The Sex-Ed Loop

Chicago’s Destination for Reliable Youth Sex Education

How to Deal with Emotional Pain

 by Emily Rus, 24, guest blogger

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I woke up with the same awful feeling I fell asleep with. This tight, anxious feeling in my chest. I was in Los Angeles with my boyfriend and we had been talking about me potentially moving out there. I had tried so hard not to put pressure on this trip but somehow the pressure was there. No one was even putting pressure on me, I was putting it on myself.

We had been out to dinner the night before, which should have been great. There I was, in an amazing city with my boyfriend, but I was so anxious I couldn’t even enjoy it. I tried to ignore the feeling and just let go. “I’ll just go to sleep and in the morning I’ll feel better” I told myself. But when I felt the same in the morning I really started freaking out. I decided I had to tell him that I felt weird. When I did he wanted nothing more than to make me feel better so he thought of a relaxation technique. “Start relaxing your toes first, then your feet then…” he said. I wanted to relax but I just couldn’t. “What if this was all a horrible idea? Do I even like this city? Moving for a relationship is the worst plan ever…” just kept running through my head.

Tears started streaming down my face. He looked over, excited to see if I was more relaxed and saw that instead, I was even more upset. While his technique didn’t work in the traditional way, it did get me to a point where I could break down and talk everything out. So thats what we did.

Pay attention to what you’re feeling.

When it comes down to it, emotional issues take more time and effort to fix. Sometimes it feels like the society I’m living in doesn’t want to deal with emotions. It can be hard to express an emotion when your instinct is to push it down, turn it off and ignore so it doesn’t bother you anymore. I have made a promise to myself to try my best to understand and express my uncomfortable emotions instead of let them sit.

Recognize that your emotional pain is important.

Why is it so easy to express a physical discomfort and not an emotional one? I have no hesitation to tell a friend I have a headache, and I also get a barrage of questions. “Did you take advil? Did you drink enough water? Did you get enough sleep?” But sometimes it can be so hard to get the words out “I feel sad” or “I feel angry.” We want to make every problem a physical issue so it’s easy to talk about and easy to cure. But the next time someone says “I dunno, I feel a little weird…” I want to take the time to ask them as as many questions as I would if they expressed a physical discomfort. That shows value for each other’s emotional well-being.

Discover what you need and ask for it.

You would think getting to the root of a feeling would be a natural, easy conversation. However, feelings are so complex that it is one of the hardest thing to do in any relationship – partner, friend or family member. Something I have recently found about myself is that in order to open up about something I’m anxious about, I need someone to ask me questions about why I’m feeling the way I feel. And while it was hard to tell my boyfriend that I needed that, the payoff was more than worth it. A wave of relief washed over me after we talked and it made me that much more confident in our relationship. Everyone needs something different. Maybe you need five solid minutes to talk. Or some time to think before you talk. Discover what you need and ask for it!

Be an active listener.

As much as I need the people in my life to listen to me, I want to be an active listener too. There is a difference between feeling like someone has just listened to you verses actually hearing you. Asking questions and inquiring a little deeper can make such a difference in the way someone feels at the end of a conversation. Sometimes just taking the time to inquire can make someones day a whole lot brighter.

How Growing Up Silent Made Me Search for My Voice

by an anonymous female healthcare professional

Being an immigrant from South Asia with very traditional and conservative parents meant that we weren’t aware of all of the rights and resources available to us in the U.S.  It also meant that I wasn’t allowed to access certain information or services because my parents felt that they didn’t align with their values.  My parents strongly believe in abstinence-only until marriage and felt that any information or discussion around reproductive health would encourage sexual behavior.  In South Asia, information about sexual health was not shared with young people and most of the time it wasn’t shared with adults either.  It’s taboo (which means it’s viewed as terrible and wrong) and my family felt strongly about reinforcing that taboo and continuing the tradition of silence.

So, instead of talking to anyone about my confusion around puberty and reproductive health, I stayed confused and started becoming uncomfortable and afraid of my own body.  I didn’t understand how my body was changing and I definitely didn’t understand my emotions.  I did, however, learn that questions and feelings don’t just disappear because you don’t talk about them.  Without access to medically accurate information, you would still absorb other information, but it wouldn’t be information you could really trust.

Knowledge = Power

For me, the summer I spent preparing to go to college was one of the most enlightening and eye-opening times of my life.  It meant I was going to be on my own, so I had to prepare to make some big decisions about my healthcare and my body without necessarily following the same rules my parents taught me.  I felt more like an adult, free to do what I wanted, but I knew that also meant more responsibility.

Benefits of Campus Health Centers:

When I visited my university, I saw signs everywhere with tips on how to keep yourself safe, locations of campus security and emergency phones, and information about the student health center.  Student health centers at universities are really helpful because you can have your own personal doctor and access healthcare by yourself.  It’s also completely private.  I thought that everyone just continued to go through their family’s healthcare provider and health insurance until you were able to get your own insurance, but at a university, you can use the health center as a student without a family insurance plan.

Your rights, whether or not you’re a student:

You have a lot of rights even if you are not a student, but if you’re on a family insurance plan you may not have complete privacy.  But no matter what, you have rights over your body that have nothing to do with anyone else, including your parents. *Note: These are the rights of youth in the state of Illinois. Please check out the rights in others states on Sex, Etc.

If you are at least 12 years old, you have the right to:

  • be tested for STI’s without parental consent, but be aware that the doctor can still notify your parents and share your test results
  • see a counselor without parental consent or notification for up to 5 sessions, but you will need parental consent to continue beyond the 5 sessions

Healthcare providers may provide birth control services and information to minors (anyone under the age of 18) without the consent of parents or guardians if:

  • they are pregnant, married, or a parent,
  • they are referred for birth control services by a physician, clergyman, or planned parenthood agency
  • or if a serious health hazard would be created by the failure to provide such services.  Source: 325 ILCS 10/Birth Control Services to Minors Act

Just recently the Obama administration agreed to let the Plan B One-Step brand of emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter without age restrictions.  But, it will take a little time before it will be sold on drugstore shelves with these new rules.

“Consent to perform a medical or surgical procedure may be given by minors who are married, pregnant, or parents. Such minors are deemed to have the same rights (including the right to confidentiality) as people 18 years of age and older.”  This includes abortion.  Source: 410 ILCS 210/Consent by Minors to Medical Procedure Act

You can find a youth-friendly health clinic for many different services right here, at the Sex Ed Loop!  Just click here.

Choose Your Values at Any Age

In trying to figure out what my values were, I had to gather as much information as possible to make educated decisions.  I had some exploring to do on my own and a huge part of that exploration and self-discovery involved health; anything and everything related to my body and my brain, how they work, how they are affected by my environment and my behaviors, and how to take care of myself overall.

Why Schedule an Appointment?

How could I really know who I was and how I could participate in the world without knowing anything about my body and my brain?  So, I called the health center and made my first appointment.  I went in with questions about nutrition, relieving stress and anxiety, and managing my severe PMS, which I learned was actually PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  I left with information on all of these questions plus more.  Like me, by scheduling a doctor’s appointment you can learn:

  • How your body works
  • What you can do to take care of it best
  • That you have control over your health
  • You have rights to autonomy (making decisions about your own body and life)
  • You have rights to confidentiality and choice even if your parents or other people disagree or disapprove
  • Information about your health is extremely empowering, but only if it’s accurate.

As time passed I faced new challenges, but I always knew where I could begin finding a solution… It always starts with asking questions.

Poll: Your Favorite Social Media

The Gang Choice: The Absence of Male Figures

by Lazerrick Franklin Jr., 16 years old

Have you ever wondered why teens join gangs? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but I believe a major reason is the absence of a male figure. A lot of times people think that joining a gang is always a bad choice that someone makes, but in real life sometimes it feels like the safest, most supportive option. Imagine being a minority struggling for food and shelter, uneducated with low income and no one to get assistance from. You would be frustrated right?

Usually in these types of situations teens tend to look for support from a male. Although a mother’s assistance is also needed, sometimes a male is an important foundation to show power and authority. Unfortunately, many young adults do not have their fathers or other positive male figures in their life to look up to. This causes them look to the streets to replace the essence they are prohibited from.

Being in a gang has more negative outcomes than positives. It can lead to jail time, difficulty to acquiring a profession, and even death. So why do male teens in particular continue to join up? They are passionate to feel the love that they are entitled to, which is the dependability of a man. Forget the money and all the other problems that are going on in the world. Everybody wants to experience these 4 things: acceptance, support, love and dependability. And a male’s presence can provide all of that. But when it isn’t there people tend to look somewhere else to get it. And in Chicago and other cities, joining a gang is just one popular way of getting those things.

I’m not saying that joining a gang is a good decision, but everyone needs respect and understanding. It’s about time teen males start getting that. It’s the first step towards better conversations between youth and adults about things like sex, safety, responsibility, and being a man.

Learn more about masculinity  through the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health’s Papas Day photo campaign.

Read a study about the “school-to-prison” pipeline on Think Progress.

Transgender Parenting: Pride, Fatherhood, and Some Tough Decisions

A Sex-Ed Loop Column

by Riley, a trans man and educator living in Chicago

Papa's Day at ICAH June 18 2013As many of you may know, June is both LGBT pride month and the season of Father’s Day. Both of these holidays got me thinking about my own relationship to fatherhood.

As a young female person, I heard lots of messages about how I was going to love being a mother, but as a trans person, I didn’t really connect with the idea of motherhood and it seemed like something that happened to other people. Growing older and coming out as a lesbian and, later, queer, parenting became a thing that clearly separated “the queers” from “the straights” – and to some extent, that mindset continues in some queer circles with folks referring to heterosexual parents as “breeders” and other horrible names.

These days, I find myself reminding people that the sexual freedom and liberation that I believe in includes the freedom to choose monogamy or parenting without shame or stigma.

After a great deal of thought, I’ve also realized that my disconnection from parenting stemmed from not connecting with being a mother. Once the door to fatherhood opened to me, I found it more possible to entertain the thought of being a parent.

Becoming a parent as a trans person is definitely more complicated than the usual heterosexual variety. My wife and I had to have heavy duty conversations about what mattered to each of us in terms of a sperm donor, and I had to face myself with some deep questions: Does it matter to me that my kid looks like me? Are looks or personality more important? Would I be okay with a friend donor?

The answers to these questions change frequently depending on my mood. Ordinarily, I don’t care if my kid looks like me because let’s be honest, I’m not “bringing anything physically to the party” (as I like to say) but then again, looking alike might make social aspects easier in the long run. In terms of a friend donor, we looked up and down our Facebook friends lists (over 600 people) and eliminated every one: not close enough to us socially, *too* close to us socially, medical conditions that multiply my wife’s existing ones, etc. so we’ve surmised that we’ll be going through a sperm bank.

As it stands, my wife’s top pick from the sperm bank is a “forester who just really likes trees and also knows how to juggle.” My top pick thus far is a guy who talks about his social justice work and his love of the didgeridoo on his application.

By far, the heaviest conversations are the ones I have with myself. Those mostly involve grief about not being able to do it the usual way – the way that by comparison seems effortless – and that thought pattern is a dark route filled with internalized transphobia so I try not to go there too frequently. I also wonder aloud the big questions:  Will having a trans dad make my kid’s life harder? Will I disclose my trans status to my kid? Is it relevant or should my kid just know me as a father? If I do disclose it, what’s that conversation going to be like? Will my kid actually connect and see me as a father?  What sort of father do I want to be?

I recently participated in ICAH’s Papa’s Day event and found good reminders to what I ultimately believe:

  1. Fatherhood is a choice.
  2. Its terms are what I and my kid(s) choose.
  3. Fathers can come in many packages, including trans ones.
  4. Kids can look like their fathers (or not) and still be just as loved.
  5. And if having a trans dad occasionally makes my kid’s life harder, I think I’ll balance it out by teaching them early to love and respect everybody without exception. The world could use more of that.


6 Tips for Being a Healthy Male

by Alex, age 21

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Did you know that your overall health directly impacts your sexual health? June is National Men’s Health Month, the first official month of summer, and a great time to show pride for your body by taking care of it. Here are six things you can do to manage testosterone levels, prevent infertility, prevent cancer in areas such as the testicles, stay mentally & physically energized, and improve overall health.

Your physical health is directly related to your sexual health through testosterone levels. Testosterone is a key hormone that’s responsible for strong muscles, a deep voice, and the development of sexual organs and bones. It helps your body maintain of sperm count and quality in case you want to have kids one day. Testosterone isn’t only about sexual health. It has other benefits too! Healthy testosterone levels can prevent depression, fat storage, poor memory, lack of concentration, and other issues.

1. Exercise & lifting can help you manage testosterone levels.

Exercising has so many great side effects – it would be almost impossible to list them all. A combination of fast-paced activities that get your heart beating fast and make you out of breath along with activities that improve your muscles and make you sore can do a lot for your sexual health, mental health, and general well being. Exercise will help prevent obesity, help you look and feel good, prevent future diseases, and increase testosterone. Lifting weights is also helps your testosterone levels. Certain lifts like squats, bench press, and deadlifts actually increase testosterone immediately afterwards.

2. Eating healthy keeps your energy & body strong.

Nowadays much of the food that is available to us is processed and has a lot of high fructose corn syrup—an ingredient directly linked with the rise of obesity. Obesity can cause testosterone levels to lower significantly (making your sperm count lower and of poorer quality), erectile dysfunction (not being able to keep your penis erect), infertility, an enlarged prostate (which leads to a high risk for prostate cancer), diabetes, depression, heart attack, stroke, and even death.

Eating foods that haven’t been processed to much means that your body gets a lot more nourishment, fuel, and healing. Foods with “complex carbohydrates” (oats, barley, wild/brown rice, whole grains, vegetables, beans, low fat yogurt, skim milk) are better than “simple carbohydrates” (white sugar, chocolate, candy, milk, sugary fruits, cake, cereals, pop, biscuits, and more!). Complex carbohydrates allow your body to break down food slower and will give you more nutrition. But it isn’t just about calories… Different kinds of sugars in food (even fructose, the main sugar in most fruits, and lactose, the main sugar in milk) are known to cause obesity and weight gain.

Also remember to drink plenty of water. Water helps the chemical processes in the body work better because of the fluidity it provides, especially since our bodies are made up of 70% of water. Your brain needs tons of water to function and think clearly… so if you’re feeling foggy, try drinking a big cup of water.

3. Avoiding drugs & alcohol improves sexual health.

Drug and alcohol use can decrease testosterone production and create even more problems than you think. With low testosterone, you will have a low sperm count and poor quality of sperm, which will lead to problems down the road if you are wanting to start a family. It also can cause loss of muscle mass (you might even get a beer belly!), loss of strength, decrease in blood volume, erectile dysfunction, bad cholesterol, fatigue, lack of concentration, impaired memory, increased feelings of insecurity, low sex drive, and smaller testicles.

4. Sleep healthy for a healthy body.

Many people don’t realize it, but getting enough sleep and a good quality of sleep is important because our bodies have to repair themselves during this time from all the stresses that we experience on a daily basis.

  • You should aim to get between 7 and 8 hours of good sleep per night; oversleeping can have adverse effects as well.
  • Make sure not to drink or eat anything three hours before bed.
  • Sleep with zero light on. Night lights and lights from electronics send signals to the body that can release different hormones at the wrong time of day when you are trying to sleep.
  • Eliminate anything that can disturb your sleep, like cell phone ringers.

When you sleep, testosterone levels are boosted as well as growth hormones. Lack of sleep can cause health problems, elevate your blood alcohol level, hurts your cognitive abilities, affect your ability to lose/maintain weight, and even hurt your sexual health.

5. Don’t let stress rule your life or your body.

Life is stressful—there’s no doubt about it. Too much stress will release cortisol—the hormone that gets released when we are stressed—which can cause your thyroid gland to not work properly. Your thyroid gland makes hormones that control how quick your body uses energy, the speed of your metabolism, and controls sensitivity to other hormones. If it’s not working properly, it can lead to weight gain and a bunch of other problems. An unhealthy thyroid can also lower immunity against diseases, increase abdominal fat, and decrease in muscle. Think of healthy ways to manage the stress in your life, like going on a walk to clear your mind, doing yoga, meditating, laying down in silence for a few minutes to unwind, going on a bike ride, listening to calming music, or another option that can get the stresses of the day released or more manageable. Check back for more info about self-care and managing stress.

6. Get tested, stay safe, and be healthy.

So far, we’ve covered how general health can affect your sexual health. But the opposite is true too – your sexual healthy can positively or negatively impact your overall health. One obvious way to negatively impact your overall health is through Ssexually Transmitted Infections, or STIs, which can be life-changing and, let’s face it, nasty… but they can also be preventable. A lot of STIs do not show any symptoms, which can lead people to believe that they are “clean” when they might not even know for sure. The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Once you’re positive that you’re negative (or once you’ve gotten treatment), you can prevent STIs by practicing safe sex. Not having sex at all is the only 100% sure way to not get an STI, but that doesn’t mean that having sex has to be a bad or negative thing.

In fact, having sex is good for your overall health. It helps you manage stress and gets your heart rate up like any other form of exercise. To make sure that you stay healthy while having sex, you need to play it safe. Use male (or insertive) condoms, female (or receptive) condoms, and dental dams (for oral sex). Other ways to prevent STIs are to engage in no to low risk behaviors, like masturbation, kissing, body contact, sex toys, etc. Also, maintaining healthy relationships in which you can talk about your sexual health and getting tested helps you stay safe.

Your body is your ultimate home, so respect & enjoy it!

Doing these things will increase your testosterone, decrease the chances of getting certain cancers like prostate cancer, keep your hormones balanced, and lead to more happiness and energy. Life can be difficult sometimes, but your body is the one thing that you own and can always take pride in. The way you treat it has a lot to do with the quality of life you experience. It’s your body, and at the end of the day, you have the final word on how you operate it, what you put into it, and what you do with it. Your body is your ultimate home—respect and enjoy it!

SummertimeChi To-Do List for Youth!

by Gracie McGarrigle, Chicago high school student

summertimechi to do list healthy chicago youth teens

I have never had less fun in my life

Want to know how I spent last summer? … Repainting the entire garage.  First, we had to clear everything out of there.  Bikes, old toys, a huge chest that smells like mothballs, a wooden crate, chairs, water guns that haven’t been used in forever… The last time we used the water guns was when my little cousins visited four years ago!  Then, with a big bucket of soapy water, I washed down all the base boards. Next, I grabbed a broom and swept all the muddy water out of the way.  Hours later we had to put everything back into the garage in a very specific order.  The next day I had to sand the walls to get them ready to be painted.  Then came five days of spackling… and finally, painting!  After multiple coats of paint and a week’s worth of work and waiting, it was finished and my summer was practically ruined.

I made a promise to myself that this summer would be different. This summer, I am going to have fun with friends and really enjoy the city! Fortunately, I’m part of a group of about 20 youth leaders who make up the Youth Advisory Council. We run Sex-Ed Loop and we’re going to a bunch of festivals and fairs this summer to get the word out.

We’re letting everyone know that we think Chicago should be #1… just not in Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and unplanned teen pregnancies. We’re providing a summer to do list for young people to help by taking care of their own health first!

  1. Find my local health clinic and get tested! (Click on Find a Clinic at the top of the page.)
  2. Learn about my rights to healthcare in Illinois. (Click Your Rights at the top of the page.)
  3. Read about healthy bodies, minds, and relationships. (Explore more blogs and topics on the right side of the page.)
  4. Follow on Instagram and Twitter @SexEdLoop

You can check off the to-do list here or come see us at one of the events where we’re passing out fliers:

The first event that I’m excited to go to is Pizza Fest—June 15th to 16th!  It’s coming up in a few weeks and will be in Lakeview at Broadway and Montrose.  There will be pizza there—I love pizza—and the name just makes it sound awesome.

The other event I’m excited about is Clark Street Festival—July 20th to 21st.  I don’t really know what it will be like, but it sounds like a good one.  I’ve never been there, and I’m not sure where Roger’s Park is (there’s so many districts…you could wind up living in the middle of a road and voting for two aldermen!).

Italian Festival sounds really fun too—August 22nd to 25th.  I haven’t ever been to Little Italy in Chicago, but I’ve been to the Little Italy in New York and it’s hopping!  The desserts will probably be great.

I hope you enjoy your summer as much as I’m going to!



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