Commentary Sexuality

He Won’t Have Sex Anymore: How Can I Change His Mind?

Heather Corinna

Have a partner who wants to step away from sex with you or take a break? If you're wondering what to do to change that, the only right answer is nothing at all. We need to always respect a person's sexual limits and boundaries, whatever their gender.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen

Anonymous asks:

My boyfriend and I have been going out for more a than a year now and we have grown extremely close. We use to have sex regularly and then he just kind of halted it. I want to have sex but he does not want to because of the potential of pregnancy. I suggest using condoms but he still refuses. Is there any way I can convince him to have sex again or will it seem like I am desperate? Please help!

Heather Corinna replies:

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I’m not concerned about you looking desperate by doing anything to try and convince your partner to have sex it seems he’s made clear he’s not comfortable having. What I am concerned about with any situation like this is your partner possibly not having his limits and boundaries respected. That’s the big deal here in my book.

Are there things you could do to convince him to have sex with you? Probably. But it doesn’t matter what those things might be. I’m certainly not going to suggest them.

That’s because I feel very strongly you should not try and change his mind about this in the first place. Trying to change someone’s mind about sex we want, but they don’t want or feel comfortable with, is coercion. In other words, when anyone is doing that, that’s not a healthy framework nor one where, if sex does then occur as a result of that other person trying to change a partner’s no or not now to a yes, the sex would not be fully and freely consensual. You probably don’t need me to tell you that that’s a big, bad deal, even if and when that’s the last thing you intended to do.

What I think you should do, and what any of us always need to do in healthy sexual relationships or interactions, is respect the limit he has set, just like I’d hope he would do for you were the shoe on the other foot.

He’s said he’s not comfortable having whatever kinds of sex he’s not comfortable having right now because he’s concerned about unwanted pregnancy, and it seems he doesn’t feel using condoms alone, like you suggested, would make him feel comfortable enough to engage in sex as a whole, or whatever kinds of sex he’s taken off the table. So, for right now, that’s just how it is, and is something you need to accept.

Now, if he really wants to be having those kinds of sex, and the only issue he has voiced so far that is making sex not-okay for him is the risk of pregnancy and a lack of prevention that is effective enough to make him feel comfortable, AND he has not shut the door on this, but made clear he’d love to have sex were it not for this thing, then you two can certainly talk some more about this. Him voicing that might have sounded something like, “I really, really want to be sexual with you, and I wish I felt okay about it, believe me. But I just don’t, because I am just not okay with the pregnancy risk. If there wasn’t one, I wouldn’t be having this issue.”

If that’s the case, you can open a supportive, pressure-free conversation by first making clear that you respect the limit he has set, and have every intention of continuing to respect it. But, you can add, if he’d really like to be having sex, and he’d like to talk or research some more together to see if you can find a way to engage in sex that does feel right for him and does take care of his conflicts with it now, you’d like to talk about that, too, and see if you can’t find a solution together that works for both of you.

Maybe condoms don’t take care of his discomfort with the pregnancy risk, for example, but maybe condoms and a second reliable form of contraception would. If he does want to look into something like that, perhaps if you two can find a method or combination of methods you both do feel comfortable with, then he’ll change his own mind because he got what he needed to change the situation so that it’s one he is comfortable with. Again, this is assuming he really wants to be engaging in sex right now: if he does, then doing what you can to help him find what he needs for you to both pursue something you want and both feel comfortable with is totally healthy, and isn’t disrespectful of the lines he has drawn.

If that sounds like the right thing to him, and he feels good about that, you two could start by looking at pieces here like this or this, or at Planned Parenthood’s excellent birth control information both want, while working with their boundaries, rather than pushing against them or ignoring them.

Let’s say he doesn’t want to look into other methods right now or did, but still finds nothing gets him comfortable enough, or still isn’t comfortable with other kinds of sex, or just doesn’t want to talk about this anymore for now, period. What then? Again, you’re going to start by accepting that. Then you have a couple options to consider.

I want to first be clear: whether someone is a girl, a guy or a prairie vole, it is totally okay to want to be sexual with someone and to pursue being sexual with someone you want to be sexual with when it feels right for you. But, of course, when there is anyone else involved, the same also always has to be true for them. And anytime anyone is giving us a red light, for any reason, while we may feel bummed out, and it’s okay to feel bummed out, we always need to stop at that light and only ever move forward if it turns green, rather than trying to run it. But you wanting to be sexual and being bummed he doesn’t, or does, but just isn’t cool with that right now? That’s okay. You get to feel disappointed. You also get to still want to be sexual with someone even if they don’t want to be sexual with you, now or ever, or do, but it’s just not right for them. You wanting to be sexual when someone else who doesn’t also doesn’t make you desperate. It just makes you someone who wants a thing someone else doesn’t want or doesn’t feel comfortable with right now, that’s all.

So, what are those options if he doesn’t want to talk any more about this or explore things that might make him more comfortable with you?

Perhaps obviously, if you want an exclusive sexual relationship that is also a romantic relationship and he just doesn’t want that right now, or can’t provide that, you don’t have to stay with this person as that partner or in that kind of relationship. You, like anyone else, always have the option to move away from this relationship or switch it to a platonic friendship if a non-sexual relationship just is not what you want or need and you want to seek out a sexual relationship with someone else for whom sex does feel like the right thing right now. And if that is where you’re at right now, and that’s what you want to do, that’s okay.

It might help to know that more often than not, our first or early relationships tend to be stepping stones in our personal and social development and rarely become very long-term or lifelong sexual or romantic relationships. At any age or time of life, people leave or change relationships when the wants and needs of the people in them aren’t being met, or because the people involved want or are ready for very different things. Sometimes those issues are about whether people want to get married or not, have kids or not, live in the same part of the world or not, have the same values or politics or not, communicate well or don’t, and sometimes they’re about sex. There are really no absolutes about right or wrong reasons to shift or move on from a given relationship, and that’s true of any kind of relationship, too, not just romantic or sexual relationships. You’ve probably experienced that with a friendship at least once in your life already by now. So, if you, he, or both of you feel that around this issue or others, you just might not be the best fit for this kind of relationship anymore, ending it or changing it to a different kind of relationship are valid options.

But sometimes in our relationships — and the longer they last, the more sometimes tends to shift to often — there is going to be some ebb and flow around parts of it, or the people within it, that shift or change, or that are or aren’t happening at a given time. People don’t tend to stay the same through all of life, nor do our lives, so the same is true of our relationships. They will not tend to stay the same over time. Now and then we might find that one part of our relationship is taking more of a lead, or becoming more central than another, or that some part of our relationship or something we do together within it needs to get shelved for a while or be put on hold for any number of reasons. That can happen with a lot of things besides sex or the sexual part of a relationship, but it also absolutely can happen with sex, too.

If you have found and still find a lot of value in the relationship as a whole, and in all the other parts of this relationship besides the sexual piece — like your friendship, like the romantic parts of this is a romantic relationship, like the other paces you two connect with, or ways you are different, but feel like they balance you out — and it’s also a relationship you both want to keep sexually exclusive, then you can also to think about waiting this out or sticking with this and investing the patience, energy and time in working out whatever you both want and need to around it.

And in this case, that might just be about pregnancy risks, but this might also be about more than only that. I don’t know how all of this has been going with you two so far, or what the biggest history of your sexual relationship has been like, but, for instance, if you have been pushing when he has set this limit or others, that certainly could be a sound reason he might want to take sex off the table. I’m not saying you have, but if so, that could totally be part of this. It could also be a world of other things. Sometimes people who feel ready for sex or a certain kind of sex only find out after they engage in it that they weren’t ready, or need things they didn’t know they did before sex was actual, not an abstract. And while needing or wanting to put a stop or a pause on sex can be hard for a lot of people to talk to a partner about, this can be particularly hard for guys. Culturally and interpersonally, guys can be under more pressures to engage in sex than women are: in a lot of ways, the pressure a lot of guys experience to be having sex — from friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, the media, and even family members — is similar to the kinds of pressures a lot of young women experience NOT to have sex, or only to do so in certain social contexts.

That isn’t to say this must be about more than the pregnancy issue. That could be all it’s about. But if it’s not, you’re going to want to know what else it is about, and you’re both going to want to be able to talk about and work through whatever those things are if you’re going to stay in a relationship. And one of the best ways to create the kind of safe, emotional space for him where he can feel able to voice other, perhaps trickier, issues than the pregnancy issue is to have him know, without a doubt, that his limits are always things you will always accept and respect.

I’d also say that if you find the pause he’s pressed on this is making you feel really insecure or freaked out, it’s good to try and figure out why: good for your relationship, but also good for yourself. It might just be that you’re bumming because you feel a desire for sex with this person, enjoy engaging in sex with this person, and it blows it’s not happening right now. But it might be more than that. For instance, if sex with a partner is part of the way you experience and explore intimacy together, it can sometimes wind up being one of the only ways: it can get out of balance. If sex stops or is taking a breather and people feel like they’re not getting any intimacy, that can be a way of identifying you might need some other ways to be and feel that close in your relationship. Even when sex is happening, relationships that are about more than sex don’t fare well when sex is the only route to intimacy. Another common issue is that a lot of people have a ton of self-esteem or validation of their appeal or attractiveness tied to sex. If and when sex stops, people can find they feel very insecure, worry they aren’t wanted, worry they aren’t attractive. Something like that is another thing when, if that is what’s going on, you’ll want to remedy that whether sex is happening or not, because that can also really mess up your relationship with someone else as well as your relationship with your own sexuality. You can take time to explore and expand other ways to amp your self-esteem and the other ways to feel self-confident, which is good for you regardless. Again, having a balance is important for a healthy sexuality, healthy relationships and just a healthy, happy you.

Those are just two possibilities of many. Take the time to think about them and others and check in with yourself, and maybe your partner, too. It may be that this conflict winds up showing one of both of you things you might not have noticed before and would really benefit from being aware of and sorting out.

Now and then, taking a break from sex in relationships can provide great opportunities for us to not just grow other parts of it, but to improve the sexual part of it, too. Having the chance and the time to really talk more about sex, our sexual limits and boundaries, the sexual dynamics in a relationship, the places in our own sexualities we find, through our relationship, are different than we expected, or may need some creative work or thinking through? These are all awesome opportunities, and things we can sometimes inadvertently shortcut when we’re having sex. If you’re choosing to stick in this relationship as it is, but actively engaging in sex or some kinds of sex is off the table for now, I suggest identifying the positives you can glean from the situation and really running with them.

Again, with any of this, just be very sure you are not pushing, but always opening with and making all the room in the world for his limits. If he doesn’t want to talk about this at all, or comes to a stop at any point, all you can respectfully do is wait until he does feel better about the kinds of sex you want to have or about talking more about it. The ball with this, as it were, will need to largely stay in his court: when and if he’s ready, he will throw the ball back. And if it turns out he just doesn’t ever come back around to wanting to engage in sex, then you’ll need to accept this just isn’t going to be a sexual relationship like it was before again, and you two can make whatever changes or adjustments you want or need to account for that.

There’s nothing desperate about someone honoring someone else’s limits and boundaries around something they themselves want, while still owning your own wants in a way that leaves room for both of you to be the different people you are, in the different places you are. That’s the opposite of desperate, and even more importantly, that’s a way to really demonstrate to the people we care about that we earnestly do care, to increase trust and intimacy and to help everyone feel more comfortable with sex — whether we’re having it or not.

I’m leaving you with some links I think might help, especially if you two do talk more and you need some helps with those conversations. I also included a link to a piece on masturbation, which is always something else we can put more energy into exploring, and something else that tends to benefit our sexuality, at any time, including times when sex with a partner isn’t available to us or the right thing.

Analysis Human Rights

From Protected Class to High-Priority Target: How the ‘System Is Rigged’ Against Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Tina Vasquez

Vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation.

This is the first article in Rewire’s two-part series about the U.S. immigration system’s effects on unaccompanied children.

Earlier this month, three North Carolina high school students were released from a Lumpkin, Georgia, detention center after spending more than six months awaiting what seemed like their inevitable fate: deportation back to conditions in Central America that threatened their lives.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta, Josue Alexander Soriano Cortez, and Yefri Sorto-Hernandez were released on bail in the span of one week, thanks to an overwhelming community effort involving pro bono attorneys and bond money. However, not everyone targeted under the same government operation has been reprieved. For example, by the time reports emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detained Acosta on his way to school in Durham, North Carolina, the government agency had already quietly deported four other young people from the state, including a teenage girl from Guatemala who attended the same school.

Activated in January, that program—Operation Border Guardian—continues to affect the lives of hundreds of Central American migrants over the age of 18 who came to the United States as unaccompanied children after January 2014. Advocates believe many of those arrested under the operation are still in ICE custody.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the goal of Operation Border Guardian is to send a message to those in Central America considering seeking asylum in the United States. But it’s not working, as Border Patrol statistics have shown. Furthermore, vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation. These youth arrived at the border in hopes of qualifying for asylum, but were unable to succeed in an immigration system that seems rigged against them.

“The laws are really complicated and [young people] don’t have the community support to navigate this really hostile, complex system. That infrastructure isn’t there and unless we support asylum seekers and other immigrants in this part of the country, we’ll continue to see asylum seekers and former unaccompanied minors receive their deportation orders,” said Julie Mao, the enforcement fellow at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

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“A Grossly Misnamed” Operation

In January, ICE conducted a series of raids that spanned three southern states—Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—targeting Central American asylum seekers. The raids occurred under the orders of Johnson, who has taken a hardline stance against the more than 100,000 families who have sought asylum in the United States. These families fled deadly gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in recent years. In El Salvador, in particular, over 400 children were murdered by gang members and police officers during the first three months of 2016, doubling the country’s homicide rate, which was already among the highest in the world.

ICE picked up some 121 people in the early January raids, primarily women and their young children. Advocates argue many of those arrested were detained unlawfully, because as people who experienced severe trauma and exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression, they were disabled as defined under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ICE did not provide reasonable accommodations to ensure disabled people were not denied meaningful access to benefits or services.

Just a few weeks later, on January 23, ICE expanded the raids’ focus to include teenagers under Operation Border Guardian, which advocates said represented a “new low.”

The media, too, has also criticized DHS for its seemingly senseless targeting of a population that normally would be considered refugees. The New York Times called Operation Border Guardian “a grossly misnamed immigration-enforcement surge that went after people this country did not need to guard against.”

In response to questions about its prioritization of former unaccompanied minors, an ICE spokesperson told Rewire in an emailed statement: “As the secretary has stated repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered removed by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities.”

DHS reports that 336 undocumented Central American youth have been detained in the operation. It’s not clear how many of these youth have already been deported or remain in ICE custody, as the spokesperson did not respond to that question by press time.

Acosta, Cortez, Sorto-Hernandez, and three other North Carolina teenagersSantos Geovany Padilla-Guzman, Bilmer Araeli Pujoy Juarez, Pedro Arturo Salmeron—have become known as the NC6 and the face of Operation Border Guardian, a designation they likely would have not signed up for.

Advocates estimate that thousands of deportations of low-priority migrants—those without a criminal history—occur each week. What newly arrived Central American asylum seekers like Acosta could not have known was that the federal government had been laying the groundwork for their deportations for years.

Asylum Seekers Become “High-Priority Cases”

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced it would begin reviewing immigration cases individually, allowing ICE to focus its resources on “high-priority cases.” The assumption was that those who pose a threat to public safety, for example, would constitute the administration’s highest priority, not asylum-seeking high school students.

But there was an indication from DHS that asylum-seeking students would eventually be targeted and considered high-priority. After Obama’s announcement, ICE released a statement outlining who would constitute its “highest priorities,” saying, “Specifically individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats, as well as repeat immigration law violators and recent border entrants.”

In the years since, President Obama has repeatedly said “recent border crossers” are among the nation’s “highest priorities” for removal—on par with national security threats. Those targeted would be migrants with final orders of removal who, according to the administration, had received their day in court and had no more legal avenues left to seek protection. But, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported, “recent border entrant” is a murky topic, and it doesn’t appear as if all cases are being reviewed individually as President Obama said they would.

“Recent border entrant” can apply to someone who has been living in the United States for three years, and a border removal applies “whenever ICE deports an individual within three years of entry—regardless of whether the initial entry was authorized—or whenever an individual is apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” explained Thomas Homan, the head of ICE’s removal operations in a 2013 hearing with Congress, the ACLU reported.

Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, added that “[b]ecause CBP refuses to screen the individuals it apprehends for their ties to the U.S., and DHS overuses procedures that bypass deportation hearings before a judge, many ‘border removals’ are never fully assessed to determine whether they have a legal right to stay.”

Over the years, DHS has only ramped up the department’s efforts to deport newly arrived immigrants, mostly from Central America. As the Los Angeles Times reported, these deportations are “an attempt by U.S. immigration officials to send a message of deterrence to Central America and avoid a repeat of the 2014 crisis when tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the U.S. border.”

This is something Mao takes great issue with.

“These raids that we keep seeing are being done in order to deter another wave of children from seeking asylum—and that is not a permissible reason,” Mao said. “You deport people based on legality, not as a way of scaring others. Our country, in this political moment, is terrorizing young asylum seekers as a way of deterring others from presenting themselves at the border, and it’s pretty egregious.”

There is a direct correlation between surges of violence in the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and an uptick in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the United States. El Salvador, known as the murder capital of the word, recently saw an explosion of gang violence. Combine that with the possible re-emergence of so-called death squads and it’s clear why the number of Salvadoran family units apprehended on the southern border increased by 96 percent from 2015 to 2016, as Fusion reported.

Much like Mao, Elisa Benitez, co-founder of the immigrants rights’ organization Alerta Migratoria NC, believes undocumented youth are being targeted needlessly.

“They should be [considered] low-priority just because they’re kids, but immigration is classifying them at a very high level, meaning ICE is operating like this is a population that needs to be arrested ASAP,” Benitez said.

The Plight of Unaccompanied Children

Each member of the NC6 arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied child fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Acosta, for example, was threatened by gangs in his native Honduras and feared for his life. These young people should qualify as refugees based on those circumstances under international law. In the United States, after they present themselves at the border, they have to prove to an immigration judge they have a valid asylum claim—something advocates say is nearly impossible for a child to do with no understanding of the immigration system and, often, with no access to legal counsel—or they face deportation.

Unaccompanied children, if not immediately deported, have certain protections once in the United States. For example, they cannot be placed into expedited removal proceedings. According to the American Immigration Council, “they are placed into standard removal proceedings in immigration court. CBP must transfer custody of these children to Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within 72 hours.”

While their court proceedings move forward, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of the children until they can ideally be released to their parents already based in the country. Sometimes, however, they are placed with distant relatives or U.S. sponsors. Because HHS has lowered its safety standards regarding placement, children have been subjected to sexual abuse, labor trafficking, and severe physical abuse and neglect, ThinkProgress has reported.

If while in the care of their family or a sponsor they miss a court date, detainment or deportation can be triggered once they turn 18 and no longer qualify for protections afforded to unaccompanied children. 

This is what happened to Acosta, who was placed with his mother in Durham when he arrived in the United States. ICE contends that Acosta was not targeted unfairly; rather, his missed court appearance triggered his order for removal.

Acosta’s mother told local media that after attending his first court date, Acosta “skipped subsequent ones on the advice of an attorney who told him he didn’t stand a chance.”

“That’s not true, but it’s what they were told,” Benitez said. “So, this idea that all of these kids were given their day in court is false. One kid [we work with] was even told not to sign up for school because ‘there was no point,’ it would just get him deported.”

Benitez told Rewire the reasons why these young people are being targeted and given their final orders of removal need to be re-examined.

Sixty percent of youth from Central America do not ever have access to legal representation throughout the course of their case—from the time they arrive in the United States and are designated as unaccompanied children to the time they turn 18 and are classified as asylum seekers. According to the ACLU, 44 percent of the 23,000 unaccompanied children who were required to attend immigration court this year had no lawyer, and 86 percent of those children were deported.

Immigration attorneys and advocates say that having a lawyer is absolutely necessary if a migrant is to have any chance of winning an asylum claim.

Mao told Rewire that in the Southeast where Acosta and the other members of the NC6 are from, there is a pipeline of youth who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied children who are simply “giving up” on their valid asylum claims because navigating the immigration system is simply too hard.

“They feel the system is rigged, and it is rigged,” Mao said.

Mao has been providing “technical assistance” for Acosta and other members of the NC6. Her organization doesn’t represent individuals in court, she said, but the services it provides are necessary because immigration is such a unique area of law and there are very few attorneys who know how to represent individuals who are detained and who have been designated unaccompanied minors. Those services include providing support, referrals, and technical assistance to advocates, community organizations, and families on deportation defense and custody issues.

Fighting for Asylum From Detention

Once arrested by ICE, there is no telling if someone will linger in detention for months or swiftly be deported. What is known is that if a migrant is taken by ICE in North Carolina, somewhere along the way, they will be transferred to Lumpkin, Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. As a local paper reported, Stewart is “the last stop before they send you back to whatever country you came from.”

Stewart is the largest detention center in the country, capable of holding 2,000 migrants at any time—it’s also been the subject of numerous investigations because of reports of abuse and inadequate medical care. The detention center is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison provider and one that has become synonymous with maintaining inhumane conditions inside of its detention centers. According to a report from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Stewart’s remote location—over two hours away from Atlanta—hinders the facility from attracting and retaining adequate medical staff, while also creating barriers to visitation from attorneys and family members.

There’s also the matter of Georgia being notoriously tough on asylum seekers, even being called the “worst” place to be an undocumented immigrant. The Huffington Post reported that “Atlanta immigration judges have been accused of bullying children, badgering domestic violence victims and setting standards for relief and asylum that lawyers say are next to impossible to meet.” Even more disconcerting, according to a project by Migrahack, which pairs immigration reporters and hackers together, having an attorney in Georgia had almost no effect on whether or not a person won their asylum case, with state courts denying up to 98 percent of asylum requests. 

Acosta, Cortez, and Sorto-Hernandez spent over six months in Stewart Detention Center before they were released on baila “miracle” according to some accounts, given the fact that only about 5 percent of those detained in Stewart are released on bond.

In the weeks after ICE transferred Acosta to Stewart, there were multiple times Acosta was on the verge of deportation. ICE repeatedly denied Acosta was in danger, but advocates say they had little reason to believe the agency. Previous cases have made them wary of such claims.

Advocates believe that three of the North Carolina teens who were deported earlier this year before Acosta’s case made headlines were kept in detention for months with the goal of wearing them down so that they would sign their own deportation orders despite having valid asylum claims.

“They were tired. They couldn’t handle being in detention. They broke down and as much as they feared being returned to their home countries, they just couldn’t handle being there [in detention] anymore. They’d already been there for weeks,” Benitez said.

While ICE claims the average stay of a migrant in Stewart Detention Center is 30 days, the detention center is notorious for excessively long detainments. Acosta’s own bunkmate had been there over a year, according to Indy Week reporter David Hudnall.

As Hudnall reported, there is a massive backlog of immigration cases in the system—474,000 nationally and over 5,000 in North Carolina.

Mao told Rewire that the amount of time the remaining members of the NC6 will spend in detention varies because of different legal processes, but that it’s not unusual for young people with very strong asylum cases to sign their rights away because they can’t sustain the conditions inside detention.

Pedro Arturo Salmeron, another NC6 member, is still in detention. He was almost deported, but Mao told Rewire her organization was able to support a pro bono attorney in appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to stop proceedings.

Japeth Matemu, an immigration attorney, recently told Indy Week’s David Hudnall that “the BIA will tell you that it can’t modify the immigration judge’s ruling unless it’s an egregious or obvious miscarriage of justice. You basically have to prove the judge is off his rocker.”

It could take another four months in detention to appeal Salmeron’s case because ICE continues to refuse to release him, according to the legal fellow.

“That’s a low estimate. It could be another year in detention before there is any movement in his case. We as an organization feel that is egregious to detain someone while their case is pending,” Mao said. “We have to keep in mind that these are kids, and some of these kids can’t survive the conditions of adult prison.”

Detention centers operate as prisons do, with those detained being placed in handcuffs and shackles, being stripped of their personal belongings, with no ability to move around freely. One of Acosta’s teachers told Rewire he wasn’t even able to receive his homework in detention.

Many of those in detention centers have experienced trauma. Multiple studies confirm that “detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being” and in the particular case of asylum seekers, detention may exacerbate their trauma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“People are so traumatized by the raids, and then you add detention on top of that. Some of these kids cannot psychologically and physically deal with the conditions in detention, so they waive their rights,” Mao said.

In March, Salmeron and fellow NC6 member Yefri Sorto-Hernandez received stays of deportation, meaning they would not face immediate deportation. ICE says a stay is like a “legal pause.” During the pause, immigration officials decide if evidence in the case will be reconsidered for asylum. Sorto-Hernandez was released five months later.

Benitez said that previously when she organized around detention, a stay of deportation meant the person would get released from detention, but ICE’s decision to detain some of the NC6 indefinitely until their cases are heard illustrates how “weirdly severe” the agency is being toward this particular population. Mao fears this is a tactic being used by ICE to break down young people in detention.

“ICE knows it will take months, and frankly up to a year, for some of these motions to go through the court system, but the agency is still refusing to release individuals. I can’t help but think it’s with the intention that these kids will give up their claims while suffering in detention,” Mao said.

“I think we really have to question that, why keep these young people locked up when they can be with their communities, with their families, going to school? ICE can release these kids now, but for showmanship, ICE is refusing to let them go. Is this who we want to be, is this the message we want to send the world?” she asked.

In the seven months since the announcement of Operation Border Guardian, DHS has remained quiet about whether or not there will be more raids on young Central American asylum seekers. As a new school year approaches, advocates fear that even more students will be receiving their orders for removal, and unlike the NC6, they may not have a community to rally around them, putting them at risk of quietly being deported and not heard from again.

Culture & Conversation Media

From ‘Mouseburger’ to Media Icon: Bio Traces Rise of Cosmo Editor Helen Gurley Brown

Eleanor J. Bader

Helen Gurley Brown was a publishing giant and pop-culture feminist theorist. But according to her latest biographer, she was a mass of insecurities even as she confidently told single people, especially women, to take charge of their sex lives.

Like all of us, Cosmopolitan magazine’s longtime editor Helen Gurley Brown lived with conflicting drives and desires. But Gurley Brown’s ideas and insecurities had a public platform, where she championed sex for singles while downplaying workplace sexual harassment and featured feminist voices while upholding the beauty ideals that made her own life difficult.

A workhorse who played hard, Gurley Brown, who died in 2012, is presented as an often contradictory heroine and an unexpected success story in journalist Gerri Hirshey’s new 500-page biography, Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown.

Helen Gurley Brown’s life and example—almost a classic Horatio Alger “rags to riches” tale—affirms that the American idea of surmounting humble origins is sometimes possible, if improbable. But Gurley Brown’s story also illustrates both personal grit and endurance. Wily, willing to take risks, and sexually audacious, she might be a questionable role model for 21st century women, but her amazing story, as told by Hirshey, will nonetheless inspire and entertain.

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Born in 1922, Gurley Brown led Cosmopolitan for 32 years. She moved the magazine, which had been published continuously since 1886, from relative obscurity into the limelight. Known for its brash cover chatter and how-to articles on heterosexual man-pleasing, Cosmo is the world’s highest-selling women’s magazine, with 61 print editions. Its long history—alongside Helen Gurley Brown’s personal story—offers a fascinating window into the intersection between U.S. publishing and burgeoning 20th-century feminist ideologies.

Hirshey (whose earlier books include Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music and We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock) presents Gurley Brown as a mess of pushes and pulls: insecure, brilliant, bold, self-effacing, loyal, independent, jittery, and frugal to the point of deprivation. Indeed, Hirshey’s revealing and detailed biography describes the pioneering editor as someone hungry for experiences; a sophisticated New Yorker with deep roots in rural America; and a writer of guidebooks who had trouble taking advice. In short, Helen Gurley Brown was limited by a host of personal issues, but that did not stop her from trying to push societal boundaries and shatter sexual propriety.

A native of small-town Arkansas, Helen’s childhood was marred by tragedy. Her father died in an accident when she was 10; several years later, her older sister, Mary, contracted polio, which left her partially paralyzed. Helen’s mother, Cleo, was overwhelmed and often depressed. Nonetheless, she scrambled to keep the creditors at bay, and the family lived in numerous decrepit rentals during Helen’s childhood.

Poverty was not the only obstacle Helen faced. According to Hirshey, “By the time Mary and Helen were school age, Cleo had begun her steady warnings that pretty girls got the best in life.” While Cleo never used the word “plain” to describe her offspring, it was clear that she did not think them comely. Helen was devastated. What’s more, the fear of being unattractive dogged her for her entire life and she had multiple surgeries to correct “flaws.” She also starved herself and exercised compulsively—and would likely now be labeled as having an eating disorder—to keep her weight at an unwavering 105 pounds.

Her success, Hirshey writes, was the result of luck, tenacity, and sheer chutzpah.

It started in the 1940s, shortly after she finished high school and secured the first of a string of secretarial jobs. During her tenure as a typist and stenographer, Helen cozied up to her male bosses and slept with some of them.

“It was the first time she truly observed and understood that sex is power,” Hirshey writes. “Helen had come to realize that sex was a surprising and thrilling equalizer between the sheets.” Gurley Brown pooh-poohed the idea that people should wait until marriage to have sex and had no problem dating men who were cheating on their wives. The same went, Hirshey writes, for racists and overt anti-Semites. Since she was giving a large part of her earnings to her mother and her sister, it was the size of a man’s bank book, rather than his politics, that evidently curried her favor.

Nevertheless, being a mistress had a downside, and Helen’s diary reveals that she felt like a “little bird … expected to stay in her cage, always available yet always alone.”

Her fortunes turned shortly after her 26th birthday, when she became secretary to Don Belding, chairman of the board at prestigious ad agency Foote, Cone, and Belding. Belding paid Helen $75 a week and treated her like a long-lost daughter; she considered him a surrogate father.

Alice Belding, Don’s wife, took a particular interest in Helen and, after reading something she’d written, persuaded her husband to give Helen a chance as a copywriter. He did, making her one of the first women to break into the field.

Meanwhile, there were men. Lots of men. “Certainly, men love beautiful women,” Hirshey writes. But Helen realized that when “the lights went out, Miss Universe might just as well be the poor, sooty match girl if she couldn’t make him shout hallelujah.” She loved the power sex gave her, but was hurt during a group therapy session when another participant dubbed her a slut. “Spoken with venom, it had the effect of a gut-punch,” Hirshey writes.  Still, it proved clarifying for Helen, allowing her to formulate the idea at the heart of her 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl: There is nothing shameful about unmarried people having sex as long as it’s consensual.

Helen met David Brown, a high-profile movie executive, in 1958, when she was 36. David was 42, twice married and twice divorced, and had no interest in returning to the altar anytime soon.  This was fine with Helen. Nonetheless, as they spent more and more time together, they formed a strategic partnership. Yes, there was love, but Helen Gurley craved financial security, which David could provide. They wed in September 1959.

At that point, David suggested that Helen take a professional detour and write “a guidebook of sorts for single women.” Hirshey reports that he envisioned “something along the lines of ‘How to Have a Successful Affair’” and ticked off possible subjects, including how to snare a guy and dress for conquest. He also wanted the manual to include concrete sex tips. Helen loved the idea and the pair began to work on it, she as writer, he as editor.

Sex and the Single Girl told the truth as Helen saw it. Hirshey notes that the book was meant as a practicum, “and was never intended as an overtly feminist tract. Systemic change was not at all on her radar; she addressed herself to bettering the small, quotidian lives toiling within the status quo, of those, herself included, she would come to call ‘mouseburgers.’ Sexism was not even in her vocabulary.”

Her message was quite simple: Sex needed to be decoupled from marriage. As for gender roles, she was fine with women playing coy. In fact, she explicitly advised women to go out with men only if they could pay for everything, from dinner and drinks to “prezzies.”

There were of course, detractors, but Sex and the Single Girl sold millions of copies and made Helen Gurley Brown a household name. She appeared on countless TV talk shows and was the first woman featured in Playboy’s famous centerpiece interviews.

In the throes of her success, however, David was offered a job in New York and the couple decided to leave California, where they’d both lived for decades. David, Hirshey reports, knew that Helen needed to work, “that Helen unemployed would be Helen unhinged.” Together, they developed a prototype for a monthly women’s magazine that would popularize and expand upon the ideas in Sex and the Single Girl. They called it Femme and floated the idea to every publisher they knew. No one liked it.

Eventually, Hearst Corporation suggested “superimposing” the format on one of the corporation’s least successful publications, Cosmopolitan, with Helen Gurley Brown at the helm.

It worked, not only boosting sagging sales but catapulting “The Cosmo Girl” to prominence. Sexual freedom, Gurley Brown enthused, was in–but apparently only for heterosexuals, since the magazine rarely acknowledged the existence of same-sex relationships or bisexuality.

Nonetheless, the first few issues tackled then-risqué themes, as these titles suggest: “The Bugaboo of Male Impotence”; “I was a Nude Model (and This is What Happened)”; “Things I’ll Never Do with a Man Again”; “The Astonishingly Frank Diary of an Unfaithful Wife”; and “How to Make a Small Bosom Amount to Something.”

As the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s took hold, Cosmo flourished, albeit steering clear of covering racial unrest, the Vietnam War, or the counterculture and anti-militarism movements. Likewise, if Gurley Brown had any thoughts about the civil rights or peace movements, Hirshey neglects to mention them. She does note that for Helen, “readers of color scarcely registered.” It’s too bad this is not probed more deeply in Not Pretty Enough, and why the editor remained above the fray—was it fear, disinterest, or hostility?—remains unclear.

The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s did capture Helen’s interest, though, and she considered herself a devout feminist, with a particular passion for promoting reproductive rights. She wrote numerous articles about the need to overhaul abortion policies pre-Roe v. Wade, openly declaring that “it’s a shame that girls have to go to Mexico or Europe to be operated on.” At Cosmo, she cheered the arrival of the birth control pill in 1960; hailed the 1965 Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut that gave married heterosexuals access to birth control; and was exuberant when Eisenstadt v. Baird gave unmarried couples the same right to control their fertility in 1972.

Sexual harassment, on the other hand, was befuddling to her. Remembering her days as a secretary, she dubbed slaps on the ass and sexually suggestive comments to be harmless fun. “When a man finds you sexually attractive, he is paying you a compliment,” she wrote in a monthly Cosmo column. “When he doesn’t, that’s when you have to worry.”

Small wonder that Kate Millett picketed Cosmo for its “reactionary politics” or that Betty Friedan slammed it for its sexism and preponderance of inane articles on keeping men happy.

Despite disagreeing with these thinkers, Helen Gurley Brown marched down New York City’s Fifth Avenue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in August 1970 and published articles written by prominent feminists as the 1970s unfolded.

Then, at the height of the AIDS crisis, Gurley Brown stepped in it. In early 1988, Cosmo ran an article that minimized the possibility of heterosexual transmission of HIV and made it sound as if straight women were immune from infection. Equally horrifying, the author, psychiatrist Dr. Robert E. Gould, was overtly racist. “Many men in Africa take their women in a brutal way,” he wrote, “so that some heterosexual activity regarded as normal by them would be close to rape by our standards.”

Oy. Readers were aghast, and Gurley Brown was roundly and deservedly criticized. Even Surgeon General C. Everett Koop weighed in, saying the article did “such a disservice” by suggesting that the risk of contracting the virus was low for heterosexual women. Hirshey reports that, inexplicably, the article was never retracted or corrected.

By this point, however, Helen was showing signs of dementia—she had periodical temper tantrums in public and was becoming less reliable and sharp—so Hearst Corporation brought in several new editors, albeit without firing Helen. She continued going into the office until shortly before her 2012 death. She had done paid work for 71 years.

Hirshey’s sources range from primary documents and in-person interviews with people who knew Gurley Brown, including Gloria Vanderbilt and Barbara Walters. Correspondence and recorded talks between her and friends such as Jacqueline Susann and Joan Rivers provide incisive, funny, and poignant anecdotes. These interviews give the book reportorial gravitas and intimacy. And although Hirshey had only a passing acquaintance with her subject—she had interviewed Gurley Brown decades earlier for an article about marriage proposals—she nonetheless manages to show Gurley Brown as a regular Jane who spoke openly about her nagging doubts.

Many readers will feel as if they can relate to Gurley Brown’s struggles and triumphs. Throughout the book, I felt sad for her, but also wished we’d met.

In fact, I closed the book wanting more; among other things, I wanted to better understand what it was like for her to move between near-poverty and the upper crust. Did she feel like an impostor? Did her lifelong conviction that she was not pretty enough or smart enough keep her from feeling connected to others? Did she ever feel truly secure?

Perhaps Gurley Brown’s self-doubts are what kept her from becoming arrogant or abusive to others; even those who hated Cosmopolitan or were frustrated by her racial and political blind spots admired her kindness. Similarly, these doubts did not prompt her to disguise her eccentricities—among them, pilfering from petty cash and always taking public transportation rather than cabs. Indeed, whatever Gurley Brown felt about her own appeal, Hirshey’s biography presents Helen Gurley Brown the woman as quirky, humble, and utterly fascinating.

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