I’m Trans. Do I Need Birth Control?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

All pregnancies require 4 things to get going: a uterus, an egg, a sperm, and for the egg and sperm to come together.  

Just like cis-gendered people, not all trans people use birth control to prevent pregnancy. There are important things to consider before waging your chances of getting pregnant. As Juno Obedin-Malvier, MD, explains, pregnancy depends on “what equipment you’ve got, what you’re doing with it, who you’re doing it with (and what they’ve got), and whether pregnancy is a goal or not”.

Here are important points about the possibilities of getting pregnant for trans people:

  • Testosterone isn’t both control. For many trans men, taking testosterone may halt the menstrual cycle. However, testosterone doesn’t complete end egg production from the ovaries and some trans men have gotten pregnant even without a period.
  • Birth control methods available for cis-women are equally effective for trans men.
  • Likewise, estrogen is not birth control. Trans women who take estrogen and have a penis and testicles can still get their partner(s) pregnant.
  • Condoms are a great option for trans women. Plus they are the only form of protection that helps prevent STIs and pregnancy.
  • There are many health care providers that specialize in the trans community. Check out the resources at the bottom of this article.

This article by Juno Obedin-Maliver was originally published at Bedsider.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Do trans people need to use birth control? Well, it all depends. It depends on what equipment you’ve got, what you’re doing with it, who you’re doing it with (and what they’ve got), and whether pregnancy is a goal or not.

For any readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology, here’s a primer. Briefly, being transgender (“trans” for short) is about living in a gender that is different than the sex you were born with. Being cisgender is about having that sex and gender line up. Whether one needs birth control depends on what sex you were born with and what sex your partner was born with.

Transgender folks and cisgender folks come in all shapes and sizes. But everyone—no matter whether they identify as a transgender man, transgender woman, man, woman, or another identity—is born with only one set of gametes (if any). Gametes are the cells from two different people that come together to make a baby. For humans, gametes come in two types: the sperm type and the egg type. And all pregnancies require at least four things to get going: a uterus, an egg, sperm, and for the egg and sperm to come together.

Trans men

(FTM, or folks who were assigned female sex at birth and identify on the male gender spectrum)
For those guys who were born with a uterus and ovaries (where eggs are made), if you still have those parts, you can get pregnant. So, if you’re doing someone who has a sperm delivery system (a penis and testicles) you have to think about the possibility that you could get pregnant.

Many, but not all, trans men use testosterone (T). For most, that stops the monthly visit from Aunt Flo. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get pregnant. Some trans men have gotten pregnant even when they weren’t having their periods and were still taking testosterone. How is that possible? Well, testosterone doesn’t completely stop egg production, so some guys will still release eggs even on T and even without a period. In other words, T isn’t good birth control.

So if getting pregnant isn’t in your plan, what are your options? All the methods that cisgender women may consider are also good options for trans guys. You should talk about them with your health care provider, who can help you tailor the method to your needs. If you want to get pregnant, you should also talk with your provider because there are things you can do to make sure you’re as healthy as possible before you do.

Trans women

(MTF, or folks who were assigned male at birth and identify on the female gender spectrum)
For those gals who were born with a sperm delivery system (penis and testicles)—if you still have those parts and your partner has a uterus and ovaries, you can get them pregnant. Many trans women think that if they are on estrogen they can’t get another person pregnant, but that’s not true. Though it may be harder to get an erection, make sperm, and ejaculate when you are on estrogen, it’s not impossible.

So if you and your partner have the equipment to get pregnant but don’t want to be, you’ve got to think about birth control. All the things that cisgender men think about for contraception are on the table. Condoms are especially cool because they protect against both sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

If you want to have kids and you’ve got sperm, you should talk with your health care provider—ideally before starting estrogen—about saving those spermies for a rainy, pregnancy-desiring kind of day.

Finding good care

If you want to talk to a health care provider about any of these issues and don’t already have one you trust, check out the providers on this list. If you’re in one of the following cities, you can go to a health center that specializes in care for the trans community:

Baltimore : Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Boston: The Fenway Institute

Chicago: Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Howard Brown Health Center

Cleveland: The PRIDE Clinic at MetroHealth Medical Center

Los Angeles: The Los Angeles LGBT Center

New York: Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

Philadelphia: The Mazzoni Center

San Francisco: Lyon-Martin Health Services, the Tom Waddell Health Center, the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center

Washington, D.C.: Whitman-Walker Health

There are also Planned Parenthood clinics—like the ones listed here under “What health services”—that have providers who can help trans folks with general health questions, as well as birth control questions.

condom ad condoms too loose

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Response to Awful Wheelchair ‘Joke’: An Open Letter to Ken Jennings

wheel chairKen Jennings may have won a lot of fans from his record-breaking fame on “Jeopardy”, but his tweet posted in September has lost him a lot of followers and respect. And for good reason. One of the most powerful responses to Jennings’ wheelchair “joke” is this open letter written by sex education advocate, Robin Mandell. She argues that to deny the sexuality of people living with disability is yet another way to deny their humanity. Her letter is packed full of resources that help debunk pervasive myths and guide people to learn more about sex and disability from the very people who experience disability. Everyone should read through her recommendations to help raise awareness.

Here are some power punches:

  • Know about The Microaggression Project and how you can end the perpetuation of “othering”.
  • People living with disability lead fulfilling, healthy sex lives. Sex with someone who has a disability can be the best sex you could be having.
  • A wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s physical capabilities.
  • There is a wealth of sexy, positive representations of people living with disabilities. Check out the resources below.

This post was originally published at Robin’s Toy Nest. Read the full letter here.

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

Dear Ken,

So, on Monday you tweeted:

Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.

What’s most sad about this is that Twitter tells me (as of the last time I looked) it was “favorited” three-hundred eighty-seven times.

What I really want to know is: Why? Why would you write such a thing.

Are you feeling sexually insecure?

Did you think you were being clever? (Hint: You weren’t. If you need supporting research to back that up, here you go).

Are you skittish around wheelchairs? Sometimes people lash out when they’re feeling insecure. Many people in our culture have almost a “primal fear of becoming disabled”, so, don’t be ashamed if you’re afraid; lots of people are.

Yes, what you did was lashing out. No, you didn’t target anyone specifically. You didn’t physically attack anyone, or call them names, or undertake persistent verbal harassment.

What you did was much more on the level of a microaggression. Only, it’s on the Internet. The Internet has this habit of making things grow, taking away the micro and increasing the aggression. Plus, when you’re on a popular TV show for six months, have written lots of books, and are generally being a public figure, people kind of tend to believe the things you say. You wouldn’t want to steer them wrong, would you? (Yes, I might just be wagging my finger at you.)

People with disabilities–these are real people you’re talking about. I know: I am one of them. I’m visibly disabled, though not a wheelchair user. People with disabilities are frequently seen as childlike, incapable, often even subhuman. Denying our sexuality is just one more way to deny our humanity, and that’s exactly what you’ve done. You’re talking about people in wheelchairs, but I’m left wondering: Where does it stop? Do hot blind people make you sad? How about hot people using crutches or a walker? What about hot people who have more than one disability? How does it work if a person’s disability is invisible? If they’re hot, and you only find out about the disability later, is that sad too?

I spend a lot of time talking and educating about people with disabilities and our sexualities.

So, I’m here to tell you: Your statement about people in wheelchairs is just factually incorrect. So yes, you, the fact-maven, are steering people wrong.

Business Insider called your tweet insensitive. I think it goes way beyond that. When talking about negative comments about disability and disabled people, words like sensitivity, compassion, and caring get thrown around a lot. I’d like to see more people talking about respect and knowledge.

It’s not primarily sensitivity you lack here—frankly, I don’t care all that much about your moral compass–(though your decency does leave something to be desired) but plain old-fashioned know-how. Sorry if that’s painful to read, but that’s just how it is. Okay, I’ll stop telling you you’re wrong—at least for a few paragraphs.

Or, maybe the problem here is that you can’t imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could possibly have sex? So little imagination, Ken!

There’s really not a limit on what sex is, or how to do sex, for anyone.

And, there’s no limit on what sex and sexuality can be for people with disabilities [watch this film documentary, The Last Taboo (2013)]. Please pay particular attention to the first three myths, and the facts that go along with them.

Also, a person’s being in a wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you much about their physical abilities. It doesn’t tell you how they can move their bodies, which parts of their bodies they can feel, and it certainly doesn’t tell you what they like to do in bed. Some people who use wheelchairs are able to walk short distances, or are able to use their legs if they’re not standing up. It’s not always the case that people either walk or not-walk. And seriously, is being able to walk necessary for sex?

I’m not sure if you knew this, Ken, but people with a whole range of disabilities date and some choose to get married.

And know, these generally are not sexless relationships, as people often assume they must be. At least, couples in which one or both partners are disabled are no more or less likely to have sex, or have sexual issues, than couples in which both partners are nondisabled.

Just because you find wheelchairs to be impairments to people’s sexiness, doesn’t mean that other people do. I’ve heard that this sexy calendar of people with disabilities is “hot as hell.”(I’m blind, so can’t confirm that personally).

Plus, some people find other people’s wheels hot!

Sex with someone who has a disability can even be the best sex you could be having.

Or, maybe you’d like to try something a little more daring? Leroy Moore has reclaimed drooling, something seen as infantile and gross, something Leroy personally was encouraged to hide and feel ashamed about, as something sexy and intimate….

To read the full letter visit Robin’s Toy Nest.

Update: To date, Jennings has not deleted or apologized for his tweet. 

ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen. She’s discovered that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues.Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press.

Sexuality: WTF Is It, Anyway?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

“The Circles of Sexuality are an altering flux of different parts working together.” Photo credit: Cobalt123

Sexuality is made up of various working parts, all of which are fundamental to being human. It involves a vast array of experiences including family and peer relationships, dating, physical development, emotional development, sensuality, gender, body image, media, and so much more. That is why it is such a difficult term to define. What one person deems important to their sexuality will be different from another person.

So how can we understand sexuality in a way that is inclusive to people’s diversity?

One way to think about it is what some sex educators call the Circles of Sexuality. Heather Corinna explains in detail how this model works.

Here are key points she covers in the article below:

  • There is no one-fits-all model. Definitions are not fixed and change dramatically over time as we learn more about about people’s sexuality. If this model doesn’t resonate with you, this does not reflect something wrong with you; rather there is a problem with the model.
  • Think about the Circles of Sexuality as an altering flux of parts. Each of the five circles can change from the size and position in which they overlap. For example, one person’s sexuality might be more influenced by their experience with reproduction, while another person will see their sexual orientation as more important. And it’s not just between people that this varies, but also across one’s individual life.
  •  Sexuality is made up of any or all of the following: physical, chemical, emotional, relationships, identity-based, intellectual, and sociocultural. Read below for a comprehensive explanation of each.
  • For more information about sex and sexuality, check out Heather Corinna’s book, All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book.

This article is originally publish at Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

WTF-sexuality-v2The term “sexuality” can be used a lot like the word “sex.” They’re both terms we say and hear a lot, but which often aren’t clearly defined, or even defined at all. We can take for granted that everyone, including ourselves, knows what terms like this mean, a heck of an assumption to make with something that covers a lot of really important things and can feel as murky as Lake Erie.

So, what is sexuality all about? You might say it’s about our bodies or our hormones, about our feelings and our relationships, or about touching and being touched. You might think it’s about doing or engaging in one kind of sex or any kind of sex, or about wanting, seeking out or experiencing certain kinds of pleasure. You might say it’s about parts of our identity, like our gender identity or sexual orientation. You might say it’s about reproduction: about making babies (or not). You might say it’s about our desires to be close to — or far away from — other people in ways we define or experience as sexual, or about feeling horny, lusty, tingly, mingly, hungry, itchy, twitchy or whatever words you use to express a strong feeling of “I can haz sex NOW, plz.”

If any one of those things were your answers, you’re right. If all or most of those things were your answers, you’re even more right (and may not even need to read this article at all: go get outside for a change, wouldya?). Sexuality is BIG. Mount Everest big: that’s why trying to scale it without a guide or two doesn’t go so well for most people. It’s a lot bigger than it can look and certainly a lot bigger than it’s often presented by most places and in most ways we see it presented. It’s complex as all get-out, both because it’s so big, and also because it’s about everyone, and as a whole people, we’re all incredibly different so something that’s about all of us is always going to be seriously complicated, not simplistic.

As with anything this big, there are a lot of ways we can talk about what sexuality is and can be. There’s no one exactly-right model when it comes to defining sexuality: we’re going to talk about it a couple of ways here, based on where we’re currently at with definitions in comprehensive sex education and sexology, but if neither of them feels right to you, that probably means these models just don’t fit you well, rather than meaning you’re wrong. Models or definitions of sexuality can and often do change over time, especially as we learn more and more about everyone’s sexualities. Even in just the last 50 years, the way we talk about sexuality and the models we create for it have changed a lot: in the next 50 years, it may change, too.

Sexuality, as we know so far, is a mix of many different things in varying proportions: things that are physical, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, identity-based, intellectual, social and cultural, and that mix is different for, and unique to, everyone. Sexuality also isn’t something that is technically “adult,” or something that pops out of the blue when anyone reaches puberty or a certain age: no one isn’t sexual one day, then the next day, suddenly is because they’ve reached a certain age, had sex with a partner or sprouted hair in places they didn’t have it last month. Even though the sexualities of people tend to vary when it comes to age and development — infant sexuality, for instance, is a very different thing than adolescent or young adult sexuality, which can be a very different thing from the sexualities of people in their 60s or 70s — it’s been with all of us in some way from the day we were born, and maybe even before, believe it or not.

Sexuality: Key Ingredients for a Very Adaptable Recipe

What can sexuality be made of? Any or all of the following:

The physical: The development, health and function of what are considered our internal and external sexual organs and reproductive systems and our unique experiences with that development, health and function, our brain and nervous system (the biggest drivers of sexual arousal and function), and the whole of our bodies. The experience of our senses — of hearing, tasting, touching, feeling and seeing — are also part of our sexuality, even though they are part of our whole lives and life experience, not just our sexualities. The experience of our sexual responses and something often called “skin hunger,” the human desire to be touched. Advocates for Youth points out that teens and young adults often experience less touch from family members than they did as children, and so people often don’t recognize how big a part just wanting to be touched can play when it comes to young people and their developing sexuality.

Another part of the physical aspect of sexuality is information about our sexual anatomy, and our experiences with and of reproduction and our reproductive systems, of our reproductive and sexual health are also part of the physical part of sexuality, as well as playing a role in other parts of our sexual whole, including the chemical, social and cultural.

The chemical: AKA, hormones. Hormones take the blame all too often for hasty or poor sexual choices: choices there seem no other way of accounting for, as in “Those dirty hormones made me do it!” Hormones are not anything close to all of what our sexuality is — nor are they things that can make people do sexual things against their will or are a sound scapegoat for poor sexual decision-making — but they can certainly play a part. “Sex” hormones include testosterone, a big chemical libido driver for everyone, and estrogen, but there are also others which take part in sexuality that you experience even without sexual activity, like progesterone, adrenaline, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin (which is a real thing, but has been the source of many a myth), dopamine and endorphins. When people talk about sexual chemistry, some of what they mean is how we do or don’t neurochemically respond when it comes to sex and sexual feelings, something — unlike our sexual behavior — we don’t have any control over and often may not even have much awareness of.

The emotional & intellectual: Our feelings, values and ideas about sexual development and sexual changes through life, body image, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, sexual desires and fantasies, sexual activity with oneself and/or with partners, sexual relationships and sexual self-image, the ways those may drive us sexually, and the way we feel about sexuality and sex as a whole, not just our own. How we may or do feel sexually attracted to others and how they may or do feel attracted to us is another piece of the emotional and intellectual, and our sexual fantasies are part of this, too, as are our sexual ideals: what we feel sex and sexuality are supposed to be or should be, either for ourselves or for everyone. Our gender identity and our sexual orientation are also big pieces of the emotional and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, as well as part of the social and interpersonal, cultural and physical parts of sexuality.

Feelings are a part of our sexuality in every and any sexual interaction or desire. Sometimes we’ll hear people say they’ve had or want to have sex “without feelings,” but the only way we could do that, really, is to cut our heads off. While we may not have, be open to or experience the same kinds of feelings in every sexual interaction, when we’re alive and conscious at all, emotional feelings are always some part of the picture. We can’t magically turn them off during any part of life, including with sex and sexuality.

The social and interpersonal: Your sexuality in the context of your relationships — sexual partners or potential partners, but also friends and family — and the influences those relationships have had and have now on your feelings about your sexuality, your sexual wants and needs from others, and your sexual choices with others and your ability to make them. This includes experiences with taking the emotional risks we do whenever we expose or express ourselves sexually with someone else: what has happened to us, for instance, in sharing sexual feelings or interest, or in being out about some part of our sexual selves. How others have expressed themselves sexually to us, including when we weren’t expressing ourselves sexually with them, also plays a part here.

This piece is about what, if any, sexual relationships with others a person wants, seeks out or experiences, but also about all kinds of other relationships that tend to play a part in our sexuality, like the relationships we had and have with family members and friends. How all the people we are in any kind of relationship with treat or react to our sexuality is also a piece of this and the cultural aspects below.

The cultural: None of us can live in the world without being influenced by it. How the rest of the world — including our peers, local and larger communities, your government, the media — views sexuality, and all the parts of our sexuality, like our gender, our bodies, or the kinds of sexual relationships or experiences we have or want, is a part of our sexuality, as are our feelings, attitudes, and conformity or resistance to those views. How the world or some in it view our sexuality when it isn’t even ours at all, but only their idea of it is also part of cultural influence on our sexuality.

In other words, this part is about what messages about sexuality we get overtly and covertly, what we feel or experience our culture allows and disallows, idealizes (says is good or right) or punishes (says is bad or wrong), what our culture tells us to feel comfortable with and tells us to be afraid of, the effect and influence it has on us, consciously and unconsciously, and where and how we and our own sexuality, sexual identity and ethics, body image, gender identity, orientation and relationships fits or doesn’t within cultural attitudes towards, approaches to and presentations of sexuality. To give you one easy example, a lot of the words, the very language, and the approaches you’re reading here are, themselves, cultural: someone from a very different culture or cultures than my own may write or conceptualize all of this very differently.

You might have noticed a lot of overlaps with things in each of those groups above, and for good reason. That’s because we can’t really compartmentalize those things much: we can’t really put them each in tiny little boxes where everything always stays neatly in each box. One model for defining and explaining sexuality that’s really helpful, and illustrates that overlapping well, is the Circles of Sexuality model, designed by Dr. Dennis M. Dailey. There are a lot of versions and explanations of this model, but the one I like best is from the Interagency Gender Working Group , which is what our version of the circles here is adapted from.

What’s Inside the Circles of Sexuality
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Sensuality: “Sense” is the key part of this word: we’re talking about your physical senses and your awareness and experience of them. Sensuality also involves our awareness and experience of our bodies as a whole, including our body image, and our experiences, if any, of physically exploring the bodies of others, and not just with certain kinds of sex, like intercourse, recognized as capital-S Sex. Sensuality is about pleasure: seeking, exploring and experiencing pleasure, both as something we may receive or have, and as something we may give others or share with others.

Intimacy: Intimacy is a word sometimes people use as a euphemism for sex, like by saying someone was “intimate” with someone else to mean they had some kind of sex with them. Intimacy is certainly a part of the whole of sexuality and often part of people’s experience of sex and sexuality through life, but when we say intimacy here, we’re talking about the ability and desire for emotional closeness with other people, and as a part of sexuality, not as the whole of it. That can include sharing, caring, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability. Emotional intimacy may not always occur with every sexual experience, and when it does, it doesn’t always look or feel the same way for everyone, or with every experience — including for two people sharing a sexual experience together at the same time — nor happen to the same degree for every person or with every sexual experience. When and if we seek out sex with other people, we are usually seeking out intimacy, even if it’s not the same kind of intimacy every time, or the same kind of intimacy someone else may be seeking. We’re usually all looking to share something in which we’re close to someone else in some way.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: This is about a person’s feeling, sense or understanding of who they are when it comes to their gender — their feeling of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or a different way of experiencing gender altogether and the ways they express those feelings — and when it comes to what gender of people, if any, they feel sexual desire about: who, based on (or not) gender, they feel sexually attracted to, whether or not they seek out or have the opportunity to be in sexual relationship with or not. Sexual orientation — our sense of being queer or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, and so forth — and gender identity are obviously involved with each other, because they both have to do with gender, but one doesn’t automatically determine the other, and how linked they are for each person can vary, as can how big a part they play in a person’s sexuality.

Our biases, stereotypes or fears can play roles here, too, just like they can in all the other circles. In other words, ways that we think about other people or ourselves when it comes to gender or orientation — just like ways we may think of others when it comes to ability or disability, race or ethnicity — can also play a part in our sexuality. If that’s tricky to get a grasp on for you, a good example of that is the idea some men have that that only gay men want to engage in receptive anal sex: many men of all orientations may have the desire to explore that or know they have enjoyed that, but those with that bias can find the bias plays a part in their sexuality around that activity, either making it something they desire but don’t do because of homophobia and that makes them feel bad about their sexuality, or something they may find even more exciting, or taboo, because of that fear or bias. Ravishment fantasies can be another example of that, as can people using pornography that turns them on, but where doing what they’re watching is something they’d feel disgusted by in real life. Sometimes things people feel most afraid of, or repulsed by, can be things that turn them on a lot.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: One’s capacity or ability (or lack thereof) to reproduce, feelings about and experiences with reproduction, and the behaviors and attitudes that play a part in sexual health and enjoyment. This includes the information we have about sexual anatomy, sexual activities, reproduction, contraception, STI prevention, and self-care, among others and the messages that information has given us about all of those things. This circle is also about our experiences of sexual wellness or illness, and how they influence our sexuality and sexual desires or experiences. Healthy sexual relationships are also a part of sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual behaviors and practices: This is one of the easier pieces to grok: it’s about what we or others actively do sexually to enact or express our sexuality; about who is doing what when it comes to their own body parts and/or those of a sexual partner or partners, sex toys or other objects. This part of sexuality won’t always be a “do” or “have done” for everyone: some people may want or desire certain behaviours or practices, but not engage in them, or not yet engage in them, for any number of reasons, whether that’s about lack of opportunity or ability, fear or something else. Even if someone doesn’t or hasn’t yet actively done something sexual, the behaviours and practices they are interested in or want often play a big part in their sexuality. This also isn’t just about sex with partners: masturbation is part of this, too. What we do not want to do sexually can also be part of our sexuality and how we experience it, too.

Power and Agency: Power is the ability or capacity to do something, and can also be about strength or force, or the ability or capacity to exercise control over oneself or others. Agency is a sociological or philosophical term that addresses a person’s capacity to act: what a person has the right, ability or power to do. How much power or agency each of us has in general and in specific situations varies a whole lot, in really big ways — like based on what power and agency we may or may not have in the world based on how rich or poor we are, what color we are, what our gender is, how our bodies do or don’t work — and then in smaller, more situational ways, like in one given relationship.

Power and agency play a huge part in all aspects of sexuality, in the healthy stuff and the unhealthy stuff, which is why this version of the circles puts it right in the center. We can experience power and agency, and have them influence our sexuality from a “sense of self-worth and understanding of one’s [sexual] preferences and values, which enables a person to realize sexual well-being and health.” We may or may not have, or may have or feel varying amounts of power or agency to influence, negotiate, decide, consent or decline when it comes to sexual experiences. We or others may also use power or agency to manipulate, control or harm others in our sexual experiences, too.

Not everyone’s sexuality or the way they express it is healthy, and what’s emotionally healthy or isn’t tends to have a whole lot to do with power and agency. If we feel and use whatever power and agency we have when it comes to sex to care for ourselves and others, to seek out mutual pleasure and well-being, and it comes from an emotional place where we give ourselves and others high value and worth, then chances are good we’re using or enacting our power and agency sexually in healthy ways.

On the other hand, people can also sexually use — or more to the point, abuse — power and agency to do others harm. For sure, sometimes people can use power and agency to try and influence others sexually in ways that aren’t about trying to do harm — or being so self-centered that one doesn’t even consider the other person, which makes doing harm very likely — or trying to control them, like flirting, which is usually harmless even though it is about trying to influence someone else around sex. As well, some people bring powerplay into their sexual lives in ways that in another context would usually be about doing harm, but where consent and mutual pleasure are present and prioritized, instead of dismissed or discounted, like for people who engage in consensual, mutually wanted BDSM activities.

But sexual violence like rape, molestation and incest, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, withholding sex as a way to try and manipulate harm or control (rather than declining sex because it isn’t wanted), sexualization: these are all some things that come from an emotional place of devaluing, or not having value for, oneself and others, and about using power in ways with or around sex that are not healthy, neither for the person doing them or the people that person is doing them to. Power and agency is also in the middle of all of those other circles because how much power and agency people have, and what they do with power and agency, as well as how they are impacted by it, is connected to all of those other issues.

Phew! It’s a lot to think about, we know. And there’s more.

It might help to look at a model like that one and figure that the size of those circles might not all be the same for each person. For instance, one person’s sexuality may be very influenced by reproducing or their experience with reproduction, while it may have little to do with someone else’s. Some people’s sexuality may not have yet involved, or may not ever involve, engaging in sexual behaviors with themselves or others; one person’s sexuality may involve a lot of intimacy, while someone else’s may not. And of course, how a model like this — and the size of the circles and the places they connect — looks for even one person may be very different when they’re 15 than it is when they’re 55. Our sexuality does not stay the same throughout our lives, so how it looks and feels, and what parts of it seem bigger, and which smaller, will often shift quite a few times in each of our lives.

Sexuality is a lot like an ecosystem: one change to one part of the system usually impacts other parts of it, and one tiny shift in one place can sometimes change the whole thing quite radically. And just like with ecosystems, the same shift in one system won’t always have the same impact as it would in a different one: the great diversity of people, our lives and experiences — and all of those pieces we’ve been talking about — means that sexuality is also greatly diverse.

Even the language we or others use to describe our sexuality tends to reflect the kind of vast diversity we’re talking about when it comes to sexuality.

When someone uses words to describe their sexuality, they may mostly or only use terms about sexual orientation and gender identity, like heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian or queer), bisexual or pansexual (queer, bi, pan, omni), asexual or questioning; or terms like cis gender, femme, butch, fey, trans, agender or genderqueer, or stick to terms about chromosomes or how people are assigned sex, like male, female or intersex. Or they might use words that talk more about their sexual behaviours or practices; about what they actively do sexually or find arousing in terms of sexual activities, like kinky, vanilla, foot lover, oral sex fangirl, pictophiliac (someone aroused by visual pornography) or arachibutyrophiliac (someone aroused by the sensation of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth: shared primarily to give you the most winning Scrabble word of ever).

Some people use terms that are about a sexual role they like to play, like bottom, top or switch. Some people may include their reproductive status or experiences in their terms for their sexual identity, like if they’re a Mom or Dad, or if they’ve chosen to be childfree. Some may use words that focus on the kind of relationship they are in or want. Some people feel that one word describes, or should describe, their sexuality, like “male” or “straight,” while another person feels like a word like that is way too broad to be useful or feel like it says anything at all about their sexuality. Of course, some people may, and do, use more than one of those kinds of terms based on what their sexuality feels like and how they identify with it. Someone might define their sexuality or their sexual selves as a trans-femme-lesbian-vanilla-Mom, for instance, while someone else may define themselves sexually as a hetero-kinky-poly-dude. Some people may not use any terms at all.

Too, one thing that trips a lot of people up is trying to figure out how to separate their sexuality from all the other parts of themselves and their lives; where sexuality ends and everything else begins. When I did our version of the circles, I made the text in them bleed outside the circles for a reason. I did that because often, we’re not going to be able to draw very clear lines between our sexuality and the rest of who we are, what we feel and the lives we live. Sometimes it is clear-cut: sometimes we can identify things, situations or feelings that very clearly don’t incite or involve our sexuality in any way. We can sometimes do the same with some things we know are a part of our sexuality, and seem to only or mostly: like things that we find very sexually arousing, but find totally boring, ridiculous or offensive in any other context.

Just like with models for sexual response, you get to come up with your own if you don’t read or see a model that sounds like it really works for you. Sexuality itself involves some things we can’t control or direct — like our life histories, our feelings and our attractions — but for the most part, a lot of our sexuality, and certainly how we define and direct it, is very much a Choose Your Own Adventure.

One person’s sexuality, experience or understanding of sexuality can be radically different from another person’s, but that doesn’t mean one person is right and the other wrong, or that one person has a sexuality and the other doesn’t.

Like anything made of people and our collective lives and experiences, sexuality is hella diverse, and while some sexualities (or more accurately, the way some sexualities are expressed or acted out) are physically, emotionally or interpersonally healthier than others, there’s no right way of having one; no one sexuality that is the default, or the way sexuality “is,” while others are deviations, derivatives or “perversions.”

While it’s important for any of us who talk about sexuality to define what we mean when we use that word, sexuality is really something we’re often best defining on our own, for ourselves, and understanding as something that, while it has a lot of common threads among all people, is tremendously individual and unique. If it were anything but as diverse, varied, big and complicated as it is, people would have gotten bored with it long before now, and no one would ever come to a website like this one.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

Birth Control Side Effects: The Good and The Ugly

Image from Bedsider.org

Image from Bedsider.org

Hormonal birth control often comes with side effects that vary from slightly annoying to bad enough to make you switch. These include (and are not limited to) headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, decreased libido, depression…The list goes on and varies depending on the method you choose.

The folks at Bedsider remind us, however, that while side effects are not typically fun, they’re usually not that noticeable either. We can get caught up in all the pharmaceutical warnings and forget that birth control also has many positive benefits such as clearer skin and more regular periods.

If taking birth control is the right thing for you, be sure to talk to your doctor about how to manage side effects, both negative and positive. Check out Bedsider’s link to help decide if birth control is right for you.

This article was originally published here

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Side effects! Boo!

Two little words that totally freak people out. And for good reason. Nobody wants to wind up feeling crappy because they’re using a method that’s supposed to be good for them.

See through the hype

You deserve to know the real deal about side effects before you get on birth control, or any other medicine. But the hard part is seeing through the hype so you can weigh the pros and cons of each method and make an informed decision.

Positive side effects

We think it’s important to tell the whole story—the good, the bad, and everything in between. Here’s the thing, though. People tend to forget about the potential positive side effects of birth control, like clearer skin or shorter periods. (Or not having a baby before you’re ready, for that matter.) And when they hear the negative stuff, it sticks in their brain like a cheesy old song you can’t stop humming. That’s just human nature, and it happens to all of us.

Even aspirin sounds nasty

Drug companies list every single scary thing you could possibly experience with a medication. Even if it’s super rare. They have to. It’s the law. So before you run for the hills, consider this: The potential side effects of something as harmless as aspirin are pretty scary when you read them, too. Check it out.

If taking birth control is the right thing for you, we believe there’s a method that will make you feel good about using it. Find one here.

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Sex and the Plus Size Gal

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

A world that sets narrow standards of “beauty” has a real impact on how we evaluate our bodies and value ourselves. It also directly impacts how we feel when dating or experiencing sexual pleasure; sharing an intimate bodily experience with another is a serious exercise in self image.  As Elle Chase (a.k.a. Lady Cheeky) states in this article, women of all shapes, sizes and abilities have internalized negative attitudes towards their bodies from childhood.

As someone who once struggled with body shame, Elle shares how she overcame the negative narrative in her mind and transformed it into loving acceptance. This led her down a path of renewed sensual discovery and enjoying her sexual body to the fullest.

Here are some key points of advice Elle offers for how to feel more confident sexually:

This is tailored for plus-size women in particular, but it can apply to all people who want to improve their perception of self.

  • Confidence begins with accepting positive messages about yourself. Feeling sexy will result in others finding you sexy.
  • Transform the negative self-talk. Begin with small gestures like telling yourself, “This is the way I look and that’s that.”
  • Find inspiration and support by reading body positive resources and listen to stories from others who have overcome their body shame and embraced their sexual being.
  • Indulge in body positive porn that features real and large women enjoying hot sex. Elle offers a list of recommendations below.
  • Remember: Personality, confidence and acceptance of one’s sexuality is what makes someone attractive. Body shame functions to hinder one’s ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. One gains no benefit from negative self-talk.

This article is posted on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

I happen to live in Los Angeles where being over a size 8 is a felony. This can be depressing when I am searching for a cute bathing suit or a stylish pair of jeans in a city that considers the ‘norm’ a size 2. At those times I like to remind myself that the average dress size for women across America and the UK is a size 14 and that a size 2 is more an aberration than the norm. However, it’s disappointing to note that at size 14, those average women are also considered “plus size”, labeling them in a category that, in this media ridden age, might send a woman’s ego to the back of the proverbial bus. This size stereotyping (especially in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and New York City) can compound the list of reasons why single “plus size” woman are intimidated by dating and sex.

I have found that a lot of my single friends complain they can’t find a nice guy or even a good lover. When I suggest online dating, taking a class or going to events to meet a guy, I almost universally hear “maybe when I lose some weight” as the first excuse not to engage. It seems that no matter what we look like, women are always first to dissuade themselves from dating by knocking their perceived physical shortcomings. This kind of dysmorphic thinking doesn’t discriminate it seems, women of all shapes and sizes do it. Though being a “plus sized” woman has its challenges, dating shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, as a plus sized woman myself, I had to get past my own mental lambasting and take a leap of faith, even though at the time I still hated my body. It’s not easy to do but it IS possible.

When I made the decision to start dating again after my divorce, I had to examine my history with my body image. My whole teen and adult life I was lead to believe, through society, other women and some really immature boys, that my body was “less than” because it had more lumps, bumps and curves than the women portrayed in television, film, advertising, fashion magazines (including Seventeen magazine which can be horribly destructive to a young woman’s ego) and the like. Add to that the unconscious conditioning I received from my well-meaning mother and I was set up to fail.

I thought about all the women this kind of conditioning affects, as most women do not have “perfect” bodies and have even less perfect body images. It was interesting to me that regardless of size, all the women I knew loathed portions, if not all of their bodies. Not only does this affect quality of life in general, it substantially affects a healthy sex life. So what can we, as women, do to begin to accept the parts of us that we have heretofore shamed ourselves into hating?

Rebecca Jane Weinstein, Lawyer, Social Worker and Author, was told by her grandmother at nine years old that no man would ever love her because she was fat. So started Ms. Weinstein on her journey of figuring out her womanhood on her own. She relates her pilgrimage to satisfying sex in her book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth. I asked Ms. Weinstein what her advice would be to plus-sized women who are trying to feel more confident sexually. Here is her answer:

“In interviewing the many large sized women I have about body image and sexuality, I have found a common thread. When a woman feels sexy, she projects sexy, and men (or other women) find her sexy. This seems almost simplistic, and it is, in a sense. Perception is everything, particularly self-perception. What is not simplistic is coming to that realization and then internalizing those feelings. Women seem to find that place in themselves two ways. First is personality. Some of us are just lucky to have an inner core of confidence that has no clear genesis. It just exists. But even women who aren’t so lucky to be somehow born with the “I feel sexy” gene, seem to be able to learn to feel sexy. The key is listening and believing when you are told you are attractive and that someone is attracted to you. So often we are told such a thing, and every available evidence supports it (like there is a person lying next to us in a bed), and yet we don’t believe it. We must overcome that disbelief. It is not easy when all the societal messages tell us fat is not sexy. But those messages come from disreputable sources – mostly people trying to sell us stuff. They want us to feel badly about ourselves so we will buy diets and cosmetics and clothing and medical procedures. Those people are liars. The ones telling us the truth are sharing our beds and our hearts. It is them we must believe. And the truth is, even if there is no one giving those positive messages, telling ourselves works too. When you feel sexy, you project sexy, and others find you sexy. It’s not so important how you get there, but that you get there.”

She’s right.

I had a lover once with whom I had some of the most erotic, connected, exciting and sensual sex of my life (some of our exploits are detailed on my erotica site www.smutforsmarties.com) and I was considered plus-sized at the time. Though I felt confident that he wanted me, I still didn’t feel comfortable in my body. Still, before our first tryst I panicked about how he would react to actually seeing me naked. Would he still want me when he saw my overflowing stomach and flabby thighs? I was terrified.

When we first got together I was so ashamed of my physique that I kept my nightie on thinking “maybe he won’t notice my fat.” Though, in contrast to what the little devil on my shoulder was whispering in my ear (“you’re disgusting,” “you should be ashamed to think he wants you”,) my lover couldn’t have been more effusive and complimentary about how seduced he was by my body. He continued to sincerely voice how attracted to me he was, yet I kept that nightie on for two months until I “believed” he was really yearning for me. What in the world did he have to do to get me to believe him? The answer is “nothing.” The issue was with me and my own narrative about my body. I used the shame and the humiliation I took on from others’ opinions about body size during my childhood and young womanhood to inform my ability to receive full pleasure in the moment. What a shame.

Later on in our relationship, figuring a bigger gal was his bag, I brought up the subject of a woman’s body type and asked him if he had always been attracted to plus-sized women. For me, his answer was revolutionary. My lover explained that body shape or size had nothing at all to do with his attraction to a woman. To him, a woman’s physical appeal (among other things like chemistry, personality, intelligence, etc.) was based on how sexual/sensual the woman was. He continued, that when a woman felt she was a sensual being and was confident about her sexuality, that it drove him wild. “I could be lying in bed with a supermodel but if she didn’t own her own sexuality I would be completely limp,” he said. Furthermore, the men he knew in his life felt the same way. He continued by saying that those same men were often frustrated with the fact that women in general don’t own their bodies and often let it get in the way of “letting go and enjoying the moment.” Again, revolutionary to me. I thought back to when I was praying he wouldn’t notice my fat and thought “Wow. If I were just able to let go and take in that he was having sex with me because he WANTED to and was ATTRACTED to me, I would have enjoyed myself so much more.” The change needed to start with me. I needed to give myself a break. If it was true that he found me physically attractive then it was equally true that other men would as well. It was clear, I needed to start accepting my body as is, otherwise I would be living a lonely existence waiting for the day I would be happy with my body … and that day will never come. This was evidenced by my smaller framed friends who had a litany of complaints about why men wouldn’t find them attractive. Again, the unrealistic body dysmorphia rears its ugly head no matter WHAT you look like.

Pamela Madsen, who wrote the book Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner says “If you work on embracing who you are – every single day just like a religious practice – things will change in your world.” I completely agree. No more negative self-talk … ever.

So here’s the deal … I’m not going to tell you to look in the mirror and say affirmations that you’re beautiful and sexy or tell yourself “I love you the way you are;” that’s too big a jump. What I AM telling you is that if you can’t muster up something nice to think about yourself, at least say something factual and neutral like, “this is the way I look and that’s that.” It’s accurate and at the same time makes you accept yourself the way you are. Once you have that under your belt move on up to “I look pretty good today” etc, but wait until you believe it. The point being, you are never to put yourself down. And if you can’t compliment yourself, then at least say something objective, something you can believe.

The next step would be to start to become more comfortable in your body sexually … as it is right now. Whether you’re plus-sized or not, I highly recommend you read the aforementioned book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. She’s plus sized, smart and has the experiences to back up what she preaches. Her book will feed you stories of women (and men) who feel the same or worse about their bodies and will inspire you. Reading the stories of how others achieved their positive body image and started enjoying sex will help you get used to the notion that there are other people out there (perhaps even larger than you are) that have found their inner sex gods and goddesses.

There are also a plethora of body image and sex positive websites at your fingertips. One of my favorites is Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’ website www.dodsonandross.com that has a wonderful DVD called Bodysex Workshop. This DVD teaches women not only how to feel good about their sexuality but shows REAL women with REAL bodies “taking care of business” (if you know what I mean.) Other validating websites to check out: I Feel Myself http://www.Ifeelmyself.com which feature women from all over the world masturbating to orgasm. It’s liberating watching women of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds enjoying the sexual pleasure that is their right. Pamela Madsen’s blog offers Pamela’s words of wisdom on the spiritually based “sacred sexuality movement” and body image.

If you are feeling frisky, even the porn world has something to offer. The multitude of amateur porn online also affords us the opportunity to watch women who look like us engaging in hot sex. There are even porn sites dedicated to plus sized nude models like (my favorite) London Andrews and very popular plus sized porn star Kelly Shibari. There’s also “feminist porn” (also known as women’s porn or couples porn) brought to us by pioneers in the field like Candida Royalle, Erika Lust and Tristan Taormino. This type of porn is made by women for women (and men) who enjoy a more sensual story and a focus on the woman’s pleasure as well as the man’s. Checking out this kind of porn might make you feel more a part of “the club” than traditional porn where the focus is mainly on the man’s gratification while they screw thin women with fake boobs (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that).

Poor body image doesn’t have to be debilitating. Your sexuality is part of who you are as a woman and human being and the plus sized woman should take steps to start empowering herself as an erotic, sexual being … every woman should, really. If we can divorce our self-loathing (while we work on it, of course) from our sensual selves, then dating or sexual expression doesn’t have to be tied into body image and as a result, we can work on accepting ourselves while at the same time experiencing sexual pleasure.

Since I have accepted my body “as is,” not only have I had no problem finding men that find me and my body sexy, but I’ve been allowing myself to have some of the best sex of my life. I have come to understand and believe that sexual pleasure is not just meant for the “beautiful” and the “hard-bodied,” it’s a natural enjoyment that is your right as a human being. So take back that right. Ignore the messages from people, agencies and corporations trying to make you feel “less than” and take back control of what is inherently yours.

elle Sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase is best known for her award-winning and highly trafficked sites, LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) and SmutForSmarties.com, which have both garnered multiple awards, including LA Weekly’s Best Sex Blog 2013. Elle’s focus is on positive body image, reigniting sexual expression and better sex after 40. She speaks nationally at universities, conferences, and teaches workshops about all things “sex.” Currently, she is hard at work on a book based on her popular workshop “Big, Beautiful Sex”. Find Elle on facebook.com/TheElleChase and follow her @TheElleChase or @smutforsmarties.

Reacquainting With Condoms After 11 Years On The Pill

Switching to condoms as one’s only birth control at 30 years old can be a dramatic shift in mindset from the comfort of quick-fix Pills to latexy shopping adventures with a partner. Here, Rose Crompton from the Condom Monologues collective shares her dramatic contraceptive story that spans over a decade, told in 1000 words.

Here are some things she’s learned along the way:

  • Throughout life, every person should take the time to reflect and re-evaluate their contraceptive choices as their body changes.
  • There is important knowledge about condoms that’s not taught in sex education, such as the importance of fitting and experimenting with different brands and types. There are condom sampler packs to guide your discovery of the best condoms for you and your partner(s).
  • If there is an opportunity to shop for condoms with your partner then you should. It can be like an extension of foreplay!
  • Shopping online provides way better selection and price.

This piece is originally published here.

BY ROSE CROMPTOM at CONDOM MONOLOGUES | CondomMonologues.com

“Which ones should we get?” I asked my boyfriend. Well, he’s a man and he’s the one that has to wear them, so naturally I assumed he’d know best. “I dunno,” was the mumbled response. I’d not been “hat” shopping in over a decade. For nearly 11 years I was on the Pill and in three monogamous relationships, for the majority of that time, so ‘safe’ meant not getting pregnant.

Standing there, facing a wall of johnnies, there were three main changes I noticed: the packaging of condoms 11 years on was nicer, there were brands other than Durex available, and the price was higher. No wonder the supermarket kept them in security boxes. Ten quid ($16) for 10 condoms, so a pound a fuck essentially, and me and my boyfriend fuck a lot. Giving up the Pill was apparently going to cost me in more ways than I expected!

That said, coming off the pill four months ago was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’d like to state that this was what was right for me, not what every woman should do, although I do think every woman should take the time to stop and re-evaluate their contraceptive method as their body changes.

The biggest question I’ve faced since is what contraception should my partner and I use instead?

Long term, that’s still a frustrating debate I’m having with myself, my partner and sexual health advisers. For now though, my chap and I are only using condoms and that is how I found myself: Standing in Tesco adding ‘condoms’ to our weekly, big shop shopping list.

Just call me Goldilocks

After much deliberation we went for the clichéd ribs and dots for her pleasure style. You have to start somewhere. They were good, but not quite right. If we’re being honest (and I think we can be here) too much dotting and ribbing can lead to chaffing.

Thankfully, there’s more to safe sex-life than that one style and so the hunt began online to try something new. Scouring the sites we found a ridiculous number of options. Without wanting to sound too Disney about it, there was a whole new world opening up before my eyes. Previously my experience of condoms had been whatever was free and easy to grab from the GP or sexual health clinic as they were only ever used briefly when there was a Pill glitch.FlyingCarpetCondomsAnim

Now though, scouring the various sex e-tailers, there was this whole exotic, rubbery, latex fantasticness that had the potential to be a lot of fun. Maybe shopping for condoms would be a great, new, sexy part to our foreplay?

We came across an American brand called One and they had an interesting pack called Tantric with tattoo style patterns and extra lubrication. Oh, they sound fancy and you can never have too much lube, so we ordered some.

It wasn’t long before the boyfriend and I found ourselves back online, looking for something different the next time. We “um-ed” and “ah-ed” over the various boxes, brands, descriptions, shapes and textures for nearly as long as we’d spend trying to pick a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Obviously, sex is a shared experience and if there is the opportunity to choose together, then you should. Like with any aspect of sex you should both get enjoyment out of what you’re using. There aren’t very many things that we put on our bodies that are as intimate as condoms. It’s going on his most sensitive area and in hers, so when it comes to condom shopping it’s important to find some rubbers that you’re both gonna’ love. Generally, that means experimenting.

Getting comfy with condoms

Through shopping around, I’ve learnt more about condoms in the last four months than I ever learnt at school, or was bothered to listen to after that, because they just weren’t relevant to my life. It’s a bad attitude to have, I know. It’s shocking how the “fit and forget” or pill-popping culture we have today means it’s easy to overlook the humble condom. Especially when you’re in a relationship that uses one of the aforementioned methods.

It’s been a re-education: I’m aware now about the importance of fit and how that effects sensation and minimises the risk of breakage, the safest way to take them off to avoid any ‘accidents’ and I’ll admit that I’m still perfecting my roll on method (anything billed as ultra thin is definitely the trickiest).

The biggest adjustment (and I don’t reckon I’m the only woman who’s come off the Pill to feel this) is becoming confident with the idea that condoms can keep me safe. Not from STDs as that’s not an issue in my relationship, but of pregnancy. A lot of people my age and a bit older seem keen to use Fertility Awareness Methods and the pull-out method, but for many of them pregnancy wouldn’t be so much of a disaster. For me and my boyfriend, it certainly would be.

Making the move from the pill to condoms is scary. Anything you get fitted, implanted or swallow every morning has a success rate of approximately 99 percent. Sure, there are some side effects, but you’re willing to put up with them because it’s a shared ideology that now we have these methods, why bother with condoms that have a slightly lower success rate at all if your aim is to not get pregnant?

Living with that mentality for over a decade, then changing what you use and your body changes too, is a lot to get your head around, but it is doable. On the plus side, not only has it led me to take another look at the whole contraceptive menu – not just what the GP would prefer me to use – but it’s made me and my partner look again at correct condom use and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for any couple to do that no matter how long they’ve been together.

This monologue was written by Rose Crompton (@RoseC_Liec). Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. Go here for more monologues.

 

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue. Share your story

The CSPH: Sex Advice for Intersex People

From the documentary film Intersexion (2012)

From the documentary film Intersexion (2012)

Intersexuality is not uncommon, it’s just rarely spoken about or represented in everyday media and conversations.

Not many people go public announcing their sexual identity or gender- especially if it’s marginalized. However, according to the Intersex Society of North America, approximately 1 in 1500 births require a “sex differentiation specialist” to be called. Many more are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations.

Considering the shame and stigma surrounding bodies that do not neatly conform as male and female, finding intersex-based resources, arts, and communities can be difficult. In this article, The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) unearths and recommends some quality gems from within the intersex community.

This article is for both those who identify with intersexuality and anyone who want to learn more. Don’t miss the links to some incredible documentary films!

This article is originally published on The CSPH website as part of their Q&A series.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Q. Any sex info/advice for intersex people? I can’t find any positive porn, info, or stories about intersex people’s sex lives anywhere on the internet.

A. Note from the author: This response is partly for the person who asked the question, and partly to be informative to those who might be reading it and do not know much about intersex individuals.

Unfortunately it’s not that common for individuals to be “out” as intersex, and what is considered intersex varies widely even between doctors; what one physician would classify as intersex, another would consider a minor variation of biology and may not even mention it to the patient. Each doctor’s approach to treatment of an intersex individual (if required) is subjective as well. This, in turn, impacts the amount of sex advice, writing, and pornography that’s available.

What is intersexuality?

The term intersex refers to the biological condition of having reproductive and/or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the usual definitions of male or female. There are many misconceptions  regarding intersex people but intersex anatomy differs from person to person  and can include having in-between male and female genital characteristics (e.g., a scrotum shaped like labia, a noticeably large clitoris, etc.) or having male physical traits externally but female anatomy internally. While intersexuality can be identified at birth, sometimes intersex anatomy is only found at puberty, in adulthood (e.g., during infertility testing), after death (when autopsied), or not at all.

Our bodies’ biological/physical sex does not always define our gender or the societal roles we play (i.e. man/woman/other identity). This is the same for intersex individuals and such a nebulous term may or may not be used to define their gender. Some live their entire lives completely unaware of their intersex anatomy; however, others may be “assigned” a gender at birth, determined by the most prominent gender traits, via reconstructive surgery and/or ongoing medical treatments. Some may transition from one gender to another and use the label transsexual or transgender instead of intersex. Some define themselves based on their intersex anatomy while others have no obvious physical traits of their intersex anatomy and instead identify as male, female, queer, trans, femme, butch, or various other labels.

Sex advice for the intersex person

With so many variations, every intersex person’s biology may impact their sex life in different ways, or not at all. A good start are books or sites that provide great general sex information and also address aspects of your unique sexual anatomy:

Though not all intersex people are trans* or identify that way, there may still be valuable information on trans* sites. Anatomy and the impact it may have on your sex life is often discussed in the trans* community, such as this post from the Self Made Men blog.

If you’re an intersex individual and comfortable talking about it, we encourage you to start posting some advice you wish you’d had at the start of your sexual journey. Honest, sex-positive information for everyone can only become widespread if all communities are heard and not just “talked about” by professionals and “experts.”

Note: if you have a medical condition associated with your intersex diagnosis, the Accord Alliance Advocacy and Support Groups list  can help you find a support group with more specialized information for that condition.

Many of the sites listed encourage new questions, so drop them a line if you can’t find what you’re looking for. If you have a very specific question, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your doctor or find a sex positive practitioner here.

Intersex positive art and writing

Though they don’t focus specifically on sex, there are some amazing writers and artists talking about their intersex life and experiences:

Other recognized “out” intersex individuals include Cheryl Chase (intersex activist), Alec Butler (playwright and filmmaker), Stanisława Walasiewicz (Olympic athlete), Caroline Cossey (model), Eden Atwood (jazz singer), Eva Robin’s (actress), Sarah Gronert (professional tennis player) and many more .

Porn and intersexuality

Finding positive porn about any orientation, gender, race, or body type can be difficult as there is no shortage of bad porn. On top of that, pornography fetishizes deviations from the “norm”; whether it’s hair color, orientation, or anatomical differences. Among the most popular fetishes are adult films that showcase “Trannies, Shemales, and Hermaphrodites.” Those are all terms that should NOT be used to refer to intersex or trans* people as it is a maligned, incomplete, and offensive view of their sexuality. In fact, those films usually feature performers with penises and augmented breasts, some of whom may identify as trans*, rather than biologically intersex individuals. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the aforementioned terms are also incredibly offensive to the trans* community. (Still, here at the CSPH we encourage self-definition and if someone uses those terms to refer to themselves, we support their autonomy.)

A quick search for “intersex porn” brings up very few results, but by looking at sites and studios that support a diverse view of sexuality and gender, we find more options:

Starting with sex and body positive pornography will lower your chances of coming across any triggers and maintain a more respectful view of intersexuality. If you’re still having trouble finding films that suit your erotic tastes, try altering the way you search. Start off with a genre of film (e.g. lesbian, oral sex, BDSM, etc.) and then include terms like “intersex” or “trans” to help you find more options.

Additional resources

Keep an eye out for Intersex Awareness Week events near you!

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

Can Pre-Ejaculate Cause Pregnancy?

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Can pre-ejaculate cause pregnancy? This is an important question for anyone who can become pregnant, or is having sex with someone who can get pregnant. Particularly for those who use the “pull-out” or fertility awareness method, understanding the risks involved is fundamental to making proper health choices for yourself.

The answer to this question, however, is not so certain and still under going research. In this article, Heather Corinna explains what exactly we do know for certain about pre-cum and how best to approach risks with the information that is out there.

Here are her key points:

  • There is far less sperm in pre-cum than there is in ejaculation.
  • Chances of sperm in pre-cum are lowered if one has recently urinated and has not ejaculated before intercourse.
  • Pre-cum can transmit infections.

This post was originally published on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Jess asks:

Can a woman become pregnant off of pre-cum fluid alone?

Heather Corinna replies:

The short answer is that it is possible, yes, but is not very likely.

The longer answer is that there are a lot of variables, and we still need more study to be done on this to give a better answer.

Do we know that pre-ejaculate fluid can contain sperm? Yes, we do. We also know that there are far, far less sperm in pre-ejaculate — when there are any at all — than there are in a full ejaculation: a full ejaculation contains as many as 100 million sperm, whereas when sperm is in pre-ejaculate, it’s more like a few million, if that many. But it only takes one active sperm and a few hundred helper sperm to create a pregnancy, so sometimes there may be more than enough sperm in pre-ejaculate when sperm are present in it to make that happen. However, sperm also need the fluid they’re part of to create a pregnancy, so the limited volume of pre-ejaculate is also an issue, as is the far fewer sperm which may be (and often are not) part of it.

There’s no 100% way to know at the time if pre-ejaculate contains sperm, but it’s generally agreed upon that it is most likely or only likely to when a man has recently ejaculated and has not urinated afterwards (urine flushes the urethra out, removing traces of sperm). It’s generally considered to be least likely to contain sperm when a man either hasn’t ejaculated in a while and/or has recently urinated before he’s pre-ejaculating.

Since you’ll often hear a lot of argument when it comes to whether sperm are or are not present in pre-ejaculate, here’s what some other credible folks have to say on the matter:

Go Ask Alice at Columbia University says:

Sperm could be in pre-cum, but only after a recent ejaculation, after which some sperm may be left hanging around in the urethra. “Recent” means masturbating earlier and then having sex with a woman, or during the same sexual episode of the recent ejaculation. Urinating in between ejaculations flushes the urethra of stray sperm and makes the way clear for the sperm-less pre-ejaculate fluid. If sperm remains after a prior ejaculation, then it’s possible that they can enter the vagina and make their way to meet an egg.

The Feminist Women’s Health Center says about it:

During sex, the penis releases two kinds of fluids. The first is pre-ejaculate or pre-cum, a lubricant made in a gland in the penis. This fluid usually contains no sperm, but can transmit infections. The second, released with ejaculation, is semen, which is made in the testicles and carries thousands of sperm in addition to any sexually transmittable infections that may be present.

Many sources that discuss the ineffectiveness of withdrawal argue that pre-cum can contain sperm. This is because previous ejaculations can leave some sperm behind in the folds of the penis. While there is a need for further study, it is likely that urination before intercourse washes leftover sperm from the urethra, the tube from which both urine and semen exit the penis.

Here’s what Student Health Services at Oregon State University has to say:

Pre-cum is the pre-ejaculate fluid that can be released from the penis during sexual activity. It is usually released before the male reaches orgasm, which results in the ejaculation of semen. Pre-cum prepares the urethra for the semen and helps in lubrication during sexual intercourse. Also the pre-cum may contain sperm. Since the pre-ejaculate can contain sperm, a pregnancy can occur if the man’s pre-cum comes in contact with the woman’s vaginal canal.

However, there is inconclusive evidence as to where the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from. Many researchers suggest that the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from leftover sperm from a previous ejaculation of semen. These researchers suggest that urinating after the ejaculation of semen will remove any sperm from the urethra, so as to prevent the pre-ejaculate from containing sperm. However, research is still being conducted to support this widely accepted idea.

And here’s what Contraceptive Technology has to say:

Some concern exists that the pre-ejaculate fluid may carry sperm into the vagina. In itself, the pre-ejaculate, a lubricating secretion produced by the Littre or Cowper’s glands, contains no sperm. A study examining the pre-ejaculate for the presence of spermatozoa found none in the samples of 16 men. However, a previous ejaculation may have left some sperm hidden within the folds of the urethral lining. In examinations of the pre-ejaculate in a small study, the pre-ejaculate was free of spermatozoa in all of 11 HIV-seronegative men and 4 or 12 seropositive men. Although the 8 samples containing spermatozoa revealed only small clumps of a few hundred sperm, these could possibly pose a risk of fertilization. In all likelihood, the spermatozoa left from a previous ejaculation could be washed out with the force of a normal urination. However, this remains unstudied.

So again, the only right answer we can give right now is a maybe.

But we also do know that withdrawal isn’t one of the most effective birth control methods, in either perfect or typical use, and that enough people report using it perfectly — saying they withdrew well before ejaculation — and still becoming pregnant (including my parents as well as a close friend of mine, for a personal perspective), that we’d be remiss to rule out pre-ejaculate as a pregnancy risk. Bear in mind that during the Baby Boom in the United States — a period in history when we had more births than any other — that withdrawal was the most common method of birth control people were using. Of course, many of those pregnancies may well have been due to men who said they pulled out on time not realizing they had actually ejaculated, and we have no way of knowing what the real deal was. What we can know, for sure, are the success and failure rates of withdrawal as a method, however it is practiced, and know that most other methods of birth control are more effective.

Too, unprotected sex, period — ejaculate or no — poses risks of all sexually transmitted infections, which should be just as great a concern as pregnancy. And pre-ejaculate can transmit the HIV virus just as much as full ejaculate can.

So, having unprotected sex, period, just isn’t a good idea unless you are trying to become pregnant AND you and your partner have both been practicing safer sex for at least six months, monogamously, AND each have at least TWO full and clear STI screens under your belts. While it’d be nice if we had more data on pre-ejaculate at this point, at the same time, it’s not all that essential. We already have the essential information we need, which is that ANY unprotected intercourse presents risks of pregnancy and STIs, and that people who want to prevent pregnancy achieve that best with the most reliable methods of contraception, used properly and consistently, or by abstaining from the kinds of sex which present pregnancy risks.

If you want to engage in intercourse safely, you need a condom at a minimum, and if, for whatever reason, that or some other reliable method is not an option, then the only good choice is to choose not to have sex until sound contraception can be used.

Here are some extra links to grow on:

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

 

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

All Barriers All The Time: Condoms, Dams, Gloves…

With permission from Scarleteen

With permission from Scarleteen. Illustrated by Isabella Rotman.

Safer sex barriers like condoms, dams, gloves, and finger cots, offer some of the most effective protection against STI transmission. However, many people feel stumped on exactly what they should be using to best protect themselves and their partners, and how  to integrate safer sex practices in a way that adds to the experience, rather than detract from it. This article, originally published at Scarleteen, answers all your barrier questions and helps you learn about every single barrier choice you have:

The main topics covered below are:

  • How much protection barriers actually offer
  • What they don’t protect you from
  • How to use both external (male) condoms and internal condoms, dental dams and gloves
  • How to protect sex toys
  • 3 ways to ease the use of barrier methods

This article was originally published on Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen
Illustrations by ISABELLA ROTMAN | thismighthurt.tumblr.com

Barriers-SquareHooray for barriers! Not the crummy kind that keep us from things we want, the kind that can protect us from pathogens that can be passed from one person to another, resulting in in illness and infection. Safer sex barriers do a great job reducing our STI risks, so we’ve got the best chance of enjoying the good things sex can offer without big risks of transmitting (giving) or acquiring (getting) infections in the process. Barriers keep germs out while letting us do the things we enjoy, want and which can bring us closer; to our own sexuality and to other people we may share it with.

If we still want to engage in genital sex — like vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex or manual sex — safer sex is the only thing yet proven to effectively reduce the STI risks those activities can present. That means regular STI testing, and consistently (not just sometimes) and correctly (used exactly as directed) using barriers. Most STIs are primarily transmitted through body fluids, so protecting ourselves against them is mostly about limiting or avoiding our contact with each others fluids. Barriers are what help us do that when we don’t also want to limit or avoid being sexual with other people.

How much protection do they offer? When used consistently and correctly, latex condoms are highly effective preventing STIs, and are the only thing that’s yet shown to be highly effective. With fluid-borne infections, like HIV, Hepatitis or Chlamydia, condoms have been found in studies to reduce the risk of infection by as much as 99%, and as little as around 50%, with both figures largely influenced by how consistently and correctly condoms are used. Specifically addressing HIV protection, the UNFPA states an effectiveness rate of 90-96%, Family Health International states a rate of 80% – 97% protection. With infections transmitted by skin-to-skin contact alone, findings for protection range from around 30% to around 90%. Again, proper use and consistency is a big player. Barriers can also help prevent infections like urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Barriers protect us better from infections spread only or mostly by fluids than they do with those spread by skin-on-skin contact (like molluscum, HPV and Herpes). That’s mostly because most barriers do not cover the whole surface of the genitals of a person, their partner, or both. But the biggest player in how effective barriers are in preventing infection is just like with methods of birth control: it’s if they are used all the time, and also used properly. How effective a barrier is is far more within your control than outside of it: effectiveness has way more to do with always using them and using them right than it does with any limitations of the barriers themselves.

All you really need to use them well and get the protection they offer is to learn which ones you use for what activity or body part, how to use them properly and some practice, confidence and a commitment to the health and well-being of you and yours. We can give you most of that right here, and we can give you a good start to developing that last part for yourself.

Condom-title
Let’s start with the barrier people tend to be the most familiar with: condoms. We currently have two different options when it comes to condoms on the whole: the “male” (or outside) condom, and the “female” (or inside) condom. Outside (“Male”) Condoms are the barrier to use for any kind of intercourse (vaginal or anal) or oral sex involving a penis. [Go here for more instructions on how to use a condom, and how to find the right fit].

How to Use outside (“male”) condoms:

whitecondom-Diagram-Scarleteen1) Use a condom that is new, and at least six months in front of the expiry date: make sure your condom is not expired. The expiration date is somewhere on every individual package. Be sure you’re also using a condom that hasn’t been kept anywhere where it could have gotten worn, or too hot or cold . We always need to keep condoms and all other barriers places with moderate temperatures, and store them only in places they won’t get too knocked around or sat upon.

2) Open the condom wrapper with your fingers: don’t use teeth or scissors if you can help it. Take it out, then roll it out a tiny bit so the edge is rolled up on the outside of the condom, facing up. Otherwise the condom won’t roll down right. Put a few drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom: that helps with getting it on, and makes condoms feel a lot better for the wearer during use.

3) Pinch and hold the tip of the condom with your fingertips to leave some space — about an inch — and roll the rest down the length of the penis while still holding the top. The ring of the condom should be as close to the base of the penis as possible. When you’re down to the base, run your fingers from the tip all the way down to press out any air bubbles: this helps keep condoms from breaking. (This isn’t necessary when using a condom to cover toys.)

4) Put some lube on the outside of the condom. The amount of lubricant already on lubricated condoms is rarely enough for the condom to feel good for everyone, and the lubrication the vagina or penis can produce by itself often doesn’t fare so well with latex: it’s easy for parts to feel dry and raw fast. Plus, a well-lubricated condom is a condom that is not at all likely to break. While you are using the condom, neither you nor your partner need to hold onto it: condoms are designed for hands-free use.

5) After ejaculation (or not, but you’re finished for now) — and before you withdraw — hold the base of the condom with your hand. Keep your hand there while you withdraw, and until the penis, or toy, is all the way out of the vagina, anus or mouth. Pull it off (slowly, so slowly: whipping condoms off fast usually ends in a mess, tears or unstoppable laughter) with that same hand on the rim of the condom and your other hand by the tip. Tie a knot near the base of the condom.

6) Throw the condom away in the rubbish bin – NEVER reuse condoms.

For those using outside condoms who’re uncircumcised, there’s a variation in putting a condom on. You, or your partner, will need to first gently move the foreskin back a bit, then put on the condom, rolling it about halfway down the shaft of the penis before letting go of the foreskin, and then rolling the condom down to the base. Because of the foreskin, you or a partner may find the condom doesn’t go as far down to the base as it does with a circumcised penis, and that’s okay. You also may find that using a few drops of lubricant inside the condom, before you put it on, is more important (or not) to your comfort than it is to those with circumcised penises. This is just another thing to practice with to find out what feels best for you.

Uncircumcised-Condom-Application

Most of this is just going to be about working out what feels best for you and your own foreskin, insofar as how much you roll the foreskin down, and when you let it slide back up. Some people with foreskins even find that putting them on the same way you would without a foreskin is what works best for them. So long as the base of the condom is firmly on the base of your penis and it all feels comfortable for you, you’re good.

You can find condoms in pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, in clinics and health centers (often for free), or you can order them online. No barriers, including condoms, are only legal or available for people of a certain age: people of every age can purchase them lawfully.

whitebananaThere are a LOT of brands and styles of condoms out there to choose from right now. So many choices! Yay! People are going to have some that don’t work for them, some that are fine, and others that are their Best Condom of Ever. If condoms don’t feel good, fixing that can sometimes be as easy as just using a different size, style or brand.

We’re fans of everyone knowing how to use condoms, not just people with penises or people who use condoms as a method of birth control. It can make it way tougher to get and keep in the habit of using condoms if we don’t all know how, or only one partner knows. If you don’t have a penis yourself, or a partner with one, that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn! You can learn to put condoms on by using a dildo, or food items like bananas or cucumbers. (Extra bonus: it’s kind of hilarious. As it turns out, bananas look silly with condoms on.)

With any kind of barrier, it can be harder to learn to use when we only practice with partners. Even when a partner is great and we feel great with them, there’s always an extra pressure just by virtue of someone else being involved, especially if we both also want to be sexual at the time, so we can be a little hasty or distracted. Learning to use, and practice using, barriers when you’re all by yourself makes becoming a pro easier.

whiteinternal-CondomInsider (“female”) condoms

Inside condoms may be the most underrated barrier there is.They’re amazing! An inside condom can be put in in advance of sexual activity, making it great for those who feel like outside condoms are an interruption, no matter how brief, they’d prefer not to manage. The materials they are made of conducts body heat better than latex condoms. They are made of a non-latex material, so are just as good for those who can’t use latex as those who can, and can also be used with even oil-based lubricants, unlike most outside condoms. They also don’t tightly grip the penis, so for those who dislike the tight feeling of the base with outside condoms, the inside condom can be a great way to get the protection we want without the feel of a standard condom.

They cost a little more than outside condoms, and can be harder to find, but if you have never tried one, we’d say it’s worth it. Inside condoms may just turn out to be your new favorite thing of ever. If you can’t find them where you buy condoms, they can be ordered widely online. You can also ask a pharmacy if they can order some in for you.

For those who used female condoms a few years ago and vowed never to do so again, because the material they were made of made louder sounds during sex than your mouth is even capable of making- They are not made of that material anymore. The new materials are soft, smooth, and best of all, perfectly quiet.

How to Use Inside (“Female”) Condoms:

1) Just like with outside condoms, you want to first open the package carefully with your fingers.

2) Then, put a little lubricant on the outside of the closed end. As the illustration above can show you, the inside condom has two rings, an inner one in back, where the material covers it completely — where it is closed — and an outer ring in front, where there is an opening to the condom, just like with an outside condom. whiteHow-To-use-Female-Condom

3) Next, you will need to insert it inside the vagina, or anus, depending on what kind of genital sex you are choosing to do. Some put the inside condom inside while they stand with one foot up on something, or squat, or sit on the edge of a chair or toilet, or lay down. You’ll find out by experimenting what works best for you. Inside condoms can be inserted up to 12 hours before use, so if you prefer to put it in way before sexual activity, you can do that. You’ll squeeze that inner, or back ring, together with your fingers until it basically makes a line, and put it inside the body the way you’d put in a tampon or menstrual cup, pushing it gently back as far as you can. With vaginal insertion, until it reaches your cervix (which feels like a little nose inside the vagina, if you have never felt it before). When it’s all the way back, you pull the finger you pushed it inside with out, and let the outer ring of the condom hang about an inch outside the vagina or anus.

4) Then, a partner will insert their penis — or a toy — inside the vagina or anus and the condom inside. The base will not grip them like an outside condom’s base does. For those new to sex or using this kind of condom, do be sure and check that the penis, or toy, is being inserted inside the condom in the vagina, rather than to the side of the condom.

5) To remove the inside condom, you will have your partner withdraw — no need to hold anything. Then you twist the outer ring, and the part of the condom outside your body until it’s closed, gently pull it out and throw it away.

Dental-Dam-Header

Dental dams are the barrier we have to help reduce our risks of infections during cunnilingus (oral sex involving the vulva) or analingus (oral sex involving the anus). Some people have the idea that oral sex with someone with a vulva does not pose STI risks. While oral sex risks are higher when there is a penis involved, rather than a vulva, please know that does not mean cunnilingus poses no risks, or is an activity where it’s sound not to protect yourself or your partners. It does still present STI risks, particularly with common infections like Gonorrhea, HPV and the Herpes virus.

Like condoms, dams come in both latex and non-latex. Like condoms, they also are available with or without flavoring, if you have preferences in this regard.

How to Use Dental Dams:

Open the package carefully, take out the folded square and open it up — it’s like the littlest bedsheet on earth, and you just want to open up that sheet like you were making the littlest bed. You and/or the person whose vulva, or anus, is having the dam put unto may want some lube on their genitals before putting it on. Then you, or they, just place it over the genitals, and you, or they, hold it there with hands during sexual activity. whiteDental-Dam-Placement

That may sound like a stumper, until you think about how often you’re usually also using your hands anyway with cunnilingus or analingus. Basically, all you’re doing with the dam is having the edges of it stay between where your fingers might be anyway, or your partners, and being a little mindful about that to keep it in place.

Make sure the same side of the dam that’s been against the body stays on that side.(Pro-tip from one of our volunteers: use a permanent marker to put an irreversible word/letter on the corner of one side if you’re worried about spacing which side is which.) When you’re done using it, throw it away, and as with other barriers, don’t reuse: you need a new dam for any additional sexual activities, or if you want to change the part of body you are using it on, like, for example, starting with cunnilingus and shifting to analingus.

Dams can be tricky to find in some areas, or for some populations — like younger people. If they aren’t available where you already purchase condoms, they can be found online. If online ordering won’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you have to go without! You can make a dam by cutting a condom lengthwise, or by cutting a glove: check out these easy instructions for DIY dams. You also have the option of using Saran Wrap or Cling Film instead, just don’t choose the kind expressly for microwave use, since, as it tells you on the box, that kind has tiny perforations in it intended to let steam out, but which would also let germs in.

Want more information on dental dams and related issues? Take a look at these links:

Gloves-and-finger-cotsGloves and finger cots can be used to reduce the risk of infections with manual sex, like fingering, handjobs, or any kind of anal play with the hands. While manual sex poses far less risk of infection than intercourse or oral sex do, and handwashing does a great job by itself at reducing risks, gloves and finger cots still have some good things to offer. Like condoms, you can find both latex and non-latex options.

For instance, they make things feel better for some people. Genital tissue is tender, and hands, fingers, or nails can be rough, even when we take good care of them. Callouses and hangnails can cause abrasions that don’t feel good and increase our risk of infections. Gloves feel slick and uniformly smooth; that not only tends to feel mighty-nice, it helps prevent small genital tears or abrasions which do not feel mighty-nice at all. It can also be harder to wash our hands sometimes or in some settings, and gloves or finger cots give us the ability to change them, without having to run to the bathroom for another handwash, between activities easily.

You probably already know how to put on a glove: you just put your fingers and thumbs inside. Just know that hands need to be dry before using them, otherwise they can be harder to put on. You also want to avoid using the kind of latex gloves with powder inside when using gloves for genital sex. As with other barriers, lube plays a big role in things feeling good. As with other barriers, you don’t want to reuse gloves. You want to use them for sexual contact with one specific body part only: a different sexual activity means a new glove is needed. To take them off, pull from the base of the glove, at your wrist, towards your fingertips. The glove will turn itself inside out as you pull it off from the bottom. That makes getting them off easier, and also keeps all those fluids inside when you toss it.

Finger cots look like really tiny condoms: you just roll one on a fingertip (or more than one, if you like!), when you are going to use just fingertips for something. You know the drill: lube, one cot per activity or place, no reusing, roll them off and toss’em when you’re done.

Gloves are available at pharamcies, and sometimes even at grocery stores (look in the drugstore aisle). Finger cots can be found online. whSex-Toys-Header

Sex toys, like people’s bodies, can also carry, harbor and transmit pathogens. Many can’t be boiled, and are made of porous materials that pathogens like hanging out in. If you want to be safe with your toys, even when you’re the only one using them, you want to cover any toy that can’t be boiled or otherwise safely and effectively sanitized, and use a new barrier with every use. Ideally, you don’t want to be sharing most toys, but if and when you do share, or plan to, using barriers is important for everyone’s best health. Using barriers with toys also often makes cleaning them and keeping them clean a whole lot easier! Dildos-look-good-in-condoms

Condoms cover dildos and other long-shaped toys well, and you can also drop a small, corded vibrator, like bullet styles, into a condom and cover it that way. For sleeves or pumps, toys meant for the insertion of penises, you simply use a condom like you would for intercourse while using it. If you are using household objects for masturbation, they very much should be covered, but even if they are, they shouldn’t be shared. For several reasons, some pretty basic etiquette and good-neighborliness among them.

Finger cots can also cover small toys. If you feel stumped about what to use, a dam can be a good option, because you can wrap almost anything in it and have plenty of it left to hold unto. You can also use a dam (or condoms) for safer sex with toys by putting it on your body part you were going to contact with the toy.

Don’t forget lube!

whiteWater-based-lubricantsLatex barriers should not be used with oils or oil-based lubricants, as most will degrade the latex. The easiest way to be sure you’re using the right lube? If it says it’s latex safe, and/or meant for sexual (or vaginal) use, you’re good. When in doubt, stick with something water-based or, if you want to get more adventurous with your lubes, do so only when using non-latex barriers.

Barriers are usually easy to use once you get the hang of them and get into the habit of consistent use. They’re easy to learn to like once we feel confident and capable with them: when using barriers feels like a major drag, it’s often because one or more of the people using them, or thinking about it, doesn’t feel experienced enough using them, or doesn’t know how to use them in the ways that feel good yet. Learning how to use them and getting practice can not only help them to be most effective, it also will typically help people feel a lot more happy about them emotionally and socially.

Three ways to make using barriers feel easier:

1) There’s no perfect thing to say to convince a person who does not want to use barriers to use them. There’s also no special way we need to ask — beyond something like, “Can you/we use a condom/dam/glove, please?” — or even can ask to make magic happen and change someone’s mind on this.

Letting go of any expectation you will ever need to say anything to someone who refuses EXCEPT, “Oh well, seeya later then,” can make you feel more relaxed pretty instantly about inviting partners to use barriers with you. You don’t ever, seriously, ever, have to have arguments about this or write a fully cited thesis to try and prove your point to a partner. You just need to offer, and if they don’t accept, just graciously choose not to have sex with them.

If your words feel clumsy or uncomfortable,the easiest, simplest way to ask someone to use a barrier is just to hold it out and offer it to them before you do what you were about to start doing. That’s it. So easy. And it works very, very well.

You don’t even need to use any words; you often won’t have to, since most people know what barriers are for. When you’re about to do something sexual and you just take out the barrier and hold it out, or start putting it on yourself, most people get that barriers are a given if they want to have sex with you, and they will just get right on board if sex with you is something they want. (Or, they may feel the same way, you just pulled out the barrier before they did!).

All people asking each other to use barriers is is just someone, or more than one someone, actively caring for their health and that of their partner in a very basic, noninvasive way and asking for cooperation with that. You may need to negotiate or adjust some things, like what style or kind of material or lube someone likes, talk about testing, or show a partner how to use a barrier. But really, just taking it out and using it or handing it over — or words as clear and simple as, “Can you/we use a condom/dam/glove, please?” — should generally suffice. Which leads us to…

2) Keep barriers (and lube!) on hand. Don’t rely on others to have them, or set things up so only one partner is responsible for getting them. Share in both the freedom and responsibility of having them yourself! If you want to offer them to partners, you obviously need to have them in the first place. Plus, when barriers aren’t used when they’re needed, it’s often because no one has them handy when they need them, and both people were assuming the other person would. whiteStop-in-the-name-of-love

3) Know and understand: a barrier against pathogens is not a barrier to intimacy, to closeness, bonding or pleasure. A LOT of people think or believe those things, and this is a case where thinking or believing a thing actually CAN make it so. We know from study that those negative thoughts influence people’s experience of condoms. People who think condoms or other barriers are a drag, or get in the way of closeness or pleasure often wind up experiencing them exactly that way because they strongly believe those things to be true. On the other hand, people who don’t believe those things, who think neutrally or positively about barriers, often experience intimacy, closeness, pleasure and bonding while still using barriers. Because barrier use also often involves communication, honesty and mutual care, it, and the skills we hone when practicing safer sex together, can actually help facilitate and support intimacy and pleasure, rather than standing in their way.

Look, we can’t always stay healthy. We’re people, we get sick sometimes. STIs are very common, especially among those in their late teens and 20s: they are challenging to avoid. Some people have already contracted an STI early, especially since so many people don’t use barriers right from the start, don’t use them with all kinds of genital sex, or have not used them consistently or correctly. It happens, and like any illness, it’s not something anyone needs feel shame around, even if and when they contracted an STI by knowingly choosing to take risks. Rather, it’s something to get better from or cope with, changing what habits you need to to better support your health in the present and future, just like with any other kind of illness.

We obviously want to avoid STIs or transmitting them whenever we can, just like we want to avoid getting or passing on strep throat. Using barriers is about doing something basic to protect our health and that of others, like covering our mouths when we cough, washing hands before eating, or staying home when we’re sick instead of giving everyone the flu. It’s also harder to feel a desire to be intimate, and to experience pleasure when we’re sick.

These kinds of barriers? Good stuff. Good stuff that even helps the good stuff stay good stuff, even. Once you know what they are and how to use them, and get some practice with them under your belt (as it were), they’ll likely turn out to be one of the easiest things you do to protect your health and also one of the things you do in your sex life that leaves you feeling highly empowered, capable and in control of your body and health.

Go to Scarleteen to read the entire post for more instructions on how to use all the protective barriers under the sun!

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

ISABELLA ROTMAN is a Chicago cartoonist and illustrator from Maine who truly cares about your genital well being. She is the author of the queer and quirky sexual health book You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STDs and a recent graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other than educational comics, Isabella’s art is usually about the ocean, mermaids, crushing loneliness, people in the woods, or sex. If any of the above interests you then you may enjoy her self published comics or blog ThisMightHurt.Tumblr.com.

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen