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'Sex Isn't Something You Should Be Punished For': Tavi Gevinson On Planned Parenthood, Sex-Ed

10/27/2015 10:14 EDT | Updated 10/27/2015 10:59 EDT

"We're taught that sex is evil and that women should be punished for partaking in ways that men aren't, and that some of the health issues that can come out of sex are some sort of punishment. I just really disagree with that and it makes me really angry. I think women, people of all genders, should be able to make the decision that is right for them and their body and their life."

She might have a quiet, methodical nature to her speaking voice, but Tavi Gevinson is angry about how systemic misogyny affects young women and their relationship to sexuality in general.

At 19, Gavinson is a hugely influential teenager, thanks to Rookie, a style blog she launched at age 11 that she upgraded into a feminist-fuelled culture magazine four years later.

And she's particularly incensed by Republican efforts to take down Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that provides health services, including contraception, abortion and breast and cervical cancer screening, to nearly five million people worldwide.

"Right now one issue concerning young women and people all across the gender spectrum that I am very concerned with is the vote to defund Planned Parenthood," Gevinson tells HuffPost Canada backstage at Toronto's We Day youth activist rally where she was a speaker.

The organization's services are geared primarily toward women, and mostly poor women at that.

The Republican uproar began in the summer after the release of since-debunked videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood workers selling fetal tissue. (They were donating it for medical research.)

Right-wing politicians have since gone all-in on trying to shut the organization down. Congressional Republicans have passed several defunding bills, most recently on Oct. 23, and held hearings with more on the docket staffed by anti-abortion Republicans.

Meanwhile, a half-dozen Republican-run states have already voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and Texas officials even recently raided the health centre's offices for patient records.

"Planned Parenthood provides many important, safe services to people who can and can't afford to go anywhere else and saves millions of lives," Gevinson says. "The consequences if Planned Parenthood is defunded would be deathly."

The battle has even crossed over the border, as the president of the Ottawa office wrote here in HuffPost that funding is increasingly being cut thanks to pressure by people who oppose healthcare for women and the trans community.

Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum has elicited a similar response from certain quarters. From protests at Queen's Park to parents pulling their kids out of school, the notion of teaching children about their bodies and about consent has become a fierce battle.

Interview continues after slideshow

Parents Protest Ontario's New Sex-Ed Curriculum

Gevinson says parents also need to think a bit harder about what other, louder voices they are letting in by silencing talk about sex and consent.

"I'm very lucky because I went to a high school that had a program where girls were required to take self-defense. It was physical but it also talked about abusive relationships, and we talked about self-esteem, and body image. Guys were required to take a class about the dangers of the idea of masculinity and having to mask your emotions and also how to basically understand consent and not hurt people.

"When you're spoon-fed anything, the impulse is to shrug it off so it was a bit of a joke in the school," she admits, "but I think people were ultimately really glad that we were talking about how to not rape other people and other basic, basic human courtesies."

And as much as Gevinson tries to do with Rookie, she says school is probably the best place to reach teenagers, especially if their parents won't have these conversations.

"Sometimes I hear from parents who are like, 'I bought my daughter your book and there was sex in it.' And it's, like, your daughters already talking about sex, maybe having sex, at least let her read about it from this writer we have who is literally a gynecologist."

Censorship is not the answer, she says, for women of any age, and the sooner people are open about sexuality, the more beneficial to society.

"A lot of people are afraid to talk about sex, and there is certainly a tradition of silencing conversations about women's sexuality. Women are expected not to be sexual even though we are so often sexualized by other people," Gevinson says, smiling wryly.

"When these conversations happen, there's this underlying current that really has to do with discomfort that women have sexual autonomy and should be allowed to deal with that in whatever way is right for them.

"Sex isn't something that you should be punished for."

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