There are so many things wrong with the way women and girls are taught about sex.

Happy Puberty! Here's a Vibrator

By Sanjena Sathian for OZY, a website that provides news in a completely different way.

Who has two thumbs and remembers sitting through a terrible, grainy, 1980s sex ed video in which boys learned about wet dreams and girls learned about … sanitary napkins?


This girl.

But that age-old “birds and the bees" talk is a-changing. More and more, sex ed advocates are suggesting parents and schools go beyond abstinence discussions and talk to kids not just about the facts of life, but also the good, fun, healthy stuff that goes with them: i.e., pleasure. And that calls for a wild idea: Moms, consider giving your daughters vibrators. Happy sweet sixteen, girls.

There's a sh*tload of stuff wrong with the way women and girls are taught about sex. But chief among them might be the lack of information about pleasure. You've probably heard before that women have a much tougher time climaxing than men — according to a 2008 study from the Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University, between 20 and 30 percent of women never orgasm during intercourse. And that, it seems, is more because of emotional or psychological troubles than physical barriers.

The sexperts I called up (while enjoying, exceedingly, the chance to yell about clitoral activity in the middle of a newsroom) suggest TMI from parents is better than none. “Young people receive information about sexuality. They do," says William Yarber, a professor at the Kinsey Institute. If parents don't provide some of it, “that's a message, too."

If your daughter doesn't know what's up down there, she might not know how to say no.

So here's one possibility, moms-slash-parents: Talk to your teenage girls about more than how babies are made. More than how to shove a tampon up there. Try talking about how to get off. Because isn't it a little traumatizing for young ladies to learn more about bleeding out their own uteri than how to enjoy the release of oxytocin?

This seemingly crazy idea has been out there before: Oprah's former sexpert Laura Berman, author of Talking to Your Kids About Sex once suggested something along those lines on TV, “to much dismay, unfortunately," she told me. Her whole thing? “I'm like, it's just an aid!" Plus, she says, if your daughter doesn't know what's up down there, she might go too far too soon, not knowing what she likes, wants or wants to say no to. Girls shouldn't “think their pleasure is dependent on a boy," she says, reminding us of that freaky stat that most women — even when not, god forbid, coerced — regret their first time.

To be fair, even the most pro-touch-yourself advocates have doubts about whether a battery-powered option is the best way to start your sexual odyssey. Figure it out yourself in an, erm hands-on capacity, figures Mary Beth Szydlowski, program manager of School Health Equity at the group Advocates for Youth. “I view it as a kind of passing the buck."

And of course, the vibrator proposal would be excellent for the sex toy industry, a “recession-proof" kind of sector that doesn't exactly need a stimulus. But since most vibes are purchased by women between the ages of 22 and 34, it'd be a whole new market — if the young'uns bite. For her part, sex toy company Babeland's marketing director and author of The Mother's Guide to Sex Anne Semans handed over a toy to her 14-year-old, in hopes of at least starting a conversation about sexual agency. “In the moment, she was like, 'Mom...'" she says. The daughter in question quietly returned the gift to her mother's room.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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