Discuss: xoJane's Dangerous Course in Sex Ed

Oct 14, 2011

The website xoJane.com is supposed to be a place where women can find “inclusive and uplifting” content that is “nothing but honest at all times” written by women with “with strong voices, identities and opinions.”  But yesterday, the site published an “advice column” in which xoJane’s designated expert on sexual health dispensed the same caliber of advice that I would expect from a horny 15-year-old boy (“I don’t need to wear a condom, baby. I can just pull out.”).  

The content was frustrating, but not terribly surprising given that “health director” Cat Marnell’s only qualification to hold such a title is her ability to convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.

The article begins with Marnell lamenting that every pharmacy in New York City is sold out of the emergency contraceptive, Plan B.  Marnell’s upset because she, against the medical advice on the product’s packaging and common sense, uses Plan B as her primary method of birth control.  And she wants to advise against this risky practice, not because condoms and the Pill are safer and more effective, but because women should “step up” and encourage their partners to pull out.  That’s what passes for mature sexual decision making in Marnell’s world.

The post that follows her lamentation is a 1,000+ word, rambling screed that illustrates the kind of shockingly reckless content that passes for “health” advice at xoJane.com.  Reading it was like being trapped in a stream of consciousness nightmare, but instead of James Joyce, my tour guide was a ditzy mascara expert who floated off topic like a balloon in a hurricane. It took her 300+ words and a tangent about the finer points of suicide and noose-tying before she finally tackled her primary subject matter–the availability and usage of emergency contraceptives–by describing other birth control methods thusly:

1)  Letting the man come somewhere besides where it will get me pregnant. Which is always (vaguely) fun. SO, why not? Because I always instruct someone to do it the dangerous way. FYI, this will be the first and last time I discuss my sex life on this website. It’s just not my thing; I just can’t do it. I’m doing it only because this is a birth control issue.

Not only is this woman endorsing pulling out as a valid birth control method, she’s also dismissing her ridiculous advice as nothing more than an extension of her adorably non-conformist faux-Bohemian lifestyle.  Because telling women to have sex in dangerous and irresponsible ways that could cause them to get pregnant or contract a life threatening sexually transmitted disease is just how she rolls.

Forget the fact that the American education system, religious leaders and the government have spent time, effort and BILLIONS OF DOLLARS trying to teach women to be sexually responsible.  Cat Marnell and xoJane.com don’t endorse antiquated, patrician notions about safe sex and reproductive responsibility.

As for discussing her sex life on the Internet, this post is over 1,000 words long.  Clearly, she wasn’t having as much trouble as she thought.

2) Birth control pills. NO. They will make me fat; they will make me “spot” (another thing I squeamishly just DON’T LIKE TALKING ABOUT; don’t worry, though, everyone else who works here does); they will give me acne; and quite frankly, they will NOT prevent me from getting pregnant! I know this because IT HAPPENED TO ME™.

No, I didn’t take my pills right; I forget things like this unless they are FUN pills, or what I BELIEVE, delusionally, to be a “fun” pill at the time; anyway, the point is, unless a pill gets me speedy or doped up as all hell I will NOT remember to take it, and then I will get pregnant! I JUST WILL.

Her eye-opening confessions about illicit drug use aside, what really bothers me is it that her primary argument against birth control is that she’s too irresponsible to take it correctly.  Nevermind the fact that birth control has been proven to be more than 99% effective when taken as directed by real scientists with advanced degrees in specialties that she probably can’t even pronounce.  Nope, remembering to take a daily pill is hard, scientific and medical proof of its effectiveness be damned.

I’m also horrified by the notion that vanity is an acceptable excuse for being lazy about your reproductive health.  After all, an unintended pregnancy is far less trouble than a few pimples or a couple of extra pounds. [facepalm]

3) The Depo-Provera Shot. Uh-huh. Same concept as the pills, if you get my drift. Egads, but it’s true.

I’ve read this five times, and I still have no idea what point she’s trying to make here.  I definitely don’t get her drift, but I can’t say that I’m terribly upset that my brain doesn’t function on her wavelength. Especially if that frequency allows women to dismiss an effective and safe method of birth control with sixteen words of incoherent drivel.

4) Condoms. Nope! As if. I don’t know. I don’t sleep with that many people and so I just don’t do condoms! ARG I HATE TALKING ABOUT MY SEX LIFE; LET’S END THIS.

Forget the fact that in the U.S., the fastest growing group of people with HIV/AIDS is young women.  Don’t worry about the growing number of cases of syphilis and chlamydia.  And don’t give a moment’s thought to the number of incurable STDs that can leave a woman infertile or cause cancer.  Nope, as long as you’re not sleeping with “that many people,” Cher from Clueless says that condoms aren’t important (as if!).

5) Abortion. This shouldn’t even be on the list though obviously I’ve had them. Abortions are not birth control and I hate them! I’m OBVIOUSLY pro-choice but I think they are terrible and wrong and I hate having them. And I mean terrible for everyone involved. It breaks my heart all around.

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a debate about abortion.  Because, in my view, the implications of telling young women not to use condoms or birth control is the more critical point here.  After all, abortions are preventable if you use birth control responsibly like most adult women do.  But I find it deeply upsetting that this unintelligible nonsense is what passes for thoughtful commentary about reproductive rights on xoJane.

6) A diaphragm. Ooh! The wild card! I had one of these in college, and by college I mean the year I was 18 and living in Soho and going to “acting school” and blowing my trust fund on cocaine and champagne at all of the best clubs. Anyway, I lugged around a diaphragm with me in a little case and would OCCASIONALLY use it.

Marnell readily admits that she engaged in skeins of risky behavior and that it’s a miracle that she’s never contracted an STD, and yet, she still feels qualified to dispense advice on birth control without referencing a single medical expert. She’s not only taking risks with her own life but encouraging other women to do the same because birth control is hard, condoms are yucky and making responsible choices (like an effing grown up) doesn’t fall in line with her non-conformist lifestyle.  And, as she mentions later in the post, it’s okay for her to say incendiary and possibly dangerous things because she accepts that the “haters” will come after her.

Some readers suggested that this article might be a failed attempt at humorous satire.  I think that that’s probably wishful thinking.  Because publishing an article that talks about condom usage like it’s a lifestyle choice and counsels women against using traditional methods of birth control isn’t funny, it’s shamefully irresponsible.  

Imagine the fury that would be ignited if a men’s magazine like Maxim encouraged guys to eschew condoms and act with reckless disregard about birth control.  Even if it was satire, there would be a national outcry from women’s groups, health organizations and politicians.  But this article was written by a blonde, twenty-something beauty writer with absolutely zero qualifications to be a “health director” so the public outcry will be muted at best.

Frankly, I believe that Marnell, and anyone who refuses to use condoms and/or birth control, is far too feckless and immature to be having sex.  I know 8th graders with more sense than this woman.  She has absolutely no business giving anyone advice about birth control, but that won’t stop xoJane.com from letting her write irresponsible articles like this in the future.  After all, I bet that this disgusting post netted xoJane more pageviews than it had all month, maybe all year. 

It’s a sad day when Cosmopolitan and Seventeen dispense better advice than a website whose founder is allegedly a feminist luminary for the 21st Century.  I guess life on the web is all about buzz and pageviews. It’s a shame, Jane Pratt used to have integrity.


share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Corey says:

    “Frankly, I believe that Marnell, and anyone who refuses to use condoms and/or birth control, is far too feckless and immature to be having sex.” Well said, Belle! Thanks for taking the time to speak out against this egregious nonsense. Shame on Cat Marnell and xojane for publishing it in the first place.

  2. aw says:

    I've read the column and at the end she advocates that other women should not do what she's done and that she's going to try to be better about it. I'm pretty sure the point was to use her own behavior of an example of why women need to be smarter about their sexual health and activities.

    That being said, her utter stupidity and immature attitude toward sex and reproductive health prior to admitting that it's wrong is what is setting this country back in having a proper discussion about the positives of teaching contraception over abstinence, and her story provides fodder for conservatives who wrongly claim that Plan B just makes all women more irresponsible. It makes me both angry and scared that there are other women out there who think and behave this way, thinking that just because they get a pap test every year they're perfectly fine. It doesn't matter how sexually active you are — it takes 30 minutes with 1 new person in bed to get a virus or potentially life-threatening disease. And with viruses like HPV, the guy doesn't even have to “come” for it to be spread. You become infected, and you don't know for years whether you actually have it or not and are continuously spreading it on.

    And I find it very hard to believe that a grown woman didn't realize she needed to “get it together” before writing that post. She just chose not to.

  3. M says:

    Belle, I'm so glad you decided to post on this after all. When I read the “article” yesterday, I wanted to cry. Cat Marnell lives in New York City, where her reproductive rights are numerous and she has options women all over the world (and in other parts of our country) can only dream of. And this is what she comes up with? It is deeply, deeply offensive to me. Many people have fought for many years to give women access to birth control, sex education, and (in my mind) safe, legal, rare, abortions. Thanks for being such a clear voice against this idiocy.

  4. Belle says:

    aw-Read the end of the article again. Yes, she admits she needs to stop using Plan B as a primary method of birth control but her solution is to “stop letting dudes come inside of us and take some responsibility…” Because, in her world, pulling out is her first choice over condoms and the Pill.

  5. Moira says:

    Belle, I'm so glad you decided to address this! I understand no abortion talk on the blog, but this woman's insanity was too much to ignore! Thank you for standing up and acknowledging that her “advice” (even if it is, 'Don't do what I do.”) is pathetic and irresponsible. It's sad that a website intended to embrace a feminist audience could endorse an outlook that just set back female reproductive choice about 50 years at a minimum.

  6. V says:

    I found her post extremely obnoxious and hypocritical. Reading it again as satire does make a lot more sense – but it still irritates me. Somehow it comes off oppressively confessional and judgmental at the same time.

  7. Zoe says:

    I am a very live and let live kind of person. So while I am not bothered with how she chooses to live her life, it is bothersome that she is passing this off as advice even with the disclaimer to not follow her example. I can't imagine what damage this could have on someone who is young and or inexperienced.

  8. Elle says:

    Thankfully, Cat's ovaries will be fried to prevent reproduction. People this dumb should not be allowed to conceive.

  9. Belle says:

    Zoe-Not only that, but what happens when some radical right pundit gets a hold of this? “See! We have to regulate Plan B because women are using it wrong. They're hurting themselves.” Or even more dangerously, “We need to regulate reproductive rights because women can't be trusted to make good decisions.”

    As my co-worker said, “The next time this woman has a thought, she should just let it pass.”

  10. Chris says:

    This article illustrates basically all the reasons why I detest xoJane. Hipsters who think their terrible lifestyles are commendable, recommending their bad decisions to everyone in a public forum that somehow, mistakenly, people think is respectable because Jane Pratt put her name on it.

    Is her justification for hating Depo-Provera that it's not heroin? That's the only drift I caught. Abortions — “I hate having them” ? What, does she have them once a month? It's probably because she doesn't use any other birth control method. Shocker.

    Unlike Zoe above, I feel quite bothered and very willing to judge her. But since I'm incoherent with rage and disbelief at this point, I think I'll try to let go, and hope that people read your article instead.

  11. RMS says:

    I saw this article yesterday and it nearly brought me to tears. SO MANY women my age (26) are irresponsible about choices in this area of their lives. I have never understood the anti-condom attitude that this article seems to promot. Who decided that is ok?? Whatever happened to being responsible and taking care of ourselves? Also, who are these men who sleep with these women? Who are these men who think that not using a condom in a casual situation is ok? Who are these women who let them?

  12. L says:

    What does she think Plan B actually is? It has all of the same side effects as the pill except worse, because it is essentially the pill taken intensely for 36 hours. I could go on, but I keep deleting my comments because of my better judgement.

    What a sad example of a liberated woman.

  13. A says:

    I love how she forgets the one thing that would solve half her problem – IUD. This girl need a birth control 101 class. Ignorant screeds like this are how conservatives get away with mandatory information sessions before receiving something like an abortion…hell after reading that I want to make her go to a sex ed class and pass a test before she buys Plan B again.

    Oh and FYI – pulling out has virtually the same success rate in pregnancy prevention as condoms. In a committed relationship its a valid 2nd level of prevention and don't just use condoms and expect never to get pregnant.

  14. Belle says:

    L-Also remember that Plan B is only effective 75-90% of the time, while proper use of birth control is 99% effective. Apparently, she also can't do basic math.

  15. Belle says:

    A-You do make a good point, condoms are supposed to be for preventing disease. The idea that getting HIV or Syph doesn't scare her is horrifying. Cause if she can't remember to take birth control, the AIDS-cocktail of anti-retrovirals is going to be a bear.

  16. katy says:

    The really insane part about this to me is it's not like proper education on these matters is readily available to all girls in this country. MANY places present the 'abstinence only' type information to young girls. So to me, there's no way this can be satire, as in my mind, satire is meant to mock something truly established, which is what allows it to be funny because we all realize we wouldn't actually MAKE such choices in real life. Not everyone does realize that these choices are available because some very powerful forces continue to work against their promotion. And I agree with the commenters not just about Plan B, but the flip attitude about abortions is also exactly what many religious groups claim will be the case if women are “allowed” to choose. Furthermore, the overall tone of this is just upsetting from a feminist perspective. Why is this woman so uncomfortable (even if it seems a bit false) discussing her body and her rights in sexual situations? It seems to me like she is a proponent of not using condoms just because it might be awkward to ask of a sex partner, which is yet ANOTHER problematic message to be sending. Ugh, this whole thing is just SO upsetting. So many girls who DO care and who would like to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs cannot get access to proper information, there is no reason for THIS to be out in the world too.

  17. Emily says:

    Belle, I could not agree more. I especially hate that she frames this as simply pregnancy prevention. HIV and otherSTDs continue to be on the rise with increasing resistance to antibiotics. She claims this isn't an issue because she doesn't sleep with that many people, but I can't believe that she is having thoughtful conversations about sexual history and health with her partners. This cavalier and misinformed attitude will just hurt her and her partners, along with anyone who takes this seriously. It is shameful that xojane published this.

  18. BN says:

    Belle – THANK YOU for posting such an eloquent and appropriate response to this horrific and disgusting article. I am appalled. It takes more time, effort, energy, and thought to put on makeup for a date than it does to take a pill, grab a condom, or use a diaphragm (though admittedly I have never tried to insert a diaphragm, but my friends who use them indicate as such). Suggesting that since she never contracted an STD is NOT an argument in favor of her reckless lifestyle. It's sick that she has been given a forum for her ramblings. Belle, your response was right-on, so thank you again for it.

  19. OMFG. Given that she doesn't seem to have any redeemable traits worth passing on to offspring, perhaps she should consider sterilization. I didn't read the article; is there a reason that someone that flaky hadn't considered an IUD? I can't believe she is treating her health so carelessly. I can't believe that any reputable site would publish her airhead crap.

  20. Jaimee says:

    I went over to xoJane to read the article in full, hoping that maybe — just maybe — my beloved Belle was making it seem worse than it actually was. Imagine my surprise to find that this deplorable piece of writing was actually worse than I expected. From the irresponsible ramblings on birth control to the flip comments about suicide, Cat's article was completely and utterly without merit. No more xoJane for me.

  21. Nina says:

    Did you see the juvenile follow up article? https://www.xojane.com/sex/even-more-scandalous-birth-control-post-we-didnt-run

    And they recently posted a condescending article about the website not being for teenagers. It sure sounds like it is written by Region George type high schoolers.

  22. Kim says:

    On par with the original piece were some of Marnell's gems in the comment section.

    My two favorites were one saying she gets tested all of the time, so what's the worse that could happen (in response to readers asking if she was worried about STDs/STIs) and one saying that disesases could crawl up the spine of an IUD and make you sterile (in response to someone's suggestion that she get an IUD). I couldn't make this up if I tried.

  23. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    Dear God, this website sounds HORRIFIC. What idiots.

  24. Belle says:

    Yeah, xoJane is clearly bullshit if they're posting this article and the one mentioned above. It's all about pageviews, so what if it's irresponsible, they need those clicks!

    What's funny to me though is we all ripped apart Marie Claire for the article about how gross it was to watch fat people in love, so Mike & Molly was a disgusting show. And yet, here's something truly atrocious and dangerous and I don't see the disgust from the feminist community that I would expect.

  25. ms.r says:

    I teach science to 11 and 12 year olds and last year I heard some pretty disturbing misconceptions about sex from my students. I approached my administration about sex ed and was told that “we don't start that until 7th grade.” It horrifies me that the only advice many young people around the country are receiving about sex is uninformed and reckless false information found all over the internet.

  26. emily says:

    oh my gosh. I just read her posted and a lot of comments on it.It is people like her that make me scared for humanity. Belle, I'm so glad you don't stoop to her level or post outrageous things to get attention or clicks. You're a role model!

  27. Kelly says:

    Totally impressed that you posted this, Belle. It infuriated me too. Her post was not feminist in the least!

  28. Oedipa says:

    Belle – I would have been too angry to write anything that coherent. Well done.

    What frightened me even more is the reception she got in the comments section. I expected outrage, and instead found “I just love your refreshing honesty! Yay feminism!”

    Thanks for demonstrating real feminism by writing an honest blog for smart, classy women.

  29. Emily says:

    This is ridiculous. I really enjoyed your article pointing out the crazy. Also, none of her logic even makes sense. So, she can't remember to take the pill everyday? Well, you only have to get a Depo-provera shot once every THREE months. And you don't have a period (Yay no PMS!) Plus, it's only $60 without insurance. It has some weird side effects but it safely prevents pregnancy. I don't really know anything about preventing STDs because my husband and I were virgins when we got married, but Depo is definitely excellent, easy birth control. This woman is crazy & irresponsible.

  30. Ana says:

    I clicked on the link and read this insane and inane article and it does seem to be a satire of sorts (or perhaps it's as you mentioned before, wishful thinking on my part). The narrator's voice reminds me of Babe Walker of White Girl Problems, especially since she ended on this note: “Attack me in the comments section — GO.” While sarcastic native speakers may get the “jokes,” the average girl may take this at face-value with obviously disastrous results.

  31. J says:

    Belle, I am extremely appreciative that you include these oftentimes “controversial” issues on your blog. It upsets me that people can so easily spread such malformed ideas pertaining to reproductive health and sexual assault. As your last post on rape demonstrated, it is not uncommon for women, who many younger girls look up to, to perpetuate the cycle. But I suppose that's free speech. Thank you for your resonating, strong voice. Keep on the good work. The world needs more strong, intelligent, and most importantly level headed women like you to speak up.

  32. B says:

    I'll admit it, I googled her. Does it pass for satire these days to list “pro-ana” as your religious view on your public facebook page?

    On a more serious note, kudos to Belle for posting this and sparking a great discussion. I taught an undergrad course on human sexuality. The amount of ignorance and misinformation about basic reproductive health issues among students was frightening. According to a class poll, students got information about sex from (1) friends and (2) the internet. In many ways, this can be a good thing. Kids can access information on topics they would never feel comfortable asking their parents, peers, and teachers about. On the other hand, crap like this is passed off as legit info. Based on my experience — while I respect and enjoy my students — their coursework demonstrated to me that they aren't well equipped to tell the difference.

  33. X says:

    “3) The Depo-Provera Shot. Uh-huh. Same concept as the pills, if you get my drift. Egads, but it's true.”

    I'm thinking she doesn't want a shot of anything, unless it's heroin.

    Here's to hoping that not a single woman takes Cat's advice. She hates having abortions? Maybe use safe and healthy contraceptive methods, and she wouldn't have to have them [quite as often]?

    It seems to me that Cat would be best on advising: where to find and how to ingest drugs of all kinds, the pros and cons of having an abortion weighed against the pounds and pimples of birth control, and as Belle noted, the best ways to contract sexually transmitted diseases and make sure you get pregnant.

  34. Oh yeah says:

    Is anyone ever going to sleep with Cat again ever? Especially if you look at her other articles:

    ” An OB-GYN told me two years ago that HPV had left my body, but trust, surely by now it is back. With this toy, I'll embrace (literally, at night, by myself) HPV…


    She's super proud to spread disease, it's so kewl!

  35. Belle says:

    Some other bloggers did mention that they appreciate her honesty. And I think that that's a fair point. Lots of women have unsafe sex, and admitting it IF you plan to alter your behavior is brave. But it doesn't sound to me like Marnell plans to alter her behavior at all. So doing step one and not step two is STUPID not brave.

  36. Claire says:

    First of all, let's just acknowledge that her alarmingly flippant attitude toward abortion is antithetical to the kind of productive dialogue that this issue demands. “I hate having them”…really? Beyond just reducing a very serious, controversial decision to a minor annoyance, this language displays a frightening lack of awareness as to the gravity of abortion as an issue. Regardless of where you stand on the issue it is not something to be taken lightly. The fact that superficial, ignorant women like Cat Marnell might develop an attitude like this is EXACTLY what “pro-life” activists use as ammunition in fighting back against the expansion of reproductive rights.

    It's sickening to me that someone so hideously misinformed might be poisoning the minds of readers who made the mistake of trusting a site like xojane for information about their sexual health. This article in itself can stand alone as a defense for school-sponsored sex ed programs as well as an open dialogue between parents and kids about sex. Perhaps if people see that morons like this are their children's alternative source of information (I use the term loosely, of course), they will think differently about abstinence-only education.

  37. JRT says:

    I completely agree with Katy's comment. There is a responsible birth control method for everyone, and any GYN worth his/her salt will work with a woman to find it. Forgetful? IUD, NuvaRing, patch… Conditions requiring high dose? Variations of the pill or combinations… Concerned about weight gain? Acne? Moodiness? There are options to address any concern. But instead of teaching young women especially to take responsibility for her lifestyle choices and look further down the road than tonight, schools teach “just don't do it” and horrible examples like this teach “it's not your fault or responsibility and there is nothing that can't be patched up on the back end.”

    I wish sex ed, college campuses, and other educational services would address the availability of birth control counseling and the risk tradeoffs you should consider when making any sex-related decision.

Join The List

Stay up to date on the latest from Capitol Hill Style!


Ask the Editor: Vol. IV, No Twenty-Three

This week, we have a wedding dress search coming up empty, cell phone slings that don’t suck, sunscreen tips for kids, and more. Let’s take a peek in the reader mail bag.



Recent Posts

Two Ways: The Olive Striped Shirt

I’d write a quippy intro, but it’s 5:00AM and I’m sitting in an airport lounge, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?



The Find: An Olive Striped Shirt

As you may have noticed, I do not have the most creative personal style. I am here for basics. But what I’m always looking for is basic-but, a piece of clothing that is basic but just a little different.




Ask the Edit, Style, Top Posts | June 20, 2024

Ask the Editor: Vol. IV, No Twenty-Three

This week, we have a wedding dress search coming up empty, cell phone slings that don’t suck, sunscreen tips for kids, and more. Let’s take a peek in the reader mail bag.



How To Wear It, Posts, Style | June 18, 2024

Two Ways: The Olive Striped Shirt

I’d write a quippy intro, but it’s 5:00AM and I’m sitting in an airport lounge, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?



Features, Posts, The Range | June 18, 2024

The Find: An Olive Striped Shirt

As you may have noticed, I do not have the most creative personal style. I am here for basics. But what I’m always looking for is basic-but, a piece of clothing that is basic but just a little different.



Features, Monday Mornings, Posts | June 17, 2024

The Mondays: June 17, 2024

From the rooftop deck of my D.C. hotel I can see it all. The Capitol building, where I worked on and off for a decade. My first apartment where my three-doors-down neighbor was a young Senator Obama. My second apartment building where I bounced from unit-to-unit as my salary rose and I was finally able […]