18/Dec/2017

Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book, is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1187950815/vaginas-and-periods-101-a-pop-up-book

A pop-up book about vaginas? And menstruation? Who would write that? Who would read that? Well, that would be me and my colleague Christian Hoeger! We’ve been teaching sex education at Girls Inc. of Omaha for over four years now. One of my favorite lessons to teach is the one on menstruation. It’s a totally fun, interactive, and hands on lesson we teach to youth from 4th grade through high school and one that is modeled from a college class I took. Yes! A college lesson that is being implemented with 4th graders. Let’s be honest though, learning about menstruation in college is about a decade too late for most.

This is why we decided to write the book, Vagina’s and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book to bring this favorite lesson outside of the classroom!  Our book follows this lesson plan as closely as possible because we believe it is such an important one. It’s fun, hands-on, and colorful.

For any of you educators out there, you know hands-on lessons are more fun because they are interactive. This is true for any age group from pre-schoolers to adults. The lesson we do in the classroom starts with discussing general anatomy and operationally how menstruation works and why it occurs followed by a hands-on lesson. We also talk about and explain there are actually a lot of different menstrual products a person can use, besides tampons and pads, because we think it’s important to know what your options are, what you’re putting into your body, and to feel empowered to make the right choice for you.

To illustrate how products feel and how they can break down, we take a variety of menstrual products, made by various brands, and let the participants pass them around, touch them, tug them, and examine them. It’s a great way to normalize traditional products and introduce products such as cloth pads, period panties, menstrual cups, and sea sponges too. By getting to touch and feel these products participants learn about these all of their options but also get to see exactly how they would work and become less intimidated to use them.

In the next part of this hands on lesson we put all of the products, including a wide variety of traditional tampon brands in a jar of water. (*FYI Tampons and pads aren’t FDA regulated to disclose ingredients because they are considered “medical devices” so many products contain harmful ingredients like chlorine, bleach, and even asbestos. Yikes! Bleach inside of your vaginal canal??????) Our body temperatures are typically 98 degrees, so we use hot water for our experiment. Of course the body doesn’t bleed an entire jar but it is a science experiment and participants love watching what happens to tampons when they are immersed in the jar. We also put a reusable cup and sea sponges in jars too.

So, can you picture what’s happening yet? Well, depending on the tampon brand, you start to see cotton floating around in the jar. You also see the tampon expand, which makes sense since it has to fit and expand inside the vaginal walls to collect menstrual blood. Some brands expand in a less than ideal way though, and the participants can see that when they have to pull it out of the vaginal canal the tampon will have has to come back together. And did you know, pulling a tampon out of the vaginal canal can actually cause little tiny ulcerations, or tears, on the vaginal walls which can increase your chances of contracting an STI/STD? This is why it is so important to know what you are inserting inside of you! There are a lot of great tampons out there too and it’s one reason we are so excited to be partnering with Maxim Hygiene in our book, because they use organic cotton for their tampons and pads, and they are free of chlorine, bleach, and asbestos! We just think you everyone should do your their homework before using them and believe that this lesson plan is a great way to learn about finding the right product for you. 

Participants are always fascinated that Jade and Pearl sea sponges, which they call sea pearls (and makes me want to use them even more) can be used as a menstrual product. If you really think about it, sea sponges are probably one of the oldest options out there since luxury products (that’s what the government says since we pay a luxury tax on menstrual products) didn’t exist 2,000 years ago. In fact, Cleopatra is said to have used sea sponges for her menstrual cycle! So consider yourself a Goddess too.

Menstrual cups are also an option participants are fascinated by. Made with FDA approved medical-grade silicone, the cups are used like tampons and inserted into the vaginal canal to collect blood. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and are reusable for years. They’re expensive upfront but can be extremely cost-effective over time.

For those who don’t like inserting something inside of their vagina, they can try a product by Lunapads, who make both cloth pads and period panties. We love this option, especially for younger participants who don’t feel comfortable putting something inside of themselves. They are also washable and reusable so you can wear them for years too! Plus they offer a variety of sizes and materials (including organic cotton).

The last part of the lesson is normalizing discharge and the appearance of menstrual blood (guess what, it’s not always like a bright red nose bleed).  This is such a well received lesson because it is fun and interactive, but participants also learn a lot and are invited to ask questions.

However, teaching a lesson like this to a classroom or to your own children can be expensive. Imagine going to the store to buy pads, tampons, cloth pads, period panties, menstrual cups, and sea sponges, not to mention models to explain anatomy. Not only would it be very expensive, all of these purchases would really start to add up and you won’t find most of those things at your local convenience store.

It was this amazing lesson plan and trying to figure out a way to put the products into one compact place that would be convenient to everyone, that the idea was born to create the book Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book.  This translated into pop-ups that help explain anatomy and a touch n’ feel section describing the wide variety of menstrual products as a way to create this fun (have you checked out the art by Sara M. Lyons? FUN!), empowering, informational, educational, and interactive book, just like our lesson!

We have hooked up with the totally fun and awesome illustrator Sara M Lyons who has created characters that are diverse, spunky, and independent (just like us). The book will not have any gendered language (such as boy/girl) because we know men menstruate too and we want to include our trans friends in the adventure, plus our non-binary character (wearing the coolest cat shirt ever).  We will also highlight some amazing resources at the end of the book for both the reader and their trusted adult (including GIRL by Karen Rayne and PERIOD.)!

Now here’s the really important part and where we need your help if you think this is a book and lesson that everyone needs! We have to print a minimum of 5,000 copies of Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book book which is a costly endeavor. The pop-up prototypes alone cost thousands of dollars. You can help us though by supporting us on Kickstarter and by signing up for cool backer items. Plus we’ve found a way to bring it full circle by having a backer option to buy a book for yourself and give a book to a Girls Inc. affiliate in the country (encouraging girls to be “strong, smart, and bold”). You can share the Kickstarter link and like the project on social media (FB- Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book, Twitter- #VaginaPopUp, Instagram- #VaginaPopUp)

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1187950815/vaginas-and-periods-101-a-pop-up-book

Thanks and we’ll be popping up again soon!


18/Dec/2017

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.


18/Dec/2017

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.


18/Dec/2017

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.

 


18/Dec/2017

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. 


(c) Kristen Lilla 2017