Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lelo Wins the Red Dot

Swedish sex toy company Lelo has won the prestigious Red Dot award for product design for their toy Tiani. Red Dot is a European design award that is given out for all kinds of products that have demonstrated innovation. Apple has won a ton of them. Lelo is not the first sex toy manufacturer to win a Red Dot. Fun Factory has won several. I think it's very cool that they include sex toys in the products that they consider for the awards. I don't think that would happen in North America. Here, the sex toys have their own awards but I doubt they would ever be considered for mainstream design honors.

So it's very cool that Lelo has won a design award but I do think it's odd that they won it for this toy. I agree that the Tiani is a pretty amazing toy This is the newest of Lelo's products and it is the first to have the motion sensing wireless remote control. It's like a Nintendo Wii but the game is much more fun! It's quite an advance in they way sex toys are used. Ironic though that they decided to enter Tiani into the competition instead of one of the other two toys in the line. Both of those toys also employ the motion sensing technology like Tiani does. But neither of those two toys is the subject of global litigation. The Tiani looks a lot like a little We Vibe and because of that, the people who make the We Vibe, Standard Innovation, are suing them. Standard Innovation holds design and use patents in a number of regions which protect both the design of We Vibe (the way that it looks) and the use (a toy that is both internal and external and can be used during sex). Unlike most sex toy companies, We Vibe actually registered the patent on the toy and they have now launched major legal action against Lelo over Tiani. I wonder how Standard Innovation feels about Lelo getting the Red Dot?

Monday, March 19, 2012

You Can't Buy a Vibrator in Alabama, but Apparently You Can Still Get Contraception

Here is yet another story that lends the lie to the b.s. common wisdom about teens and sex. Particularly these gems:

- teenagers are more promiscuous than they ever have been before
- teenage pregnancy is out of control
- teenagers don't have the sense to use condoms - they think nothing bad will ever happen to them
- abstinence-only education is the best way to keep teenagers from having sex
- parents don't want sex education in the schools

Study after study is proving that none of these things are true. This one from Alabama shows that the teenage pregnancy rate in that state has dropped from a high of over 100 per thousand teenage girls getting pregnant in the early 90's (that's more than 10%, how scary is that?) to less than 68 in 2008. So no, the teenage pregnancy rate there is not increasing, it has dropped dramatically. The study cites the majority of that drop, about 75% of it, owing to increased use of birth control and increased use of multiple methods of birth control. 25% of it is considered to be because of drops in the numbers of teenagers who are having sex. So yes, teenagers can learn to use birth control and they are doing it and no, the numbers of them having sex is not increasing.

Another telling stat that was tracked in this story is the attitudes of parents about sex education. In 2010, 89.3% of parents surveyed in Alabama supported evidence-based sex education in schools. This is supposed to be one of the most conservative states in the union. Where are all of these 'majority' of parents who don't want their kids to learn about sex in school?

This information is in direct opposition to what they're doing in Wisconsin and Utah. Sure, this is Alabama, but can it be all that different?

Here's the link to the story in the Birmingham news:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sex Toys Will Keep Prisoners from Turning Gay. Really?

A senator in Zimbabwe is lobbying for prisons in the country to provide sex toys and a private place to use them. Yay! She says that sex is a biological need that must be met. 'We can’t say we don’t have money to feed and clothe prisoners because people can stay without food, but they want their sexual desires to be satisfied whether you like it or not.' says senator Sithembile Mlotshwa. Yay! I completely agree. I'm not sure providing sex toys is the answer but I agree with the reasoning for it. At least in part.

After making that statement, Senator Mlotshwa goes on to say that providing sex toys will keep prisoners from becoming gay and participating in gay sex. She thinks that homosexual activity is immoral and she want to stop it from happening in prisons.

I think there is actually an easier and more cost effective way to keep prisoners from participating in gay sex. Stop putting people in jail just because they are gay. They do that in Zimbabwe. That might be why they have so much gay sex in their prisons. Stands to reason doesn't it?

They could actually kill two birds with one stone. They could reduce the amount of gay sex in the prisons and cut costs to their prison system by not putting people in jail just for kissing their lover in public. I'm all for sex toys, Senator, but I do think this is a better solution for everyone involved.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Primer on Plan B

Here is the my VUE column that ran last week. The on-line version doesn't seem to be available so I'm reposting it here.

I was cruising the family planning aisle at my local Shopper’s the other day and I noticed something I’d never seen before. Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill was right there next to the condoms and lube. I know that Plan B has been available in drugstores in Alberta for some time but this was the first time I had actually noticed it on the shelf. It’s much easier to get a hold of than most people think.

We are exposed to a lot of contradictory information about emergency contraception. There are vocal opponents of it who give a misleading picture of what is actually is. We also get a lot of news from the United States where the rules around and access to contraception are quite different than in Canada. It's easy to get confused about how it all works at home. I went digging to find out the truth about Plan B in Alberta and here's what I found.

First of all, Plan B is an emergency contraception pill. If it is taken within 72 hours after sex it greatly reduces the chance of a pregnancy. It acts by preventing ovulation, or by preventing fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg if ovulation already happened. It does not cause abortions. RU-486 is the pill that causes abortion. RU-486 is only available through a physician must be administered under a doctor's care. Plan B is something entirely different. It can be taken alone at home and has very few side effects.
Plan B was in the news in December because the US Secretary of Health and Human Services overruled the FDA’s recommendation to make Plan B available to any woman of any age without a prescription. In the United States, you have to be 17 or older to get Plan B over the counter. If you are younger, you need a doctor’s prescription. This is not the case here. In 2008, Canada became the fifth country in the world to approve over the counter status for Plan B - meaning you can get it without a prescription and there is no consultation with a pharmacist required. It's available this way in every province except Saskatchewan, where it is kept behind the counter, and Quebec, where a prescription is required.

I have a friend who found herself in need of Plan B this summer. In spite of her fairly extensive knowledge of birth control, she realized, when the need suddenly arose, that she didn't know anything about emergency contraception. She went to the nearest pharmacy and asked for it. The pharmacist got it for her and explained how to use it and that was it. She was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get.

Plan B costs about $40 at a drugstore. In Edmonton, you can get it for a reduced cost at the Birth Control Centre and the STI Clinic. At the STI clinic, the cost is $10. They will even waive the cost in rare cases for someone that is completely unable to pay. The STI clinic is a busy place though and they don't take appointments so you need to get there early in the morning to get the best chance of getting in.

It's odd to me that there is still such an aura of secrecy and controversy around Plan B. Sometimes condoms break or slip off and it's all too easy to forget to take a birth control pill. Plan B gives women who do use contraception an effective backup when their methods fail. It offers a viable option for women in abusive relationships who may not have control over their birth control choices and for women who have been sexually assaulted. Far from being a method for the irresponsible, as I so often hear, it seems to me that Plan B is a very responsible choice. Fortunately, it is one that Albertan women are able to make for themselves.

Why Gary Trudeau is My Hero

I love the comic Doonesbury. I have read it since I was a young adult and actually learned a lot of what I know about American current events and polictics from it. It was an easy entry for me - I would read the strip and then go find out about the stuff that was in the comic.I share Trudeau's values on most things and I really enjoy his mastery of satire. I also have always appreciated the female characters in the strip - almost as numerous as the males (which is extremely rare) - they are complete characters with minds of their own and often high-powered and influential jobs.

Now, I think I love Gary Trudeau even more. This week, the strip features a young woman in Texas who wants to have an abortion. The strip is dark and critical and highly provactive. Today's edition shows her arriving at a clinic for the sonogram. She is told to sit in the shaming room while she waits. The guardian describes this section of a strip that will run later in the week.

"Later, she says she does not want an intrusive vaginal examination but is told by a nurse: "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand." The nurse adds: "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape." "

Many papers are refusing to run the strip and several have said they will run it but on their editorial page, not on the comics page. When I first read what was really in the strips, I thought perhaps the papers were justified. It's rough stuff, to be sure and not something you expect to see on a comics page. But as I thought more about it, I started to get just a little pissed off.

Doonesbury has always been provocative. Trudeau flat out calls out stupidity, corruption and injustice in his strip all the time. He is no stranger to controversy. He ran a strip about the search for Reagan's brain during the Iran- contra hearings when Reagan repeatedly tried to b.s. his way through it saying he couldn't remember key facts. He also exposed the fact that not only did Dan Quayle have a DEA file (drug enforcement administration) but the Bush campaign and administration actively covered up that fact and kept an individual in jail without charge in order to keep him from talking to the press about it. These things were in the comic strip! And although there was controversy about them, I don't recall any of the papers refusing to run the strips. What's different this time? Is this the one thing he's not allowed to touch? Why?

The other thing that boils my potatoes about this is the fact that the harshness of the strip is completely warranted. He is right. I think this is why a lot of papers don't want to run the strip. Trudeau said, in a comment about this issue, that the law forcing women in Texas to submit to an unnecessary vaginal exam fits the legal definition of rape. He's right. The sonogram is not necessary in order to provide an abortion. There are reliable ways to date a pregnancy other than ultrasound. There is no reason why a woman should ever have to have an ultrasound in order to get any other health service. This is an invasive procedure. Forcing her to do it is actually a sexual assault. So are Women just supposed to sit back and accept the fact that they must be violated in order to receive abortion services? It's a huge injustice and a violation of human rights that the Texan governor tried to soft sell by talking about health and the needs of mom and baby. Trudeau is right and it makes people very uncomfortable.

He openly acknowledges that it will upset people and that is the reason he did it. He accepts that there will be a ton of criticism and is ready for it. He also prepared a set of alternative strips for papers that don't want to run this series. While it might seem like that's backing down, I do respect him for doing it. He knows that it will be much too much for some papers and is offering them an out. To me that's not backing down. Backing down would be to not have written the stris at all. The original strips will run in daily on

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cory Silverberg Provides an Updated Response to the Age Old Question 'Where do Babies Come From?'

We've all seen those books that help parents explain where babies come from. Some of them, like the classic, 'Where did I come from?', are even pretty good. But times have changed. Sure, it still takes a sperm and an egg to make a baby, but the story of how that sperm and egg come to meet can be more complex than those classic books let on. Do these books really explain enough for kids who may be coming from less traditional situations? What about kids who were adopted? What about kids whose parents hired a surrogate to carry them? What about kids who were conceived by IVF? What about kids of transgendered parents or parents who don't identify with traditional genders? There are many ways for sperm and egg to meet and there are many types of parents. Cory Silverberg, well-known sex educator, thought it was time for a book that included all of those many ways.

Cory's book 'What Makes a Baby' is a book for kids from preschool to 8 years old that explains that mysteries of where babies come from without referencing gender or parent roles. It's not necessarily Mommy and Daddy that make a baby and it's not necessarily Mommy and Daddy who take care of the baby and a parents to the baby. This books acknowledges that and provides a resources for both parents and children who are left out of all the other 'Where Do Babies Come From' resources.

Cory is currently running a kickstarter campaign to help raise money to publish the book. There has been so much interest in the project that there has already been enough funds raised to publish. However, Cory is hoping to be able to print 2000 copies of the book and they need a little more support to accomplish that goal. If you pledge $30 or more, you get a copy of the book. If you don't want to get it through the kickstarter campaign, the book is set to be published in June.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy International Women's Day - Unless You Live in Utah

Well happy International Women's Day to you, Utah! So great to hear this IWD morning that the State of Utah has just voted to ban comprehensive sex education. They have voted - 19 to 10 (not even small margins here folks) - to pass a bill that would make it illegal to teach anything in public schools except abstinence only sex ed. Lovely little features of this newly passed bill include:
- removing the choice of the individual school to teach abstinence based sex ed (which advocates abstinence as the best choice but acknowledges other choices and teaches about them)
- removing the choice of the parent to opt their children into comprehensive sex ed by removing comprehensive sex ed completely
- making it illegal (illegal, folks, I'm not kidding) for teachers to talk about contraception AT ALL
- removing all discussion of homosexuality from the curriculum and barring teachers from talking about it EVEN IF A STUDENT ASKS

Those who voted for this utterly insane piece of legislation say they did so because they believe that it's the parents' job to teach kids about sex, not the teachers. What they are disregarding here is the rights of parents who do believe that it's a schools job to teach about sex ed. If you believe that it's not, why not home school your kid or pull them out of sex ed (which the existing rules allow them to do)? Why make it unavailable to every child?

They also say that they don't want teachers talking to kids about sex because these are people they don't know and they have no idea what they're going to teach them. WHAT? You know exactly what they are going to teach because there is an approved curriculum that tells them what to teach. A teacher cannot tell his students in sex ed. that bestiality is normal and healthy because that it not on the curriculum. Just as a teacher cannot tell his students in social studies class that Hitler was misunderstood and that the holocaust has been greatly exaggerated.

All of these aguments are just a front to try to justify a completely inexcusable position. These people believe that not teaching kids about sex will prevent them from doing it. They also want to impose their narrow (and very much minority) values about sexuality on other people.

The fact is that abstinence only sex education does not work. We know that without a shadow of a doubt. Study after study has shown that the most effective way to lower the age at which teenagers start having sex, to lower the rate of unintended teen pregnancy, and to lower the rates of STI's among teenagers is to offer comprehensive sex education that includes information on birth control and STI prevention. This is now an indisputable fact. The insistence of these people that sex ed is innappropriate is a moral belief, not one based in any sort of evidence-based research. This bill will harm their children and everyone else's and yet they insist on holding to their moral standards regardless of the effect.

The bill is not yet law. It must be signed by the governor. I don't know anything about the governor of Utah and I have no idea if he will sign it. We can only hope not.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Abbotsford is Getting it On Again

In an unsurprising turn of events, CanWest announced yesterday that the Abbotsford Taboo show is back on. The dates have changed and CanWest, in a rather carefully worded statement, says that they are working on the liquor license issue and are confident it can be resolved.

They say that there was an overwhelming display of support for the show after they announced the cancellation in February, proving that the larger community wants the show there.

I think it's great that the show is back on but I am just a bit critical of CanWest's handling of it. The notice to potential exhibitors about the show very boldly states that the cancellation has given the show a ton of publicity. "The buzz is beyond awesome and this is going to be our most publicized show ever." They say.

Look CanWest, I love you, but that kind of language really makes a cynical person like me wonder if you didn't cook all of this up yourself to boost sales. I know, you would never do that, but maybe you should tone it down a bit and not give those who oppose Taboo anymore grist for their gripe mills.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is That a Lorax in your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Wow, could there be any more coverage of Zac Efron and his little condom slip? In case you didn't hear about this - and I've heard about it so I can't imagine how anyone who has a computer or a TV hasn't heard about it - Zac Efron accidently dropped a condom on the red carpet at the Premier of the movie the Lorax.

He was pulling his hand out of his pocket to shake hands with someone and something fell out of his pocket. He quickly reached down to pick it up and put it away. It was a split-second incident that was really nothing but it was caught on film and has been replayed over and over and over - even in slow motion on some sites. Today there was a clip of him on MSNBC 'explaining himself'.

This is an example of two things about this celebrity 'news' culture that drive me nuts. First of all, this is not some crazy aberrant behavior. Many, and I hope most, guys his age use condoms and carry them around with them. This silly focus on this incident makes it seem like he's done something quite remarkable or unacceptable when it's totally normal behavior.

Second, filming and taking pictures of everything and then replaying them over and over on every possible tv channel and internet site turns things from small incidents into big big deals. This was a quick little slip that could happen to anyone and is mildly embarassing, particularly at a premiere for a children's movie. But now this small little slip has been seen by millions of people and poor Zac has to go on TV and talk about it when he's there to work.

To his credit, he handled it well, saying that he thought it was a good thing for people to see - a good message that he has condoms in his pockets. I think it's a great thing. Look all you girls who swoon over Zac Efron, he practices safer sex! Cool guys use condoms!

This is much like the pictures of Miley Cyrus that were all over the net a few weeks ago. She got her boyfriend a penis cake for his birthday as a joke. Her friends took some pictures of her being silly with it. This is no big deal. We all do silly fun stuff like this in our lives. If you had a penis cake at a party wouldn't you take silly pictures of you and your friends with it? Of course you would! I know I would! But these pictures were splashed all over the internet with people talking about how raunchy they were and how opposed to her image as a teen star. Give her a break already! Why is she held to a different standard than the rest of us because she's a celebrity?

With everyone carrying a camera and instant access to the internet in their pocket these days, I think it's pretty much impossible to ensure that nothing embarassing about you ever gets out into the public domain. So maybe it's time to just relax.