The Oregon District Attorney that refused to allow pregnant Bridget Burkholder, who was being held after allegedly preparing to set a herself and a hotel room on fire, her requested abortion made his and his fellow legal team’s reasoning more clear in a recent News Register article, saying Burkholder was in no more of a mental state to choose to terminate a pregnancy than to decide she wanted a boob job.
District Attorney Brad Berry said the case raises very difficult issues.
First and foremost, he said, is the issue of Burkholder’s mental competence to make an informed decision with such long-term consequences. He said that allowing a mentally incompetent person to undergo any elective medical procedure raises potential red flags legally.
He raised the question, “If we wouldn’t allow her to have her breasts reduced in this state,” or have a benign tumor removed, how could she be allowed to choose an abortion? He said a guardian might have to be appointed to make that decision for her.
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Deciding on abortion is like choosing a form of cosmetic surgery? Way to make it clear that not carrying a pregnancy to term is equivalent of an unnecessary, elective surgery often seem to be taken on purely for vanity’s sake.
Even after Janay Rice’s story stops making headlines, this is a discussion we can’t stop having. In a world where people blame the victim first, we have to continue reiterating that the question of why they stay doesn’t matter. “How do we keep them safe?” does.
“I don’t abuse you,” he would tell me. “You hit me first, remember?”
I had, after 468 days of incessant humiliation. It was another day out of 468 that he’d followed me out of the house and screamed to passing men how they could have a “go” with me since I was such a whore. On another day, he called me “bitch” more than he said my name. Yet, because I’d slapped him, after 468 days of degradation, somehow he thought his treatment of me didn’t constitute “abuse.”
On Monday, when I saw that tweet about the Rice video, I felt rage and weariness flare up in my chest. I was tired of explaining how abuse works—that a victim trying to defend herself does not excuse months of emotional or physical violence. I was angry that I’d always feel like a lone voice in a sea of victim-blaming. As I was about to log off silently, I saw a woman sharing a story on Twitter of how her abuse got worse when she dared to even block a punch. She’d hide in the bathroom tub, she said. I started to shake.
I am miles away, and years removed, from sleeping in the tub with the glass door pulled close just so I could have another barrier between myself and my ex-fiancé, but I started to shake.
The stories started to pour into my timeline, some from people I’d never seen talk about domestic violence before. They had all been empowered by the #WhyIStayed hashtag, which Beverly Gooden started in response to the Rice video. A victim of domestic abuse herself, Gooden wanted to change the discussion from blaming Janay Rice to expressions of solidarity among other survivors.
Too often, people mistake staying in an abusive relationship or situation as a tacit agreement to being abused. After the video of Rice publicly emerged, some argued that because Janay didn’t leave, she had negated her right to safety. These people have never been in the position of watching the person you love lie at your feet, crying and begging you to stay. They’ve never experienced what happens when your abuser discovers, too early, your plan to leave.
I, along with other victims of abuse, contributed my experiences to #WhyIStayed and its counterpart, #WhyILeft, to combat that culture of condemnation—to demonstrate that leaving an abuser is often not so easy as just picking up and walking out the door.
We as a society rarely question why someone abuses. Instead, we question the abused. We ask how they caused it; why they put up with it; why they don’t fight back. This is done with such thinly veiled disgust that victims are forced into silence and denial. It makes admitting the fact that abuse is even occurring into a nearly impossible ordeal.
When the man I thought I’d marry first became abusive, his excuse was that my best friend was a man, then because I am bisexual. He’d monitor my every interaction with both men and women and accuse me of wanting to “go full dyke.” If I’d stop having so many friends, he told me, he’d be less insecure and the fighting would stop. This, I told myself, wasn’t abuse. It was just really, really bad outbursts that he couldn’t help.
And when we started having sex to ease his fear that I’d leave him for a woman, I told myself that wasn’t abuse either. I’d seen what abuse yields. This wasn’t a black eye. It was simply something I should do, he’d said, if I really liked men.
Every inch I gave made me feel smaller, less like myself. But, I told myself, at least I wasn’t one of those weak women—one of those about whom everyone asks, “What is wrong with her? Why does she stay?”
I stayed, then, because I didn’t think it was abuse, and because I didn’t want it to be. I stayed because the ways in which we talk about victims as confused and pathetic didn’t fit me. I knew something was off, but I tried to fight it every day.
Before I fully admitted to myself what was going on, I found myself in my school’s mental health center one day, staring at manuals on domestic violence. Suddenly, I couldn’t move.
He’d never hit me. That was a point he’d reiterated the previous night, when he’d broken down my bathroom door and found me cowering in the tub. After going to school, then work, I’d fallen asleep and been late to answer when he came to my apartment at 3 a.m. Even worse, I’d fallen back asleep while he was talking.
He’d stood over me and poured an entire pitcher of cold water on me. We fought; I tried to kick him out, and he grabbed me by my shirt. Somehow, I broke away and locked myself in the bathroom. It didn’t keep him out. When he found me in the tub, he sneered.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked. He laughed. “You look so fucking stupid right now, Les. What are you doing in the tub?”
I didn’t answer at first. Then I thought better of it. “I was scared.”
He put one leg on the side of the tub and put his face so close to mine that he was all I saw.
“I ever hit you?”
Pushing my head up so it bounced against the tile, he asked, “I ever … fucking … touch … you?” Each word was punctuated with a harder push until the faucet was digging into my neck. “I never put my hands on you.” He pushed one final time. “Get out the tub.”
I stayed there, though, until the expression on his face told me not moving would lead to much, much worse. He watched me walk back to the bed, and to avoid more violence, I mumbled an apology.
“How it starts,” the pamphlet I found the next morning read, “is he controls your friendships and who you can talk to.”
That was the first time I’d consciously allowed myself to think that his behavior was more than expressions of insecurity. But I stayed because even a self-help manual defining abuse said this was just the beginning; it wasn’t abuse yet. I thought I could still change the course of the relationship. I had no choice. I was undocumented. I needed help paying my rent, buying groceries. I needed him.
I stayed because when the police came they did exactly what he said they would: nothing.
“Do you want to press charges?” the cop asked. She looked up from her notepad, almost bored and strangely annoyed. I was crying pretty hard still, and it only seemed to make both cops more angry with me. I hated that I couldn’t compose myself.
She repeated the question and shifted her weight. I could see my ex handcuffed between two other officers. He caught my eye.
“Les, you’re really about to do this?”
“Hey! You don’t talk to her,” one barked. He grabbed him by his neck and pushed him towards the hallway.
The female officer spared a glance his way and gestured to my apartment. My table was overturned, and coffee was dripping down the wall. “He do any of this?”
“Will he get in trouble?” I asked.
She sighed and wrote something down. I tried to explain that what she had mistakenly taken as concern for him was actually fear for my own safety. I whispered, “If he gets in trouble because of me…”
She responded loudly so he could hear, “What you say can send him to jail. Did he do this?”
“He didn’t do it. It was like that.”
I wouldn’t meet her eye. I looked down at my feet and the eggs around me. I thought, “Hopefully he heard that. Hopefully he’ll remember that.” He wouldn’t.
He’d broken into my apartment, destroyed my things to scare me, smashed my phone to keep me from calling anyone. And he would only remember that I screamed for help, that it was my fault he got in trouble. They took him away, and he was back the next day.
Still, I stayed because abuse doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As my ex became more controlling, even showing up to my job, everyone around me said his behavior wasn’t that bad; my co-workers even joked that it was a sign I was “too good” to leave. There exists a culture of minimizing abuse, so we don’t recognize it until it gets to be extreme. And then, we are held responsible for staying.
The discussions that #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft fostered reminded me that only abusers can prevent abuse. It’s their sickness; it’s their cross to bear. For me, the hashtags and dialogues were less about raising awareness and more about reaffirmation for victims: They were a message that we neither earned this nor were at fault for staying when we had no choice.
When we are silent about abuse and its many manifestations, it thrives. It doesn’t just allow our abusers to continue their behavior; it leaves us vulnerable to believing that we deserved the violence.
So even if Janay Rice’s story fades from the 24-hour news cycle, this is a discussion we can’t stop having. In a world where people blame the victim first, we have to continue reiterating that the question of why they stay doesn’t matter. “How do we keep them safe?” does.
This week, women prefer different penis sizes depending on whether the man is a one-night stand or long-term lover, FiveThirtyEight looks at whether World Cup players should have sex before a big game, and vibrators go wireless.
This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.
The ongoing debate over whether penis size matters to heterosexual women continues, as a new study has found that preferences actually change based on the kind of relationship a woman expects.
Live Science reports on the study out of the UCLA Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience (SPAN) Laboratory, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. For the study, women were able to handle penis models made by a 3-D printer. The 33 available models varied in both length (from 4 inches long to 8.5 inches) and girth (from 2.5 inches in circumference to 7 inches). Women were asked to choose two penises—the one they’d like a one-night stand to have and the one they’d like a long-term partner to have.
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There was no difference in the length the women chose—the preferred model for both one-night stands and long-term lovers was 6.5 inches long. However, women seemed to want a slightly thicker penis for a one-time thing. The researchers hypothesize that penises that are too long may put pressure on the cervix causing pain during intercourse, while penises that are slightly thicker may add to the sensation of fullness of the vagina and may push the clitoris closer to the vagina thereby adding to clitoral stimulation.
Researchers then asked participants to examine one of the models for 30 seconds before it was taken away. The women were then asked to pick that model out from all 33 either right after they had looked at it or ten minutes later. Interestingly, most women overestimated the size of the penis she had just seen and picked a large model. The study’s lead author told Live Science that “for men who are considering surgery to increase their phallus sizes, maybe they do not have to after all, if women tend to overestimate.”
Sex at the World Cup: Yea or Nay?
Another ongoing debate in sexuality is whether star athletes should abstain from sex until after the big game or tournament. Some in favor of waiting have argued that sex will distract and deplete athletes, and that unsatiated desires can fuel aggression and competitive spirit. Others, however, think sex is a nice way to rest and calm one’s nerves before a performance.
Leading up to the World Cup, a number of coaches said sex was off-limits when their teams got to Brazil. Mexico’s players were told not to have sex, and the coach of the team from Bosnia-Herzegovina told his players, “There will be no sex in Brazil. … I am not interested what the other coaches do, this is not a holiday trip, we are there to play football at the World Cup.”
Brazil’s coach took a slightly more balanced approach, if a more intrusive one. “Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players,” he said.
Writing for data journalism site FiveThirtyEight, Mona Chalibi looked at some of the studies that have been done on this topic. A 2000 meta-review of 31 studies on sex and sports performance found that most were not scientifically credible. The three studies that were methodologically sound found that sex the night before an athletic event had no physiological effect on performance but none of them looked at potential psychological impact. Chalibi notes a more recent study, which found that 40 percent of long-distance runners felt weaker while they were exerting themselves after sex, but the authors of that study noted that sex seemed to affect each athlete differently.
Other research considered whether the real issue isn’t the sex itself but the fact that every nighttime minute an athlete is “doing it” is one he or she is not spending asleep, and research has certainly found that well-rested athletes perform better.
A final set of research, however, could be used to support sex before the event, at least for women. In a number of studies, researchers have found that orgasms relieve pain (such as migraines and menstrual cramps) and increase a woman’s tolerance for pain.
In the end, maybe the Brazil coach has it right. Some run-of-the-mill sex that leads to orgasm but doesn’t tire you out too much or keep you up all night might be the way to go.
Safe Sex Poster Revealed During England v. Italy Game
Speaking of the World Cup, a sexual health organization in the United Kingdom took advantage of the fact that all eyes are on the sport right now. Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust revealed the first of three new posters during Saturday night’s England v. Italy game. The poster, which pictures a soccer ball being caught by a net, reads, “Planning to score? If you’re a player, wear a condom.”
iPhone-Controlled Sex Toy
And finally, long-distance relationships may get a big boost from the latest technology to hit the sex toy market. OhMiBod is currently in production on a vibrator, scheduled to ship next month, that can be controlled by your partner’s cell phone using Bluetooth.
Some couples may want to play from a farther distance than Bluetooth will allow, so the company is raising funds (through Indiegogo) to add WiFi capabilities—taking phone sex to the next level for sure.