Sriha Srinivasan, Amanda Johnson Morrison, Deja Foxx & Shan Boodram at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
- Please welcome Shan Boodram, Sriha Srinivasan, Amanda Johnson Morrison, and Deja Foxx.
SHAN BOODRAM: Hi, friends. What's up?
SHAN BOODRAM: OK, so it's the end of the day. And we're here to talk about sex. So I feel like we should start things off with a collective, ooh.
SHAN BOODRAM: You didn't take part. You didn't take part. I can see. I can see what's happening. One more time, a collective-- just let it all out-- the day, the knowledge, the things you're going to bring back to energize your company, energize your passion and purpose. I want you to put that all in this ooh, you hear me? 1, 2, 3.
SHAN BOODRAM: (WHISPERS) That's [INAUDIBLE]. That felt good. OK, so you talk about sex with your friends. And I wanted to introduce you to my friends here today and tell you a fun fact about each of them.
This is the wonderful Deja. Deja, I want you to wave like this for me. These nails were Gorilla Glued on backstage.
SHAN BOODRAM: That's my girl.
DEJA FOXX: True.
SHAN BOODRAM: This is Sriha. Everybody say, hey, Sriha. What's up, girl?
SHAN BOODRAM: Hey. This entire outfit, she put together last minute after a wardrobe malfunction. This is a borrowed blazer, ladies and gentlemen. If you can't clap for that--
- Yes, 360.
SHAN BOODRAM: And this, this right here is my girl, Amanda. Say what's up, Amanda.
AMANDA MORRISON: Hi.
SHAN BOODRAM: Last month, Amanda got married, launched a company, and started watching "Game of Thrones" from the beginning for the second time.
SHAN BOODRAM: [INAUDIBLE] claps for Amanda. Amazing.
Now, our friends are also incredible women who are doing sensational, groundbreaking things, specifically in the sex education space. And I want to start with you, Deja. Now, actually, I have a question for everybody. Clap as loud as you possibly can if your sex education high school was incredible.
Clap as loud as you possibly can if you did something about it. This is your queue. You clap.
AMANDA MORRISON: Oh. OK.
SHAN BOODRAM: After going into a sex ed class that was taught by a baseball coach who knew nothing about it, Deja said, something has to happen. And you took that something very, very far away.
DEJA FOXX: Yeah, that's absolutely right. So when I was 15, I was experiencing what one in 30 youth in the US do, and that's called hidden homelessness. So I was bouncing around between friends' houses, and eventually began living with my boyfriend at the time and his family, right? So we can imagine why sex education was important, why birth control access was important.
I was wanting to go on to college to be the first in my family to attend university. And I knew that an important step was having this information, being able to take control of my body, take control of my future. And the baseball coach, Coach Wylie, just wasn't doing it. It wasn't cutting it, Coach.
And I was sitting in this classroom. And I remember him going through this PowerPoint on birth control, and actually making kind of a comment that your parents are going to fill in-- like, handle this. And I was sitting there thinking, not my parents.
You know, I'm doing this on my own, and knowing that there was other students in other classrooms feeling that exact same way. And so I started showing up to school board meetings and telling my story. I opened up about my story with homelessness for the very first time at one of those school board meetings.
And I remember shaking, holding this, like, little Post-it note. There's only maybe 10 people in the room. And they're, like, five unpaid elected school board members.
And something really clicked for me, where I realized that my story was an agent of change-making. My experience made me an expert and put me on this playing field to really get up and make a difference. And so I started bringing my friends along to do the same. And the rest was history.
After six months, we won a unanimous victory. And I sat on a curriculum review board rewriting that curriculum for the next year and a half.
SHAN BOODRAM: Sriha, you are going next month to do something incredible for all of us. You are going to advocate to free the pill. And the journey to you getting there-- you told a really interesting story about sitting at the table with your mom, who is the smartest person that you know, and arguing about holes down there.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Yeah, so my mom is in the audience. This is the first time I've ever told this story with her to listen to it. But like I said, my mom is so educated. She has multiple graduate degrees. I've, like, always looked up to her.
And we were sitting there arguing. I must have been, like, 13 years old. And I was like, mom, we have three holes. Like, people with vaginas have three holes.
And she was like, no, it's two. And I was like, OK, mom, think about it. When you have a tampon in, you can still pee, right? And she was like, you can? And I was like, you can! Like, that's two different holes!
And so that got me started-- that was kind of my-- I know, I know. That was my cultural buy-in to sex education. And that's when I started doing it in person.
And then I was doing sex education in person. I live in Solano County-- yay, like Northern California. That's right. And my senior project was going to be to work in Vallejo high schools to give them better sex education.
COVID hits my senior year. No prom, no graduation, no nothing. And I still needed to graduate high school, right? This project that I had worked so hard on was, like, totally in the dumps.
And so I was already making TikToks for fun, just about my high school, about my life. Nobody was seeing them, but I was making them. And I started making sex ed TikToks.
And my fifth video, a dance about chlamydia-- so I was known for chlamydia-- went viral. And about a year down the line, Free the Pill-- I worked with Advocates for Youth in DC-- reached out to me. And they were like, can you do a promotional video for us? Can you host an event. I was like, sure, sure. Like, this is so fun. I love doing this.
And then I was like, I kind of want to be doing it, too. Like, I also want to free the pill. Because you might have realized you can't walk into a CVS or Walgreens and buy birth control off the shelves. You can in 60 countries around the world. But you cannot in the United States.
And so after a 40-year fight, the application to the FDA to free the pill is out right now. And the advisory committee is happening in November in DC. It's the only public opportunity for the public to get involved and tell the FDA, yes, we want this. And so I will be going to DC to fight for that.
SHAN BOODRAM: Aren't our friends cool? Sheeit. OK, Amanda, thank you for taking a break from "Game of Thrones." That is a very laborious task, very, very intensive. You started a makeup company called Minted for women of color. And now-- got some fans in the house.
Now, you do early contraceptive, and are slated to be the number one donor of EC by January, for a company you just started last month.
AMANDA MORRISON: Yeah.
SHAN BOODRAM: But fill in the gap for me, from makeup to pharmaceutical.
AMANDA MORRISON: Yes, it can seem like a leap, but I promise it makes sense. And so the bridge is that kind of no matter what you're doing, whether you're putting makeup on your face or you're ingesting medicine, it's very, very personal. And you probably experienced it, and see it, and think of it differently because you are a woman in the world, right? And like, your experience is coloring and shading all of that.
And so for me, I have often felt othered by so many dimensions, right? Othered because I'm from the South, othered because I'm a woman, othered because I'm Black, othered because-- name an other. And so that was my big why into cosmetics. I felt like women of color weren't being seen. We weren't telling our stories.
We needed to make our own products and tell our-- create our own spaces. And so after five years of doing that, I really saw, like, wait, this applies to so many areas where women don't have the voice we want at the table, the story, the product, the community, you name it. And so my big why for Julie, the current company I'm at now, is women need to have a seat at the table when it comes to health care.
It is personal. It is our bodies. We don't want to just be told, here are the side effects, good luck. Like, we need more.
We need sex education. We need to know what our medicinal choices are. And so it's been a new, big adventure.
And September was a huge month. I did a lot that month. But certainly, launching this company has been, like, super special. And I'm very excited to now be in the fight up here with all of them.
SHAN BOODRAM: Thank you.
There's actually a fourth panelist, a silent panelist, but a really cute one. This is Julie, which just launched two months ago.
AMANDA MORRISON: We just launched, like, little less than a month ago. So we are now in Walmart nationwide, which I'm super excited about. It's emergency contraception, that same FDA approved pill that you all have come to know and love.
And one of the things you talked about is our donation program. So for every Julie purchased, there is a Julie donated. And so we are donating on the quarter. January is our first big donation. It'll be just under 300,000 units, which we're still fact-checking, but will make us the largest donor of EC in the country, and a really big marker for a startup.
DEJA FOXX: Incredible.
SHAN BOODRAM: OK, I want to just frame this conversation by saying sex is good.
AMANDA MORRISON: Yes.
SHAN BOODRAM: Sex is great. There's a lot of politics and stress and shame that surround sex. But the core heart of it all, it can be something very powerful, something very pivotal for us all. So I want you to tell everybody here why do you advocate for their pleasure, and their children's pleasure? Why is it important to talk about sex?
AMANDA MORRISON: Oh, I can start. So I think it's-- as you said, sex is good. Sex is natural. We all have the parts to do it, so why not?
And then I think it's just about, like, how do we create the space to talk about it? And how do we do it, like, safely and thoughtfully, right? But like, that needs to be the conversation, not if we have sex, or if it's shameful, or oh, you're a slut, or you're a this. Like, all of that is just meaningless labels that frankly, have held us all back for far too long.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: No, I think you said it so well, Shan, when you were talking about pleasure. Pleasure for women is empowerment, right? Like, you shouldn't feel ashamed to talk about pleasure.
We shouldn't-- we never talk about masturbation. Why is that? Why is it that when I walked into classrooms as an elementary schooler, there would be, like, dicks drawn on the table, right? The guys would talk about jacking off, and this and that. And yet we don't really talk about it.
I was lucky. I had friends that honestly, like, we almost had, like, a little book club of sorts. It would be like, guys, did you know you can touch yourself? I know, which was crazy. But like, these conversations made us more comfortable.
And when I came to college, I worked with UCLA sexperts-- go, Bruins. And I would have these conversations with folks. And I'd be like, you know you can buy a vibrator, right? Like, it's OK.
Like, there's one at Target, I promise. Like, and I promise it's not going to hurt you. It's going to be something fun that you can do.
And I think when you destigmatize-- I love that word-- when you destigmatize these conversations around pleasure, and you make it something that's not to be ashamed of, and you make it something that you can talk about with friends, you can talk about with your sisters and nieces and moms and everybody, you're able to then have those conversations about making it safer, and making it something that you can do without having to always be worrying about that in the back of your head. Because you deserve that.
SHAN BOODRAM: Sriha, where's your mama at? We've got to point out. Because I want--
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: She's holding the phone in the front.
SHAN BOODRAM: I've got to make eye contact with her--
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: [INAUDIBLE]
DEJA FOXX: Aw. Aw, now it's making me emotional, seeing your mom.
You know, when-- I came into this work-- I already told you, I got up in front of my school board members and admitted to them, basically, that I was having sex. And then I got up in front of my Senator. And I pushed him-- he had voted to repeal birth control funding for Planned Parenthood-- asked him why he, as a white man, was making decisions about me and my body. It went viral overnight. Millions of people had seen it.
So then, by proxy, I'd admitted to millions of people that I was, in fact, having sex. And the line that has been incredibly difficult for me to toe, as a woman who works in politics, is that my politic has always been about sex, has always-- it has never been separate, right? And so when people try to reconcile the me that they see online, who's a content creator, who posts ads for vibrators and pictures in my bikini, but also this young woman who was the youngest presidential campaign staffer in modern history, right-- and they're like, that doesn't go together.
I'm like, look at my origin story. It has never not gone together. It has always been the same. Because for me, sex is politics, and politics is sex. And my politics is sexy, so--
DEJA FOXX: A lot of you-- a lot of our politicians cannot say the same, a lot of them.
SHAN BOODRAM: I want to talk about the issues that are still very present in sex education today. But can I start with some people in the audience? From your sex education, what were the issues? What were the gaps? Anybody have anything that they want to share?
DEJA FOXX: The lights are on you now. Oh, no.
SHAN BOODRAM: What sucked about sex ed for you growing up?
- [INAUDIBLE] so tell my story.
SHAN BOODRAM: Do it.
- So my father would not sign my permission slip--
DEJA FOXX: No!
- --sex ed. And my mom forced him to have the sex talk with me, right? And so my dad comes in, and this is his talk. He said-- my dad was a 30-year law enforcement retiree, too. Keep that in mind.
He comes in, and he says, baby, princess, sex will kill you.
- And if it doesn't, I will.
- Great day. Kissed me on my forehead-- kissed me on my forehead, and walked out of the room. And then this is what happened to me. So I was in the ninth grade. I was 13.
And by the time I was in the 11th grade, one of my best friends became pregnant. I was in my room in tears, completely torn apart. Because I literally thought she was going to die, right?
So my mom comes in the room. And she's like, what's wrong? Why are you crying. And I said, I'm-- ugly cry, everything-- R-Rene's going to die, right?
- As per your dad.
- And she's-- per my dad, who was my hero, and I believed everything out of his mouth. And actually, this was the only bad advice he ever gave me in life. And so my mom says, why is Rene going to die?
And I tell her Rene is pregnant. And she says, well, that doesn't mean she's going to die. Rene is going to be OK.
And I said, no, daddy said it's going to kill her. Sex-- she had sex. That's how she got pregnant-- like my mom didn't know where babies came from.
And so my mom says, she's not going to die. Calm down. I'm going to get your father. And so she goes downstairs and tells my dad, why did you tell her this? Are you crazy? What are you doing?
And so they both come upstairs in my room. My dad says, Rene's not going to die. But sex will kill you. And if it doesn't, I will. And I love you, and walks--
SHAN BOODRAM: And that is the problem right there. Thank you for your dad. Shout-out to moms, doing the work.
For people who are on ground zero, specifically Sriha and Deja, who are really working with the population who needs information the most, what are the issues, what is the key issue that's still present today in sex ed?
DEJA FOXX: Yeah, I can jump in on this one to start. So after the viral moment, after fighting for sex education in my school district, I came back home-- because I realized that these politicians were holding the keys, right, whether they be school board members who got to decide about what I was learning in the classroom, or senators who got to decide what pills I could or couldn't have, right? And so I really wanted to create a community-based alternative. And Advocates for Youth is actually a part of this story.
I started, alongside other young people and nurse practitioners, a program called the El Rio Reproductive Health Access Project, where we hired young people who were untraditional leaders like me, who had experienced homelessness, who were living in group homes, who were teen moms, formerly incarcerated, and train them to be peer sex educators, paid them for their labor, and then put them into clinics where teens could come in and get access to free STI testing, birth control at no cost to them. And it still runs today. And it's because it's community-sustaining.
And it does this piece, which I think is the thing we need to kind of leave behind, of putting people in power who are the most-- who are the closest to the issue.
SHAN BOODRAM: Yes.
DEJA FOXX: Right? Why shouldn't they be the--
SHAN BOODRAM: Yes.
DEJA FOXX: Why shouldn't they be the ones being paid for that work? And so I think when I look forward to the future, that peer provider model is where I think we should be heading. Because it's what we're already doing when we sit with our friends and we're chatting. But it's really about creating those communities of care, and installing knowledge in our communities that, regardless of election, can't go anywhere.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Yeah, I think peer education is really where it's at. I work in Solano County, similarly with low income minority youth, uplifting them into the public health field. Because right now, that field looks very monotone, right? Like, you don't have that many women. You don't have that many people of color up there.
And that really showed during COVID-19, that we didn't have the folks to be educating communities. Because Black and Brown communities have been hurt by the government in the past, by health care in the past. And so it's so important to be educating these youth. And that's what I do with social media.
That's what I do with the skills that I've learned, is one, I have around 30 high school interns in Solano County that are working to go into the public health field. But two, you may not know this, ever since the '70s and '80s, the US has funded abstinence-only sex education. Comprehensive sex education exists in other states. California is one of them.
But abstinence-only sex education is still federally funded under the Biden administration. And that's crazy because that means that there are kids out there that are being told sex will kill you, essentially. If you have sex, you'll get all of these crazy STIs, and all of these things will happen to you, which is why I think I'm @sexedu on TikTok.
Because it's so important to do this in the digital space, where I started out making videos for a local audience. That's where I thought my videos were going to go. And then I had kids talking to me that were basically like, I actually don't know what that means at all, you know? Like, I've never heard of these terms when it comes to sexuality, when it comes to birth control, STIs.
And that's when I was like, OK, we need to, like, back up a little bit. We need to talk about definitions. Because these videos are reaching a lot of people. And in conjunction with the, like, boots on the ground work, you're able to reach all of these kids. And they're able to intake it at a speed that's good for them and in a place that they feel comfortable. And so I think that digital sex education is so important as well.
SHAN BOODRAM: Now, Amanda, I asked the question of the audience, of who here had great sex education in high school. It was silent. And it's silent-- it's like a generational joke, a bad joke at this point, to the point that Deja has made, we have to do something about. But there is a community of people who are specifically impacted by this, who often don't get an opportunity to speak out about it. Marginalized communities, how are they impacted by a lack of sex education and a lack of access to birth control, like EC?
AMANDA MORRISON: Yeah, so I'm not going to bore you guys. But I'm going to hit you with a couple numbers because I think they're really important to help frame exactly what's happening. So almost half of the pregnancies in the US every year are untimed or unwanted. That's a lot of the pregnancies, right?
19 million women in need live in contraceptive deserts in the US, meaning that the health centers around them cannot provide adequate care, right? So then you take into account that Black and Brown people will take emergency contraceptive multiples less than White and Hispanic people. People with bachelor's degrees are at a higher-- will take emergency contraception at a higher rate.
There are a lot of factors. Add in the fact that there are only-- I think it's 17 states that require sexual education to be medically accurate. There are only four states that prohibit religion in sexual education, meaning you can talk about abstinence. You can just say Jesus will fix it.
You literally, like, can say anything and it'll be funded. So if you add all these numbers together, the outlook is pretty bleak, right? And I think that's why we are where we are, but also why we have so many voices saying what needs to be said.
So I think if you are a woman who lives in the Midwest or Texas or the South, good luck. If you are a Brown woman anywhere in this country, good luck. If you don't have a high school diploma, good luck, right? You will probably be one of the 50% of women who experience an untimed or unwanted pregnancy. And now, your options are limited-- even more limited, frankly, than where they were before. So it's a serious conversation.
And I think it's easy to say, oh, well, I didn't have this, or oh-- but think of it. Take a step back. It's a much bigger problem. It's much deeper. It crosses class, it crosses race, it crosses income.
And like, there are going to be a lot of solutions and startups that happen in this space. But we really need comprehensive reform. And so to all the Black and Brown women everywhere, good luck. And my hope is that Julie reaches people-- the name of the company is Julie-- we've personified health care-- Julie reaches people in this interesting way via social, right?
We're making palatable, interesting TikToks and Instagrams to reach people in places that sex education isn't going to reach them. We have an amazing medical board of practicing physician women who are making TikToks all day long. Like, one of the women on my medical board has 1.4 million followers.
She's a practicing pediatrician. And she literally describes sex all day long on TikTok because she needs to. Because who else is doing it?
And so I think the work is going to come from certainly some governments who are going to try-- different initiatives that are going to try and fix this, but probably from advocates and the commercial sector that can really make a difference and, like, push things forward. So that is what I'm hopeful for.
SHAN BOODRAM: Thank you for that. That was beautiful, beautifully said. I want to note-- it said last question since I've gotten here, which I'm like, does that mean it's over before it even began? But just in case, because I know you guys are all hungry, I do want to move into the lightning round right now.
SHAN BOODRAM: Can we all do a-- [MIMICS THUNDER] lightning round of questions? What is something everybody on the panel-- start with you, Deja-- that we want to leave in the past when it comes to sex or sex culture?
DEJA FOXX: Yeah, I mean, I want to leave politicians making decisions about--
SHAN BOODRAM: Just politicians. Next question. I'm sorry--
DEJA FOXX: Yeah, I just-- I want to leave politicians out of the bedroom. I think that's what we're leaving in the past. That was the full question?
SHAN BOODRAM: Yeah, that was great.
DEJA FOXX: Yeah.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Yeah, I want to leave stigma behind. Like, for yourself, like, leave that stigma behind so that you can feel empowered to have pleasure. But in your conversations with your kids and your, like, nieces and nephews and the young people, even maybe your older sister or aunt, don't stigmatize them. And open the door to having those conversations.
AMANDA MORRISON: Right now, the only way, if you're on Medicaid, to get a reimbursement for emergency contraception is to have a prescription, when the drug itself doesn't require a prescription. So I would like to leave in the past all of these barriers to access that we have created that unfairly stigmatize and prevent access for low income women everywhere.
SHAN BOODRAM: Yes. All right, lightning round question number two-- [MIMICS THUNDER] Friends, I thought we were doing this together. No? It's just a me thing? OK.
When you think of the future of sex-- and I'm giving the future curves, I'm giving it juice, I'm giving it zhuzh. When you fantasize about the future of sex, what do you see?
DEJA FOXX: I mean, I think I see people in the public space, women owning their sexuality and not getting backlash for it, right? Being able to live their life online as a whole person, as a sexual being, and not be unfairly-- unfairly-- by the algorithms, or by their peers, or by their workplaces, being treated unfairly for being a sexual being just like everybody else.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Yeah, I think I really agree and echo with that. I see current generations, but also future generations that feel empowered with themselves in the sense that one, they have the knowledge to know this is how I can access contraceptives, and this is how I can keep myself safe, and these are, like, what STIs are, and not feel all of this confusion that just, like, leaks into the bedroom and makes it so that you're not able to have a fun and good time. And so if the future looks like empowered people having fun pleasure and fun sex, I'm going to be so thrilled.
AMANDA MORRISON: I would say from period to menopause, you know how your body works. You know all of the solutions that are available. And there is no shame at any part of that process.
SHAN BOODRAM: Yes. OK, this is the final lightning round question.
SHAN BOODRAM: Yes, friend! It just takes one. See me afterwards. And I would love if you guys could stand up and take your moment-- could we have the lights back on for everybody else? Because this has to do with us.
We're friends. We established that, right? Friends talk about sex together. And also, too, friends feel empowered to advocate for each other's pleasure. We want each other to have a good time.
High five the person beside you if you want them to have a good-ass time. You want them to feel good. You want them to be empowered. And there's some work behind that high five.
- Leave me hanging. Don't leave me hanging.
- Oh, yeah. Yeah. [INAUDIBLE].
SHAN BOODRAM: Can we start with you, Amanda? Can you step forward and tell everybody here if they want to get involved in making the change they wish to see in the world today--
AMANDA MORRISON: Yeah.
SHAN BOODRAM: --what can they do?
AMANDA MORRISON: Oh, OK. Yeah, so Julie has an amazing donation program. If you would like to get involved, buy a Julie. For every one that is purchased, there is one donated to communities in need around the US.
DEJA FOXX: Stocking stuffers.
SHAN BOODRAM: Stocking stuffer.
DEJA FOXX: I know what my friends are getting this year.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: All right, so for me, if everyone could get their phones out right now and go to act.freethepill.org. So that's act, A-C-T, dot free the pill dot org. Don't have to do this right now-- maybe over dinner, a glass of wine, I don't know, whatever you're into.
You have an opportunity to-- if you scroll down on that website, you can actually click a link that will teach you how and allow you to message the FDA. So send them written commentary.
Advisory committee is on November 18. Before that point, any letter sent to them will be taken into account. They will have to read it. And they will make a decision on November 18. All of these experts will vote publicly yes or no.
And historically, the FDA goes with whatever this advisory committee says. And it's important to say, this issue affects me, right? Like, you're talking about my life here. And this is your opportunity to not only get your voice heard by the FDA, but to be a part of reproductive justice history.
SHAN BOODRAM: If you're not galvanized now--
DEJA FOXX: TED Talk loading? Is there a TED Talk in the future? We all know there's a midterm election underway, right? Early voting has already begun.
And so I want to remind each and every one of you-- I feel like this is a crowd of registered voters, right, early voters. But we all have personal networks, whether they be digital or in real life, that are completely unique to us. And so I want to encourage you to get in your influencer bag for a minute and influence the people around you.
Your relationships are so valuable. And the people who care about you are going to care about what you care about. So make a plan with your friends, make a plan with the young people in your life, make a plan with your neighbors, your partners, your family, to make sure that everyone around you is getting involved and getting out to vote.
SHAN BOODRAM: Thank you so much. Thank you so much to my friend, Julie! Thank you to my friend, Deja. Shout-out to my girl, Sriha! Amanda!
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Thank you, Shan!
SHAN BOODRAM: And all of you--
DEJA FOXX: Yeah.
SHAN BOODRAM: --have a great day.
SRIHA SRINIVASAN: Let's hear it for Shan!
SHAN BOODRAM: Thank you guys.