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 Powells.com. 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!
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.
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!
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This article was provided by Test Positive Aware Network. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit TPAN's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.