5. Connection/ Community, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

“You’ve done everything right up to this point”

The most dominant image I have is me sitting on my couch staring at the ceiling. But really I was luckier than that – it was a beautiful fall, and I spent a lot of time lying in the grass soaking in the sun. In the park down the street… on the field across from the gym… on the hill by my office… resting my concussed brain, trying to cope.
I was coping not only with the concussion, but also with the effect of the concussion on my basic emotion regulation abilities. It was like there’d been a buffer zone around my feelings that had dissolved, dissipated. Hard feelings turned to panic much more easily, with a dangerous intensity. And panicking could only make things worse: spiking my heart rate, sending me down a steep dark spiral, and only aggravating the injury further.
So I had to ground myself. I had to. Feeling the grass underneath each limb, waves of guilt and shame and fear threatening to flood my system for uninterrupted hours in which I was supposed to be recuperating so I could get back to the very limited amount of work time my brain could take. Fear, shame, guilt. Fear, shame, guilt. Regret.
I have done everything right up to this point.
That’s how I would anchor myself.
I am alive, loved, and enrolled (as in, enrolled in grad school, even if I didn’t know when or how I would be able to finish). I have done everything right up to this point.
I would focus on those words, repeating them over and over and over again, for weeks and weeks.
Of course, it wasn’t true. I mean, it was true that I was alive, loved, and enrolled. But it wasn’t true that I’d done everything right. How could it be? That’s not a thing.
I said it to myself so much that it became a habit – telling myself I’d done everything right because at least I’d gotten to that point, still in the game, with people in my corner. But those good things can be true even if I haven’t done everything right. And I haven’t. I didn’t do everything right in concussion recovery; I didn’t do everything right in grad school (shh don’t tell!); and I certainly haven’t done everything right by the people who have so valiantly loved me.
Sometimes I’ve messed up and hurt only myself. Sometimes I’ve messed up and really hurt people I care about. Sometimes I’ve messed up in ways that hurt marginalized folks around me and perpetuate the very systems of oppression I’m committed to dismantling.
I want to hold these truths. I need a way to be here and to feel them and then to do the repair I can do in/for myself, in/for my relationships, and in/for my communities. Can I tolerate the reality that I have not done everything right, without getting stuck in spirals of regret or shame or self-flagellation?
The first step is feeling the feelings. And then comes speaking back, but not to negate or deny what I’m upset about having done. Not to claim rightness or say it’s okay when it’s not. What can I say instead to speak directly to/with those feelings? I’m gonna play with some ideas here, and I’d love to hear feedback and reflections from you, too!
To regret, I could say: This is how things have happened. I did what I could at the time. This is the only way it’s happened, and this is what I get to live with now.
To shame, I could say: I care about my impact. I want to understand and address the impact I’ve had. Having a negative impact doesn’t negate everything about me. Everything else is still true, too, and I can be complicated.
To self-flagellation, I could say:Actually what I need is the opposite. What I need is self-care. To do better in the world, I need to do better for myself. The more okay I am, more aware of my own feelings and holding more of my own stuff, the more responsibly I’ll behave towards other people and the more I’ll be able to do for/with other people.
Perhaps these thoughts can help me ground myself in the presentand future, and engage with the pain and complexity of the past. By paying attention instead of turning away, maybe I will find an opportunity to do repair work, and maybe I can expand my capacity to do differently next time.
I am alive, loved, and employed. I’ve done a lot right up to this point. But not everything. I’ve messed up in some significant ways.
I did the best I could. I care about my impact. The more I take care of myself, the more I’ll be able to address what I can of what I’ve done, and to do better moving forward.

I hope?

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Introducing “The Debrief”

Great news!

I’ve been asked by JewishBoston.com to write a weekly column, “The Debrief,” offering advice and commentary about sex, dating, and relationships for Jewish young adults in our 20s and 30s in the Greater Boston area. 
Even if you don’t quite fit into or identify with this demographic, please check out my new work!
If you have a story to share, a question to ask, or an article/issue you want me to discuss in my new column, drop a line to mimia@jewishboston.com so I can write a column in response. All questions will be posted anonymously to maintain confidentiality, unless you request otherwise.
You can read my introductory post here to find out more about The Debrief. 
As I focus on this new project, I will not be continuing to post here at Sex Ed Transforms. I’ve had an incredible experience learning about myself and growing in so many ways since I started this blog four years ago. Thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and commented on my posts. Words can’t express how much your support means to me. I hope you continue to enjoy the archives of my journey thus far.
And look out for a new column of The Debrief every Wednesday!
1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Transformative Sex Ed in Action: The Ethical Sexuality Retreat

The Sex Ed Team at the Moishe Kavod House in Brookline, MA had our first ever (first annual?) team retreat ten day ago. We wanted to spend a whole day talking together about sex, sexuality, and relationships in our lives and in our communities so that we could create a safe space in which to really dive into the trickier, stickier, more complex questions that came up during our workshops this past year.
We had 18 people in attendance, including people who had been integrally involved in the team for the past year or more as well as people for whom the retreat was their first team event. Many people wanted to join us but couldn’t make it, so I thought I’d provide here a little taste of the questions we asked each other:
*How does your Judaism [religion, spirituality] impact your sexuality? How does your sexuality impact your Judaism [religion, spirituality]?
*What happens when I don’t fit into the question you’re asking?
*What are the two most salient pieces of your identity? How do these identities make you feel powerful, powerless, or both at different times throughout your life?
*Do your sexual ethics change in different relationships?
*What personal needs does sex ed meet for you? What personal needs could sex ed meet for you in the future?
*How can we broaden and deepen our impact on the world through sex ed?
We also had three small groups break out for an hour in the afternoon. Their discussions focused on three different themes: jealousy, asexuality, and body image.
By the end of the day, I could feel that the people in the room were very excited and ready to take on leadership of the team in the coming year and get some great work done. We want to do a thorough revision of our six-part curriculum, paying special attention to issues of power, privilege, and identity in framing the activities and informing the discussions, as well as working to integrate Judaism and Jewish learning in a variety of ways. We will also continue to make space for structured and unstructured conversations in our community about relevant topics related to sex, sexuality, and relationships. In addition, we will explore the process of building power so that we can engage in outreach work, take action, and have an impact on the world at large.
If you want to hear more about our work or maybe get involved, feel free to contact me directly or email our team leaders at EthicalSexuality (at) kavodhouse (dot) com.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Sex Ed for Young Adults, Take Two: It’s Time for Outreach!

A summary of Sex Ed, Take One:
The Sex Ed class for young adults that I was teaching ended in May. I loved and learned from each one of our 14 sessions, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to facilitate these sessions and for the time and energy of each one of the participants. We achieved a lot: 14 evenings together reveling in the Our Whole Lives curriculum; 4 community members trained in facilitating both the Adult and Young Adult versions of this curriculum; and 1 community-wide Sex Ed Shabbat, including prayer services themed on the four Our Whole Lives values and four break-out sessions on various sex ed topics. To wrap up our semester, we joined Keshet in a celebration of Boston Queer Pride. Special shout-outs go to our community leaders at the Moishe/ Kavod House for supporting and participating in this project, to the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ for their fabulous sex ed curricula and trainings, and to the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI) grant program for a grant that provided the funds for our work.

An introduction to Sex Ed, Take Two:
Literally the day after our closing session for the class, I started writing a second grant to fund the next stage of our project. And I’m happy to announce that we got the grant! The BYFI Alumni Venture Fund has provided us with a grant to do local outreach around issues of human sexuality. As we continue to provide sex education and community-building programming at the Moishe/ Kavod House, we will also reach out to leaders at local synagogues, university Hillels, and other Jewish community organizations. We will engage them in conversation about the needs of their own communities and the interest in their in experiencing and supporting comprehensive sex education. We will develop materials to serve as the foundation for building these relationships, particularly in the form of workshops we can offer in these other communities. The materials will cover topics such as consent, relationships and communication, gender identity, sexual orientation, family, sexual violence, body image, sexual health, and advocacy. We will explore these topics both on their own terms and as Jews, in conversation with our own Jewish experiences and with Jewish texts.

How you can get involved in this next stage:
We need leaders, and we need doers! Whether you were a participant in the first sex ed class or not, I encourage you to find a way to get involved with our Outreach project. Since this rendition of Sex Ed will combine community education with organizing and outreach, we will need many people to bring a wide variety of skills to the table. Do you want to be involved? What might you be interested in doing? Please be in touch with me to let me know if you’re interested in:
• Joining us over dinner (ie, meetings) to deepen our vision of this work and start planning
• Connecting us with people you know in other local Jewish communities
• Contacting and meeting with leaders in other local Jewish communities
• Finding an analyzing Jewish sources, commentary, and other writings on sexuality
• Helping us develop various workshops that can meet the different needs of our partner communities, including college students, adults and parents
• Researching and producing fact sheets with up-to-date information about local and national sexuality education policies and other policies related to sexual health and justice
• Attending an Our Whole Lives facilitation training (one weekend)
• Bringing any of your favorite skills to the table! Think: cooking, making posters, event planning, writing articles, event turnout, you name it…

I’m really thrilled and excited about moving on to this next stage alongside three other trained facilitators, talented community organizers, and passionate sex education participants. I welcome and encourage any and all feedback, questions or other thoughts and feelings that you may have as you read this news.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Reflections on Why I Teach Adult Sex Ed

I teach a sex education class for young adults in our 20s and 30s. Today, I want to tell you about the class and explain my belief that learning about sex is an act of healing the world.

The topic for our class is sexuality, broadly conceived. My goal is to facilitate the development of a safe space in which we can analyze our influences, reflect on our experiences and observations, and gain access to important knowledge and skills. Moreover, the basic process of engaging in open and honest conversations about these topics contains in itself extremely powerful moments and opportunities.

Honestly, it’s not just that I think it’s powerful or important, it’s more than that: I crave these conversations. I need them for myself, to help me make sense of my life, my relationships and my community. I need to discuss these issues with others. In college, I volunteered as an HIV test counselor and a peer educator at the Rape Crisis/Antiviolence Support Center, so I was surrounded by warm and enthusiastic conversation about sex and sexuality pretty consistently.

When I graduated, I missed that. I really felt the need for more of these conversations. I wanted people to talk to me about changes, fears and feelings. I wanted to talk about my sexuality and gender since college, about how it felt for some of us to be in couples and some of us not, about the implications of growing older and the expectations on us to be women and men. I wanted to talk about sex.

Then, I got trained to teach Our Whole Lives to middle and high school students as part of my professional development. When I found out that Our Whole Lives also had a curriculum for young adults, I started thinking about teaching my peers.

I spoke with a community leader. She too had felt the need for these conversations in our community, and we made it happen.

So, that’s what my sex ed class is and that’s why I want it. But why is sex ed an act of healing the world?

1. Because healing the world starts with caring for your self. It may seem to take more time in the short term, but each of us individually will get more done and do it with more integrity in the long term if we’re caring for ourselves along the way, physically, emotionally and socially.

2. Because healing the world means engaging in healing relationships. Conversations help us practice understanding each other and communicating with each other in stronger and deeper ways. Intimate relationships, friendships and professional relationships can all benefit from this process.

3. Because our community needs healing. A lot of hurt and violence is perpetuated and covered up because of social norms and structures that sanction it or render it invisible. Talking about these issues can help our community fulfill its potential to be a powerful place of healing, love and celebration.

To demonstrate my claims about our community, I want to play hand up hand down. I’m going to say a statement, all you need to do is raise your hand if this statement applies to you. These statements all include the phrase “our community” – define “our community” as you will, whether you want to think specifically about the people who are already involved in our programs, or you want to think about progressive young adults in Boston, for example.

Let’s start playing.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in an unhealthy dating relationship
• is coping with an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating patterns
• wonders whether and how to come out
• is a survivor of sexual assault
• grapples with anxiety or depression
• has been hurt by homophobia or heterosexism
• has had a sexually transmitted infection
• has had an unhealthy breakup
• has said yes without meaning it
• has been hurt by sexism or gender discrimination

We have histories; we have pain; we have needs. At the same time, our community has amazing resources.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in a healthy, communicative relationship
• can say no when they don’t want to do something
• is pro-queer
• is a great listener
• expresses their feelings openly and honestly
• identifies strongly as a feminist
• has many healthy ways of coping with pain
• speaks out against negative media messages
• has a positive attitude towards sex and sexuality
• loves their body

I want us to share our many strengths and many blessings with each other. We need to come together to listen, to validate, and to challenge each other. Through these processes, we can take care of ourselves, build community and heal the world.

A note on self-care: during the first part of the hands up exercise, I mention painful and dramatic experiences that many of us have had. If you feel upset by that activity, please talk to someone you trust. I’m here to support you and help you find the care you need.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Safety And Structure for Adult Sex Ed

I’m currently planning to teach sex ed to young adult peers in my community. Please see previous posts for other discussions of my thoughts and feelings while planning this project.

How can I plan this class so that it suits the realities of our lives and yet challenges us to take positive risks?

I think the first step is recognizing that for many, coming to even one session involves taking a positive risk. For others, arriving may be simple, but speaking up may feel momentous. I’d like to focus on these two challenges for now: attendance and participation. I want my expectations for both to be as flexible as possible to meet the varying needs of individuals and yet to be as consistent as possible in order to promote group cohesion. I have some ideas about how to approach this, and I would love some feedback . . .

Attendance

Ideal: 10 to 20 people committed to attending each of the 14 sessions. We would get to know each other, develop the group dynamic that supports accountability and confidentiality, and their learning in each session would build on our previous work.

Reality: “Eek! Who has enough time to commit upfront to 14 sessions? What if I missed the first one – does that mean I’m excluded from the project altogether? I’m sorry, but my [work/ studies/ family/ other] takes priority, and I have to allow for that in my schedule.” –thoughts of a hypothetical community member.

Compromise: I encourage community members to attend as many sessions as possible. I also hope that newcomers will contact me before coming to a session so I can help them get somewhat caught up. Just arriving at session is great, too. What I do ask, however, is that participants come for an entire session from beginning to end – arriving late and leaving early can drastically upset momentum. Does this seem reasonable? What other approaches might we consider?

Participation

Ideal: Participants could share their thoughts, feelings and experiences without embarrassment, shyness or fear of affecting their reputation. Such sharing could lead to communal support, learning and growth.

Reality: Sharing can be very difficult and scary! In addition, all of us have biases and prejudices that can keep us from reacting in positive and supportive ways. For some, sharing with friends and community members feels easier than sharing with strangers. For others, it feels much harder.

Compromise: We’ll spend time at the beginning of each session discussing building blocks for a safe space and sharing expectations with each other. No participant will be required to share, and multiple avenues for reflection will be encouraged, including group discussion, pair-shares, private reflection, and anonymous feedback. What more can we do to work together to keep everyone feeling safe, comfortable, and able to take positive risks?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Adult Sex Ed — Wait, What?!?

In my last post, I shared my intention to offer a sex ed class for young adults (in their 20’s and 30’s). Here, I will speak to the three most common concerns raised in response to my proposal.

1. “My long-term romantic partner is also part of this community — how can I participate in this class without violating my partner’s and my privacy?”

As a group, we can develop a confidentiality structure that will guide us in respecting everyone’s boundaries and privacy. I’ve seen class facilitators encourage participants to tell personal stories and to speak from experience; I’ve seen other facilitators prohibit participants from sharing personal information and require them to word all stories and questions in the third person (“I have a friend who…”). We can work together to find a method that suits our needs and wants. Participants may choose to speak in the first and the third person at different times depending on context and comfort level. By coming together to discuss our knowledge, thoughts, and feelings, we certainly need not get into specific details regarding our current sexual habits. I intend this class neither as a support group nor a gossip session! We will explore ourselves, our community, and our society while we respect and honor the plethora of boundaries, desires for privacy, comforts, and discomforts that we all bring to different settings.

2. “How will this class be related to social justice and social action, since our community is explicitly dedicated to both?”

This question is so important and inherently related to my motivations for offering this class. As such, my response diverts in a few different directions: By discussing these issues together in an open, progressive setting, we work towards justice for ourselves, those close to us, and our community as a whole. And as we create this space in which we can insightfully analyze the social processes that affect gender and sexuality, we can build awareness and generate new thoughts and feelings that will inform our fight for justice in our society. Such class discussion can spark ideas for and interest in a specific campaign that we can plan and implement together as a class and/or as a community. Additionally, I hope and expect that the class participants will generate even better answers to this question as we discuss and learn together.

3. “How can we have these discussions in an inclusive and safe manner?”

Yes! We must also pose and respond to this question throughout the class. Therefore once more I can only offer my initial reaction supplemented by my trust in the process: We will establish building blocks for safe space, we will check in with each other and reflect on our developing dynamic, and we will celebrate our differences. I will also combine multiple venues for participation and reflection, including but not limited to group discussion, sharing ideas in pairs, and recording private thoughts in journals or anonymous question/ comment cards. Alas, I can only describe structures — the dynamic of the group will deepen and develop when we are together, conversing, taking risks, taking care, and holding each other accountable.

I’m so excited!

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

Young Adults Enjoy Sex Ed, Too

While I consider myself primarily an educator of adolescents, I’m a strong believer in sexuality education throughout our life span. I’m also currently a young adult. Thus I’m very excited to say that I’ve decided to offer a sex ed class for interested members of my young adult community.

The UUA publishes Our Whole Lives, a progressive and insightful sexuality education curriculum. I love this curriculum. And while my professional self yearns to someday teach the high school version, I’m currently getting inspiration from the young adult program. Because educated, informed, insightful young people in their 20s and 30s also deserve lots of great sex ed.

To explain my motivations, I return again to the initial thesis of this blog: I believe in sexuality education as a site for personal and societal transformation. Change. Growth. The need for growth does not end with the end of adolescence. Indeed, I feel as a young adults that we can and do appreciate such growth in a whole new way. The conversations, revelations, and debates we can have about sexual health now are entirely different from those we had as teenagers. And yet, like when we were teenagers, we lack the context and structure in which to discuss sex in sensitive, meaningful ways. So let’s make that space.

My goals for this class are multilayered. First, I hope that participants engage in a process of personal reflection and growth. Second, by sharing their reflections with each other, I hope they develop a deeper appreciation for and understanding of each other’s lived experience. Third, I want the class to contribute to the process of community building – engaging in reflection and growth on a communal level. Finally, I believe that such conversations can help us understand how our personal lives relate to our search for social justice and vice versa.

Right now, I’m working on the logistics of offering such a class and trying to gauge the levels of interest and enthusiasm among members of my community. What do you think I will need to do to make such a class enjoyable and worthwhile? Feedback wanted!