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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
General Women's HealthComprehensive 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 HealthMore 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 ChildrenOne 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 ViolenceToo 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
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 -- www.fwhc.org/health/health.htm
Web by Women for Women -- www.io.com/~wwwomen/sexuality/index.html
Coalition for Positive Sexuality -- www.positive.org
Scarleteen: Sex Education for the Real World -- www.scarleteen.com
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS) -- www.seicus.org
Society for Human Sexuality: Sexuality.org -- www.sexuality.org
Good Vibrations Online Shop -- www.goodvibes.com
BABES Network: A Sisterhood of Women Facing HIV Together -- www.babesnetwork.org
Dentata: an online 'zine -- www.geocities.com/dentatamag/introduction.html
Women Alive -- www.women-alive.org
WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases) -- www.womenhiv.org
Wise Words: Project Wise Homepage -- www.projinf.org/pub/ww_index.html
GLBT Health WebPages -- www.metrokc.gov/health/glbt/lbwomen.htm
Features at The Body: Women and HIV -- www.thebody.com/features/women/
* If you have copies of good books, donate them to a local Prison Book Project! Try this Web site: Prison Book Project -- http://prisonbooks.org/index.php or look for a Project in your own city/state!