My Weekend Warrior Profile (Cross-posted)

This entry was originally published on the Sojourner House blog on May 30th (link here). I’m republishing it here so that people can find it with more ease. There will be more writings on my career path for those interested in following it or doing something similar too! Also, it’s important to note that the WW feature was heavily inspired and modified from The CSPH’s “Hump Day Heroes” feature. Credit where credit is due!

Every weekend, we feature different individuals (“Weekend Warriors”) that are working around social justice and making a change in the world so that we can all live free from violence and oppression. The goal of this project is to raise awareness of the work that is currently being done, highlight the amazing people doing it (with a focus on Rhode Island) and show the varied paths people have taken to this kind of social change. At its core, this project is about empowerment and building community!

What kind of work do you do?

I often find myself with my spoons in multiple pots at once. Broadly defined, I do sexuality education, project management, and public speaking. While not something I’m actively pursuing right now, I’ve also done more direct community organizing and digital literacy instruction. That has been really fun, especially when working with the elderly and with immigrant communities.

Where are you based out of (geographically-speaking)? Do you work as an individual, as part of an agency, or…?

Currently based out of Rhode Island, but the Internet is my playground, and I’m moving to Boston in the Fall. Right now various agencies have joint-custody of my time! I also do some individual work on the side. My almost 3-year term at Sojourner House as the Sexual Health Advocate (and seasonal Vagina Queen as a colleague called me) is ending on June 30th, and I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done with the agency—a lot of innovative, wonderful stuff (including this project, so filling this out feels very meta).

The other primary place where I work is The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a sexuality training and education organization devoted to reducing sexual shame, fighting misinformation, and elevating the sexuality field.

Outside of those two main projects, I do sporadic educational work for youth on behalf of Partners in Sex Education and I also deliver community presentations through Good Vibrations’ SHOW program as an offsite sex educator.

What things do you focus on? What are your specialties?

Sex(uality)! But that’s a simplistic answer. For me, sexuality is my focus, but that’s a fairly broad category that encompasses reproductive rights, issues of gender and orientation, healthy relationships, communication skill-building, the mechanics of pleasurable sex, and more. My primary areas of focus right now are LGBTQ issues, domestic violence (as well as sexual assault), sexual health education, and HIV. It’s funny because for a while I didn’t want to work on issues of DV and HIV, and instead wanted to focus more on niche topics that didn’t have a lot of folks working on them, like BDSM/kink and polyamory, but I realized that there was (and is) still a lot to be done in the realms of HIV and domestic violence, especially as far as inclusion for varied identities is concerned. I’ve had the privilege of working on “mainstream issues” while also making space for those more marginalized experiences and communities, and that’s what I hope to continue doing—connecting struggles and knowledge instead of having them sectioned off from each other (though that at times is necessary).

What are your goals and passions in this field?

I love bridging gaps with information and connections, getting people the resources they need when they need them. Also anything related to marginalized identities speaks to me on both a personal and professional level, especially because often too many people speak “on behalf” of communities they’re not a part of instead of standing together in solidarity with those folks and lifting THEIR voices up. I want to get it right. To that end, I hope to keep juggling many projects (both clinical and macro) in service of my communities.

I’m passionate about making conversations about sexuality and health easier to have, fostering diversity through a lens of paying attention to our intersecting identities, and fighting for sexual freedom and wholeness. What do I want to see? I want survivors of violence and abuse to feel empowered. I want clinicians to provide competent care to their “alternative” clients. I want us to use positive messages instead of shame to reduce negative health outcomes, and even redefine what “negative health outcomes are.” I want more representation of multiple bodies, genders, sexualities, races in the media. I want us to recognize the connections between different forms of violence. I want accessible reproductive healthcare for everyone. I want people’s autonomy to be respected. I can keep going… I just want EVERYTHING!

Why did you choose to start working in this field and what has kept you motivated to continue?

This video interview someone did with me actually sums it up pretty well. Long story short, as a queer Latina, when I arrived at Brown University I knew I wanted to work on issues of LGBTQ rights and racial justice. My life since then has taken some twists and turns, but that’s been at the core of it all. I branched out into sexuality education more specifically, but it’s all rooted in wanting social justice and being able to focus on achieving that through the things about which I’m passionate.

In a nutshell, seeing how far we’ve come but how much we still have yet to do is what keeps me motivated. Also super crucial? Being surrounded by key people who are amazing, valuable human beings also devoted to doing this work, or supporting those who do it. Creating/finding and nurturing a community has been vital for me.

Where did you go for school/training?

Brown University was my undergraduate home, and I emerged with a Bachelor of Arts in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I’m about to head off to graduate school this Fall to pursue my Masters in Social Work at Boston University. Outside of that, I’ve gone to a LOT of professional development events and conferences, probably more than one single person should ever go to! I just love learning a lot and being able to get that knowledge in varied ways, not just from a university. Locally, the Rhode Island Foundation has been a great local resource in learning more about nonprofit management.

Have you published any material (books, articles online, etc)?

No books published yet, but a project is brewing so I’m excited to see where that might go. I’ve also contributed to the last 3 issues of #24MAG (www.24mag.org) and my favorite piece was one I wrote about ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) for Issue 4.

Outside of that, my writing has been on the back-burner while I’ve been busy with other endeavors, but I co-edited “Sexual Health Education and Policy in Medical Schools: The Importance of Incorporating Basic Human Rights into Medical Education and Training” (written by Megan Andelloux) published in the Woodhull State of Sexual Sexual Freedom Report of 2011.

I also self-publish some writing online via my blog (neuronbomb.wordpress.com).

What would you recommend to people who want to work for a more just world, free of violence and oppression? Any tips on how to get into this line or work?

Figure out what unique skills you have (or can develop) and see how THOSE can fit into the larger fight for social justice. Not everyone has to be a public speaker or community organizer. Movements need a variety of talents—we need organizers, yes, but we also need bookkeepers, lawyers, people who can make huge meals, people with coding experience, interpreters, comedians, the list goes on.

Also, know that you can be an amazing contributor to movements without being or making yourself a martyr. Being able to set boundaries, ask for help, and take time to refocus and have some time to oneself = crucial skills that usually need to be honed with practice.

Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way, and soak in as much knowledge as you can.

Finally, make sure you nurture strong networks and give back to the community (there are many ways to do that), not just because those connections may serve you in the future, but because we’re all in this together and we cannot simply fight to get ourselves to the top–we should be working to help our communities, those who are marginalized by our current social systems, and those at the intersections.

What is the most personally challenging aspect of your career?

Not having enough time for all the things I want to do or need to do! Or feeling like I have no more help or resources to give someone, whether it’s because I’ve exhausted every option available to them, or because their issues are over my head and require intervention from someone with more clinical expertise. It can also be really tough to see people face the same problems over and over and feel powerless to do something about it. I’ve had some really terrible interactions with certain government or housing officials that have outright lied about hearings with clients, and confronting the reality of corruption can be really disheartening.

Outside of that, there are the obvious challenges of sometimes being persecuted for tackling taboo subjects or denied access to certain things due to prejudice…but that’s not personal/unique!

If you had to recommend one book and/or one film to our audience, what would you suggest?

“RACE: The Power of an Illusion” was a really fascinating documentary. By the time I saw it, I had already had my mind blown with the idea that race was a social construction, but this film did a great job at explaining a lot of the different ways we’ve understood race throughout U.S. history, and taking into account how race and class intersect with each other. Everyone should watch it!

As far as books go, “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within ActivistCommunities” is crucial for those seeking to learn more about IPV in activism-focused spaces, to see why speaking up is hard, what transformative justice can be, and what are the complications of enduring abuse from a “well-respected” activist.

Please list where we can find you online! (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Website, other Social Media/Online Websites)

Primary Blog: http://aidamanduley.com (or smutandsensibility.com)
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/neuronbomb
Assorted collection of sites: http://neuronbomb.flavors.me

Q&A: Sexual Debut + Conservative Background = Help!

I’m a 20-something penis-owner who hasn’t yet made his sexual debut. I grew up in an environment that was pretty conservative and repressive, so issues around sexuality were taboo. I’ve since made a conscious effort to fight this conditioning, but I still feel somewhat uncomfortable around sex. Do you have any resources you would suggest to someone who wants to learn more – how to do it, how to reach orgasm, how to help partners reach orgasm, how to do sex in context of healthy relationships?

Hey Anon! Thanks for reaching out!

I made my sexual debut with a partner at 19, so my first comment would be don’t stress about the age bit (if that was even a concern in the first place). Before my first partner, though, I had fulfilling sexual experiences with myself, so I’d like to highlight the positives that solo-play can bring about. Knowing more about one’s own body—how it feels, how it responds, what things are good/bad—can help immensely when it comes to reaching orgasm with a partner, or even just having a discussion about it. (The second piece is all about communication, but I’ll get to that later). I also think that as a society, we should start acknowledging that solo sexuality can still be gratifying for those who practice it, and it’s not like a person’s “sex-life” begins once another person pops into the picture…but anyway.

As someone who grew up under the Jehova’s Witnesses practice (read: a SUPER conservative Christian denomination), I was educated in the ways of “sex before marriage is wrong,” “homosexuality is a sin,” and all that came with that. I even overheard a conversation where it was said that “masturbation is just like losing your virginity—you are no longer pure after that.” (Oops. I was already touching myself by then, so that was awkward.) Somehow, though, I didn’t end up completely shame- and guilt-ridden the rest of my life. I also know a lot of folks who were raised in very conservative families and came out the other end feeling various degrees of sexual empowerment, so I’m sure you can achieve that as well. Hopefully the following resources can help!

The first place I’d like to point you toward would be the website for one of the places where I work: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. That is just CHOCK full of information (check out the Pleasure tab, too, which has info about positive porn, lubricants, toys, and more). Within that site/organization, specifically, I’d say check out the Q&A section here. It’s all questions people have submitted, and I think some of them might be helpful in your situation. Here are the main ones:

  1. Climaxing is not always the goal in sexual interactions, but when it is, you want to make sure it happens! So what to do when you have difficulty? This Q&A answers just that for penis-owners.
  2. On that note, not all people with penises masturbate in the same ways or want their penises touched in the same styles! Here are some tips/tricks for solo stimulation that can also be employed in various ways during sex with partners.
  3. A big question (pardon the pun) that many penis-owners have is around penis size and its impact on sex/relationships. That gets addressed here!
  4. In terms of sexual debut and just general sex-having, anal sex might be on the menu at some point, so it’s important to learn about that and prepare beforehand before just soldiering on, especially if you don’t have lube on hand.
  5. Something that might also help is reading about sex-positive spaces and being around sex-positive people, whose perspective on sex (ideally) could balance/counterpoint your conditioning. However, for someone from a conservative background, entering such a space could be weird or even super uncomfortable, so here are some tips on being more comfortable in sex-positive spaces, and even how to FIND those spaces in the first place.
  6. How do I get my partner to be more sexually adventurous? – This one could help you “talk to yourself” or even articulate things to a partner if you discover you have wishes that might be a bit outside of the mainstream.
  7. If you’re interested in vibrators and toys, this is a good intro for when you’re considering/picking something out.
  8. Someone wrote us because they had strong feelings to their partner’s past experiences, and felt insecure when comparing themselves to their partners’ past lovers. We gave some advice about how to deal with that and communicate those feelings. As someone who might make a sexual debut with another person who has already had partners before, this could be helpful to you.
  9. Sometimes penis-owners lose their erections and wonder why that happened. There are many reasons, and though this Q&A was directed at a person whose partner was the penis-owner, I think it’s important for everyone to read.

My second big resource would be Charlie Glickman’s work, and specifically, the “shame” tag on his prolific blog. He writes a lot about shame and the related situations/feelings, as well as how to recognize, deal with, and overcome them. He has many years in the sexuality education field, and his dissertation was all about sexuality and shame, so he knows what he’s talking about ten times over.

The healthy relationship part of your question I could write about forever and still have things to say, so I’m going to write a separate entry about it in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Getting Into BDSM: Questions from a Closeted Kinkster

Header image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid — Post last updated on 7/8/15

hi there, i saw you on twitter and noticed yr going to geeky kink! i’m a closeted young(ish) kinkster who would love to be the type that goes to cons, has play partners, etc, but doesn’t know anyone or have any connections. do you have any resources or tips? what was yr first bdsm con like? were you intimidated? do you have a kink coming out story? feel free to neglect any of my questions if they’re too prying.

The Resource Questions

Online Community and Building Networks:

Check out Fetlife—which is like a kinky Facebook, sort of. On there, be active on discussion boards for things that call your attention [though you should be aware that Fetlife can also be a hot mess, and that its founder is not a commendable dude]. This is a great place to find kink-related event listings, too! More on that later.

On Twitter, find folks that are awesome and engage with them. You can start by following people’s curated lists, like these and these, and by searching relevant hashtags.

Tumblr, as a platform, is also fantastic. Find BDSM bloggers, follow kink-related tags, reblog some things you find hot and start making connections with other people that share those tastes/interests! I’m especially fond of Happy BDSM and Perverts of Color, two Tumblrs that defy the stereotypical images of kink. Those online friendships can sometimes translate into in-person friendships or even relationships, too. Speaking for myself, my primary partner and I started talking through OKCupid. Many of the people I smooch and/or am GOOD friends with right now, I met online first through various means.

Joining pre-existing networks of kinksters makes your circles grow exponentially. If you’re in college/that demographic, there are some colleges with BDSM groups, most notably Columbia with Conversio Virium, and locally to Rhode Island, College Hill Kink. Beyond the college setting, though, there are “munches” where kinksters gather to chat and eat at places like food courts in a low-pressure environment. These are usually organized by a group, like BTNG—Boston’s Young and Kinky. [Pro-Tip: If you’re under 35, specifically looking for “TNG” groups—The Next Generation—can be fabulous so you’re not awkwardly the only 19 year-old in a sea of 40-somethings.]

Events And Dungeons:

Go to events, definitely, if you feel comfortable (or ok) doing so. The Internet is awesome, but in-person interactions can also be very important, especially if you want to engage in play and, say, need specialized gear or other humans to help. There are a wide variety of cons (some that allow play, some that don’t) for different demographics (trans folks, queer women, youngsters, yada yada) and different proclivities (e.g. rope cons, high-protocol cons, etc.). You can search for them, and here’s where Fetlife also comes in handy.  A safe way of dipping your toes in might be to go to conferences that don’t allow play (e.g. Fetish Fair Fleamarket, which is also pretty cheap) or going to conferences with curious friends and sticking together. Generally, though, here are some names of cons/events you could check out [including them here doesn’t mean I’ve attended or personally endorse them]:

take Classes / Learn Some Things:

The best book for newbies that I’ve found so far? Playing Well With Others  by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams. It’s a primer on everything you need to know as a new kinkster, or just someone curious about breaking into “The Scene.”

Beyond official conferences, different organizations host parties and/or do classes too, and some of them are free and open to the public (e.g. New England Leather Alliance, New England Dungeon Society, The Society in CT, MOB New England, and those that tackle sexuality though not limited to BDSM/kink, like the San Francisco Center for Sex and Culture).

My ultimate favorite resource, though, is KinkAcademy.com: a treasure trove of information from a variety of different perspectives. Awesome multi-media education on-demand (by subscription). Totally worth it, and they have been very supportive of their educators and workers, so from an ethical standpoint, I love recommending them.

Final Words of Wisdom:

Don’t feel pressured to have 69 play partners and hundreds of toys. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s about satisfaction, not numbers. Similarly, it’s not about being on ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS EVARRRR, but being happy with the stuff you’re on and making the best use of them for your needs.

The Personal Questions

My First Con:

was the Fetish Fair Fleamarket in Providence back in 2009. Fun classes, cool fashion show, lots of people, vendors, the whole thing—but no public play, no dungeon. It was a “safe” con in that respect; no need to put myself out there (even though I would have done so if I’d had the chance). Didn’t feel intimidated,  but instead thought “holy shit, these are my people” when I walked in. Super happy to see so many kinksters in one place. It was joyous. Not everyone feels that way, though; some people are overwhelmed, intimidated, scared, nervous, and the list goes on. It’s about seeing what ways make you interact, but also feel comfortable. As of last year or so, the conference has moved venues and I haven’t attended for a while.

Coming Out:

I’m always coming out to new people! My favorite stories usually stem from trips in airports or on mass transit. Hilarious conversations usually ensue. One involved 2 drunk guys talking to my boss/colleague and I when we were in Florida for an adult novelties convention, and us showing them male chastity devices because they wanted to see toys and those were at the top of our bag. Perfect coincidence. On a more family-related level, I came out to my mother indirectly when she read my chat logs and some stuff in my journals when I was a teenager. I’ve come out to her again since, both directly (saying I’m into a variety of kink stuff) and indirectly (hello, bruising!). I’ve come out to friends, but usually without making a big kerfuffle about it because sexuality is such a huge part of my life in general, that it’s not super surprising or unheard of in the circles that I travel.

My Kinky Root:

The first big inklings came when I was 14 and I had this kind of random role-play via chat with a guy (he was 18) from an art-site I frequented (deviantART). It started out pretty mellow, and then it turned into this sexualized, chatty but violent thing. I don’t even know. It was bizarre. I was confused and turned on and mildly horrified…and that began my first online dating situation. Looking back on it, that was such a strange time in my life…? Anyway. The other big milestone was watching Secretary. Classic. I have SO many fond memories of that movie (and making my MSN nickname—back when MSN Messenger was  A Thing—basically “Aida loves tree trunks” due to a scene in the film). It’s kind of become code for kinky. If someone tells me they like that movie, it’s usually a sign that they’re not the most vanilla of people. NOT always, but often. For some people, it’s like flagging—the hanky code, but with movie choices.

Q&A: I Think I Might Be Pregnant…

I might be pregnant. I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend and I’m about 5 days late (I’m pretty regular). I have NO idea what to do about it. I consider myself Pro-Choice, but I’m also a believer that things happen for a reason? I’m very confused. While I believe it is every woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her body, I feel that if I were to choose aborting this hypothetical child, it’d be selfish that another being got denied life because I was too careless to prevent it.

Post last updated on 7/8/15

Hi Anonymous! It’s normal to feel confused, especially around a situation like this. Because you’re already 5 days late, I’m assuming this sexual contact was more than 5 days ago and thus taking emergency contraception wouldn’t do much. So, my suggestion would be to first assess your risk (to see how likely it is that you are pregnant), and then take a pregnancy test ASAP to check it out. In my opinion, you don’t need to think further ahead until you have the results and facts more concretely; over-thinking the possibilities will probably just stress you out. First of all, though, remember that many things can throw off your cycle, including changes in diet, stress-levels, and exercise…it doesn’t have to be a pregnancy.

In terms of assessing risk, I’d ask you a few questions

  • Did he ejaculate inside of your vagina (or on your vulva)? If yes, there is a chance you could be pregnant.
  • Did he pre-cum inside of your vagina? If yes, there’s a possibility, but it’s fairly slim. Pre-cum doesn’t contain sperm unless there was a previous ejaculation and the guy didn’t pee between ejaculating and pre-cumming; then the sperm comes from semen still in the urethra.
  • Did you engage in any activity that could’ve led semen to enter your vaginal canal (e.g. anal sex with bf ejaculating when you were facedown and thus it could’ve dripped)? If so, there is a chance of pregnancy.

Like I said before, it’s perfectly normal to feel confused and even feel at odds with your political beliefs/thoughts. Remember, though: being pro-choice doesn’t mean automatically having to get an abortion; it means considering the options and having the freedom to pick the one that best suits you in a variety of ways. Keeping a child or putting it up for adoption doesn’t make you any less of a pro-choicer (or feminist, if you ID that way). There are support groups, message boards, counselors, and a variety of folks available to talk you through these thoughts and situations. See what resources you have at your disposal. Be wary of crisis pregnancy centers, though–many are anti-choice/pro-life and use scary rhetoric that doesn’t actually give you all the information you need to make an educated choice about what to do if you’re actually pregnant.

After assessing your risk, I’d suggest a pregnancy test ASAP. (The longer you wait, the narrower your options get for dealing with it.) They have them at drugstores and some HS/college health clinics, but access to them depends on your location. Some places even offer them for free! I could perhaps help point you in some direction if I knew your area? Feel free to private-message me or email me, if you want! If you can’t access them or don’t feel comfortable doing so, perhaps asking a friend would work? Some folks even ask strangers because there’s little investment in their opinion! While pregnancy tests are not infallible, they can at least give you a preliminary answer. I’m a fan of always taking two tests just in case (one a few days after the other). For more info on how to do them, how they work, and all that, click here.

You can choose to mention that you’re going to take a pregnancy test to your boyfriend, but you can also choose to do it without notifying him. Depending on how you feel about your relationship and how long you’ve been going out, you may feel a need to talk through this with him (before, during, and/or after), but it’s also perfectly fine for you to take care of yourself first. Bottom line, though: you don’t have to go through any of this alone, and you get to decide who you talk to–find someone who will be helpful, respectful, and supportive. If you’re in the US or Canada, you can call Planned Parenthood’s hotline (1.800.230.PLAN), the NAF hotline (1.800.772.9100), and/or Backline (1.888.493.0092).

If for some reason you feel you need another test or another opinion, you can try to visit a local Planned Parenthood or any sort of clinic with access to a physician, and OBGYN, and/or some sort of professional that can either perform a fluid (urine/blood) test or do an ultrasound.

So, post-test, if you AREN’T pregnant, this is a good opportunity to think through what you would’ve done if you had been. It can be something to bring up with your boyfriend, and something to keep in mind next time you are thinking of how to protect yourself against pregnancy. Maybe using another birth control method could be useful? Maybe making up some rules regarding contraception and when you can have sex? Who knows. If you ARE pregnant, you should learn about your options so you can make the best decision for you. The short-list would be: put it up for adoption, keep it, or abort it. You don’t have to make the decision immediately, but definitely be aware of your time-frame!

(Now, this is my VERY PERSONAL VIEW on others bringing life into this world and by no means do I wish to impose it on you; I wish to merely share it in an attempt to provide perspective.) I’m someone who considers overpopulation and the fact that we have so many kids in the foster system already when thinking of bringing new life into the world. For someone who currently does not want a child and/or feels unprepared to (and/or cannot) care for one, I feel it’s best to put it up for adoption or to abort it. Due to the aforementioned issues, I believe that if a fetus is going to grow into a baby, then it should be born into a space that can nurture it, and it’s often more sensical to pursue abortion rather than adoption when such a space can’t be provided/secured.

It’s not an issue of being selfish or not, especially now; this fetus is something that can grow only if you help it grow, and you have the choice to make that happen or not, and to decide what will come of that. Since you feel everything happens for a reason, consider the fact that if you get pregnant, the implication doesn’t HAVE to be that you should keep it. Perhaps this happened so you would change your birth control, have a conversation with your partner, or any number of other reasons. Personally, I don’t think it makes you selfish to not keep it, but in the end, the opinion that truly matters is your own. At the end of the day, you should make the choice that, given everything, is best for you and you can safely make.

For more information, feel free to contact me again + please check out the amazing Scarleteen resources on this topic.