But the Talk Provides Frank and Open Health Facts
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For Immediate Release
Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.
Contact: Megan Andelloux
Contact: Aida Manduley
In yet another attempt to shut down access to quality sex education, South-Eastern New England conservative advocates hit the sex panic button in a multi-state, email and phone campaign to colleges all over New England last week.
On February 3rd and 4th , certified sexuality educator and sexologist Megan Andelloux (AASECT, ACS) received word that numerous colleges and university faculty received a document stating that colleges who brought sex educators such as Ms. Andelloux onto their campuses were linked to the increasing rate of transmission of HIV in RI. Furthermore, among other misleading “facts” that were “cited,” the author of this bulletin claimed that Brown University was facing an HIV crisis, which is false.
Citizens Against Trafficking, the face behind the fear-mongering, spammed numerous local institutions from a University of Rhode Island account with its latest malicious missive that targeted specific individuals as well as Brown University. The author of the letter, Margaret Brooks, an Economics Professor at Bridgewater State, suggested that colleges and universities that host sexuality speakers, including those who are professionally accredited, are partly to blame for the four new cases of HIV which have been diagnosed amongst RI college students this year.
Ms. Andelloux states: “My heart goes out to those students who have recently tested positive for HIV. However, there is no evidence of any link between campus presentations on sexual issues and the spike in HIV cases. Rather, I would suggest that this demonstrates a need for more high-quality sex education to college students.“ It is unclear why people at URI or Citizens Against Trafficking, a coalition to combat all forms of human trafficking, is attempting to stop adults from accessing sexual information from qualified, trained educators. What is certain however, is that this Professor of Economics miscalculated her suggestion that a correlation exists between increased HIV rates in Rhode Island and the type of sex education these speakers provided at Brown University: one that emphasized accurate information, risk-reduction, pleasure, and health.
Barrier methods have been shown by the CDC to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Research has shown that when individuals have access to medically-accurate information, are aware of sexual risk reduction methods, and have access to learn about sexual health, the number of infections and transmission of STIs decreases, pain during sex decreases, and condom use increases. The CAT circulated bulletin is blatantly misleading about many issues, and often omits information that is crucial to understanding the full picture of sex education at Brown and in Rhode Island.
Shanna Katz M.Ed, one of the educators listed in the bulletin states, “In today’s world, many people are sexually active without having ever learned about sex itself. Educating adults about how to better communicate with their partner and how to protect themselves physically and emotionally is vital to the health and wellness of our culture. Without this information and skill sets, we are back in the 1950s, with people feeling guilt around sex, and feeling as though their desires are wrong.”
Reid Mihalko states, “In an age where the majority of college-age adults have only experienced federally funded abstinence-only sex education, continue to get their visual cues about sex from mainstream porn, and feel unsafe talking to their parents and school administrators about accurate sexual health information, I am committed to teaching men and women of all ages comprehensive, pragmatic safer sex practices and how to think for themselves when it comes to making the best sex and intimacy choices for them.”
When individuals who do not hold any background in sexuality education speak out in opposition because of their fear or prejudice, society becomes rooted in outdated beliefs and pseudo-science that do injustice to people everywhere. Furthermore, when those individuals personally and publicly attack those devoted to providing sex education with false and misinformed accusations, it not only hurts those who are defamed, but also the community at large.
We ask for an immediate retraction of the vilifying and inaccurate statements made by Ms. Margaret Brooks and Citizens Against Trafficking in their latest newsletter. We also ask that esteemed local universities such as URI and Bridgewater State continue to hold their employees to ethical standards of normal scientific inquiry and require that their faculty hold some modicum of expertise in a field of education before raising the public level of panic over it.
Megan Andelloux is available to answer any questions the press, Margaret Brooks, University of Rhode Island or Citizens Against Trafficking holds. Aida Manduley, the Chair of Brown University’s Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council and Brown University’s is available to discuss the upcoming Sex Week and sexuality workshops held at Brown University.
The sex police are on patrol in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Megan Andelloux, a professionally certified sex educator with 8 years experience working as a sex educator for Planned Parenthood affiliates, was looking forward to the grand opening of her not-for-profit Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket when she suddenly found herself in the middle of a firestorm. On the morning of September 15 she received a phone call from the Pawtucket Police Department telling her that a “concerned citizen” had emailed members of the Pawtucket City Council, alerting them that a “sex center” was coming to Pawtucket, a city of 72,000 located just outside of Providence.
“Hello,” the email began, “A center for “sexual rights” and “sexual pleasure” is opening in Pawtucket.” Included in the email was a link to the center’s website. Short, sweet, and intentionally vague, the email was enough to set off alarms among the city’s elected officials.
The police officer who called Andelloux that morning informed her that without proper zoning approval, the grand opening event, which included noted experts on human sexuality and a short burlesque performance, could not take place and the center itself could not legally operate in the city of Pawtucket.
As soon as Andelloux saw a copy of the email, which was forwarded to her at her request, she knew that the issue at hand was much bigger than her small, not-for-profit health and education center. Andelloux’s center, it seemed, was caught in a broader political maelstrom surrounding the regulation of prostitution and commercialized sexuality in Rhode Island.
The “concerned citizen” behind the email to city councilors was Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island and a leading anti-prostitution and anti-sex trafficking advocate. Over the spring and summer months, Hughes was at the forefront of efforts to convince Rhode Island legislators to enact harsher laws aimed at combating sex trafficking and outlawing prostitution, including indoor prostitution, which was decriminalized in Rhode Island in 1980.
Andelloux testified in front of the Rhode Island Legislature in June to speak out against efforts to criminalize prostitution, which many opponents feared would lead to more arrests of women yet do little to address the issue of trafficking. In an op-ed piece published in the Providence Journal following the hearing, Hughes openly disparaged those who had shown up to oppose the legislation. Describing the hearing as a “sordid circus” and a “carnival,” she attacked speakers based on their appearance, the smell of cigarette smoke, and “other odors” allegedly emanating from their bodies, successfully invoking a specter of disgust. She also deployed her penchant for using quotation marks to discredit those whom she perceives as her adversaries, referring to Andelloux as “a tattooed woman, calling herself a ‘sexologist and sex educator.’”
Perhaps it felt like political payback to Hughes when she fired off the email to members of the Pawtucket City Council. Whatever her motivation—genuine concern or something more nefarious—she is an experienced enough political player (by her own account she has testified at hearings in the State House on a number of occasions) to realize that her email would likely result in an alarmist response sure to cause a headache, if not larger problems, for Andelloux and her center.
For those who lived through, or who are familiar with, the feminist sex wars of the 1970s and 80s, Hughes’ strategy of throwing the “enemy” under the bus will ring eerily familiar. Indeed, there are elements of this story that resemble the unsavory tactics employed by anti-pornography feminists at the infamous Barnard Conference on female sexuality in 1982, where ideological divisions resulted in personal attacks on individual women whose positions on pornography, sex work, and other forms of so-called “deviant” sexuality were at odds with the anti-pornography feminist platform, resulting in sharp divisions between supposedly “good” and “bad” feminists.
For Andelloux, the immediate issue was zoning. Zoning ordinances have become an effective strategy for regulating the location of adult businesses and policing public expressions of commercialized sexuality. In New York City, zoning was the lynchpin in the city’s efforts to “clean up” the “seedier” elements of Times Square in preparation for family-friendly Disney’s commercial occupation in the mid-1990s. Zoning ordinances typically require that adult arcades, bookstores, and video stores, for example, cannot be located within several hundred feet of schools, places of worship, or other adult businesses. In many locales, this means that adult businesses are exiled to the most desolate, and very often the most dangerous, fringes of cities and towns.
Unlike typical adult businesses, however, Andelloux’s center is not a retail venture; it is a not-for-profit sexuality education center that she describes as a cross between Planned Parenthood and a feminist sex toy store, a place where she plans to hold educational workshops and maintain a library of sexuality resources. But in contrast to feminist sex toy businesses, such as Good Vibrations and Babeland, which have longstanding missions of sexual education combined with a commercial imperative, Andelloux is not planning on selling any products. As a result, her center falls into a nebulous, gray area when it comes to zoning. If it is not an “adult business,” what is it?
It was precisely this gray area that Andelloux found herself navigating in the days following the phone call from the Pawtucket Police Department. She met with zoning officials and city council members, several of whom toured her space, and she clarified for them that she would not be selling any adult products; she also cancelled the burlesque performance that was to be part of the grand opening, hoping that in doing so she might allay some of the city councilors’ concerns about the kind of establishment she was opening. Despite this, it was unclear to both Andelloux and those working in the zoning office what legal code her enterprise should be zoned under. Many visits to City Hall and many phone calls later, Andelloux was told she should apply for zoning as an “individual educator.” She did. On September 18 she was informed by an official letter from the City of Pawtucket’s Zoning Department that her application had been denied because the building in downtown Pawtucket where she had leased her space was not zoned for “education.”
It remains unclear what will happen next. In a meeting that took place in late September with Mayor James E. Doyle, which was also attended by the head of the Pawtucket’s Zoning Department, Ronald Travers, the Mayor made it clear that he did not think the city of Pawtucket would accept Andelloux’s center. But it is precisely because Andelloux has received so many requests from people in the community for a sexual education and resource center that she moved forward with her plans for the center in the first place.
Andelloux held her grand opening fete on September 26 as planned – albeit at an alternative location. According to her, the event was a success: it was attended by approximately 200 people and there were no protesters. The event also raised $1,000, which will go toward offsetting her legal expenses. Andelloux has retained a lawyer who plans to challenge the city’s zoning decision. It is also highly probable that a public hearing will take place where members of the community can weigh in on how they feel about the center’s presence in their neighborhood.
The irony of all of this is that if Andelloux was in fact opening a feminist sex toy business, or even a more traditional adult business, this brouhaha may have been avoided. For it would have been clear from the outset what kind of zoning she would have needed to move forward with her venture and the city could have responded accordingly. There are few models, however, for what she is attempting to do: a not-for-profit enterprise dedicated to adult sexuality education and health. According to Andelloux, “The city has said to me that they don’t know what to do with me. If I was a retail store, they could zone me or not zone me, but because there is nothing on the books [that reflects the kind of business I am proposing], they don’t know what to do.”
In an era overwhelmingly defined by abstinence-only education, which has created a generation of sexually illiterate adults, there is more need than ever for places like Andelloux’s Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. But sex education, especially when it addresses questions of sexual pleasure, clearly remains an embattled issue, a cause for concern, and a source of moral panic for many – even, in this case, when the target population is adults.
My hope is that once the powers that be in Pawtucket, and “concerned citizens” such as Professor Hughes, realize that Andelloux’s center is exactly what she says it is – a not-for-profit sexuality resource center with an educational mission – and not a haven for child prostitutes and pimps, this ruckus will be put to rest and Andelloux can get on with the business of educating adults about how to get off in safe, consensual, and pleasurable ways.
I recently met an incredible feminist, Megan Andelloux, on campus at Brandeis University when she did a workshop on sexual pleasure and awareness as part of our annual Vagina Week, leading up to the Vagina Monologues.
As an FMLA member, this was a great feminist event – 1 – Megan is insanely empowering! 2 – we were able to pull in a lot of student’s that wouldn’t necessarily come to a FMLA meeting/event because her workshops are about improving one’s sexual awareness and skills .
Campus clubs were able to collaborate on bringing Megan to campus because she is both health and pleasure focused and fantastically entertaining.
Megan is about to launch an exciting new project, The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, with a *Grand Opening* this month in Rhode Island.
To give you a chance to get to know her better and an opportunity to come to the Grand Opening where there will be lots of food, fun, give-aways and famous sex-positive feminist activists, here is an exerpt of my interview with Megan:
E: So Megan, what do you do?
M: I work as a sexuality educator in many different formats. The majority of my time is spent providing workshops at colleges and universities on topics relating to sexual pleasure and health (the focus being more on the pleasure and intertwining health in). [...] I work within the medical community, teaching medical students and providers how to be sex positive doctor’s, educating them on common concerns/questions and topics the public holds (but that they aren’t taught in med school) and finally, how to provide safe, non-threatening, empowering pelvic exams. And I do that with the use of my body (vagina, brain and mouth). [...and] I work within the media as a public policy analyst regarding sexual rights challenges to our freedoms.
E: What does being a feminist mean to you?
M: A feminist is something I would most identify myself as. My passion, my life work’s, all of my reading materials and a day to day way of life for me. To me, being a feminist is all about giving people options. The option to do this or that, go into one field vs. another, to become a sex worker, to be monogamous to one person only, choose one type of birth control over another, etc. Being a feminist means challenging others and yourself. When you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why? When someone says something you don’t agree with or don’t understand, ask them why? It’s only through the option of challenging others, which is a right we have fought for and won, that we grow and change the world for the better. We can’t just accept what we have, we have to want to build upon it.
That’s what being a feminist and a sex educator is to me. Options. Challenging. When people go to my workshops, yes I want them to have fun and learn, but I also want them to ask questions with the information I provide! I want to push people! Because really, those questions are going to spark a change in the future. New research, new standards of roles one can possess, totally new concepts can occur when you don’t accept what is laid before you.
E: How did you get involved in the world of sexuality?
M: There are three answers I give to this question. The fun and easy answer is I had a knack for memorizing sex facts, don’t ask me why. I had a knack for memorizing sexual issues and it was a social issue, a perfect fit for me. At first I wanted to be a sex therapist, but I quickly found out that I wanted to help people BEFORE they ended up with sexual issues, so I went into education.
Secondly, being a Sexuality Educator was a way for me to rebel against the way a girl was supposed to behave. My parents subscribed to strict gender role behaviors and “good girls don’t talk about sex”. When I decided this was going to be my career path, I choose to tell my parents in a restaurant so they couldn’t freak out on me. The first thing that was said was Oh! Megan! Girls can’t do that! Typical. but that’s also why I choose to name my company Oh Megan! because my mother was always saying that to me for talking about sexually related topics. Oh Megan! That’s inappropriate.
Thirdly, I think I became involved in the world of sexuality because after I was raped, no one would talk to me about it. I didn’t have a space where I could fully disclose because people were uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle the conversation. It seemed strange to me, and I was angry that our culture talks so much about sex, but we don’t provide answers when people have questions and concerns. I think becoming a sex educator was a way for me to work out some of my issues, get answers to my questions and to provide a space so others wouldn’t feel alone or ashamed for what they were thinking or had experienced.
E: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health sounds incredible. Can you talk about the relationship between the sex-positive world and the medical world?
M: My work’s mission is to join these two world together so I had to create The Center!
Too often the medical world turns it’s back on the pleasure-focused side of sex and the pleasure-focused world is totally bored by the medical world. But they need each other to survive! The Center will be a respectable entity for medical providers to work with and is already developing ties with Boston University, Brown University, Mass General Hospital and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Schools.
Working with professionals in the medical field, and most importantly, with medical students, we can create change within the medical school curriculum. Some medical students are starting to chime in that they want more sexuality information. (The majority of med students have 12 hours of sex education composed of birth control, pregnancy, STD’s and sometimes, pregnancy terminations.) I am working closely with Boston University Medical School and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to develop sexuality curriculum with fundamental structural changes.
Outside of the medical world, it’s important to remember that most people want to understand their body; what’s taking place within them. Traditionally, that information has been withheld from the public, but the feminist and pro-sex communities have some of the best documentations and discussions on sex and sexual health data.
The Center’s focus will be education and advocacy work. The CSPH will be the perfect blend of health, pleasure and advocacy. There will be written & visual resources, medical journals pertaining to sexual issues available, toys (with education on what we would/wouldn’t recommend), kink-friendly resources, sexual health and rights speakers, medical and pro-sex positive resources available for loan right from the start, and in the spring, offer a certification series for sex education classes with C.E. credits.
E: Are there any opportunities to get involved with the center either as an individual or as a campus organization?
M: Yes! The best way to get involved would be to attend the grand opening on Sept 26th in Pawtucket, RI. The grand opening will be a fund raising event and feature some of the best and brightest individuals in the field! Sex educators, sex therapists, sex worker advocates, authors, and sexual right advocates will be speaking and you can schmooze with them after they speak. (Scheduled speakers include Carol Queen, Bill Taverner, Betty Dodson, Gina Ogden, oh yeah, and me!) Tables with community and national resources will be throughout the location so people can learn more about resources they might not have known about.
You can also attend classes and workshops which will start in the fall and in the spring, apply to be an intern! As a campus organization, if you can’t come to us, we can come to you and talk about sexual advocacy issues, starting a nonprofit, getting into the field, etc.
E: How can I get you to come to my campus?!
M: Fill out the contact form here