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If You Want It Done Right: Learning Women's Health

May/June 2003

If You Want It Done Right: Learning Women's Health

You've heard people say it: If you want it done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. And these days, it's especially true for women and girls who are looking for information about sexual health. Most of us grow up feeling like sex is something we're not supposed to talk about, or maybe the adults in our lives didn't know the answers to our questions or were simply too uncomfortable to talk with us. Whatever the reason, very few women are lucky enough to reach adulthood with a full understanding of how our bodies work, how to explore what we want out of sex, and how to talk with a partner about what we want and don't want. Too many of us also grow up feeling like our bodies are shameful, or that our sexuality belongs to other people to use as they see fit. All these messages can make it hard for us to choose when we will and will not be sexual, and how we will protect ourselves when we are having sex.

Well, Don't Be Afraid

Knowledge is your right! Don't be afraid to look for answers to the questions you have about your body, your sexuality, and your health. There are many people, books, and Web sites available to assist you -- all you have to do is find them.

Seek It Out!

Nowadays, you can find a lot of resources right in a neighborhood bookstore, or through an online book resource like If you can't afford to buy the books you want, write down their titles and authors and see if they're available at your local library. And there's lots of good information on the Internet, too -- if you know where to look. We've got a list of books and Web sites at the end of this article to help get you started, but you'll find many more!


Learn Together!

Sometimes it's easier to learn this stuff with a group of women than all on your own. If you're already part of a women's group (like church, school, or HIV support group), you can suggest your group spend some time studying up on women's health and sexuality issues (maybe pooling money to buy books the whole group can share). If that's not an option, you can grab your closest girlfriends and female family members and form a special group of your own. If you don't like groups, you might want to find a Study Buddy -- just having another person to learn with can sometimes make it all more fun.

Build It Up!

As you learn, share your knowledge! Talk with other women in your life, especially young women. Lend your books and articles (be careful! You may not get them back!), or build up your own Resource List to hand out in your community. If you're really ambitious, you can form a Speaker's Group to give presentations, start a neighborhood Women's Health Project, or build a website with your own writing -- the possibilities are endless!

Don't Forget Your Young People!

In many families, adults believe that keeping sexual health knowledge from children preserves their "innocence," keeps them from becoming sexually active, or even protects them from being sexually harassed or assaulted. But ignorance doesn't protect our youth -- in fact, it can even make them more vulnerable to scary misinformation, peer pressure, or sexual violence. Talking straight with young people and providing them with medically accurate information helps empower them and keep them safe, from childhood on up through adulthood.

If You Want It Done Right: Learning Women's Health

So share your information and resources with young people, and help them do their own research and develop their own resources. Read books and Web sites with them, and answer their questions honestly as they come up (remember: "I don't know" is an acceptable answer. Kids will respect you for being honest, and you can find the answers together). Give them privacy to learn on their own, too. And if you don't feel comfortable talking with the children in your life, find other knowledgeable people who are -- family, community people, youth workers -- and give them permission to talk with your child(ren). Use them as a resource for yourself as well. We never know all there is to know, so there's no shame in learning.

You have the power! We all have questions about our bodies and about sexuality, and we all deserve real answers and information we can use to keep us healthy and safe. So go to it! Do it yourself, and it may just get done right!

General Women's Health

Comprehensive women's health manuals and books that offer medically-accurate, down-to-earth information on a wide range of topics: physical/emotional/sexual health, body image, personal values and decision-making, relationships, anatomy, birth control, pregnancy, menopause, etc.

Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century -- Boston Women's Health Collective (also available in Spanish)

A New View of a Woman's Body -- The Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers

Body and Soul: The Black Women's Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being -- Linda Villarosa/The National Black Women's Health Project

Black Women's Health Book -- Evelyn C. White

Salud: A Latina's Guide to Total Health -- Jane L. Delgado (also available in Spanish)

The Lesbian Health Guide -- Regan McClure/Anne Vespry

Good for You: A Handbook on Lesbian Health and Well-Being -- Tamsin Wilton

The New Ourselves, Growing Older: Women Aging With Knowledge and Power -- Paula B. Doress-Worters/Diana Laskin Siegal

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence -- Inga Muscio

Fat?So!: Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your Size -- Marilyn Watt

Sexuality and Sexual Health

More specific information about sexuality and having sex: feelings about sex and our bodies, decision-making, safer sex, sex with yourself (masturbation), sex with partners, and much more!

What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X -- Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.

Sex Smart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sex Life and What to Do About It -- Aline P. Zoldbrod, Ph.D.

The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex -- Cathy Winks/Anne Semans

The Mother's Guide to Sex -- Cathy Winks/Anne Semans

The Whole Lesbian Sex Book -- Felice Newman

Stolen Women: Reclaiming Our Sexuality, Taking Back Our Lives -- Gail Elizabeth Wyatt

Sex Over 50 -- Joel Block, Ph.D./ Susan Crain Bakos

Still Doing It: Men and Women Over 60 Write About Their Sexuality -- Joani Blank

Playbook for Women About Sex -- Joani Blank

Sex for One: The Joys of Self-Loving -- Betty Dodson

Big, Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them -- Hanne Blank

Sexual Health Books for Girls, Adolescents, and Children

One of the greatest gifts you can offer the young people in your life is solid, medically accurate sexual health information. Knowledge is Power!

Real Girl, Real World -- Heather Gray/Samantha Phillips

Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a Gurl -- Esther Drill/Heather McDonald/Rebecca Odes

The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls -- Lynn Madaras

The Period Book: Everything You Don't Want to Ask But Need to Know -- Karen and Jennifer Gravelle

La Menstruación -- J. Gardner/B. Lopez

Changing Bodies, Changing Lives -- Ruth Bell

The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys -- Lynn Madaras

It's Perfectly Normal -- Robie H. Harris

More Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It -- Joani Blank

A Kid's First Book About Sex -- Joani Blank

Your Body Belongs to You -- Cornelia Spelman

Recovery After Sexual, Physical, and/or Emotional Violence

Too many of us live with the fallout from emotional, physical, and sexual violence. We deserve a happy sex life and healthy relationships. These books can be helpful in our healing and our efforts to reclaim our bodies, minds, and a sense of safety.

The Survivor's Guide to Sex -- Staci Haines

The Sexual Healing Journey -- Wendy Maltz

The Courage to Heal -- Ellen Bass/Laura Davis

Crossing the Boundary: Black Women Survive Incest -- Melba Wilson

Trauma and Recovery -- Judith L. Herman

I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors -- Aphrodite Matsakis

Trust After Trauma: A Guide to Relationships for Survivors and Those Who Love Them -- Aphrodite Matsakis

Web Sites

These Internet sites are among the most reliable ones I've found for sexual health and other women's health information ... you may not agree with all the opinions expressed, but you can feel confident that you're getting medically accurate information. Some sites may be restricted to viewers over age 18, and sites may also be blocked by filters in schools, libraries, or home computers with "parental screening" devices in place. Hunt around for an accessible computer (and some privacy) if you're having trouble loading them. Enjoy!

Women's Health Information Page --

Web by Women for Women --

Coalition for Positive Sexuality --

Scarleteen: Sex Education for the Real World --

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS) --

Society for Human Sexuality: --

Good Vibrations Online Shop --

BABES Network: A Sisterhood of Women Facing HIV Together --

Dentata: an online 'zine --

Women Alive --

WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases) --

Wise Words: Project Wise Homepage --

GLBT Health WebPages --

Features at The Body: Women and HIV --

* If you have copies of good books, donate them to a local Prison Book Project! Try this Web site: Prison Book Project -- or look for a Project in your own city/state!

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on Women & HIV Prevention


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