Talking About Sexual Consent
Parents, it’s time to get ready to have THE talk. Given the events of the past year and the rise of the #metoo movement, the talk about sex must now also include discussing sexual consent. The point of opening up this conversation with your young person is to start to honestly explore and ask questions about experiences, uncertainties, and gray areas, so that when they are with potential sexual partners, they can more effectively have the conversation. Of course there are some absolutes when it comes to this topic, like when someone is too intoxicated to speak coherently, than they are too intoxicated to give consent and this is an automatic “NO”. And, when someone says “No” to something having to do with sex, that is the answer. Consider including the following discussion items:
- What they are and are not comfortable doing;
- That it is fine to change your mind about whether you want to do something, and the partner has to respect this;
- Consenting to one kind of sexual activity doesn’t mean you have consented to everything;
- Consenting one time doesn’t mean that you have consented forever;
- Learning to read body language that indicates that someone feels uncomfortable and how to ask partners if they feel uncomfortable;
- How to set boundaries and say “no”;
- Clarify within themselves about what they want to say “yes” to.
We are moving into long overdue new territory with the conversation about sexual consent. This is a conversation that everyone needs to get (un)comfortable having, so that it becomes the norm. This can be vulnerable territory for everyone (parents included), but there is no shame in asking questions, clarifying what is ok and what is not ok, and learning how to have this conversation. Thirty years ago, the conversation was about how not to get pregnant or contract an STD (STI), then it evolved to preparing young women (and men) to keep themselves safe from sexual assault, and now the conversation has evolved into a more nuanced one about shared responsibility and understanding consent and boundaries. And while parents are a key player in initiating this conversation, I recently heard a story about 4 cis-male college roommates who called a house meeting amongst themselves to make sure they all understood what sexual consent was. These young men exemplify this evolution.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
By: Dr. Jan Hittelman
Whether we realize it or not, we are all prejudiced. That’s because our brains are wired to categorize and think in stereotypes based upon our experiences and perceptions. If we have limited experience interacting with individuals who are different than us in some way, we have to base our expectations on other information, like what we see in print and on television. That’s why the portrayal of various groups in the media is so important because it can shape our attitudes and biases. Similarly, we are all vulnerable to “Us and Them” thinking. That’s why we have gridlock in Washington, D.C. and ongoing international clashes throughout the world. Regardless of our ethnic, racial, or political views, most of us would agree that mutual understanding, respect, and world peace are important and admirable goals.
While Boulder is often viewed as a progressive, liberal bastion, the truth is that we have a long way to go in terms of our own understanding, respect, and perceptions of people who are different than us. Just ask a member of any minority group in our community about how they feel perceived by others when walking down the street or going into a store. Think about how most adult Caucasians might feel walking down an alley at night and coming upon a group African American teens. While we may not like to admit it to ourselves, all of us our vulnerable to prejudice and “Us and Them” thinking.
The solution starts with acknowledgement of the problem. Once we are aware of our prejudices we can change them by learning more truths about others to replace stereotypes, which are based on limited, distorted information. The best thing you can do for your children is to seek out diverse social opportunities for them so that they can have real experiences with folks that are different from them. Let’s shift from distrust, based on lack of knowledge and experience, to inclusion and acceptance. That way we all benefit.
8 Common Anxiety Symptoms and a Few Ways to Begin to Cool Off
By Rachael Bonaiuto, LPC
When you have anxiety, it’s easy to feel like others don’t understand what you’re going through. Anxiety itself can make you feel as though you’re suffering from symptoms, worries and concerns that are not only pronounced – they also feel inherent. Despite how personal this anxiety is to you, the truth is that anxiety is surprisingly common. I witness anxiety symptoms in most people I encounter on a daily basis – clients, students, friends, and family – in the store, at the bank, even at a red light. Anxiety is uncomfortable at best, and can become paralyzing and defeating. And it is common…. so incredibly common.
You are at home, preparing to go to a dinner party with work colleagues. You don’t want to go, you dread it, you think of reasons not to go, fantasize about your favorite elastic-waisted pants and the flavor ice cream that would accompany the movie night you’d rather have. You finally surrender to going, but begin to notice tightness in your chest. As you stare, hot and bothered, at your closet of ‘not quite right’ clothes, your neck begins to hurt and the pain causes even more fear. You snap at your partner, who gently reminds you that you need to get going. You ignore the texts from co-workers asking you if you’ve left your house yet. You can barely breath and you are frozen. You are experiencing anxiety and it is profoundly challenging.
So, what are some common symptoms of anxiety? Below are eight typical symptoms of anxiety and a few ways to manage this persistent condition.
- You feel constantly worried, tense and on edge
- You are plagued by fears that you know are irrational but just can’t shake
- You avoid situations/activities because they cause you nervousness & stress
- You have difficulty thinking, speaking, and following conversations
- You experience pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, soreness, or immobility
- Your body temperature increases or decreases without external reason
- You feel chest tremors, pounding heart, and/or labored breathing
- You don’t feel like yourself, detached from loved ones, emotionally numb
Many common anxiety symptoms show up in your body. You may first experience a knot in your stomach, and then you realize you are totally freaked out about an upcoming presentation. You feel a rapid heartbeat and tightness in your chest and later notice that you are completely anxious to drive in snowy weather. Your jaw is clenched and your breath is constricted just before you unleash the pent up worry and resulting irritability toward your child. If you can begin to notice the signals from your body that suggest you are anxious, you may find opportunity to take pause, check in, and navigate what you need in the moment.
Here are a few body-oriented tips for how to deal with anxiety:
- Find pause through breath. Inhale. Exhale. Feel your belly rise and fall. Notice the air come in through your nostrils and exit out your lips.
- Find pause through your senses. Pause to notice what you see. What do you hear and smell? Can you feel your clothes against your body? Experience your feet in your shoes, on the floor. Can you taste the salt on your lips or the flavor from your most recent meal?
- Find pause through movement. Go for a walk. Put on your favorite song and dance. Shake it out. Stretch your arms wide. Spread your legs and feel your feet rooted into the earth. Put your hands on your heart or give yourself a massage.
2. Check In:
- Notice what is happening with your breath, senses, movements
- Notice, without judgment, what thoughts and feelings you have
- Simply observe what is happening in your inner landscape
- Scan your body for tension, tightness, fear, irritability, disorientation
3. Take care:
- Ask yourself what you need? Remind yourself (or have someone else remind you) that it is okay to have needs.
- If you are having trouble accessing what you need, take another pause, a longer pause, lie on the earth and feel it beneath you.
- If you are in need of support, ask for help – from a friend, a loved one or a professional.
Anxiety can negatively impact your quality of life – the way you show up for others and for yourself. Knowing the common symptoms of anxiety can help you recognize when you or a loved one is experiencing unease. When you realize you feel anxious, it can be so valuable to pause, check in and take care of yourself in the moment. Building a deeper understanding of the symptoms and an awareness of what is happening in your body can provide access to your available resources through breath, sensation and movement. When you have access to your internal resources, you can also appreciate more deeply when you need additional support and when you are able to navigate your internal terrain on your own. This self-awareness provides empowerment, freedom and a deeper sense of compassion for self and other. Most importantly, if you are experiencing significant anxiety, seek professional help. Psychotherapy can be very effective in providing relief from the debilitating symptoms of anxiety.
By Jan Hittelman
Every two years, the Boulder Valley School District participates in the countywide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provide reliable local data on risk behaviors among our high school students. A variety of risk factors are considered, ranging from wearing bicycle helmets to suicidal behavior. Within the population of high school students assessed, there are always certain subgroups that are at greater risk. One such group is teens that identify themselves as having a GLBQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning) sexual orientation. In the most recent 2011 data, this unfortunate trend continues to be observed. Here are some examples summarized in the chart below:
|Harassed on school property
|Felt sad or hopeless
|Seriously considered attempting suicide
You can download all of the local YRBS results by going to: http://www.bouldercounty.org/family/youth/pages/yrbsresultslinks.aspx
Do You Want To Feel More Confident About Your Sexuality, Identity And Choices?
Are you gay, bisexual, transgender or wonder if you might be? Do you worry about being rejected by friends or family or have you experienced actual rejection because of your sexual orientation? Are you having a hard time accepting yourself or has your sexual identity created unease in relationships? Are you confused about who you are, how you want to be in the world and how your sexuality impacts the way you relate with others? Have you been feeling anxious, frustrated or doubting yourself and your decisions? Do you wish you could really love and accept yourself just as you are and that others could, too?
Many LGBTQ Young Adults Struggle With Identity and Relationship Issues
Exploring sexuality is a very common part of the young adult experience. And, being LGBTQ can add another level of complexity to this personal exploration. It’s common for LGBTQ young adults to wonder where they fit on the sexual continuum, experience discomfort talking about their sexual orientation with certain friends or family members and grapple with self-acceptance. During the oftentimes challenging transition from teenager to adult, it can be so helpful to have a strong support system and a firm grasp on who you are sexually. But not everyone has the needed support or knows themselves and what they want yet. So, while some LGBTQ young adults seem to experience confidence about their sexual orientation, others may need a little help to work through the complex issues that being LGBTQ can create.
Therapy Can Help You Accept and Celebrate Your Identity and Choices
As a young adult, it can be so helpful to have a therapist – someone who doesn’t judge, offers guidance, can provide a sounding board and really accepts you for who you are. And, if you’re struggling with the transition from teen to adult, trying to figure out who you are sexually, how to communicate your choices to the people in your life, have a weak support system, and/or are grappling with self esteem issues, therapy can provide so much help and relief. Therapy is a place where you can totally be yourself and feel accepted and supported.
Your BPS therapist can help you figure out who you are (or want to be) in the world. Together, you and your therapist can discuss what you need to feel happy and what choices you can make to feel more confident and empowered. These choices can include when and how to come out, how you want to be and feel in relationships, and what kinds of friends and activities promote wellbeing.
Your therapist can also help you recognize negative thoughts and learn how to replace them with healthier ones. You can work on developing better self-awareness and self-confidence. You can develop stress reduction, calming and breathing techniques, and learn how to feel more centered and mindful. Learning these valuable skills and developing increased self-awareness, confidence, and resiliency can help you handle negativity or uncertainty in healthier ways. You can also begin accepting and celebrating yourself for the unique and beautiful person you are.
But, you still may have questions or concerns…
I think that therapy could help, but I’m concerned about costs.
This is your life and wellbeing. Addressing your LGBTQ issues now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from continuing into adulthood. The investment in your emotional health may not only address the related identity, relationship, and self-esteem issues, but also alleviate future struggles and keep potential unhealthy coping patterns and behaviors from being entrenched. Addressing these identity and social issues in therapy now can help you feel better about yourself and strengthen your ability to develop lasting, healthy relationships now and throughout life.
Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with young adult LGBTQ issues or who they couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a referral assessment and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced to work with LGBTQ young adults and whose personality is a good match for yours. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to yourself may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine feeling and functioning better on a regular basis – now and in the long-term – and ask yourself what that’s worth.
If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a resource to help offset cost.
I don’t think that my social or family problems can be fixed in therapy. I’m gay and I’m going be gay. Therapy can’t “fix” or change that.
The purpose of therapy is not to “fix” or change your sexual preference or your identity. Rather, what therapy can do is to help you work on self-acceptance, celebrating your choices, and creating healthy and supportive relationships. Therapy is a safe and nonjudgmental place to explore who you are and how you want to be in the world. Your BPS therapist understands the young adult experience and LGBTQ issues, and can offer you support and guidance as you embark upon your important self-exploration and self-acceptance personal work.
I’m feeling really bad, totally overwhelmed and seriously confused about who I am. I’d have no idea where to start or what to say to a therapist.
It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and confused. And, therapy is a really good place to start gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you want your life and relationships to look and feel like, even if you don’t know how to articulate that right now. Many clients come in not knowing why they feel so bad, but know that they want to feel better – and that’s where a therapist can be so helpful. Your BPS therapist has the tools, skills, and experience to help you identify the root causes of your unease. Your therapist can also help you “unpack” and explore your overwhelming and intense feelings. In time, with the right therapist, approach, and willingness on your part, you can feel better, less overwhelmed, and gain a better understanding and appreciation of who you are.
We encourage you to schedule a referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your specific issues are and ensure a good match between you a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and with a therapist who has expertise working with young adults on LGBTQ issues.