Article on Changing Relationship Structures

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 1:50 AM Comments comments (2)

Hello all!

Just a quick link to an article on polyamory and changing relationship structures that features some comments and information about Imanadari from Nina, as well as some comments from Anne Hunter, a relationships coach from Melbourne. 

The article can be found here.

Robot Hugs on Harm Reduction

Posted on November 26, 2014 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This Robot Hugs cartoon does an excellent job of explaining what harm reduction is, and how a person can use harm reduction techniques when they are trying to limit harmful behaviour. Harm reducation emphasises that we don't have to perfect straight away when we are trying to stop or limit harmful behaviours, that these things take time and it's important to put safety procedures in place while we are still learning to reduce the dangerous behaviour.

The comic below is from Robot Hugs at

Active Consent Workshop

Posted on September 10, 2014 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are the handouts from a workshop on Active Content at the University of Sydney run by Nina Melksham.


Please note: You are welcome to opt out of any activity at any time, and Jo is available to help you if need to speak to somebody immediately.

Why is active consent important?

  • We live in a “coercion culture” - a culture that normalises and makes invisible many forms of coercive behaviour. The biggest norm that we have been taught that plays into this thinking is “no means no”.

  • This assumption does not account for the large proportion of people who may have difficulty identifying their emotions or with verbal communication.

  • In many cultural contexts, giving a direct no is considered to be rude or abrasive. People are taught that when you say no, you don’t actually use the word no. Instead, you provide non verbal cues, ums and ahs, and you provide an excuse of why you “can’t” do something, rather than saying you don’t want to.

Power imbalances – awareness of privilege and intersectionality


“That’s how privilege works – privilege is invisible to those who have it”

– Michael Kimmel

We cannot discuss active consent without a discussion about privilege. At its core, true consent is about people making informed decisions free from coercion. Negotiations where there is a power imbalance between parties is not impossible, but the power imbalances need to be acknowledged, discussed and made visible.

Coersion norms

(These “coercion norms” were taken from a study from Burkett and Hamilton that asked women specifically about sex that they engaged in that they did not say no to, but that they did not want.)

  • Consent is assumed - “Coercion culture” assumes that from the moment that a man and a woman begin to interact sexually, the woman is consenting to other kinds of sexual activity as well.

  • Consent is only about words - “Coercion culture” teaches women that the only way they can withdraw this assumed consent is by saying the word “no”.

  • Physical coercion is the only form of coercion - “Coercion culture” portrays rape as a man physically forcing a woman to have sex with him.

  • It wasn’t rape – I just didn’t want it - “Coercion culture” ignores the fact that sex can be coercive, even when women don’t experience a sexual activity as rape.

  • Empowered women don’t get coerced

What do we know about coercion and consent in same sex relationships, and coercion from women to men?

The majority of coercion is experienced from men towards their sexual partners, both male and female. That does not discount the existence of coercion from women to women, or from women to men, which is a real phenomenon, but simply points towards the statistical majority of coercion that is occurring.

Within both heterosexual and same sex relationships, the majority of coercion fell into a non physical category.


Setting and timing - When is the right time to start negotiating? My personal preference is to begin talking about consent early, and to be very up front about it. Why? Because of the way that the brain is wired, people become less capable of making ethical choices when they are highly aroused.

Verbal negotiation - The first step towards practicing better active consent is simply to verbally ask the person about whatever you intend to do. This can be as simple as “Can I give you a hug?” or “May I kiss you?” A good rule of thumb is to ask before any new physical activity, even socially “expected” physical activities like hugging or pecking on the cheek.

Blanket consent - It does get tiring (and at times downright unsexy) to need to ask someone every time before you do anything. You can give (or ask for) blanket consent once you feel comfortable with something happening all the time.

Phrasing of questions/statements/opinions - There is a big difference between “you don’t really want to do that do you?” vs. “is that something you would want to do?”. Avoid using negatives in this way – when you ask like this, you are not really asking a question, you are expressing a veiled preference.

  • Also remember that an explanation of “I can’t” is often a disguised no. “I would love to, but I can’t” is often actually lack of consent, phrased in an indirect/polite way. Although this is not always the case, it is best to see this as a likely no. How to tell?

Providing the experience of no being ok

Many people have had the experience of no being ok. Even if you explicitly state, several times, that no is ok you are going against years of cultural and experiential conditioning. When your partner does say no to something, especially for the first time, if you react in a negative way you will completely undermine the idea that saying no is ok.




An Alternative History of 90's Music

Posted on April 5, 2014 at 3:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello all! 

It's been a while since the blog has been updated. Why I hear you ask? Because we have been too busy doing interviews and writing for some other publications!

The lovely Jo MacDonald recently contributed to this brilliant article in the Sydney Morning Herald about 90's music, adding a much needed alternative feminist perspective to the piece. 

Check it out here - "Kurt Cobain's Legacy Lives On" by Bernard Zuel

Emotions and facial expressions may not be related

Posted on August 4, 2013 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Wow, an educational and fascinating article about the research of Professor Lisa Barrett, who believes that there may not be a universal facial expression for emotions such as disgust, anger or surprise.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, if you've ever been a client of mine, I'm sure you'll remember me asking you to communicate using "basic" emotions (anger, sadness, fear, happiness and in love). For a long time, psychological research has stated that all human beings display certain facial expressions to communicate these feelings, regardless of cultural background. 

Professor Barrett believes that the best we can do is make a guess at whether someone is happy, sad or frightened. But apart from that, we're pretty much in the dark.

I can tell you from personal experience, I side very much with Professor Barrett on this one. While you can guess at the way the someone else may be feeling, assuming how they are feeling (or worse, telling them how they are feeling) has the potential to be extremely invalidating. 

It can also serve as a useful reminder that your partner (or friends, or housemates) may need regular "weather reports" on your feelings - because they might not be able to see your internal world. 

The "lived experience" of sex and gender diversity

Posted on July 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Wanted to share this blog entry from "Head Above Water". Tommy spent three days dressing in women's clothing to see what kind of reactions he would get. His experience is a perfect example of a phenomenon called "Minority Stress Theory". 

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, and will hopefully have the chance to write a full blog entry on this eventually. In brief, minority Stress Theory is the theory that sexual minorities have higher rates of physical and mental illness because they face extra stress every day, just by existing.

This stress can be subtle and overt, like reading a magazine and seeing yet another example of heteronormativity, or being harassed on your way to work.

Tommy's experience showcases this experience beautifully. He felt ready to give up and give in after only three days. Imagine needing to deal with this for an entire lifetime! 

BDSM Correlated With Psychological Wellbeing

Posted on June 15, 2013 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

A new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has shown a correlation between BDSM and robust mental health.


The study compared individuals who participate in BDSM with a group of controls and looked at personality traits such as extraversion, neuroticism, attachment style and general wellbeing. It found that while individuals who engage in BDSM tend to be less agreeable, more open to new experiences, less neurotic, and report a greater overall level of psychological wellbeing.


Past studies have tended to focus on whether or not people who practice BDSM have higher rates of depression or other mental health issues (spolier - they don’t). What is unique about this study is that it is one of the first to look at the BDSM community from a perspective of health and personality differences, rather than simply searching for signs of psychopathology.


Of course, while it definitely is a step in the right direction, the study also raises more questions than it answers. Does this mean that practicing BDSM raises your psychological well being, or is understanding and being in touch with your sexuality the key? Are people who are open to new experiences simply more likely to have tried a whole range of different sexual activities, and discovered that they enjoy BDSM? Are there any unique positive personality traits that might also be present in groups of people who identify as sexually “vanilla”, or asexual?

Hopefully there will be more research to come as the psychological community increases it’s understanding of the role of sexuality as a fundamental part of mental health and wellbeing.

Want to know more?

You can find a summary of the study here, or find out how to stay safe sane and consensual here.


Why it's not as simple as just saying no

Posted on May 28, 2013 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (0)


A teenage girl and boy are sexting on their phones. Eventually, they decide to meet up then head back to his place. They go to his room and things start to get heated. When he pulls out a condom, she doesn’t say no, although she does go a quiet and still. She isn’t sure if she’s ready, but she’s also curious about sex and worried about him thinking she is a tease. She ends up having sex with him and, although it's slightly painful, it's not as bad as she imagined. She even feels relieved.


Afterwards, she is talking to her girlfriends and says “I don’t know, I mean it was ok. I wasn’t really in the mood, but the poor thing was all hot and bothered! You know how boys are. I guess it wasn’t too bad, but I probably wouldn’t do it again.”


Ask the average woman if this girl has been raped, and their answer will most likely be no. Sure, she may have had a regrettable experience, but if she didn’t want to have sex, she could have said no, right?


Not according to Melissa Burkett and Karine Hamliton. They have published a new study that shows that even forty years after the sexual revolution, women are still often coerced into having sex that they do not want. And a lot of it has to do with our culture.


Right now, we live in a “coercion culture”. A “coercion culture” is a culture normalises coercive behaviour. In our current “coercion culture” preventing rape is considered to be entirely the responsibility of women. This kind of culture makes several (unspoken) assumptions about consent that make it difficult for even the most assertive person to “just say no”.


Consent is assumed


“Coercion culture” assumes that from the moment that a man and a woman begin to interact sexually, the woman is consenting to other kinds of sexual activity as well, including penetrative and oral sex.


Sometimes, the assumed consent begins before anything physical even occurs. Various women who were interviewed in Burkett and Hamilton’s study believed that just going to a man’s house, texting them with sexually explicit messages or flirting with them implied consent to sexual activity.


Consent is only about words


“Coercion culture” teaches women that the only way they can withdraw this assumed consent is by saying the word “no”. Unless the word “no” has been spoken, and spoken in an assertive, forceful tone, consent is still assumed.


This assumption is completely removed from the way that individuals actually negotiate during sex. When people were asked about how they convey consent in sexual situations, most people mentioned using body language to provide unspoken messages to their partner. Many people are negotiating consent without talking to each other at all.


Physical coercion is the only form of coercion


“Coercion culture” portrays rape as a man physically forcing a woman to have sex with him. Outside of this, it assumes women are making their sexual decisions free from coercion.


However, many women reported that if they did not engage in regular sex with their partner, they experienced –


Verbal pressure

Increased arguments

Loss of intimacy within their relationship

Fears that they would lose support from their partner

Fears that they would lose their relationship with their partner


It wasn’t rape – I just didn’t want it


“Coercion culture” ignores the fact that sex can be coercive, even when women don’t experience a sexual activity as rape. Women often cite a variety of complex reasons (such as wanting to please their partner or feelings of guilt about changing their mind) as reasons for having sex that they did not want. However, this sex was viewed by them as consensual because it did not fit the standard societal definition of rape.


Empowered women don’t get coerced


What makes it harder to expose all of these ideas is the assumption that because women can vote (for primarily male candidates) and work (for less pay than their male counterparts) they are now “empowered”. Women are free agents, making unhindered decisions about their lives and our sexualities. Empowered women, so the thinking goes, are on an equal footing with men. So there is no reason to worry about this coercion business - because it’s not happening.


This is perhaps the most dangerous assumption of all.


Consent culture


Let’s talk about a different kind of culture for a moment. Imagine a culture where anything other than an active and enthusiastic yes was taken as a lack of consent. That is a “consent culture”.


Imagine a culture where, when two people are having sex, it is considered normal to check in verbally several times with your partner to see if what you are doing is ok. That is a “consent culture”.


Imagine a culture where whenever you had sex you negotiated explicitly about what was and wasn’t ok, and assumed that you were consenting only to activities that you had already spoken about. This is “consent culture”.


Have another look at the example at the beginning of the article. Was what happened between that girl and her partner rape? Coercion culture says no. But was what happened between them entirely consensual? Absolutely not.

How would the above scenario have played out in a consent culture?

For starters, the entire context of would be changed. Both people in this scenario would have grown up in a culture that encouraged openness, exploration, and education around sex and consent. 

Texting back and forth wouldn't have any connotations of consent to anything else. Each person would have check in several times before making the decision to come over, by verbally asking things like "is this still ok?" and "are you still comfortable with this?".

Sex hopefully wouldn't have been initiated by just producing a condom. But if it was, the boy would have immediately stopped and checked in with the girl the minute her body language changed. 

They would have negotiated about different activities they could do together, or the girl could simply inform the boy that she has changed her mind. There would be no negative consequences, no pressure, no attempts to change her mind and no worries about her reputation. 

And if they did check in, talk, negotiate and decided together that they both still want to have sex, it would be in  way that was fun, pleasurable and consensual for both of them. 

Want more information on consent?

Try the Yes Means Yes Blog or  the Red/Yellow Card Project


Everything You Wanted To Know About Human Sexuality But Were Afraid To Ask

Posted on March 24, 2013 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Wanted to share this fantastic educational video from Hank Green -

Everything You Wanted To Know About Human Sexuality But Were Afraid To Ask

A succinct description of the different ways that we can describe human sexuality from biological sex to gender to sexual orientation. 

On the Couch with a Muslim Therapist

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

A fantastic upcoming event with psychologist Sekneh Beckett


Psychologist Sekneh Beckett will speak at Queer Thinking, Seymour Centre on 16 February Saturday, 12 pm.

On the Couch with a Muslim Therapist

Sekneh’s personal and professional odysseys will be weaved in this talk. She unveil’s the narratives of Muslim and non Muslim youth who are negotiating the relationships between religiosity and sexualities. This talk will offer an alternative option to the “coming-out” discourse and explores alternative ways in which some young LGBTQ youth define the politics of their existence and identifications. These youthful voices will be echoed through this presentation – broadcasting stories of sustenance, agency and freedom, despite the broader socio-political/ religious contexts that might constrain them. A panel discussion will follow this event. 

For more info about Sekneh Beckett, check out the following links -