Monday, April 27, 2009

Sex and Asian American Families

*This is a long entry but writing it meant a lot to me, so I hope you will stay with it. Thanks.

I've got a million things to do right now but I came across this blog tonight that I can't stop reading: Asian American Health.

One entry highlighted in a very personal and touching way one girl's experience with sexuality and her parents' attitudes toward sexual activity. It's called "White Flowers: A Personal Take On Culture and Sexual Health".

The blogger writes that she became sexually active with her boyfriend at when she was 16. Then for some reason she missed her period twice, which made her panic even though she took six pregnancy tests that all turned out negative. In the time before her next period came, she considered an abortion, if she was indeed pregnant. But she also reflected on her parents' attitudes toward sex.

I recommend you read the whole (short) entry, but I'll just quote a bit from it now:
She writes, "when I told [my mom] I had a boyfriend, the first thing she said was that I was not allowed to kiss him or hold his hand, much less anything about sex.

Her mom's attitude toward dating and sexuality was neatly summed up in her insistence that her daughter shouldn't hold hands with or kiss her boyfriend. This seems almost laughable since that's the minimum what most people expect to do with a boyfriend. Holding hands and kissing are the most innocuous of romantic gestures. But seeing that those are her mother's expectations, it makes a discussion of sexual activity nearly impossible.

Then she writes about her pregnancy scare:
"My parents were pretty obviously absent from this experience. In the end, of course I got my period, but the white flowers always stuck with me because of how messed up it was that I seriously thought about self-inducing an abortion rather than talk to them. Looking back, five years later, I realized my anxiety was not over whether or not I was pregnant—week after week of negative results should have convinced me. Instead, I was terrified of my parents' reaction to me having sex."

While I can't say I have experienced the anxiety of suspecting I might be pregnant, I can relate to her inability to speak with her parents about sex. I wonder if I'm ever going to get a talk from my mom about sex. (Talking about it with my dad is out of the question. He may drop dead of discomfort instantly.) I've gotten very brief snippets throughout the years, but those were more about relationships. (I can have boyfriends as long as I "don't get too serious" and "don't get hurt".) But these talks never directly addressed sexual activity. I've never asked my mom, "Would you be okay if I had sex before I got married?" She never asked what I did with my boyfriend and I wondered what she thought we were doing.

I am relieved that my parents have a somewhat realistic expectations about my relationships. My mom is okay with kissing and holding hands because she saw us doing that and didn't object to it. (Though I'm embarrassed that she saw even that.) I won't generalize to say that Asian American parents all hold conservative values like my parents and the blogger's parents, but that makes at least two.

My parents' attitudes toward sex, and indeed anybodys, are in part due to the cultural norms. My parents grew up in China where the norms at that time were much more conservative. Even contemporary Chinese norms are much more conservative than the ones here in the U.S. but comparatively liberal since my parents were young.

But I think it's also important to add that attitudes about sex are also shaped by smaller circles of influence, our families and our individual experiences. Not all Americans subscribe to liberal attitudes about sex despite America's place as a key generator of these behaviors.

I think her experience and mine show a generational and cultural gap between Asian American parents and children when it comes to issues like sex, though certainly not limited to it. The silence doesn't mean that Asian American teens and young adults don't have to come to terms with their sexuality and their families.

*A version of this is crossposted at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Read My (Other) Blog

This post isn't entirely a self-plug but it may be a bit redundant since all my blog readers (that I know of) I'm also facebook friends with, which means they'll see a link to my other blog.
Nonetheless, I'm announcing that I am a blogger on Choice Words. It is the blog of Choice USA, a really cool reproductive justice organization.

I've already posted two entries on Choice Words. You can read them here:

Why should you Choice Words?
  1. Because you love what I have to say!
    Really, I'll be updating more frequently there, about twice a week. Because Choice USA is awesome. Also, I'm only one of many bloggers, so you'll get to read what they have to say.
  2. Because you love Reproductive Justice.
    What I really love about repro justice is that it recognizes reproductive rights in the context of multiple systemic inequities. It reaches out to many communities that otherwise may not overlap in other areas. Activists have this problem of "caring too much" so I'm glad that repro justice allows activists to really work to forge connections with environmental activists, labor activists, immigration activists.
On a side note, I really love getting comments on my blog(s!). It's extra motivation for me continue to update them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Clicky clicky!

There are two things I really love:
1. Reading news online. My first choice for news online is A close second is It's for when I've gone to NYT so often that no new articles have come up on the homepage yet.

2. Data arranged in cool graphics.
I find it interesting to see the most popular stories on news website. It's like snooping on a large group of people.

So as you can imagine, I was really happy when I discovered BBC + data! It's not just the simple top 10 list of most viewed or most emailed articles. This is the break down of most popular news on the BBC by continent!

As of right now, the most popular article in every continent is "World Moves to Contain Flu Spread". But after that, the rankings are slightly different.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Being young, smart, rich, and beautiful doesn't make you immune.

Today I listened to the Diane Reim show. The guest for the second half was Leslie Morgan Steiner. She is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir of her abusive marriage. The show was also about this relationship. She spoke honestly and sincerely about why she stayed with her abusive boyfriend, who then became her abusive husband, for several years. I liked her appearance on the show for two reasons.

First, she was candid in admitting that she loved her ex-husband even as the abuse happened. There were aspects of his personality that she loved. After all, she did fall in love with him. This psychological hold he had on her made it all the more difficult for her to leave. People say that money can't buy love. Well, money can't buy you out of love either. By other standards, she was in a perfect position to. She was financially secure, had her own job, and didn't have kids.

She stayed because she wanted their relationship to work. Her ex-husband had grown up in an abusive family and she didn't want to let him down the way other people in his life had. I think it's okay to feel some sympathy here for her ex-husband. But let me be clear: pity, sympathy, and not wanting to give up should not make someone remain in the relationship. Leslie Morgan Steiner realized ultimately that the help he needed was beyond what she could give; her presence was making it worse for both of them.

Second, both she and her husband were people you perhaps wouldn't normally think of as abuser and survivor. The point is that it can happen to anyone. He was Ivy League educated with a high-paying Wall Street job. She was also Ivy League educated and came from “a good family”. I don't think we can write her off as a poor little rich girl complaining about her glamorous Manhattan life. It's not only the poor mom with lots of kids and no education in the ghettos or in the developing world. Being young, smart, rich, and beautiful doesn't make you immune.

You can listen to the show here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I would gladly use a free domestic violence prevention pen.

This article in the NYTimes today was very encouraging.

Taking a Page, and a Pen, From Makers of Medicine

Free pens — bearing the names of drugs like Viagra and Januvia rather than the letters NYC — litter doctors’ offices all across New York, part of an often-criticized strategy by drug company sales representatives known as detailers, who traditionally go from waiting room to waiting room giving gifts to entice doctors to prescribe their products.

Now in New York, there is a new kind of detailer: people like Ms. Franklin, who are part of a campaign by the city to use pharmaceutical industry marketing savvy to spread the word about healthy practices to doctors in neighborhoods where patients often have the least access to the latest news in health care.

I think it's a very creative and simple way to engage health care providers in their patients' well being. In particular, I liked that this article highlighted a domestic violence prevention campaign, which does not usually fall in the duty of health care providers. Yet doctors are in a special position to speak to their patients honestly and confidentially about not just their bodily functions but their family situations too. I hope this idea takes off. I would gladly use a free domestic violence prevention pen.

I have no illusions that physicians are limited in their ability to mediate domestic violence. I mean, we're not asking them to all quit their jobs and work at domestic violence shelters. I think that we should recognize that health care providers have within them opportunities to care for their patients in many ways, and we should make use of them. All they can do is ask their patients and coax them into seeking help. But even "just" talking about domestic violence can have a powerful effect to recognize that abuse happens and to offer help.

In that spirit, I want to plug MSU Safe Place. I'm proud that MSU has its own domestic violence shelter. It is the only university in the country with a shelter program. Its shelter, counseling, and support services are free, confidential, and for MSU students, faculty, staff, their families and children. Like the article emphasized, dating and domestic violence happens to young people, old people, married couples, and unmarried couples, so college students can just as much be abusive relationships.