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How This Sex Positive Partnership Between Vibrant and Planned Parenthood Empowers Women

Health

Vicki Cowart, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Angela Wells, Founder & CEO of Vibrant sat down with SWAAY to talk sex, pleasure, and how this partnership will help millions. “Sex isn't very pleasurable if women don't have access to affordable birth control," Wells begins. “Vibrant offers a new way to support the organization while also supporting one's own pleasure and sexual empowerment." Wells is right! Without birth control and reproductive services, many women are left worrying about risks like unintended pregnancies.


Angela Wells photographed with a customer. Photo Courtesy of Ella Hansen.

For those who don't know, Planned Parenthood, is a nonprofit organization that has always been known for providing reproductive health services and sexual education. This organization is continuously researching and educating to emphasize the necessity of topics like proper health and reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is one of many health centers serving around 100,000 women, men and teens yearly within their region - Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming. For a majority of patients in that area, this is their only access to affordable resources and health care. Vibrant, a sex toy e-tailer was created by and for the Planned Parenthood organization to raise funds.

WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION COME FROM TO SELL SEX TOYS?

“It was a bold idea," Wells momentarily laughs. “We saw a need inside the industry [because] not a lot of consumers in the U.S. [know] that the sex toy industry is not regulated, meaning manufacturers can make products with materials that are really dangerous and toxic for our bodies." Wells explains that the toys that aren't regulated may contain materials that are banned from everyday items like water bottles and kids toys. It can inevitably disrupt hormones, bring on infections, irritations and can sometimes even cause cancer. “We really felt that Planned Parenthood was a place for us to share our voice and our shared values," she goes on.

Vibrant not only sells inclusive sex toys, but also books, condoms, lubes and other necessities when it comes to having a healthy, safe sex life. Both women shared their positive views on sex, sexual health and providing care and information to their patients. From the start, Wells and Cowart emphasize this partnership felt right. “Sexual health is so important to every person that's walking on this planet," Wells comments. “It's a way for us to continue [creating] a healthy society with this direct correlation to Planned Parenthood."

THE PROBLEM - HEALTH CARE COVERAGE

“Having a company and partner like Vibrant is critical to our future," Cowart exclaims. “We believe that all of us in the health and wellness space can spread the word that pleasure is a fundamental component to healthy sexuality." With this partnership, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Vibrant are aiming to make birth control accessible and make sex for women safe, pleasurable and enjoyable. Any contributions will bring in support, resources and money, which enable Planned Parenthood to extend what they're doing and provide more resources for the people they serve. “There are so many impediments put in front of women who are trying to access the full range of reproductive health care," Cowart shares. “Having a partner like Vibrant is extending our mission."

“A really significant portion of our work is covered by private donations and that's why Vibrant is very important," Cowart shares.

Just last month, the midterm elections concluded that the most important issue for voters was healthcare. The very next day, President Trump's administration took direct aim at birth control and abortion. The new regulations would allow any employer or university to refuse coverage of birth control. It also affects abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “We saw the voters, particularly Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada stand up and really talk, really say to elected officials that reproductive health is important and rights is important," Cowart expresses. “Even in the moment of celebrating changes in this election, we are still faced with an administration that doesn't want women to have full access to birth control and the full speed of reproductive health care like abortion."

Both Cowart and Wells bring on a serious tone to the conversation. Cowart, in particular, shares her concerns in relation to Planned Parenthood. “[This is] negatively impacting our patients; fifty-five million women have access to free birth control either through their primary insurance or through Medicaid." Not only will women lose their ability to have coverage of these necessities, but also more women will be in need of help. Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement reported by CNN that this ruling “could leave millions of women without access to birth control and reverse some of the important health progress made under the Affordable Care Act in recent years." Since then, citizens across the country are uniting to fight against these new regulations.

THE IMPACT OF VIBRANT & PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS

Both organizations hope to normalize the conversation of sex, sexuality and sexual health. “Women are truly able to take care of themselves, be healthy, have a healthy sexual relationship," Cowart says. Vibrant's website in particular removes shame and stigma and promotes inclusivity. “We don't say toys for men [or] toys for women," she beings. “We say 'for me', 'for us', 'for the mind' because toys are not gendered.

“They're designed to stimulate different parts of the body. It's up to the consumer to determine what gender they might identify with, even if they don't identify with a gender at all. It creates that warm and welcoming environment that people receive inside of a Planned Parenthood health center and online as well.

In 2018, 30% of revenue for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains comes from private donations that vary from individuals, corporations to foundations. In the Rocky Mountain region, the facilities do not receive public funding from states. “A really significant portion of our work is covered by private donations and that's why Vibrant is very important," Cowart shares.

“Sex isn't very pleasurable if women don't have access to affordable birth control," Wells begins. “Vibrant offers a new way to support the organization while also supporting one's own pleasure and sexual empowerment."

WHERE CAN YOU PURCHASE THESE SEX TOYS AND LEARN MORE?

Buying a sex toy is one of many ways to help fund the Rocky Mountain region. Those living in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming can find printed materials about Vibrant in most health centers. “We also do a lot of events, [like] pop up shops, in the western part of the U.S." Wells tells us. “We answer questions and let people see some of the products up close and personal." If you are looking to buy a sex toy in support of Planned Parenthood free from stigma and judgment, or simply browse through the many blogs, guides and FAQs, visit their website. This amazing, sex positive company can also be found on Instagram.

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Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019