Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The Arlington Young Democrats are weighing a new push to convince the county school system to change its sex education policies, though state law could limit the scope of their advocacy.

The concern of some of the group’s members is that Arlington Public Schools still includes abstinence as part of its “family life education curriculum,” a focus that researchers believe does little to address teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Any eventual lobbying effort could center on urging the School Board and Superintendent Patrick Murphy to do away with any mention of abstinence in APS sex education, and concentrate primarily on contraceptives and sexual health instead.

The specifics of what changes the AYDs may ask for and how they might advocate for them is still unclear, however. Tania Bougebrayel, the group’s president, told ARLnow that “sex education policy is on our agenda of important issues this year” and members are still “gathering information” before launching a formal effort in the coming months.

Yet the group could well run into one important roadblock: the strictures set by state law.

Virginia’s “Standards of Learning” gives school systems some latitude to design their own sex education curricula, but it does come with basic requirements they all must meet — among them is an emphasis on “abstinence education” and “the value of postponing sexual activity.” And as school spokesman Frank Bellavia points out, “APS does not have the ability to change state SOL curriculum that is set by the commonwealth.”

“However, we do broaden the scope to be more open and to teach more comprehensively,” Bellavia said. “For example, when the SOL states, ‘abstaining until marriage,’ our instruction also references ‘mature/committed relationships,’ not just marriage. Families also receive a letter annually in the first day packet and have the ability to ‘opt-out’ of any part of the FLE curriculum.”

However, Graham Weinschenk, a Yorktown High School alum who has worked with the AYDs in the past, believes the school system may have more flexibility than it’s letting on.

He’s tracked the issue of sex education closely since working with local state lawmakers to introduce legislation on the subject, and he points out that the Board agreed to revise its FLE policies just this June. The Board agreed to remove a good many of the details from its old policy in favor of broad guidelines, giving Murphy the chance to create a new “policy implementation plan” and sketch out new specifics in the coming months.

“Arlington is kind of at a pivotal moment, and I think [the AYDs] can do a lot in shaping that policy,” Weinschenk said. “There’s more room to make changes now than there was under the old policy.”

Bellavia said staff are currently working on the policy specifics, and they “don’t have a timeline for when it will be completed.”

But Weinschenk is optimistic about the prospect of committed advocacy making a difference in bringing more “medically accurate sex ed” to Arlington. He fully expects that APS could remove any mention of abstinence from its curriculum as part of the policy revision process, noting that the state standards for sex education “are really just guidelines.”

Such a change would be well worth the effort, in Weinschenk’s mind. He points to research suggesting that even mentioning abstinence in sex education classes “undermines the entire process” by sending mixed messages to students” and can stigmatize students who are having sex.

“I totally understand that it makes complete logical sense to at least mention abstinence, I hear that from parents all the time,” Weinschenk said. “But if you look at the science and believe the science, then we shouldn’t have this in our program.”

That’s part of why Weinschenk worked with lawmakers to introduce bills last year to remove references to abstinence in the state guidelines. But with Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly, that legislation has yet to make it out of committee.

Weinschenk is hopeful that he’ll have more success in next year’s legislative session, especially with Democrats just one seat short of a majority in both chambers, but he believes local action is the surest path toward progress in the near term.

Depending on the exact avenue the AYDs decide to pursue, such an effort could require the backing of the School Board, and there’s no telling how they might lean on the issue. For her part, Board member Barbara Kanninen, the lone member up for re-election this year, said through a spokesman that she supports “the Young Democrats’ advocacy at the state level for factual, inclusive, best practice teaching,” but wouldn’t address efforts at the local level.

Weinschenk acknowledges that these changes can be difficult, even in progressive communities like Arlington, but he expects politicians and parents alike could eventually be convinced.

“This problem seems solvable, so I’m trying to solve it,” Weinschenk said.

Photo via YouTube

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Arlington Public School officials are considering unblocking the website of Planned Parenthood on APS computers.

The site for the nonprofit organization that provides reproductive care healthcare is currently blocked on all student computers because it is considered sex education, according to the school system.

After ARLnow contacted the school system about the ban, a school spokesman said the county was considering plans to lift the content filter.

Frank Bellavia, the school system’s communications coordinator, said a decision is expected within the next week. The school system began reconsidering the block after receiving several inquiries, he said.

“Part of the determination is determining if we do unblock across all grade levels,” Bellavia said. “We are still evaluating the site for age appropriateness and for instructional content.”

One parent who contacted ARLnow.com pointed out that Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services, is blocked while the website of anti-abortion group National Right to Life was not blocked.

The block has been in effect “for quite some time,” according to Bellavia. The school system contracts an external provider that filters content on student computers.

Update at 11:40 a.m. — Bellavia says National Right to Life has now been blocked. “Because it was brought to our attention previously, IT staff blocked that site,” he said.

Anna Merod contributed reporting.

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More than a dozen people protested outside Harris Teeter in Ballston this morning (Monday), urging the grocery store to make it easier to access a form of emergency contraception.

Protestors gathered near the store at 600 N. Glebe Road just after 10 a.m. holding signs and chanting, urging the grocery store to put Plan B One Step on its shelves. Currently, customers must pick up a card on the shelf for Plan B and take it to either a pharmacist or store manager to redeem it.

Plan B is a time-sensitive medication to prevent unintended pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but the sooner it can be taken, the more effective it is.

The protest was organized by Reproaction, a direct action group formed two years ago to help increase access to abortion and reproductive justice: the right to parent, the right not to parent and the right to raise children in safe and healthy communities.

“For over four years, the FDA has authorized emergency contraception to be sold on the shelf to anyone regardless of age or gender,” Erin Matson, co-director of Reproaction, said. “You pick it up off the shelf the way you do Tylenol. What Harris Teeter does is asinine.”

For others protesting, it was a chance to stand up for the rights of immigrants and the LGBTQ community, who are able to access such contraception easier than other types requiring identification.

“Plan B is something we have fought for so we don’t have any barriers for it,” Alejandra Pablos of the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network said. “It’s very important when you think about all the immigrant people, the trans people from the LGBTQ community having Plan B accessible to you without ID, without that barrier is super important.”

And Shireen Shakouri, another protestor, said she came to protest after some difficult experiences in the grocery store.

“When I was younger, trawling through the aisle that had sexual health products, I was often followed,” she said. “I don’t need that policing now, I didn’t need it then and I’m here to speak out against it.

Matson said Monday’s action is part of a wider push against the grocery store’s policy, timed to coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We’re kicking off our campaign to make HT put emergency contraception on the shelf where it belongs at the beginning of the holiday season on purpose,” she said. “This is a time when shoppers are busy and coming over here, and we wanted to make sure we got the word out and make this change happen.”

For its part, Harris Teeter said in a statement posted on news website Rewire last year that the product must be sold by a pharmacy associate or store manager, as they are certified under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

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Rosslyn Highlands park (photo via Arlington County)Two people have been arrested after police interrupted their very public lovemaking in Rosslyn.

The incident happened behind Fire Station 10, in Rosslyn Highlands Park, according to scanner traffic.

“At approximately 3:32 p.m. on March 22, officers were dispatched to the report of two subjects allegedly engaged in sexual activity in public view,” Arlington County Police said in a crime report. “As officers were conducting the investigation, the female subject charged at the officer and struck him repeatedly.”

“Nicole Faircloth, 42, of No Fixed Address was arrested and charged with assault and battery on police and performing a sexual act in a public place,” the crime report continued. “Petko Ubiparipovic, 42, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with performing a sexual act in a public place. Both were held on bond.”

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Morning Notes

Minor flooding along Pimmit Run in Arlington after a steady rain

Abingdon Closed Due to Asbestos Issue — Abingdon Elementary, which is undergoing an expansion and renovation project, is closed today due to an asbestos incident on Tuesday. “This afternoon an error was made by one of the subcontractors working on the Abingdon Elementary School project who did not appropriately handle the removal of asbestos,” parents were told in an email yesterday. “As a result, since it was close to dismissal time APS Facilities staff immediately contacted the school to have all students and staff shelter in place in their classrooms to limit movement throughout the school for the remainder of the day.” APS will conduct testing to determine whether the school can reopen Thursday.

Graffiti PSA From ACPD — Arlington County Police is reminding the public that graffiti on either public or private property should be reported to the police non-emergency line, at 703-558-2222. “Graffiti is not a new problem in Arlington but something ACPD needs your help with,” the department said. ACPD’s Gang Unit reviews all graffiti reports. [Arlington County]

Man Charged With Secretly Filming Sexual Encounter — A former Oregon congressional candidate has been charged in Arlington with secretly recording a video of himself having sex with a 22-year-old woman in his apartment. Jim Feldkamp, 53, most recently worked as an adjunct professor at George Mason University, and the woman was a student there, according to news reports. [Register-Guard, KVAL]

Metro Workers Meet at Arlington Church — A group of Metro workers met last night in an Arlington church to discuss planned budget cuts and service reductions. Said one former bus operator: “Virginia should be outraged. This is going to cause of catastrophe. All of these cuts in Virginia, it’s already gridlock.” [WJLA]

Favola Gets in Knife Fight in Richmond — State Sen. Barbara Favola (D) is speaking out against a bill that would make it legal for family members to give several types of knives — a switchblade, Bowie knife and a dirk — to children. Currently, family members can give kids guns but not those types of knives. “This is just bad public policy,” Favola said of the bill, which narrowly passed. “Why would you want to put our children at risk?” [Washington Post]

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cconE-badge2dAdult film stars. Sex educators. Feminist pornographers.

And that’s just the keynote address.

A new conference is coming to Crystal City, and no it’s not another meeting about cow udders, accountants or nanotechnology.

CatalystCon East, described as “a conference created to inspire exceptional conversations about sexuality,” will be coming to the Crystal City Marriott (1999 Jefferson Davis Highway) from March 15-17.

The conference features some 75 speakers, including porn star Jessica DrakeDr. Charlie Glickman (author of “The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure”), Cunning Minx (described as a “kinky boobiesexual”), fetish model Sinnamon Love, and 69-year-old “senior sexpert” Joan Price.

Also on the speaker list is Rev. Rebecca Turner, who will be giving a presentation entitled “Ending the War Between Religion and Sex.”

Other planned sessions have titles like “Entrepreneurial IQ: 10 keys to designing an unconventional career in sexuality,” “Feminist Porn: The Politics of Producing Pleasure,” “PRIDE & Prejudice: Confronting Homophobia in Communities of Color,” and “Sex with Benefits: Progressive Swinging.”

This is the inaugural CatalystCon East, planned after the inaugural CatalystCon West proved successful in September. Registration is required for the three-day conference.

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A pastor of a local Arlington church says married couples in the area are too stressed and not having enough sex.

John Slye, senior pastor at Grace Community Church, is two weeks into an eight week sermon series that the church has dubbed “Smokin’ Hot.” A mailer sent to local households took the unconventional step (for a church) of promoting the sermon series with the boldfaced words: “Dating. Sex. Marriage. Porn.”

Though the marketing is unquestionably provocative, the overarching goal of the sermon series is improving relationships. Syle says that all too often, intimacy is lacking from marriages and mutual understanding is missing from relationships.

Slye says stress is often the culprit when there’s not enough sex in a marriage. He said there’s even a term for it: DINS, or “Dual Income, No Sex.”

“We see this in Washington, D.C.,” Slye said. “I mean, there’s so much stress here, we have so many Type A people, and we’re just hard chargers. And sex, even among married couples, is just dropping dramatically because of all the stress.”

Syle says physical intimacy — kissing and sex — is a key component of marriages, and shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside.

“In a marriage, sex is meant to be a really positive thing,” he said. “It’s meant to be the glue that holds the husband and wife together. It’s powerful, and that’s what the Bible speaks about.”

“A lot of times when couples first get married, the sex between them is really bonding, but after a while… it either goes away or dries up,” Slye added. “Eventually, married couples — a lot of them — they’re having sex but they’re not kissing. And eventually they’re not even having sex. And you’ve got to do these certain things to instill the passion.”

Another disconnect in marriages and relationships comes from a lack of mutual understanding, says Slye.

“A man has a certain set of love buttons, and a woman has a certain set of love buttons,” he said. “By default, we think that the other sex’s love buttons are the same as ours. And we’re, like, pushing those buttons and it’s doing nothing for them. We have to learn what the opposite sex’s love buttons are, so we have to be real students.”

“Arlington is one of the smartest areas in the country,” he continued. “But we have to be great students, we have to study this person that we’re in a relationship with harder than we study for our PhD, or Masters, or whatever… Both [partners] need to bring something to the table, and they both need to understand each other.”

Slye’s sermon series is based on the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, which he describes as “the relationship book of the Bible.”

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Police responded to the Pentagon City mall on Thursday for a report of an “obscene sexual display” in a restroom.

The security manager of a department store called police around 11:30 a.m. after finding a man masturbating in the middle of the store’s third floor bathroom. The suspect, described as a 5’9″ black male in his late 20s, was peering at another man in a bathroom stall while masturbating, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. A third man was also present in the bathroom during the incident, watching the other two. The men had deliberately met up in the bathroom for sexual purposes, Sternbeck said.

The suspects all fled the scene before police arrived.

While Sternbeck was unable to confirm the identity of the store involved, a “cruising” website for men seeking sexual encounters contains a listing for the third floor bathroom of the Macy’s store in Pentagon City.

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Newly-minted state Senator Barbara Favola (D) says Virginia’s teen pregnancy prevention program should not be eliminated.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has proposed cutting the $455,000 program, which funds sex education and birth control for teens in seven areas with some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. McDonnell says the program has not worked.

In a statement, Favola said the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) helps teens make healthier decisions.

This is a recipe for unintended pregnancies and significant health risks to young women. Teens need good information to make healthy decisions, but not all of Virginia’s youth are receiving medically accurate information from trusted sources.

The prevention of teen pregnancy is a critical issue in Virginia. In 2010, 367,752 children were born to girls 15-19, nationally. That’s a rate of 34.3 pregnancies per 1000 women. In 2010, 10,970 of those teen pregnancies were in Virginia. That’s a rate of 21.1 pregnancies per 1000 women. Though Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate is below the national average, 28 cities and counties in the Commonwealth are above the national average, and the TPPI program targets areas that are most vulnerable.

TPPI has been a key part of Virginia’s teen pregnancy prevention efforts since 1994. It provides convenient, on-site access to wellness education and preventive health services. TPPI’s goal is for teens to receive medically accurate information, make healthy choices, and provide pregnancy prevention resources. TPPI aims to reduce teenage pregnancy through life skills training, education, health services, and awareness.

The program provides essential services to teenage girls in high-risk areas. It provides convenient, on-site access to wellness education and preventive health services. Not all parents feel comfortable having ‘the talk’ or discussing other topics important for our youth’s health and safety. The only way to ensure teen pregnancy rates continue on their long-term downward trend is to provide teens with the necessary education and resources so they are empowered to make healthy decisions. TPPI helps to inform teens with medically accurate information so they can make safe and responsible decisions.

The governor’s decision to eliminate TPPI’s funding does a great disservice to Virginia’s teens. His proposed budget cut will deprive teenage girls in the most high-risk areas of the state of the critical services and education necessary to make responsible and healthy life decisions.

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Arlington teens are more physically active and less sexually active than they were three years ago, a survey of Arlington students has found.

The 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which polled 8th, 10th and 12th graders in Arlington, found that more teens say they’re getting adequate exercise than three years ago, when the last survey was conducted.

In 2007, 40 percent of teens said they were getting adequate exercise — defined as at least one hour of exercise, five or more days per week. In 2010, that number jumped to 50 percent.

There was little corresponding change in obesity rates, however. The obesity rate remained steady at 9 percent, based on students’ Body Mass Index. In 2010, 13 percent of teens were “at risk for obesity,” compared to 14 percent in 2007. The percentage of students describing themselves as “overweight,” however, actually grew — from 25 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, fewer Arlington teens say they’ve having or have ever had sex.

In 2010, 27 percent of students said they had ever had sexual intercourse, while 18 percent said they’re currently sexually active. In 2007, 30 percent of teens said they had ever had sex, while 20 percent said they were currently sexually active.

Only 4 percent of teens say they were sexually active before age 13, compared to 5 percent in 2007.

Among sexually active youth, 63 percent used a condom in 2010, compared to 61 percent in 2007. Last year 75 percent of students reported using at least one type of reliable birth control.

In 2010, 4 percent of students said they have gotten someone pregnant, versus 5 percent in 2007. The number of students reporting more than four sexual partners in their lifetime remained steady at 8 percent.

Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief

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