the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
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Posts tagged "sexuality"

Virginity at Harvard | The Harvard Crimson

The Harvard Crimson's magazine quoted me in this week's cover story on student perceptions of virginity and the state of campus sexual politics. Sadly, I think that there’s still a tendency to think of sexuality in terms of an all-or-nothing/virgin-whore dichotomy, which is exactly how people end up being shamed no matter what their sexual practices actually consist of.

My stance has always been that these misconceptions and prejudices arise out of a collective unwillingness to talk about sex and our own desires (as well as our inner conflicts). In hyper-competitive environments, the self-consciousness and fear of failure that students feel toward academic achievement is totally reflected in how they negotiate their interpersonal relationships as well. It’s easier to judge others when we aren’t comfortable with our own sexuality. And in the end, that lack of transparency is what breeds insecurity in everyone, regardless of whether they’ve decided to stay abstinent or hook up,

Check out the whole piece for a sense of what sexual activity is actually like at Harvard today.

I’m speaking tonight at Pomona College and will be in Los Angeles until Wednesday. If you’re in the Claremont area, come check this out :)

Faith and First Times: Sex, Society and Religion
Thursday, October 4th, 7:00-8:30pm
Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College

In today’s modern age, female sexuality has become less taboo to discuss. Whether through Cosmopolitan Magazine or Victoria’s Secret, society is beginning to explore a certain brand of female sexuality. Yet many women of faith are faced with the dilemma of embracing their sexuality while still maintaining religious traditions that value virginity and purity, while secular women often feel these cultural representations are not a true expression of their experiences. Come join the Pomona Student Union at Faith and First Times, an event aimed at exploring the influences of religion on virginity and how it effects women in today’s society.

In the latest episode of Sexy Times, I give advice to girls who aren’t quite ready to come out yet. Do you have an obligation to tell your friends and family about your sexual orientation? What happens if you aren’t ready yet? Watch the above video and check out the past editions of the Sexy Times series over at gURL.com.

Yay, it’s finally here! My friends Abby Sun and Sam Meier have been working incredibly hard throughout the past year on making Sex Week at Harvard a reality. The culmination of their efforts is an incredibly diverse week-long slate of events featuring speakers like Tristan Taormino, Megan Andelloux, Dr. Lisa Wade of Sociological Images, and my friend Lux Alptraum.

Check out the full schedule and do attend! All events are free and open to the public, so please spread the word to your Boston-area friends. (Plus, attendees can score some awesome and sexy goodies along the way!) Some of the events you might find me at include:

How To Talk To Your Doctor | 6:30-8PM, Adams Lower Common Room 
From answering the inevitable “are you sexually active?” to wondering about whether or not you should be tested, what contraceptive method is right for you, or what you even need to know, navigating your sexual health care can be a nightmare! Get tips on how to ask potentially embarrassing questions, as well as medically accurate information about your sexual health inclusive of all genders and sexualities. Join Dr. Bruce Churchill, Nurse Practitioner Kate Luethy, and Nurse Practitioner Nina Meltzer of UHS, along with Stefanie Boltz from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, to find out what you always wanted to know about your sexual health, and how not to be afraid to ask!

Dirty Talk | 8PM, Science Center C
Ever found yourself tongue-tied when trying to talk to a partner? A golden rule in sex: quality communication leads to quality participation. Step up your word game with Ben Privot of The Consensual Project. From flirting to sex, and from hook ups to relationships, uncover the language of how to communicate, discover, and savor the common desires you can find with your paramour. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to get wordy while you get dirty, extra attention will be directed on talking dirty.

BDSM 101: Kink, Negotiation, and Safety | 4PM, Ticknor Lounge
S&M is more than just a popular song by Rihanna, but what are BDSM and kink really all about?  Performer, writer, and international kink & BDSM educator Mollena Williams will outline the basics before discussing the many reasons that self knowledge helps everyone find a more fulfilling sense of themselves, and attract and maintain more suitable relationships. Exploring alternative sexualities requires self-knowledge and the capacity to speak about fantasies, desires, wants and needs. In this workshop, participants will learn the language and skills necessary to describe their core kinks, motivations, fears, expectations, and what they bring to the table while keeping an eye on safety and consent.  This class is for everyone, from first-time newbie to decades old players: we ALL can benefit from taking a moment to slow our roll and re-examine our role!
Asexuality and Queering Intimacy | 4-5:30PM, Women’s Center lounge (Canaday B basement) 

What is the nature of desire in sexual relationships, orientation, and expression? Can we build alternative models of relationships based on negotiation and trust? And what is asexuality? David Jay, the prominent asexual activist known for founding asexuality.org and the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) will introduce attendees to terms such as “homoromantic” and lead a discussion on discovering and creating safe, sex-positive, queer- and ace-friendly spaces. After the talk, you will have a chance to ask more questions in a safe space.

Can Porn Be Ethical? | 8-9:30PM, Sever 112 
From Erika Christakis’s op ed in The Boston Globe to an IOP Forum with Michael Sandel and Jean Bethke Elshtain on the politics of pornography, Harvard has a long tradition of debating the ethics of pornography, its potential, and its complexities, and the rise of pornography on the Internet brings these discussions into the 21st century. Join Lux Alptraum, editor of the popular sexuality and adult entertainment blog Fleshbot, for a moderated panel discussion with Ned Mayhem ’07, Eva Rosenberg ’10, Iman James ’12, and Professor Brad Epps to explore the lasting social impact of pornography on its performers and its consumers. Panelists will discuss the ways in which pornography colors our everyday experiences with sex, sexuality, and sexual violence in the hopes of illuminating the dark corners of desire.

Racial Exotification and Sexual Stereotypes | 4-5:30PM, Science Center A
Is there any truth to phrases like “Italian Stallion” and “Latin Lover”? How do they affect members of these communities? Join a cross-section of many Harvard communities to discuss the idea of “trying” a race and to give voice to how race affects our sexual attractions and relationships. Enjoy snacks and refreshments alongside a montage of media clips, an open mic session, and two separate student panels moderated by Scott Poulson-Bryant, author of Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America.

8th Annual Female Orgasm Seminar | 8-10PM, Science Center B
Missed out on getting your vagina cupcake or free sex toy last year? Come hear Dr. Logan Levkoff‘s lecture at the 8th annual Female Orgasm Seminar! If you missed out on getting a seat last year, this is your chance to learn about the mysteries and vagaries of orgasm–all genders are invited to this celebration of female sexuality. Win sex toys and erotic pastries, and stock up on free condoms and lube; the sports team with the most members present wins a cake! Have questions after the lecture? You can get specific answers in an anonymous Q&A session after the presentation. Please arrive EARLY in order to secure a seat! This event always reaches full capacity.

For more details: hsexweek.org/schedule

Over the course of the past year, I have developed a terrible obsession with Asian women. It’s unexplainable to me, as my wife has been great to me, loves sex, and really is an incredibly beautiful woman. However, I find myself thinking constantly about Asian women, during the day, during workouts, at night when I should be sleeping. It’s completely new to me as I have never been attracted to Asian women, and it really is interfering with my life. I have been visiting Asian “spas” now a couple of times a week, and in the morning when I should be working, I’m instead surfing the Web trying to find a way to meet Asian women. It’s to the point where I’m acting like a teenager again around any type of Asian woman.

"I’m Obsessed With Asian Massage Parlors — Should I Tell My Wife?", Tracy Clark-Flory | AlterNet

And this is just the latest example of how I am terrified by and disappointed in society on a daily basis.

So glad to see that people are still talking about this! Over at lipstick-feminists, a reader submitted a piece by the fab Lori Adelman about some takeaway points from the Rethinking Virginity Conference I organized back in 2010. Lori wrote:

The conference was organized by Lena Chen and the Harvard Queer Students’ Association, and brought together an incredibly diverse and impressive group of feminists, who dropped some serious knowledge on all things virgin-themed. One of the most interesting parts of the panel was learning how much misinformation exists around issues of virginity, sex, and our bodies.  I’ve compiled ten myths uncovered- and debunked- at yesterday’s conference.

Virginity is a topic I’ve written a ton about - and to be honest, after spending a year researching it for my thesis, I’ve had to take a bit of a break from the subject. But I think Lori’s piece was such a great summation of the discussion that I had to repost! If you’re interested in learning about how virginity relates to slut-shaming, the institution of marriage, queer sexuality, and ideas about the hymen and female anatomy, … seriously, read it.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
it seems to me that you are slightly hypocritical in that you preach sex positive and non judgemental ideas, yet everything you write seems to be pervaded with derision towards those who make a personal choice to forgoe promiscuity or to wait beyond teenage years to lose their virginity. i'm a seventeen year old girl, and i'm constantly bombarded with the message that i should lose my virginity, or else risk being labelled as a prude; ugly and unwanted. you have ignored this social problem...
lenachen lenachen Said:

I’d be curious to see where you’ve witnessed me being derisive toward virgins! I’ve written quite a bit about the topic of virginity, researched it for my senior thesis, and organized a conference on it. Most of my friends didn’t have sex until college or after college and I’ve openly supported readers who want to wait. (To the extent where I was once mischaracterized by Slate as an abstinence advocate!) To be clear: I don’t advocate anything but freedom to choose and freedom from stigma. The bottom line is that your sexual decision-making has to happen on YOUR terms, not anyone else’s. That’s an integral part of sex positivity.

For more on this topic, you should check out some of the following posts I’ve written about virgin-shaming and choosing abstinence:

“Are feminists guilty of virgin-shaming?”
Reader Question: “Am I making a big deal over ‘saving it’ for marriage?”
Reader Question: “How do we ‘rethink virginity’?”
Reader Question: “What are the wrong reasons for someone to be abstinent?”

Would you like to see me do sexual health coverage and reader Q&A’s on video? Head over to SHAPE Magazine to vote for TheChicktionary.com in the Best Blogger Awards. (It’s super easy to vote, just a click!)

Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) just launched CHOICES, an online comic written by teens for teens. I love that the organization isn’t talking at young people, but asking for their input and actively engaging them in the campaigns relevant to their interests and needs. I’ve always believed that’s the best way to build a strong activist base.

According to the press release:

CHOICES is written by former teen peer educators, and follows a few teenagers through their daily lives as they face tough choices about sex, health care, and life decisions.

“CHOICES” takes a format long popular with teens, the comic book, and presents it online in a way that offers real-time opportunities for direct, personal engagement with the story and the issues it raises.  This online comic strip takes the art of storytelling and makes it available digitally to a wide audience. Storytelling has been shown to be the best way to make issues “real” and personally relevant for a teen audience.

This is a great example of the teen outreach Planned Parenthood does in the community. If you’re in the New York area, support them by attending “Summer, Sex & Spirits”, their 7th Annual Benefit happening July 25th. They’re going to have a three-hour open bar, burlesque show, and a raffle with some amazing prizes (think: Christian Louboutin and Babeland)! I’m also giving away a ticket to a reader — and it’s super easy to enter via Twitter, Facebook, or my blog. (I’m surprised more of you haven’t entered!) More details here on the event and instructions on how to win :)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What do you think would be wrong reasons for someone to be abstinent from sex until marriage? I mean, of course there are obvious pro's to waiting (like not getting stds, unplanned pregnancy, whatever) but in which situations do you think that abstinence could possibly be harmful?
lenachen lenachen Said:

These are not all-encompassing examples, but I think it’s harmful whenever people alter their sexual behavior:

  • to fit in with their friends or to win favor with their peers
  • to conform to expectations based on their gender
  • due to a lack of information on or access to contraception and sexual health resources
  • out of shame for their sexual orientation or preferences

All of the above leads to a culture of silence around issues of sexuality. The result is that this incredibly integral part of our lives becomes a topic of misinformation and stigma, which translate into real-world consequences for human health and well-being. And let’s be real: waiting for intercourse nowadays doesn’t mean that one abstains from sexual activity altogether. Because if that were the case, kids with purity rings wouldn’t be getting pregnant. Anyone ever hear of “Just The Tip”? Yeah, thought so. (I’ve written before about how murky definitions of “virginity” become when moving beyond heteronormative conceptions of sexuality.)

I’m not going to be the arbiter of who’s Doing Sex Right. There are a lot of good and bad reasons for having sex, just as there are good and bad reasons for not having it. Bottom line: If you’re RSVP-ing to Rainbow Parties, don’t do it because all your girlfriends are going to be there. If you’re delaying sex, don’t do it because you believe some bullshit about “damaged goods”.

More burning questions? Ask Lena.

Related posts:

"Are feminists guilty of virgin-shaming?"
Reader Question: “Am I making a big deal over ‘saving it’ for marriage?”
Reader Question: “How do we ‘rethink virginity’?”

The first and only principle of sexual ethics: the accuser is always in the wrong.
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia