Jo Langford on LGBTQ Youth – Smart Sex Smart Love

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Jo Langford“The language kids use these days about sexuality can be exhausting,” says this week’s guest, Jo Langford. “We often have to coax out the meat of what kids are saying, because the landscape of sexuality language and what words mean to them, is changing very fast all the time.” On this episode Joe chats to Jo Langford – therapist, author and sex educator for tweens, teens and parents. His newest book, The Pride Guide, is a guide to sexual and social development, safety and health for queer youth and their families. Jo and Joe talk all things around gender diversity and the needs of trans and non-confirming youth. “We need kids to see they’re represented in the therapists office,” says Jo.

Find Jo Langford on:
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Joe Kort:           Today we’re going to be talking about LGBTQ I a youth lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning, intersex and ally and asexual. In the 60s television played an enormous part in social awareness around race for LGBTQ people. The advent of the worldwide web was a game changer in the nineties today, social media is the primary awareness tool around gender diversity and of the needs and experiences of trans and gender nonconforming people, including children. My guest today is Joe Langford, M a Joe was a dad, a master’s level therapist, author and sex educator for tweens, teens, and parents in Seattle, Washington. From working in peer counseling and student outreach programs in high schools to medical, residential and psychiatric settings. Joe provides trainings for organizations and agencies as well as therapy to adolescents and families around a gambit of sexuality. Themes with an emphasis on LGBTQ issues, internet safety, digital citizenship, and comprehensive sex education. His newest book, the pride guide, is a guide to sexual and social development, safety and health for queer youth and for their families, covering all aspects of LGBTQ adolescents, both online and off. This book is the first puberty book written with queer and specifically trans youth in mind. Joe also also promotes healthy, positive and safe sexual and social behavior at his website. B Welcome, Joe.

Jo Langford:      Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Joe Kort:           I’m so glad you’re here too. And, uh, I thought we could start if you wouldn’t mind. W I, I, I was kinda going, you know, I, when I do the LGBT, then I say the LGBTQ and sometimes I’ll say LGBTQ, IAA. And then in here, you know, you said queer youth. Can you speak to that? Like what do all these things mean?

Jo Langford:      The, the letters, the, the initialism

Joe Kort:           well, why so many and what, you know, what’s the difference really, I guess I should ask between queer and LGBTQ IAA.

Jo Langford:      Well, I think queer in, in my head, in my definition, I think it just means like not straight or cisgendered, like everything that’s sort of outside of that sort of what we think of as the primary norm. Right? Um, so it kinda covers everybody. You can say just one, uh, syllable word without having to do all the letters cause there’s so many letters out there. And I think that’s great. I think the point of it, of that whole initial of them is inclusion. Um, and it can sort of morph into this kind of unwieldy alphabet soup sometimes as well. But a queer, um, can kind of get the point across, uh, in a kind of a more simple way. And, and I think that being able to use that word as well is, is in that vein of that sort of Powerment disempowerment thing where you can take the work back. Like when people who aren’t clear use the word as a weapon and have for so many decades and generations, uh, being able to use it in a positive way to refer to you and your people. Um, I think there’s power in that too.

Joe Kort:           Yes. And you use the words positive whammy. Yes. Use the word cisgender. C. I. S. G. E. N. D. E. R. cisgender. Can you tell people who don’t know what that means? What it is?

Jo Langford:      Yes. Which I find myself doing kind of, um, more often than I think that I should, but basically it means as someone who is cis-gendered as someone who is, uh, who’s outside appearance and their, and their sort of sense of themselves matches the genitalia with which they were born. So a man who shows up as male and uh, you know, it’s, uh, you know, they’re aligned in that it’s sort of the opposite of transgender. So transgender is someone who’s, um, outside appearance or inner sense of themselves, doesn’t necessarily match the plumbing that they were born with and so assists genders when it does. Um, but that word, uh, feels like it’s a word that everybody just kinda knows to me about I, but more and more like I, I’ve, I’ve run into situations, especially kind of recently, even professionals that are like, what does that word mean? And having to educate them.

Joe Kort:           [inaudible] and I know that one of your top things you do is working with the parents of queer youth. And you say that statistically most parents of LGBT youth are not seeking out any type of formal support or therapy around having an LGB child. What are those, what are the challenges for them then and how do you help them?

Jo Langford:      Well, I think there’s, I think there’s lots of challenges to, to parenting or queer kid and, and I, and I think in some ways it’s that there’s lots of reasons that they don’t seek out resources. And sometimes it’s kind of sweet because they’re like, yeah, my kid is gay or my kid is trans. Like I don’t really see that as a problem, so I’m not gonna go seek out any help or resources because they associate doing that with addressing a problem, which is great. But I think parents still need resources. And then there’s other parents who either don’t care or don’t notice. Right. Um, the kids who are kind of sort of struggling or figuring things out on their own and they haven’t come out to their parents, so the parents don’t even know that there’s an issue to be dealt with. Um, but I think that parenting a queer kid is different than parenting a street kid in almost every way.

Jo Langford:      Like, um, a lot. The dynamics are exactly the same, but you know, and things from sleepovers to sex education, like those things, you know, are at a, at a different angle than they are with straight or cisgender kids. And sometimes parents have a hard time kind of remembering that. Um, they do a lot of work with parents around queer kids and, um, and I, I’m always so refreshed. Like one of my favorite favorite things is when parents will come and they’ll say, we think our kid’s gay, or, or kid or child’s a lesbian. Like, we’re totally down with that, but we have no idea what the hell we’re doing. Like, how do you, can you help us not screw this up?

Joe Kort:           And what do you say tonight?

Jo Langford:      Uh, well, I just kind of give them sort of a, uh, patent lists. Like I, I encourage them to, you know, ask about it to talk about it. A lot of parents are kind of sheepish about bringing it up. And so I kind of do this balance of like, it’s okay to talk about it and you can ask them questions, um, just, but don’t do it every day or every meal. You know what I mean? Like you don’t have to do it all the time cause some parents get kind of gung ho and, and jump in there and kind of be a little intimidating with that I think. Um, and then I, I really encourage them to, can I help make their house a little more queer friendly? You know, having like some books on the shelf, some bumper stickers on the car, you know, a coffee mug with a rainbow on it or something. You know what I mean? Just something that, that kind of gives them symbols and evidence around their home that they’re, our home is an inclusive place. Um, but generally it’s, you know, letting your kid be different. A lot of pants are scared, um, for queer kids in terms of, you know, if they’re here’s to blue or their mannerisms strict, you, I’ll be just like, they’re going to bring violence on themselves and um, or someone will target them for violence. And, and I, I kind of have to help kids navigate that part too sometimes.

Joe Kort:           And how do you tell them like, cause I do get that too. Parents say I’m really worried and the way they’re dressing or they seem like, you know, they’re going to bring attention to themselves and um, the kid says, well I’m going to do this so I’m sorry, you’re going to have to figure it out. How do you help a parent, you know, calm themselves down.

Jo Langford:      I mean a lot of that kind of depends on the situation in terms of, you know, safety is always the most important thing. But, but then I’m also a big believer in self-expression and self esteem and those things are I think intimately related. And, and so if the kid wants to have blue hair for a while and that’s a way that they’re kind of accessing who they are and trying to project it to the world and you know, unless there’s a clear like obvious safety issue, like the let’s let them express themselves for awhile but then be ready and support them because, you know, honestly we’re living in some dark days right now and, and there’s, there’s a certain flavors of hate that kind of fight had been almost eradicated and they were back with a vengeance and, and they’re going to be targets. The kids, you know, queer people, um, especially kids, um, are going to be targets and that’s going to happen. And so part of me is like, well, there’s no really avoiding that, so let’s, let’s lean into it. Let’s be ready for it. Let’s support them when it happens and uh, and, and kind of go from there.

Joe Kort:           That makes it good.

Jo Langford:      It helps kids to be able to learn how to navigate that stuff cause it is just sort of unrelenting, it seems to me sometimes they’re going to have to deal with it either way.

Joe Kort:           What do you tell parents? Cause I get this a lot too when they say, okay so now I know that my, my daughter is lesbian and she wants to, or bisexual let’s say and whatever. And now she wants to have a sleepover with a girl and I don’t know, are they going to have sex? I, they girlfriends and you know, it’s different if they were both heterosexual, but now, um, what do I do? It’s like having my S my heterosexual child who wants to have an opposite sex person come and sleepover. What do you say to that?

Jo Langford:      Yeah, I, that is a, that is really funny. As it comes up a lot, it’s one of the most popular things that had happened. And so I, I kind of have to coach parents on how to approach it because I, you know, I, I said don’t, don’t approach it that way because your kid is, you know, Ella, GBT, whatever letter. Um, but, but just approach it. Like what would your stance be in not, like you said, an opposite if you’re, if they were heterosexual Katie, would you allow it? Yes. Then than allow it. If, if it that they wouldn’t then don’t allow it but make it based on that on some kind of level of fairness. Cause kids are, you know, you’ve, you’ve worked with kids before I think, right? Like, um, you know, they’ll, they’ll play that the homophobe card, you know, as soon as they can. But you’re just being a homophobe to help parents kind of deal with that, right? Like, no, this is not homophobia. This is just parenting. But nice try.

Joe Kort:           Well, what I love about your work is you, you know, you work a lot. Is it primarily with youth?

Jo Langford:      It is, yes.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. And then you have two books prior to this current book, pride guide that are about youth, right? Male and female, correct?

Jo Langford:      Yes.

Joe Kort:           What are the names of them?

Jo Langford:      Ah, the spare me the talk series. So I spare me the talk was a, a book for um, for teenage boys or boy identified people. Um, and uh, cause there wasn’t any book for boys. There had been one before, like uh, you know, puberty growing up book that was just for boys. Um, but it was out of print. And so I was like, this kind of needs to be in the world cause you know, there’s a lot of great books that kind of jump both sides of that sort of fence. But uh, but there wasn’t a book that was just for boys. There’s a hundred million books, the girls, but um, but there wasn’t a book that was just for boys. So I wanted to write that for the teenagers themselves about growing up, puberty, their bodies consent, um, you know, sexuality identification, all that stuff. And then the section in the back for the parents as well. Um, and people liked it. I got great feedback on it. And then people, the biggest feedback I got was like, you should let a girl version of this book. So I was like, the girls have 800 books already. But yeah,

Joe Kort:           it was kind of fun. So why do you think

Jo Langford:      book for girls written by a guy.

Joe Kort:           Oh wow. Wow. Now why do you think there isn’t any the windows many books or hardly any for boys?

Jo Langford:      I just think we have really underserved our boys, honestly. You know what I mean? And we can tell like this, you know, all this stuff in our culture right now is coming to a head in terms of, you know, sexual assault and violence and privilege. It’s, we’re, we’re, we’re figuring out how to deal with it now and, um, and it’s just not the time for boys, you know what I mean? Or I think right now in kind of a big way is it’s the time for girls and, and guys kind of need to set our mouths a little bit and let, let the girls have their time and talk about their issues,

Joe Kort:           learn from that. And what changes do we need to make sure, yeah. Um, and what made you decide, okay, Oh, go ahead.

Jo Langford:      Oh, so, but at some point we’re going to have to, there’s getting that need to be a reckoning. We’re going to have to figure out how to deal with our boys in a proactive way so that those, those problems don’t continue. It’s not necessarily young men’s fault that this is going on, but this is, this is how we’re growing them, right? Like we’re, we’re seeing now with all the Kavanaugh stuff, like all those things we did with boys in the 80s, like it is, it’s coming to a head now, right. And we have to start doing something soon for the boys who are adolescents now, so that in 30 years we don’t have a bunch of more Cavanaugh’s running around and we’re learning how to do that and why that’s important. Um, but I think culturally we’re not quite there yet. I think, I think it’s, it’s right in timing that we give attention to our young women, but, um, but at some point we’re going to have to talk about boys and boyhood and how to raise them and what that they need to know and how do we teach them that, um, that time is coming and I’m hoping to be part of that conversation.

Jo Langford:      I guess.

Joe Kort:           So then you wrote these two books and then you thought, okay, I’m going to write a book for queer youth pride guide. What made you decide that?

Jo Langford:      Mostly because there wasn’t one, it was like 2017 and I was looking for resources for these families like that we’re talking about. And I was just like, how the hell is there not a puberty book for trans kids? Like that is insane to me. And I, you know, I, I called around and I talked to a lot of people and there just was nothing out there, so I decided to write it

Joe Kort:           and in it. Um, and just since you’ve written it, what would you like to see more of or less in terms of the culture around queer youth?

Jo Langford:      I think just acknowledging that they are there. I think sort of the prevailing theory for a really long time is that it’s like a, it was a small, uh, population, um, a small number of the population. But I think now as kids have become more vocal and, and I think, like you were saying at the beginning, like with the advent of social media, I think that has really made, played a big part in it. Um, but it, it’s more a part of the conversation now and I think that needs to continue. I think people need to understand that it’s not just like, you know, as like a single digit percentage of the population. Um, those numbers are growing and changing and as acceptance grows, they’re getting bigger. And even the adults are learning from the kids now. And we’ve got people coming out in their forties and 50s and 60s because I think the kids are doing such a great job. And so understanding that how much the culture needs to shift in that, like acknowledging that they’re there, um, making room for them, helping them feel accepted. Um, but you know, I think it’s, that kind of change I think is as big and hard for people. But bathroom examples being prominent. Right,

Joe Kort:           right. Bringing bathroom, new gender neutral.

Jo Langford:      Yeah. How hard is this conversation? Like I don’t have like, you know, I talked to schools all the time, I’m like, well this isn’t rocket science. Like this is pretty easy to figure out. Like what, why are you stuck with this?

Joe Kort:           And what I loved about pride guide that I think is so important for parents to even hear and end youth. But, um, I like, I learned things about you. You said you talk about when trans males, teenagers want to wear binders, right? So when they’re flattening the chest, how not to wear it more than eight to 10, or what is it, 12 hours not to sleep in it. Um, stand to pee, the packing, you know, you get into all the, the hormone blockers. Who, when to begin, how to navigate through that. I know that’s a lot I just said, but could you speak to a little bit of that?

Jo Langford:      Sure. Um, I, I mean, I’m not sure what specifically you want to talk about, but just like, but just that idea that like the kids need these things and if, you know, it’s some, you know, trans kid in Kansas, like what are the resources going to be and are they going to be reliable. And you know, if somebody has a, an an adult in their life that they can ask questions and rely on, then that’s great for them. That the, the, the um, prognosis for that kid is a lot more positive. Um, but those other kids who are isolated, of which there are many, you know, their, their resources are Google. And when you Google stuff, you never know what you’re going to get necessarily. Um, there’s, there’s some great reliable sites up there for crew kids, but, but there’s a bunch of other ones that have a lot of misinformation or a lot of outdated information. And, um, so I just wanted to try to get something that could be accessible, not just to kids, but again, like I said in the back as a whole section for the parents because it’s, there’s so many challenges, terms of panting queer kids and things to keep in mind.

Joe Kort:           That’s what I liked about your book and that’s, I’m glad you answered it the way I wanted you to. I want people to hear including therapists who might be listening to this podcast cause they always ask, how do you have these conversations? When do you have them, you know, uh, what are the conversations? What are the things you say? You’re very specific in the book about all this stuff. And I think extremely helpful. Have people said that to you?

Jo Langford:      Yeah, they have actually. And I’ve, I’ve gotten the pleasure of doing like trainings for agencies and other professionals. Um, because like they said, even like trained professional therapists and you know, like twice in the last six months, like they’d be like, well what does this gender mean? I’m like, you are a therapist.

Joe Kort:           They don’t, I know,

Jo Langford:      you know they don’t and it but it, but it is because I think you know, this idea of like, Oh, it’s a really small percentage of the population so I’d make the, I don’t need to be super well versed with that, but, so I talked to other professionals about how to just make room for queer kids, right? Like you’re a therapist, you know, most of us have an intake form and we ask about sexual preference or gender identity maybe in the intake and then we fill out the form and then we kind of maybe never revisit that if there wasn’t anything there that looks like it needed revisiting. So I really encourage therapists like you know, after a couple of months when you’ve built the rapport and you, the kid trusts you and you’re working with them, like maybe ask them again about how they identify or where they are on the data, straight scale.

Jo Langford:      And you probably get a different answer than you did in the, you know, when it was the fourth question on the intake form that you asked. You know what I mean? When they just met you six minutes ago. And so stuff like that, I think you know how to have that same thing, like queer friendly books, maybe a poster or something like that in your office so that they can see that they’re represented in there and safe. Um, and a lot of therapists I think just kind of don’t necessarily think about that. So yeah, I get to help people kind of figured that out too.

Joe Kort:           What do you say to people? My therapist and my talk say asked me this all the time as do parents. Oh my gosh. They say it’s like, I’ve actually had people say it’s so, it’s becoming a trend and it’s trending to kids are identifying different genders out of the blue and different sexual orientations out of the blue, younger and younger. What do we do? They’re like almost panicked about it. I have my answer, but I’d like to hear yours first.

Jo Langford:      My answer generally is a, just breathe through it. I think as a, as a, as an adult and someone who, you know, hasn’t grown up in that specific culture, I think it is. Um, but you know, this new culture where with all the languaging and the new words that are popping up, it can be overwhelming and, and, and kind of annoying sometimes as well, but breathe through it, right? But with the kids, like just meet them where they are when they say, Oh, I’m identifying this way and this way and this way. And they sort of have a few adjectives that you just ask them one, like, what do you mean by that? Like, explain that word to me. When you say that, what are you talking about? Can you break it down for me? And, and kind of gives them the experience of steering that ship and educating you.

Jo Langford:      Um, I think is good for them. But then you can also see what they’re actually talking about. Cause there are a lot of positives out there that kids are using, that people are using and um, and, but kids don’t always understand them accurately. So they may be saying one word, but meaning something different than that. And so you can sort of, you know, help sort of coax out what it is that they’re like the meat of what they’re trying to tell you about themselves. And then the adjective becomes less important. Uh, and then you can educate them if they are actively using a word wrong.

Joe Kort:           Right. Because I’ve heard the term a kids are creating boutique identities, which I love. Right. And what I say to parents, so you say what I say, but I also add this, I say, look, the job description of a teenager is to be confused and change their mind every day about career, about girlfriends, about boyfriends, about school, about all the, the way they dress their hair. So why now that they now have permission to be confused and explore and have all kinds of, uh, identities around gender and sexuality. It’s part of their job. They now have the permission. Our generation never had. Would you agree with that?

Jo Langford:      Oh yeah, there was what, like the three choices. It was, well there was gay or straight, yeah, sample. Right. And then and then, and then there was BI, but that was hardly ever talked about it. You know? So it’s, it’s nice that they have this and I think, I think it’s fantastic that they are spending so much time and energy, like thinking about who they are and thinking about sexuality and thinking about how their identity like slams up against another person in the world and how those like fit in like a puzzle piece kind of way I think is fantastic and bodes really well for their generation when they become adults. But the languaging can be exhausting.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. Because it’s a revolution. Right? Hopefully we’ll get to some more, but yeah, I feel like what they’re saying is I’m not fitting myself into some old fashioned generational word that doesn’t fit for me. I’m going to take this and that and create my own and you’re going to refer to me how I want to be referred to not squeeze myself into this little box, which I think is awesome.

Jo Langford:      Yeah.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. And then you talk about

Jo Langford:      it takes some work to get to what their, what they’re meaning or what they’re wanting to convey sometimes. But I think it’s totally worth it.

Joe Kort:           Right. And I always say to therapists too, and I think parents, right? You say, Oh, so that’s how you self identify. What does that mean for you? And not to even assume, even if they use a word, you think you know what it means. Kids and even adults are using terms and they’re changing the meaning. You have to ask them what it means for them.

Jo Langford:      Oh yeah. And it’s just, it changes every minute to, I mean, even writing the pride guy, like it was so hard to stop writing because I think I’m like, Oh, I’m done. Oh no, there’s a new word. Oh, just thing. Oh, we don’t come up that anymore. Now it’s called this. Right. You know what I mean? And it’s, it’s been out for a year and it’s already like, you know, parts of it are already outdated. The, the, the, the, um, landscape is just shifting so quickly.

Joe Kort:           I know, I know. Well, I want to just address it to the parents who would be listening. Even youth. Um, internet danger, right. So, I mean I talk about how I always in my talks, I always include the idea that there are young boys, 14 years old who look older and get on Grindr, the smart app phone with a GPS system and they say their 19 year old sophomores and they end up being sexual with older men who think. And the older men think they’re with a 19 year old young man, but they’re not there with a miner. And when I talk to therapists about this, they say, you know, they talk about, well they would tell their, their client to find other ways to be on the internet to meet people. And you know, there really aren’t any other ways for especially LGBT people to meet others. As far as I know. In terms of chatting or hooking up or, so what do you say to parents and teens about the internet and how to meet each other?

Jo Langford:      Well, I mean that’s my other wheelhouse is dealing with parenting digital generations, like around the internet, like being safe and smart online. And how do you, how do you have a relationship with that as a parent? How do you monitor, um, what does safety mean for different kids at different ages in terms of their screens? And so I deal with that quite a bit and I’m a huge fan of parental monitoring and making contracts with kids around their behavior for being online. Um, so that, you know, even like an older kid who might be 15 or 16 like you can still buy Tabba culture in your house where they ask before they download apps and, or you get alerts if they download apps onto their devices while they’re in your house, like that, that kind of thing. So you can keep that conversation going. Um, but then talking to kids also about just like the laws in their States and the impact that those things can have because yeah, for that 14 year old, he like gets to pretend to be 19 and somebody falls for it and he gets them. But then the other person can coat it, jail, right. Like registered as like a sex offender for, you know, felony level charges and things like that. And they have to understand like your, your, your choices have impacts on people outside of you, um, that they don’t always consider necessarily.

Joe Kort:           Yes. And I want to make it so clear when I just said, what are the other alternatives? I’m not at all in favor of these young kids getting on grinder. It’s, they, they, they don’t understand safer sex. They don’t understand it in a day. Right. They’re misleading to the older adults who think they’re with somebody who is an adult and they’re not, I mean, it’s a mess really. And I like that you’re in your book, write out and enlist the healthier ways of kids meeting each other, like through chevres TrevorSpace, right.

Jo Langford:      Yeah. There, there are some sort of, not as like dating apps, but like connection apps for like for LGBT views that aren’t grinder. Right. Um, but they’re not that definitely not as popular as Grindr or as, and I think that those, they can be right. Um, helpful to kids. Especially the ones who are isolated. They’re not necessarily dating or hookup apps, which, you know, some of the kids think that that’s what they’re looking for. But, um, but they are about connecting to other people.

Joe Kort:           What would you like people to know most about your book, your work in this podcast before we come to a close?

Jo Langford:      Oh, um, well, uh, just I think how important it is to work with the parents as well to get the parents on board. You know, there’s situations of course working with LGBT youth where it’s not going to be safe for them to come out to their parents. Um, and you have to figure out how to navigate that. But, but most parents will come around, I like to think, and, and they just need some support in, in parenting queer kids. It’s just such a different creature than it is. Um, and you know, they get intimidated and they have to sometimes go back and clean up mistakes and, you know, undo some of the, the stupid jokes they made have said or whatever. And, uh, and helping them do that and deal with their own shame and fear and grief is really important work to be done.

Joe Kort:           You’re doing really, really good work and you’re right, you’re a voice. Um, you know, for queer youth and for boys and for girls, but the, the, for the boys and queer youth where there’s not that much out there is, uh, I think we should be thankful to you for writing all this stuff. Joe, where would you like people to be able to find you?

Jo Langford:      Uh, so my website is be and they can find all kinds of information about me.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. A spell it be heroes,

Jo Langford:      uh, B E H E R O E S B And I’ll find out all kind of information about me and talks that I do and the books. And um, I’ve got a podcast about the apps and technology for parents as well. So yeah, anything they want to know about me they could find there. And I, I kind of pride myself on being accessible so people have questions or need resources. Um, I hope that they think of me.

Joe Kort:           Yeah. Good. And that I didn’t know you had that podcast, so I saw the, a writeup when we reached out to you. So I’m gonna um, sign up for that too. Thank you so much.

Jo Langford:      Yeah, sure.

Joe Kort:           Alright. It was great talking to you, Joe, as always, and I hope we’ll have another conversation again.

Jo Langford:      Yeah. Thank you for having me, Joe. It’s always so fun talking to you. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Joe Kort:           Same here. Take care,

Jo Langford:      YouTube.

Joe Kort:           Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr Joel court and you can find me on Joe That’s J O E K O R See you next time.

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