Bangladesh

kristen Uncategorized Leave a comment  

In February of 2016, an email appeared on the sex therapy list serve I am active on, inquiring if someone would be interested in traveling to Bangladesh to do a training on sex therapy. I responded immediately and was cautiously hopeful that I might receive an interview to pursue this opportunity to teach, train, and travel. A few days later, I was skyping with a woman on the other side of the world discussing the intricate details of what the training would need to include. It was quickly settled that I would go to Bangladesh and teach a 5-day workshop to a group of clinicians in November. We discussed the topics that would be critical to present on, but agreed that the training would need to be both extensive and intensive.
Fast forward nine months, dozens of lattes, countless hours in coffee shops, and many power-points later, and I have completed my time in Bangladesh. I sit, in yet another coffee shop, but this time to reflect upon this opportunity and my time abroad. The countless hours dedicated to bring this to fruition were well worth the effort.
There were 28 participants that came to the 5-day training. They were all invited through word-of-mouth because advertising the training was not safe for myself, or the participants, due to the political nature of sexuality. Sex is still a taboo topic in Bangladesh, particularly outside of marriage or within the LGBTQ+ community. The country itself is 94% Muslim, 5% Hindu, and 1% other. Dating is a faux pas and ranges from being frowned upon to being forbidden. Arranged marriages are still very common. Many believe that being LGBTQ+ is a choice (even among this group of clinicians), and conversion therapy is common. It was imperative to me to refute harmful stereotypes, be sex positive, and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, while still honoring the cultural and religious values of the people in Bangladesh.
Since this was an extensive training, I taught many topics about how to effectively work with sexuality issues including: those affected by sexual assault, infidelity, pornography, vaginal pain, erectile dysfunction, low libido, LGBTQ+ folks, and polyamory. While there were many questions throughout the training, most of them were reserved for the LGBTQ+ community. The clinicians wanted to know: Does conversion therapy work? NO. Is someone gay because of sexual assault? NO. Do someone choose to be gay? NO. Is a transgender person mentally ill? NO. Are asexual people just celibate? NO. Lots and lots of education, dispelling stereotypes, and discussion were offered. At the end of the fourth day of the training, one man said to me, “You are really passionate about the LGBT community.” I wasn’t sure if he was making a general observation, or asking me a question. I resounded with an enthusiastic, “YES, I am.”
The final day of the training, I discussed polyamory, swinging, and open relationships. The participants were familiar with swinging and said it happens in their country, but they were not familiar with polyamory or open relationships. One woman asked, “What is the purpose of marriage then?” Fortunately we had time to debunk myths, offer explanations for various lifestyles, and engage in thoughtful discussion.
Being given this opportunity, and going into this training, my goal was never to change anyone’s belief systems, but to make them better therapists. We frequently discussed projection, countertransference, and when to refer to another therapist. We also discussed the value in validation, acceptance, and active listening. The group was very gracious to learn so many new concepts, clinical application, and methodology. I was very grateful to learn more about the culture in Bangladesh, the Muslim and Hindu communities, to be gifted a beautiful sari, and to have an opportunity to prepare and implement such an intensive training, and most importantly to make connections with locals that I now have the privilege of calling friends. The training was so successful that I have already discussed doing another one in the future, to continue to educate therapists on the topic of sex therapy so they can better meet the needs of their clients. Grateful, thank you, more please. Here’s to ever learning and new adventures in 2017.


HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

kristen Uncategorized Leave a comment  

Every year, since 1914 (thank you Anna Jarvis), we have celebrated mothers all around the world. The holiday was created when Anna. Whether you have a loving and special relationship with your mother, or you can’t stand to be in the same room as her, none of us would be here without a birth mom. Even if you fall into the latter category, there is undoubtedly a woman in your life who has been a role-model. A teacher. A mentor. A foster mother. A social worker. A therapist. A grandmother. Mother’s Day isn’t just about honoring your mother, but an ode to all mother’s. (Hey, I’m currently a “mother” to a finicky cat, and an aunt to four charismatic children, so I’ll take my credit here).

This post is for the other mother’s though. The ones we forget about. Many times, there are women who feel left out of this holiday, or even cheated out of it.  They dread it, because no one will wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, but they feel like mother’s too.

Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who have miscarried (which happens to every 15-20 women out of 100). It is difficult to start thinking about your role as a parent, and what kind of mother you will be, only to miscarry. It’s okay to feel sad, to grieve, or to feel angry because you had just gotten used to the idea of becoming a mother, to suddenly have to cope with the loss as that reality changed.

Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who cannot conceive (in the United States, 1 out of every 10 women under age 45 are infertile and 1 out of every 8 couples will have trouble getting/sustaining pregnancy). This holiday may be especially difficult because you may have always wanted children, and were devastated when this reality was taken from you. The fantasies you had of being a mother, turned to a reality of  grief and loss over the idea of motherhood. People may not understand how you can grieve over something you never had, but you envisioned a future for yourself, your partner, and your child. The loss of something you never had, may be even harder to grieve because there’s nothing to bury or put to rest.

Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who have lost a child. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, about 5.9 million children under the age of five will die each year, with 2.7 million of those deaths occurring in the first month of life. I’ve had friends and clients lose their children to illness and accidents. To feel, hold, touch, love, and embrace your child is one of the greatest joys many people experience. To suddenly lose the physical presence of a person is always difficult because we rely so much on physical touch and voice sensation. With life expectancies reach x for men, and x for women, makes it especially difficult to lose a child. Even more difficult when it’s your child.

Not only are you all worthy of this special day, but there are so many women out there who feel your pain. Many mother’s, and father’s, suffer in silence. Some find they are too encroached with grief to open up, while others think it’s their fault. It’s not your fault though. You are a mother too. So here’s to you- Happy Mother’s Day 2016.


Why Knocked Up?

kristen Uncategorized Leave a comment  

Dr. Carol Cassell’s book- Why Knocked Up? The Paradox of Sex, Magical Thinking, and Accidental Pregnancy in This Age of Contraception- explores why there are still sky rocketing rates of unplanned pregnancy in the United States, even though birth rates are at an all time low. Every “one out two women will have at least one unintended pregnancy in her life” (the rates of unwanted and unintended pregnancies among men surveyed is much higher). Also notable is the highest population experiencing unintended pregnancy, as Dr. Cassell’s research notes that it is not teenage girls as one might assume, but women ages 20-24. Perhaps more notable is the fact that women ages 25-29 have actually had an increase by 8% in unwanted pregnancy over the last few years. Women really only have two options when they experience an unintended or unwanted pregnancy- have the baby, or terminate the pregnancy.

Dr. Cassell explores the political debates offered, by both “far-right extremist” parties and liberal Democrats (she openly identifies as the later) to resolve the issue of unintended and unwanted pregnancies, or not. There is an abundant amount of up-to-date and relevant information noted, quoted, and shared from research studies, politicians, activists, and personal statements. For those who don’t quite have a full grasp on why the United States falls 31st (out of 44 developed countries) of “best places in the world to be a mother” (Norway is #1, FYI) after almost 200 pages of explanation and rationale, Dr. Cassell offers a lengthy addendum as well as notes and sources that she utilized and quoted throughout the book.

It is fitting that I read this book, and finished it, the same week that the Omaha Public School Board will vote on whether or not to update their sex education curriculum to be both comprehensive and medically accurate. I found many of the themes in Dr. Cassell’s book were relevant to the current OPS debate. She commented frequently about the backlash that comprehensive sex education receives, despite the science and statistics that back it up. In fact, comprehensive sex education is one of Dr. Cassell’s solutions to lowering the rates of unwanted and unintended pregnancies. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Cassell or the profound research!
I highly recommend reading this politically charged book at the prime of its relevance. Why Knocked Up is available for purchase on amazon in both paperback and kindle version.

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Knocked-Accidental-Pregnancy-Contraception/dp/1503599450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452620449&sr=8-1&keywords=why+knocked+up

 


Unpacking the National Sex Education Conference

kristen Polyamory, Sex Education Leave a comment  

I just finished three amazing days in New Brunswick, NJ at the 30th annual Sex Education Conference, hosted by the Center for Sex Education. My time was filled with keynotes and workshops, networking and socializing, presenting and discussing, and encouraging and leading. This was my third time attending the conference, my third year as a member of the Sex Ed Network, and my third year witnessing success and growth.

Many of the workshops I attended were about engaging youth and meeting them where they are at. This included through social media platforms and interactive games, but it also meant acknowledging the variations of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, physical ability, developmental ability, trauma, and more. Many people encouraged this discussion including the Women of Color Sexual Health Network (wocshn.org), as well as individual presenters and keynote speakers. While I am conscious of who my audience is when teaching sex education or doing sex therapy, I felt challenged to have this on the fore-front of my brain, rather than as an after thought. Specifically, the WoCSHN encouraged ALL presenters during the opening keynote, to alter their presentations and include an aspect of inclusivity on race and people of color. I presented on polyamory, open relationships, and swinging (and the differences among them) and I wasn’t sure how to embrace this challenge. When the topic of cultural values arose during my presentation, a clear path developed and both myself, and those engaging in my presentation, were able to go down that road together. It was a learning moment for myself and others in the room.

While I had my own learning moments during the conference and was able to acknowledge that I continue to grow as a person, educator, and therapist, I also had the opportunity to share my knowledge with others. As I mentioned, I led a workshop about polyamory, open relationships, and swinging. Monogamy was also discussed during this conversation and its historic roots. I was able to provide definitions and resources, as well as my own expertise working with people with different identities. “That’s just an excuse to cheat” was a myth I was able to clear up among quite a few people. During the discussion I was able to emphasize communication, honesty, and more communication. The topic was new and vulnerable for many, but others identified it as a safe space to come out and share their own stories.

In between sessions, I also volunteered at the AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) table. As the leader of the Nebraska AASECT chapter, the Chair of the Development Committee for the national organization, and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, this organization is extremely important to me. There were many people that approached the table asking how to become involved with AASECT, how to get certified, why they should get certified, and how to learn more. Thankfully, my “sales pitch” to them wasn’t actually a pitch at all since I am so passionate about AASECT. It’s my professional home and where I am able to find a sense of community within my professional career. You can’t sell that! I was really glad to see people inquiring about the organization though and wanting more information. It reminded me of my own passion that was sparked when I was in college which pushed me into this field.

Another wonderful thing that occurred at the National Sex Education Conference was meeting Kirsten deFur, the editor and contributor to the 4th Edition of Unequal Partners, the book that some of my own sex education lessons on consent will be published in! She is also the editor and contributor for another book, that has yet to be named, chock full of LGBTQ lessons, which I will also be published in! In addition to meeting Kirsten, and giving each other a big hug, she gave a wonderful keynote presentation all about consent and how simple, yet oh so complicated, it is. She was a great speaker on such an important topic.
The last highlight of the conference was having Laci Green present as the final keynote speaker. Laci Green is a sex educator youtube media sensation (https://www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen). She has over 5 million viewers from each video she posts, and has had viewers from every single country. Wow! She shared her own personal story, acknowledged her privilege, added humor and humbleness, and spoke about reaching youth where they are at, the Internet. When she finished her presentation, she filmed people from the audience (with a special shout out to PoC who wanted to speak) about what they had learned at the conference. Guess what? I was filmed and will get to be a part of an original Laci Green youtube video! I got so nervous I forgot to share my youtube handle (#KristenLilla) but I did share how important the topic of consent is, and how it needs to start at a young age. I will definitely post a link to the video once it’s completed (she said it will probably be available in January 2016).
All in all, I would say the 30th National Sex Education Conference, and the 3rd annual one for me, was a SUCCESS! Shoutout to all the wonderful people at the Center for Sex Education for pulling off their biggest conference yet.


My Letter to Omaha Public Schools

kristen Sex Education Leave a comment  

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I am writing as a community member, professional, and future parent of an OPS child. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Sex Therapist (and in 2016 I will be the only person in the state who is both a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Sex Educator), I have dedicated my entire education and career committed to this work.

I wanted to touch base in light of the forum this evening at the TAC building and the vote on November 16 from the OPS School Board. I hope that you have been supported by parents, students, teachers, and the community to move forward with implementing sex education that is both comprehensive and medically accurate.

Unfortunately, sex education is the only curriculum that doesn’t have any standards or requirements of educators. We certainly wouldn’t let a history or math teacher educate in our schools without a degree, let alone without continuing education and an established curriculum. For example, you would never ask me to teach a music class, because I can’t read notes. The same standards should exist for sex education. Not only does the teacher need to be educated and aware, they need to be comfortable and competent teaching the subject matter. To meet the needs of our youth, and the astronomical numbers of gonorrhea and chlamydia in Douglas County, as well as the number of pregnant mothers each year in OPS, we need to have a sex education curriculum. Setting standards ensures that adolescents get the most accurate information there is, just as they get they get in their science and history classes.

I’m sure you have a lot to consider, but most importantly, please consider the future of your students. Sex education will never be the most popular class among parents because no one wants to see their child grow up and think of them making adult decisions. However, I would argue that sex education is the most important class adolescents may receive, as most people will transition from abstinence to sexually active at some point in their lives (75% of us by the time we graduate from high school). When you consider a topic like consent, it is a lesson that should be taught in Kindergarten, because it’s not okay to take someone else’s toy without asking! The lessons can be tailored and age appropriate, but they need to start early and with accurate information. Our youth needed trusted and competent adults to teach them. I know that I am one of those adults and I hope we can stand next to each other.

Best,

Kristen Lilla MSW, LCSW, CST

P.S. to readers, go find out who it in your district and a send a letter of support ASAP! Need more info? Watch this: http://www.kmtv.com/news/local-news/ops-to-propose-revisions-to-outdated-content-in-sex-education or read this: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fscse.pdf


Sex Ed Super Heroes

kristen Sex Education Leave a comment  

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being a part of a committee. Not just any committee though, one that discusses sexual health, sex education, and sexuality. This may seem like just a part of what I do, talking about sex, but this meeting was very intentional. Why did such a meeting happen?

You may recall, that about a year ago, Omaha Public Schools made a plan to send out a survey to parents of youth in the school district. The survey was to gain perspective from parents about what the school’s sex education curriculum should look like. Considering that Omaha Public Schools have not updated their sex education curriculum since the 1980s (over 20 years ago), the survey was beyond overdue. Since the 1980s, abstinence only education programs have also been proven unsuccessful, and topics such as the LGBT community are being left out. Therefore, the curriculum was not only outdated, but also not relatable or inclusive. Additionally, the materials being used were also outdated, and some were not medically accurate. Believe it or not, sex actually has changed in the last twenty years.

The survey was conducted over several months, with over 1500 parents participating. Parents were asked if a variety of topics should, or should not, be included in the curriculum including masturbation, the LGBT community, and contraceptives. With rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia much higher than the national average in the state of Nebraska, specifically among those ages 15-24, contraceptives should be essential lesson in the curriculum. In 2014 alone, Douglas County had 3,390 confirmed cases of chlamydia and 961 cases of gonorrhea and national statistics show that 1 in 4 teens will contract an STD each year. Luckily, there are many places to get tested in Omaha that are both confidential and FREE, including many of the libraries in town!

The results of the survey that Omaha Public Schools conducted were shared at a meeting on April 7. Overwhelming, 93% of respondents supported lessons that taught both abstinence and ways to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. That’s good news, considering “The vast majority of research studies about abstinence only programs have shown that they are ineffective at preventing teen pregnancy and STIs, whereas comprehensive programs, and in some cases abstinence plus programs, are effective” (Bennett & Assefi, 2005; Kirby & Laris, 2009; Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008; Santelli et al., 2006; Trenholm et al., 2008). Over 150 people attended the meeting in April to continue the discussion about how sex education should be implemented and taught to adolescents.

As you can see, sex education in Nebraska is a hot topic right now. Between the pressure on OPS to update their curriculum, the parent survey, the positive responses from parents and the community, and the hard facts regarding the STD epidemic and teen pregnancy rates in Nebraska, the sex ed super heroes (that includes me) banded together to continue to push change.

Now back to where we started, the committee yesterday. It was good. It was inspiring. It was motivating. The Nebraska Sexual Health Alliance Committee actually configured just a few weeks ago, after the Nebraska Sexual Health Summit. It spawned from the idea of having a forum for all of the sexuality educators (and therapists like me) to be able to collaborate. The discussion focused on upcoming legislature and how to make positive and effective change. There were several researchers on the committee that will be contributing sound research that illustrates just how effective and important sex education is, and how ineffective abstinence only programs are. Since I’m not a researcher, but I am involved in the community and in making social justice and change occur, I offered to start a statewide petition. I believe there is power in numbers so I am committed to get as many signatures as humanly possible to show Nebraska legislation that this is a pertinent and important issue.

If you’re on the fence about schools implementing a sex education curriculum, you should know that Nebraska taxpayers spend about $67 MILLION on teen pregnancy costs each year. Some of this probably went to the 53 pregnant teens at Omaha South High School in 2013 (and there were another 50 at the school that were already teen parents). Teaching effective methods of contraceptives comes at a more cost-effective rate, both for taxpayers and for these adolescents’ futures.

So how can you make change? You can start by writing a letter to your senator explaining how important evidence based, comprehensive, and medically accurate sex education is. (Need help finding yours? http://nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_find.php) You can also sign the petition we’ve started. Ask me about it next time you see me. An online petition is also being developed and I will post it as soon as it is available. Then, you can encourage your friends, family, and co-workers to sign it. Here’s to all of you being sex ed super heroes yourselves!


Guest Blog on Polyamory

kristen Polyamory Leave a comment  

I know my last post said that it was my first blog. It was, kind of. It was my first blog post. A few months ago though, I wrote a guest blog post for Seattle Sex Therapist and Seattle Marriage Counselor, Dr. Roger Libby (http://www.drrogerlibby.com). He is a colleague of mine and when he asked me to write a guest blog, I was both honored and humbled. I wanted to regenerate that blog post on my own page. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce my guest blog post on polyamory. Enjoy! http://www.drrogerlibby.com/polyamory/


Hello world!

kristen Uncategorized Leave a comment  

It’s time….to blog! I’ve been encouraged time and again to start a blog but I’ve been hesitant and resistant to do it. I’ve made up lots of excuses not to start one, most of my reasons related to time constraints. However, having had lots of support from family, friends, and colleagues (sex therapists and otherwise), here it is. My first official blog post. A place to share my thoughts and opinions with you all about sexuality.

Talking about myself and my background seems appropriate for a first blog. Why sexuality? Why therapy? Why sex therapy? Why me? Sexuality, because that’s my passion. It’s what I live for. I love talking about sex and educating about sex and helping people work through their sexual issues. Ultimately, I aim to empower others to take control of their sexuality.  Thinking back throughout the years, my parents will tell me funny stories about how in touch I was with my sexuality as a child. Always critically asking questions that most kids wouldn’t dream of ever asking their parents. I want to know about AIDS after one of my mother’s friends was diagnosed with it. I wanted to know about oral sex, because I didn’t understand it. I was inquisitive and curious. I was also a free-spirit and was raised in a supportive home. So I asked my parents the questions that still make many people squirm. And they answered them (perhaps begrudgingly, but always honestly and age-appropriately).

When I was a senior in high school, I saw The Vagina Monologues, a play by women’s rights activist Eve Ensler. It was the first time that women’s sexuality was spoken about or addressed, without me having to ask. The show specifically discussed women receiving and being deserving of pleasure. It was the first time that there was a platform to discuss sexuality. I didn’t want the show to end. More importantly, I didn’t want the conversation to end. 

When I entered my collegiate years, I wanted to be a pharmacist. It was quickly apparent that calculus and chemistry were not my thing so, I decided to pursue a degree in psychology. I knew that I wanted to be clinical therapist and have a private practice.  And then I decided I would become a sex therapist. At the time, I didn’t even know if such a career existed. I thought, perhaps, I had made it up. I began to do some research and discovered AASECT, the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Again, I discovered a platform to have discussions around sexuality in an ethical and professional manner. I was 19 at the time, and I haven’t looked back sense. 

Through my journey to become an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, I learned how complex sexuality and sexual issues can be. My curiosity from childhood has not waned, rather it has turned into a passion. I continue to learn and grow and ask questions. I just have a lot more of the answers now than I used to. Still, sexuality is complicated. It took me nearly ten years, but I followed my dreams and aspirations and in 2013 I became a AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. Since then I have started a private practice, and a blog. I invite you read, learn, ask questions, and we can grow together.