03 March 2013

Summer Starling: Shaping Public Discourse on Sexuality

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

By Summer Starling

To say today that I study sex still feels strange. I’m the hybrid first-born of a feminist mother and a conservative father, both from the South, where the active silencing of discussion about sex and sexuality is as entrenched into the social fabric as chicken after church on Sundays. And it is a burdensome hush.

Feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde relayed advice she got while preparing her 1977 speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”: Her daughter simply said that you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent. Silence is oppression.

A culture of voicelessness around sex – from slut-shaming to parental discomfort to counter-productive sex education policies on down – makes it that much harder to truly understand disparities in STD rates, choices young people make about condoms and how they communicate about sex. Fighting sexual health disparities begins with authentic voices.

Training to become a research scientist to address adolescent sexual health is allowing me to refine my voice in public discourse about sexuality from an informed place. I see this as my biggest personal triumph and the way I’m most suited to help make a difference. I hope my work helps girls in some small way to actualize and voice what matters most to them for their (sex) lives. Isn’t that what feminism is all about?

Summer Starling lives in Berkeley, Calif.

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