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From a historical context to the present, there has been a systematic, sociologically driven, oppression of our sexual natures. From our birth we are taught that gender is binary, sexual identity is singular, and our discussion of how, why, and when is only a scientific venture schools, or the church can inform. Yet even with all our advancements, there is a continual perpetuation of these historically black and white ideals.

In our everyday lives, we are bombarded by media delivering sex in singularly specific forms and while we blame these images as eliciting our statistically high rate of pregnancy in teens, the increasing rate of violence against women, or even the sexual actions of our children in the schoolyard, these images are a reflection of our standards. The problem with our ever-increasing exposure to these images is not their prevalence, but rather their monopoly of our communication about reproductive health.  Our cultural standards dictate that sex is a taboo topic, one that is only to be discussed behind closed door, or, even kept secret for a lifetime, if society classifies you as deviant.

Our current generation is in the age of technology, of free access to information. We expect that all the answers are on the internet. While there may be unlimited information and even graphic depictions, without ones own maturity of experience this sexually explicit material can be difficult to place into context. There is no manual for the grey issues on the Internet.  Our culture looks at reproductive health as a symptom of being human. When we are sick, we would rather go on WebMd to see what disease we have, than have a short discussion with a doctor. It is no surprise that our culture would rather go online to find all the answers to reproductive health than communicate with our partner, parents, friends, and teachers.

In our day and age, I understand that this is going to happen. Especially with the younger generation, we are plugged in. That is in fact probably how you came across this blog. If there is anything I am trying to portray, it is that discussions about reproductive health are awkward because it is a personal. Everyone has a different experience and there are no defined steps that will work every time. The purpose of this blog is not to dictate, or to guide, but rather to open lines of communication. There is no right or wrong, but rather complicated experiences.  And only through dialogue can we start to change this taboo that sex is an estranged part of our lives.

It is my hope that we can begin to accept all of who we are. Exactly the way we are.  So we don’t have to pretend.

Who am I?

If I understand anything about our generation, many of you have skipped over the lengthy introduction, possibly skimming to see why you should read this excessively wordy blog. Exactly who is this person to be informing me of the “know how”?

Factually, I am a 21 year old female at Colorado State University. I am a senior that will be graduating with a major in Social Work and a minor in Sociology.

Characteristically, I am a Nerd. And this fact makes me highly qualified for the job of the ongoing discomfort and awkwardness of the “Birds and the Bees” conversation.

Although, the stereotypes of nerds are that they are these big glasses wearing folks that are socially inept, unable to get a date, and can only competently discuss reproductive health in a manner that is nasally and scientific. The reality is even nerds must face our sexual natures. It is a part of growing up, nerds have the advantage of understanding and accepting awkward situations as part of their daily lives. Let me give you a few examples from my own everyday experiences to illustrate my meaning:

Recently, I had a friend’s changeling bard character in my Dungeons and Dragons group flirt with my ranger elf (4.0 ed).  I blushed, because in nerd speak, that means he likes you.

Wearing a bright red fez, I answered the door to my apartment, where my handsome neighbor told me to stop singing the intro so loudly to Doctor Who. (Google it…trust me it is obnoxious)

My boyfriend gave me the strangest look when I pointed a pen at his pants and yelled WHINGARDIUM LEVIOSA. Needless to say I didn’t do that again.

Though my loquaciousness seems uncharacteristic of your stereotypical nerd, my awkwardness prevails. And yet, this makes me impervious to awkward discussions. I have numerous relationships and experiences in my 21 years. And I can tell you that I am not shy to discuss topics that would make even the most knowledgeable teacher stammer, “well…hmm… Im not so sure we should…well…discuss that today”

Because I have studied reproductive health from the eye of a social worker, sociologist, psychologist, and scientist in my many years at college, I believe that knowledge is more than just facts and figures, correlations, and diagrams. It is with knowledge of ourselves that we are able to communicate true wisdom to others. I understand that I am deficient in some areas.  It is in those areas that collaboration is key.

The point of this blog is about communication and collaboration of ideas and experiences. I understand that sexuality is a grey area, and I encourage others to have a different viewpoint than my own. My only hope is that when we go online, there is a conversation going on that is made of real people and their experiences, rather than just a bombardment of graphic images or only scientific facts. Let us work together to create a constructive dialogue.  Let us get to know each other.

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Reducing the incidence of abortion

Reducing the Incidence of Abortion

Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD, CSE

When we speak of reproductive health education we focus on the tangible, the things that we hear and see in the news, on the internet and even in the lyrics of songs. These things we speak of are sex, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and broken relationships. We even hear about physical violence between partners. What we don’t hear about, what we never really focus on is the incidence  of abortion.

Anti-choice advocates take the stance that to reduce the abortion rate one must not terminate an unintended and or unwanted pregnancy.  Take for instance Sharon Angle, the  Republican Senate candidate that was quoted on The Huffington Post as saying that a young girl raped by her father should know that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Much good can come from a horrific situation like that, Angle added. Lemons can be made into lemonade.

Not sure how a young girl raped by her father who subsequently gets pregnant is “wrong” in terminating the pregnancy. In fact, terminating the pregnancy in this situation only takes out the added physical burden. The emotional burden will take a long time to heal and I am not talking about the emotional burden of terminating a pregnancy. I am talking about the emotional burden of being raped by her father. Nowhere in this interview does Sharon Angle speak of reducing the abortion rate by reducing the pregnancy rate. It is pretty common that the people who oppose comprehensive reproductive health education also oppose birth control and abortion. Too bad they can’t see that it doesn’t cut both ways.

To reduce the abortion rate we must reduce the unintended and or unwanted pregnancy rate. Most people believe that the abortion rate of an unintended pregnancy is about 50% or higher. In fact it is much lower than that. Most pregnancies that were unplanned go to term, additionally, a good percentage of pregnancies result in miscarriage leading to the actual number of aborted pregnancies  being rather low. But this is still not good enough.

So what is the problem? The problem is the point of focus. If we keep focusing on the incidence of teenage pregnancy we are treating the symptom and one of the treatments of the symptom (unplanned pregnancy) can be elective termination.  To me it is analogous to a recurring headache. You take a pain reliever and the head ache goes away but it will eventually return. You are simply treating the symptom. What should probably happen is for you to have a work up to make sure there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with your system. Essentially, to find the root of the cause of the headaches. In doing this, in finding the root of the cause of the problem you can then treat the problem and not the symptom.

For years we have been treating the symptom. The symptom in this case is unplanned pregnancies. It is time to treat the problem but do we even know what the problem is? As a person in education I of course have the bias that the problem is lack of information. While this is partially true it is not the entire picture. The entire picture not only consists of more accurate information for our youth but it of course has to be followed by access to care, hurdling religious and cultural influence and asking for accountability from our younger generation.

Accountability,  that is an interesting concept. In the generational attitude of “so what?” we have no accountability for the actions or the consequences. Cause and effect is completely lost. This is evidenced by the celebration of teen pregnancy. The cheerleader that gets pregnant as a freshman and stays on the cheer squad throughout high school only to parade her 3 year old out as a senior at every game in a matching outfit. Isn’t that cute? Wouldn’t every girl want to have that attention? The best part is that after the game the 3 year old goes home with grandma and grandpa while the cheerleader goes out with her friends. No accountability.

We want to reduce the teen pregnancy rate. We have organizations like The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy , Planned Parenthood, Advocates for Youth and SIECUS who work tirelessly to reach our youth to change these numbers. But we still need more. We need to figure out why what we are doing isn’t working.

We need to stop treating the symptom.

Ten things a sexuality educator should be able to answer

10 things a sexuality educator should be able to answer.
When teaching this spring at Front Range Community College (Boulder Campus) I had a brainstorm session with my class. The assignment was to break into groups and make a list of 10 questions a sex educator should be able to answer. Because it was difficult to narrow it down to just 10 questions and because the class had some amazing points of reference I am going to list the high points of what they felt a sex educator should know and know well.
1. How to correctly put on a condom.
2. What is the difference between sex and gender?
3. All aspects of all birth control. Side effects, how they work, where to get them.
4. Definitely should know anatomy and physiology of male and female.
5. All sexually transmitted infections and prevention.
6. Theories of sexuality.
7. Behavior vs. attitude.
8. All types of relationships, i.e Sternberg’s triangle theory of love.
9. Sexual abuse, harassment, assault etc..
10. SEXUAL DIVERSITY! (this was emphasized)
11. What is sex?
12. Sexual development throughout a life time for both male and female.
13. The stages of puberty. What is happening physically and emotionally?
They were then asked what they thought would be important criteria for a teacher to be able to teach this topic and came up with these:
1. Knowledge-have knowledge , training, education and DESIRE to teach in this area.
2. Comfort level-have the ability to teach this without being uncomfortable.
3. Bridge book with real life.
4. Relate to the age you are speaking to. Use “their” language. Don’t talk up or down to your class. Use correct terminology.
5. Make sure you help your class ask the right questions. Sometimes students don’t know enough to ask a question. Encourage them to think and ask.
6. They don’t think gender segregation is a good idea when teaching. Men or women can teach the class or men and women can team teach.
So after we kicked this around I explained to them what I felt the ideal class in high school would be. It would be a semester long. It would be team taught by two different disciplines. For instance, all the science information could be taught by the science teacher and all the psychology information could be taught by the psychology teacher. They could team teach it. The students loved this idea.

So the question is-are there any schools out there willing to take a chance and set the bar high for trying this out?

Betsy Cairo, PhD, HCLD, CSE