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© Janelle Jones for CYCLES + SEX
© Janelle Jones for CYCLES + SEX

Where Sex Ed Fails, This Movement Brings New Age Sexual Health to LA

Picture of Nadia Elysse
Health Editor/Editorial Team Lead
Updated: 29 November 2017

It’s clear Americans don’t talk nearly enough about what’s going on with their genitals. I mean, when’s the last time you discussed vaginal discharge with a friend? CYCLES + SEX, an event launched this year in New York City and Los Angeles, hopes to help people have important conversations about sex.

CYCLES + SEX was in the works for a long time but it officially started in the Winter of 2016, when we used all of our personal savings to put a deposit down on a venue,” says CYCLES + SEX co-founder Natalia Hailes. “Our first event took place on April 30, 2017 in NYC. The response was so fantastic that we’re now going to LA on November 4! And we’re planning on expanding to other cities and non-cities in 2018.”

There is no federal law governing how states should approach the accuracy and detail of sexual education in the United States. Consequently, state-run abstinence-only and medically inaccurate sex ed programs sometimes slip through the cracks. And the results have been pretty disastrous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans reported over two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2016. That’s a record high in the U.S.

Here, Natalia Hailes, Ashley Spivak, and Lauren Bille, the founders of CYCLES + SEX, discuss their unique approach to reproductive and sexual health education and why there is a dire need for Americans to have real, candid discussions about sex.

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Jess Ebsworth / © Culture Trip

Culture Trip: How did CYCLES + SEX come about? What made you commit to such a tremendous undertaking?

Ashley Spivak: [CYCLES + SEX was] born right after the election, when reproductive and gender rights were under more threat than before and sexual assault was deemed characteristic by the new administration. Information on sex, reproductive health and gender has always been shame inducing, intimidating and hard to find, yet vital to our collective wellbeing. When the election happened it was clear to us that it was more important than ever to get educated, support one another, take action to protect ourselves and make informed choices about our bodies. It felt too important and too urgent to just sit back.

CT: In your own words, what is the purpose of CYCLES + SEX? What do you hope attendees get out of it?

Natalia Hailes: CYCLES + SEX teaches people about their bodies. It is a movement to educate and celebrate the interconnectedness of our menstrual, hormonal, reproductive and sexual health. We want to be the go-to place where people can overcome shame and be inspired to become curious about how their bodies work by providing the support and tools to help along the way.

Our events get all thought leaders and innovators across these fields under the same roof. And allows our community to interact firsthand so that they can ask all the questions and learn what works best for them. And know that they aren’t alone, particularly in times like these.

CT: How did you choose the cities to host the event? What cities do you hope to travel to next?

Lauren Bille: We started in NYC because it is our home base so it felt natural to be here where most of our community is. Now we’re going to LA because a lot of people have been asking us to go there and we’re excited to share what we’re doing with the growing wellness community in the west coast. The response has truly been amazing. We are being asked to go all over—Berlin, Hong Kong, Miami, Austin… so stay tuned! We also have plans to work with college campuses as well as smaller cities that have a lot less access than some of the major cities.

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Instagram: @thelipsticklobby

CT: Were you initially afraid to broach controversial, sometimes political subjects as they relate to reproductive health?

LB: One of our goals as an organization is to be 100% inclusive. We always say: “If you came from a uterus this info is for you!” That being said, we understand the great disparities that exist when it comes to reproductive health and justice as it relates to gender and race so we feel this is a huge part of the conversation and we will not ignore it. It actually doesn’t even feel all that political or controversial because the information we are sharing is steeped in history and data.  But our aim is certainly to bring more people into the conversation, not isolate them from it.

CT: Do you think the U.S. fails its students when it comes to sex education? What do we get wrong?

AS: In many ways we do. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 37 states allow for medically inaccurate sex education, and only 18 states require teachers to present information about contraception. Plus, nearly one quarter of millennials report they did not have sex education class in middle or high school.

Most people we talk to say their sex ed focused on STIs and pregnancy prevention, which of course is very important, but it feels like a huge part of the conversation is being left behind.  How about if we teach kids to get to know their bodies, hormones and parts so they can make informed choices and understand when something is not right? And what about consent when it comes to sex? We need to find ways to talk about all these issues in a way that is evidence-based, but also in ways that make it relevant and impactful. That’s what we’re doing with CYCLES + SEX—we want to teach people about their bodies, while including pleasure, safety and diversity in the conversation.

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© Eva Zar for CYCLES + SEX

CT: What do you think schools and communities can do to get these conversations right?

NH: We need to get rid of the shame that surrounds reproductive health and sex and find ways to talk about our cycles and bodies from a place of honesty and empowerment. Schools need to teach evidence-based info and include all aspects of reproductive health in the conversation. No topic should be taboo really.

CT: Where do you see CYCLES + SEX five years from now? What does the future of this event look like?
LB: We have many plans for the future including expanding our in real life events and our digital content. Our main hope is to be a source of information and inspiration for people to know their bodies and the options that are out there. We hope in five years we are in a better place when it comes to our reproductive health rights, and if not, we hope to keep fighting for fair access while also teaching people how to take control over their own wellbeing.

Check out CYCLES + SEX November 4 at The Springs, 608 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021