Oral,” which was a student-led workshop with standing-room only. Reid Mihalko’s “How To Be a Gentleman and Get Laid” drew a similar crowd. We even held off-campus workshops not paid for by university funds to educate people on “Negotiating Successful Threesomes” and other topics.

We aren’t alone in understanding that comprehensive sex education can lead to overall sexual health.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

If UNM students don’t have administrative support to access healthy sex education, UNM is ignoring a (potentially) really important part of coming into adulthood. Not to mention, they’re sending the message that students’ sexuality is something to apologize for, that sex is dirty, and we don’t need to provide this type of consent training to students. Obviously we do.

In mid-October, another UNM student was sexually assaulted at the Albuquerque campus. On Oct. 2, a student at Santa Fe University of Art and Design reported an incident of indecent exposure and threatening behavior.

During Sex Week, UNM released a Security and Fire Safety Report that showed a significant jump in reported sexual assaults on campus in 2013. In 2012, there were four reported cases, and in 2013, that number jumped to 11.

Even though conservative media like Breitbart and a group on campus called Students For Life had a field day by categorizing the effort as pro-abortion, many student groups have come forward to share their support for sex-positive events like Sex Week. Self Serve created a petition in support of Sex Week and received more than 1,000 signatures in under a week.

Then we got additional support when, at the end of October, both the Graduate and Professional Student Association and Associated Students of UNM passed resolutions in support of Sex Week.

I think Kat Haché said it best in an article about college sex weeks on the website Bustle. “The real danger here is not Sex Week,” Haché wrote. “The danger here is furthering the idea that sex is taboo and cannot be discussed in an open, frank manner. The danger is pretending that sex on college campuses does not exist. The danger is refusing to address issues like consent and boundaries when sexual assault is a reality for students… at universities across the country.”

We planned this event hoping it would get people talking about sex and sexual assault on college campuses. And we accomplished that goal. We knew some people wouldn’t support it, and that’s OK too. Now is the opportune moment for universities to embrace this type of education for the strides it can take to produce healthy, educated, well-rounded individuals.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Nov. 4th 2014.


Addicted to Porn

Clinical psychologist David Ley questions common diagnosis


We need to start having open, honest discussions about why the problem of so-called porn addiction actually has less to do with titillating material, and more to do with how people use them.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist and executive director of New Mexico Solutions who also published the book The Myth of Sex Addiction, is on a mission to define that difference.

“When we over-focus on pornography, we externalize the problem,” Ley says. “A person is sitting there watching pornography—it’s the person we are trying to help, and we shouldn’t spend too much energy trying to stop pornography.”

From my own experiences talking to people about porn (I love my job!), people use porn for many reasons, including boredom, curiosity, difference in libido and seeing sexual variety without experiencing and/or breaking relationship agreements.

Obviously, people can have an unhealthy relationship with sex or porn, and seeing a counselor or therapist is a really great way to work on what’s troubling them. But we see some trends in these industries that are pretty interesting.

Porn’s big consumers are still mostly older, rich, white men, the same demographic that’s most likely to be classified as as porn addicts, according to Ley. But, porn and sex addiction are not a diagnosis in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders because there isn’t sufficient research to back up the label. Porn addiction is often classified as “high frequency viewing of sexual images,” according to Ley and his colleagues’ new academic review paper “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ Model.”

It’s also common for people who feel they have a problematic relationship with porn to view it in places that are considered inappropriate, such as work. But I think that has more to say about our culture around sex and porn than about porn addiction, and Ley agrees.

“We are applying unfair bias against sexuality, such that we stigmatize and penalize people who are caught using pornography at work than if they are caught using Facebook or fantasy football,” Ley says. “And as an employer, I’ve got more of a problem with people spending time on social media than people watching porn at work.”

Ley says research from those who say porn addiction is a real thing says between 6 and 10 percent of people are addicted to porn, but it’s a bit more complex than that.

“As much as 10 percent of people might report to occasionally worrying about their use of porn, but substantially less than 1 percent (about .5 percent) of people report actually having problems from their difficulty controlling their porn use,” he writes.

Ley says a common theme in his practice is that patients who have a problematic relationship with explicit media often have few coping strategies to manage stress that has nothing to do with their sexual appetite.

“As people reduce down to a single coping strategy, whether it’s alcohol, pornography or collecting model trains, we see that one coping strategy can become a problem in their lives if they’re overusing it,” Ley says.

The media hype around porn addiction, and the lucrative treatment industry, would have us believe that consuming porn causes lasting physical changes in our brain, but Ley says the scientific support for those claims is often very weak.

“Research studies that make those claims never compare the effects of pornography to the effects of television,” Ley says. “There’s also research that illustrates when you show sports fans images of their sports team, their brain reacts in a very strong way that is identical to the way pornography is being described as causing brain changes. Are we then to assume that pro sports and NFL is addictive? No.”

Ley emphasizes that porn is no different from other forms of entertainment and is not intended to be a representation of real-life sex. However, in a culture that skimps on sex education for young adults, he says, they often to turn to porn as teacher. And those lessons aren’t really beneficial.

The psychologist who will teach a new class this semester at Southwestern College was recently featured on Katie Couric’s talk show Katie. Watch a video of the appearance below.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Sept. 30th 2014.
Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

Sex in Full Spectrum

Professional training with sex-positive spin comes to Southwestern College

Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

Photo by Anson Stevens-Bollen

Here’s music to my ears! Santa Fe will be home to a new certificate program for therapists and counselors to get more training in sex and sexuality starting later this month.

We give health care workers (and people in general) the most basic information about sex, and that’s it. Without proper education, therapists and counselors don’t feel confident talking about the spectrum of sex and sexuality in a way that’s inclusive to everyone, especially LGBT, kinky and non-monogamous folks.

Ginna Clark, director of the human sexuality certificate program at Southwestern College, says students are requesting more comprehensive information on the topic, which was the inspiration for the program.

“They’ve made an effort to work it into the curriculum, but since there are so many things that licensing boards demand, sexuality often gets cut,” says Clark, a professional counselor and clinical sexologist. “This program is really designed to give people a little more than they get in traditional programs.”

Imagine you have a challenge or issue come up around sex or sexuality, and you want to talk to your therapist about it, but they have no idea that what gets you going is pretty normal. It’s easy for clients to feel uneasy about their choices and desires if a therapist has no idea how to talk to them about it.

“We don’t want therapists to be unleashed on the public and shame people by their lack of knowledge,” Clark says.

For example, even if counselors don’t practice BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) in their personal lives, such training could help them feel comfortable talking to clients about it without automatically categorizing consensual BDSM play as abuse.

If we can’t talk to our therapists, friends or family about sex, then whom can we talk to? Hopefully this program will better prepare therapists and counselors to meet people where they’re at sexually, without shaming them and causing additional harm.

There are a few sexuality-focused programs for people who work in mental health fields, but we need more. Plus, it’s common that the information covered isn’t inclusive to the many flavors of sex and sexuality that exist.

“My bias is that not only do they need more education in LGBT issues, but they also need more education in thinking about sexuality beyond this pathologizing, dysfunction-based way,” Clark says. “We need a little more sex-positive psychology and less of the, ‘Let’s treat sex as bad behavior.’”

The certificate program has three required courses, which include SAR (sexual attitude reassessment) training, sexual development and clinical skills.

“The core courses are really designed to get people conversant in sex-positive language, anatomy and physiology and being comfortable with sexual language,” Clark says.

The school is also offering nine new elective courses. Over the next few months, those classes will cover pornography and the question of sex addiction with David Ley, using Gina Ogden’s ISIS Wheel in sex therapy and counseling, and Laura Rademacher’s pleasure literacy and erotic intelligence.

“Right now, predominantly in the field there is an interest and emphasis on sex addiction, which is just one corner or tiny sliver within the range of possibilities in the field of sexology, and it’s just a sliver of what clients might be struggling with,” Clark says. “One of the things I really want to have happen in this program is to be able to think psychologically about sex without falling into the trap of making it bad, or identifying a sexual behavior as automatically bad and working to change it.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter on Sept. 2nd 2014.

Losing the Battle

What’s going wrong with the war for reproductive freedom?

SexEd-MAIN.widea-hobby lobby

Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Supreme Court ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores is a major sign pointing to the way the health and reproductive rights of a woman are not valued in the same way a man’s are.

Whether it’s restricting access to abortion or restricting access to birth control, women’s autonomy as individual human beings capable of making decisions is apparently not valued by the majority of those sitting on our nation’s highest court. It seems, in the eyes of many politicians and court officials, that a woman’s most important purpose in life is to produce children, but not on her own schedule.

This ruling and a pile of new legislation in the last few years show that lots of people believe women shouldn’t be trusted with their own reproductive choices.

Unfortunately that’s not surprising from a court composed mostly of older, white men, but that’s a column for another time.

Many aspects of this case alarm me, ranging from access to health care for people who happen to have vaginas to corporations being afforded similar rights as people. This column deals with the former.

I originally wanted to write about the potential local impact the ruling might have. I wanted to see if some of Santa Fe’s religiously associated organizations might try and join Hobby Lobby and deny contraception coverage to employees.

So I contacted Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, one of Santa Fe’s largest employers and also a faith-based organization that’s now part of a chain of Catholic hospitals. According to Arturo Delgado, director of communications and marketing, Christus does provide coverage for contraceptives, and the Hobby Lobby case won’t change that.

“Contraceptives are a covered benefit under the health insurance plan provided to our employees,” Delgado wrote in an email. “In addition, Christus St. Vincent respects and does not interfere with the physician/patient relationship.”

This speaks volumes to me about how misguided our politics can be. If people who run organizations in the medical field believe that birth control is a personal health care decision that is made between a patient and a provider, let’s follow that lead.

Let it not go unsaid, however that there are definitely ways in which Christus St. Vincent detracts from people being able to make their own reproductive decisions. For example, they only offer abortions in a circumstance where a doctor rules that a mother’s life is in danger.

My guess is, however, that some New Mexico organizations will try to eliminate birth control coverage for employees based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

And that’s where groups like the Southwest Women’s Law Center will step in.

Pamelya Herndon, the center’s executive director, says she wants to hear from women whose employers have already acted or plan to eliminate birth control coverage from health insurance plans.

“We’re engaging in our listening and advocacy tour, where we go around the state and get input from women and also participate in the legislative session,” Herndon says. “Now we’re looking at economic fairness for women in the workplace. We are looking at the Hobby Lobby case and looking at New Mexico organizations to see if they’re trying to deny women reproductive coverage.”

Herndon suggests that women who are in that situation call 244-0502, email or visit the Southwest Women’s Law Center because they might be able to help provide legal representation through a partnership with the New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.

The court system is one of the only tools we have to fight against oppression, and unfortunately it’s a system that works better for some (read: white, middle/upper class) than for others (people of color who have less money).

Yet with the Supreme Court’s recent action, I’m left feeling like future court cases might not go the way I want them to either.

And worse, is Roe v. Wade in danger too?

It’s a shame that the decision about whether or not a woman has affordable access to a form of health care is being made mostly by people who have never had to consider what their lives would be like without it.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter.

Self Serve TV: The Finger Vibe That Got It Right

After selling sex toys for a few years, I’ve noticed trends in sex toy manufacturing, what customers want and what’s available. One common customer request is a finger vibe, and that particular genre of toy is sadly lacking, in my opinion. Finger vibes have a few common issues (they’re bulky, not strong enough, and can apply “ouchy” pressure). The Pyxis by Jopen … well that’s another story.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 12.20.35 PM