Learning About Sex from the Best

If you haven't had this incredible professor, you need to change your schedule! Lisa Vallin is not only a favorite professor of many, but also is one of the most genuine, passionate, whole-hearted people you will ever have to in your life. Truly making class enjoyable, she will forever be one of University of Hawaii’s best assets!

"My name is Lisa M. Vallin, I am a PhD candidate in Educational Psychology and I also teach for the Women’s Studies and Biology departments here at UH Mānoa. I am born and raised in Sweden and came to the US in 2000 to pursue higher education. I received my BA in Geography with an emphasis on the Human Environment from San Francisco State University in 2006, and I also earned my MA degree in Sexuality Studies from SFSU in 2008. After completing my MA I taught different undergraduate courses in Sexuality Studies at SFSU, and in 2010 I was accepted here at UH Mānoa in their doctoral program. I hope to defend my dissertation this spring, which is about pedagogy in the sex education classroom, but we will see if that will be possible or not." 

What is your favorite part about teaching WSBIOL 350?

"WSBIOL 350 is one of my favorite classes to teach! I think the course offers interesting and useful information that students often find meaningful to their life outside of the classroom. Though the course is housed in the Women’s Studies department it is cross-listed with Biology since it offers a broad biological perspective to sexuality, which I think is really important and needed. Universities often do not have courses that include biological perspectives of Sexuality Studies, and I think this is a really important piece to better understand the complexity of human sexuality. I also very much like the students! The course tends to have a pretty high enrollment, (this year we are over 400 students in just two sections!) and students are so diverse in both academic major and level, and also in their cultural background, which makes classroom and group discussion all that more interesting!"

What made you want to teach a class about sex?

"When I was an undergraduate student, I took a course taught by Ann Auleb. Ann was phenomenal. One of those rare teachers who was not only excellent in the classroom, but whose passion for social justice and continued support for her students outside of the classroom was just remarkable. I became Ann’s TA and later we co-taught together. It is because of Ann I decided to dedicate my work to teaching, and to teaching about sexuality. I believe that sexuality is such an important part of our lives, yet we don’t do a very good job at acknowledging this, particularly within education. And so I feel very honored and committed to do the work I do. I think that courses in Sexuality Studies at the very least gives students an opportunity to have important and meaningful conversations about sexuality. And hopefully some of these conversations may contribute to real change in terms of feeling empowered about the functions of the body, improved sexual relations, and a greater understanding an appreciation for sexual diversity."

What would you say the best form of birth control?

"The best form of birth control is the form that will work best for you! Today we have an array of different types of BC available, and I think it is important to find the method that is going to work best for you. So, do some research and make the OBGYN appointment to get some professional advice  =) And don’t be shy to try different methods, sometimes you might have to try a few different ones before you find the one that works best for you."

What is the weirdest question you’ve gotten asked in your WSBIOL 350 class?

"Hhmmm… I am not sure I ever get questions that are weird… I think it is totally expected to have questions about sexuality that are more or less on point, since sexuality is still such a taboo topic. But I do struggle with questions that starts with something like: “Why are guys always….” or “What do girls like…”, as these are impossible to answer. How am I supposed to answer these?! I don’t think guys “always” act in a certain way, and I am not even sure what I like, so how could I possible know what “girls like”?! But, I am always grateful that students feel comfortable enough to ask in the first place, that makes it possible to have a discussion."

What advice would you give to women who aren’t satisfied in their sex lives?

"I would give the same advice to anyone regardless of their gender identification, and that is, if you are not satisfied with your sex life, then try to first figure out what it is you are not satisfied with, and then think about how you could improve. Often times we don’t allow ourselves to really take a moment to reflect on who we are as sexual beings and what we might enjoy or not enjoy. So, perhaps a start would be to think about what works and what needs to change or improve. Start with yourself, and have a date-night with yourself; treat yourself! If you can figure out what feels best for you, and what your needs are, then I’d say that is a pretty good start. The next step could be to learn how to communicate this to your partner(s). But always love yourself first, I would say that is the most important step."

What do you think is the most common false fact people believe to be true about sex?

"That sex is or should be always amazing. Sex is complicated and messy on so many levels, bodily and emotionally. Things have to not only work well for you, but ideally things should also work well for your partner(s), and it should then also work well when you are together. That is a lot! And since sex is still quite taboo, I think there are a lot of pressure on sexual performance and sexual bodies to somehow live up to unrealistic ideals about what sex should be. As long as sex is consensual, perfect might mean imperfect and I think that is realistic and totally OK."

What is the most sexually transmitted disease between college students and how do you treat it?

"STDs in general are most common among 15-24 year-olds. This group account for about half of all new STD infections each year. The most common viral STD would be Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is very common, and it is estimated that most sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. Most often HPV is not a big issue at all, though certain strains of HPV can result in warts known as Condyloma or in worse cases forms of cancer. So, it is important to have regular pap smear tests and to look and feel your genitals on a regular basis to check for any warts. There is no cure for HPV, but there are vaccines such as Gardasil that is available for people up to the age of 27. Gardasil offers a good protection though it does not protect from all cancerous strains, it does protect again most, and particularly against the strains that cause Condyloma."

"The most common bacterial STD would be Chlamydia. In 2016, 2.9 million people contracted chlamydia and 63% of these infections were among youth ages 15-24. A chlamydia infection can be tricky to detect since it often does not produce any symptoms. Therefore it is important to undergo regular STD screenings. Testing for chlamydia is easy, you just have to pee in a cup! Chlamydia is curable with antibiotics."

What campus resources are there for women to utilize for feminine concerns and counseling for abusive situations?

"The Women’s Center here on campus is a fantastic resource! People here are professional and caring, and they offer a very welcoming and supportive environment. The Women’s Center has counselors on staff but they also have the knowledge and ability to refer students to other professionals on or off campus if needed. The Women’s Center is located on the second floor of the Queen Lili‘uokalani Center for Student Services, room 211."

"I have also worked with our Counseling & Student Development Center (CSDC) and the staff there is also very professional and experienced to deal with anything from physical or sexual abuse to issues around emotional instability. As a student you have free access to counseling and I highly encourage any and all people to take advantage of these services. To have someone who is professionally trained listen to you for an hour is an amazing experience; a real treat to yourself, gaining some new and important perspectives on life! The CSDC is also located in the Queen Lili‘uokalani Center for Student Services, but on the third floor in room 312."

"The UH Mānoa Health Center is a good place to go to get access to STD screening and treatment. If you have insurance they will bill them, but even if you don’t have an insurance you still have access to their services you just have to pay some out of your own pocket, though at a discounted rate."

Any advice for all the woman at UH Manoa?

"Again, I would give the same advice to anyone regardless of gender – Take a minute to reflect on your life as a student. Make sure that you are on track with your studies, and though school is often stressful, remember that there is a lot more to life than just school! I hope that you find your years here at UH Mānoa to be productive and meaningful."