Monthly Archives: July 2011

Frank, honest, up-to-date sexual health info for teens: Scarleteen.org

There’s a lot of sex to be found on the Internet.

Pretty much everything you’ve ever thought of, and lots of things you’ve never dreamed of, have their own dark, sweaty corner in a website somewhere. And teens are pretty good at finding these places. So are adults, for that matter, but at least they are comfortably over the age of consent and have (hopefully) developed the good judgment to process what they see.

What you don’t always find online — or in most places in Western culture — is frank, honest discussion of human sexuality, with all its permutations, challenges and pleasures. French theorist Michel Foucault noted that despite all the constant buzz about sex, we actually are quite repressed since we never really talk about sex.

Which is why I really love this site for teens: www.scarleteen.com

Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website, facilitated and staffed by a wide diversity of adult and teen writers and educators. They offer an amazing set of resources in their static content, hundreds of up-to-date articles on all sorts of issues.  They have an opt-in/ opt-out policy on information, so it’s all there, from abortion to contraception to LGBTQ; that means users are independently able to seek out what they want to know more about, and steer clear of material they might find offensive.

They provide ongoing mentoring and guidance for their volunteers, many of whom help moderate the interactive portion of the site, offer offline teen outreach and support, primarily through sexual/reproductive health clinics, community and school groups and teen homeless/transitional shelters in and around Seattle, Washington.

They’ve published a book, called S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book by Heather Corinna (also available through Amazon), the description of which reads:

Covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image to birth control, masturbation to misogyny, the anatomy of the clitoris to considering cohabitation, and written for you whether you’re male, female or genderqueer; straight, gay or somewhere in between, this is the everything-you-need, comprehensive, progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school, college and maybe even the rest of your sex life.

There are so many cool, interesting, informative and helpful sections to this website that every teen and parent should have it bookmarked. The fact that the information is put out there without moral judgment or hidden agenda is pretty awesome, since teens are really good at tuning out when the lecturing and moralizing begins. And since the whole point is keeping them (and ourselves) informed so we can make healthy choices at difficult times, Scarleteen.org is an example of how the Internet can work for the forces of good.

Check it out.

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Family Time: Letters from Israel

Last week, we found ourselves sitting in what amounted to a two-thousand-year-old basement with some pickaxes and trowels. The archaeological dig we were a part of was the site of a biblical “tel”, or a hilltop that saw successive civilizations building on top of each other.

When the Edomite people who lived there realized they were about to be conquered, they threw all the stuff they couldn’t carry out into the deep underground rooms they’d chiseled out of the chalky rock.

Together, my husband, mom, 3 girls and I picked out bits of ancient pottery and bone. We worked together to figure out what was worth keeping and what was just dirt that needed to be carried up to the top to be sifted more carefully in the bright sunlight.

Nobody bickered. Nobody argued. Nobody shoved or pushed or grabbed anyone else’s bucket.

I looked around in the dim light of this really old basement and thought about how much I treasured these occasional moments of familial peace and bonding.

You certainly don’t need to fly all the way to Israel to engineer these moments, but a family vacation of any kind really does help. It gives us brief respite from the usual every day stresses and pressures.

And although these Kodak moments make up a lot of our most cherished moments, we can (and should) make an effort to build them into our regular lives as much as possible. The literature on the importance of shared family meal times is pretty conclusive about the protective effects for teens, the building of self-esteem, the establishment and maintenance of healthy and open dialogue. This is the stuff of life, the textured weave of who we are.

Even the bickering – the bane of my existence – has a larger purpose. The shrill, whiny and raised voices of your kids, as annoying as they can be, means they are learning to work out disagreements, negotiating for themselves and practicing coping strategies.

Sometimes (say, stuck in traffic at the end of a school day with a carpool full of over-tried kids), I repeat this to myself over and over again.

Family time isn’t necessarily quality time either. Sometimes we ask our kids to turn off their electronic gagdets in the car on the way to something, just so we can all catch up and be together, even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes. Or take 5 minutes to all sit down for breakfast before we disperse for the day. And even when the girls fight over the last glass or orange juice or pancake, I tell myself it’s still worth the effort.

After all, you get a lot more of those workaday moments than you do camping, hiking, going to Walt Disney World or digging for pottery in the ancient Edomite equivalent of a rec room.

And every one of them is equally worthwhile, even if they don’t all end up in our photo albums. Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

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Celebrations, Suicides and Narratives of Heroism: Letters From Israel

This morning, we celebrated our twin daughters’ bat mitzvah (the ritual celebration of a girl’s 12th year and the alleged reaching of maturity) on the ancient ruins of Masada, in Israel’s Judean Desert.

We awoke at 4 am, sipped some coffee and filed on to a cable car that whisked us up the mountain in time to watch the sun emerge over the Moab mountains of Jordan, on the eastern shore of the salt-encrusted Dead Sea.

We took in the stunning scenery toured the ruins of King Herod’s palace and heard the famous story of the Jewish War, in 70 A.D., where 957 men, women and children defied the months’ long siege of the Roman Army under the blazing sun.

With cisterns full of enough water to last them for years, and massive storehouses of food, the zealots fleeing the Romans thought they had outsmarted the army until slaves were put to work building a ramp up the western side. It was clear to the hundreds of ancient Israelis that this last stronghold of Jewish territory was doomed.

And so on the last night before the Romans breached the walls, the zealots took a very controversial decision. Despite the clear Jewish prohibition against suicide, the people decided they would rather die as free people than be killed or enslaved by the invaders. They drew lots on shards on pottery with their names insribed (later found by archaeologists and showcased at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). Men and women put their own children to death, then killed themselves by the sword or by leaping off a cliff. The 10 chosen with the lots helped the remaining few kill themselves and then finally committed suicide.

When the Romans entered the walls, they found the place empty, except for 2 women and 3 children who chose not to die, and told the story to the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, who documented the incredible tale.

After touring the ruins and hearing the story of the place, we moved to the ancient Beit Hamidrash, which served as both court and place of study, and held a short service where our older daughters, along with 4 other children spoke the words of the same Torah by these zealots lived and died.
Prayers were said. A hora was danced in 40 celsius (104 F). Mazel tovs (good luck) were shouted, moms got teary-eyed. It was beautiful and moving and memorable.

But like many Jews who know this story, I was also very unsettled. I was uncomfortable commemorating any kind of heroic suicides with my pre-teen daughters, knowing the disturbingly high rates of adolescent suicide in certain high-risk groups. I couldn’t help thinking about the suicide fantasies and glamourized, romanticized death narratives embedded in teen stories, music and film (of which the current vampire craze is but one example).

The notion of heroic suicides doesn’t sit too easily in Jewish tradition either. The laws of the Torah are unequivocally against it. Suicide victims may be barred from burial in religiously sanctified cemetaries.

It helps to understand the context in which the Masada story fit into the Israeli nation narrative. The archaeologists who excavated there in 1963 found the actual lots and skeleton fragments that confirmed the writings of Josephus Flavius. The story of Jews who chose courageously chose to die by their own hands instead of placing themselves at the mercy of their enemies resonated less than 20 years after the end of the Holocaust. Similarly, a tale of brave, defiant fighters defending the last Jewish stronghold for 2,000 years was a poetic complement to the emerging history of the brand new state of Israel, then only 15 years old.

But history has continued unfolding, and today’s historians are still uncomfortable glorifying the suicides, preferring instead to focus on bravery, defiance and resourcefulness. And of course, the fresh terror of the suicide bombers (especially before the security fence was built in 2004) has put a whole new spin on the very idea of suicide being heroic at all.

So while we celebrate, there is a spectre of sadness and ambivalence, a fitting complexity perhaps for a country and region so deeply and irrevocably marked by millenia of human civilization. Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

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