What Does Sexual Consent Look Like?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

When it comes to sex, consent is essential. As JoEllen Notte of the RedHeadBedhead.com writes, consent is to sexual play as a doorbell is to a home. We do not question the validity of houses having doorbells. And yet, the topic of sexual consent generates heated debate.

What does consent actually mean? What does sexual consent look like? Do I have to sign a contract with my partner about everything we do together before we take our clothes off?

This confusion is not surprising. Movies typically portray sizzling sex scenes without any talking. The characters are so in sync with each other that communication seems unnecessary. In the article below, JoEllen points to ways in which “enthusiastic consent” is the brunt of media jokes that poke fun at anti-harassment activists as out-of-touch, over-the-top PC mood killers.

How did we get to this political climate around consent?

According to JoEllen, it all begins from a faulty model taught from a young age: The “no means no” model.

In this clever piece, “I Got Your Consentlandia Right Here“, JoEllen runs through the flaws and harmful effects that longstanding approaches to consent have had in our media, our legal system and our personal well being. Then she demonstrates practical ways that consent takes place and how it looks in different contexts. When you’re done reading, you’ll never think of consent as a drag again.

Here are key points to take away:

  • “No means no” perpetuates the stance, “They never said no”, as a valid response to sexual harassment and rape charges.
  • The new model, “Yes means yes”, implies collaboration. Real consent happens only once there is an active, voluntary “yes” or “F*ck Yeah!”.
  • Consent is an on-going process that requires constant communication.
  •  “Yes means yes” allows for no confusion, no mind reading, and much better sex!

This article was originally published at theRedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

The topic of consent has been weighing heavy on my mind this last week. I’ve watched people wrestle with it, spring into action around it, snark about it, debate it, discuss it and even mock it, dismiss it and reduce it to a meme. A conclusion that I’ve come to (a conclusion that I’ve come to many times before) is that most people— even the ones who want desperately to help— don’t really get consent. The fact that the topic breeds debate and frequently causes people to get angry (“What, do I have to fill out a form before I touch someone now?!”) is actually absurd because when it comes down to it, consent is just about not violating boundaries. That shouldn’t piss us off. We’re not outraged that houses have doorbells rather than coming with the assumption that we can all just walk on in, right? Right. But somehow when you suggest to people that they may want to ask before stomping all up into another person’s space, there is backlash. So how did this happen?

Think back to how you were taught about consent. Odds are you weren’t really. You were more likely taught about “no”. If you were born with a vagina, you were probably taught to be careful because people might rape you and you should say “no” or, if you were born with a penis, you were told that “no means no” and if you hear “no” then you should not proceed because, rape¹. What has happened here is that you learned a couple of things:

  1. One partner should charge ahead until they get the red light from the other.
  2. Listen for a cue to stop, rather than a cue to start.
  3. If you don’t hear a “no”, you’re good to go.

This model has proven disastrous in myriad ways. From lawyers who argue that unconscious victims weren’t raped because they didn’t say the all-important “no”, to people who have no idea how to communicate sexual needs because everything we’ve been taught is based in negatives (i.e. what DON’T we want), to the general pattern of blaming victims not rapists because, obviously, they didn’t “no” hard enough, to the fact that no one knows what the hell “yes” looks like, to this bizarre idea that if we ask people if we can touch them before we touch them we will never touch each other again/it will be super-awkward and not fun.

Folks, it’s a steaming pile of horse shit. All of it.

Seriously.

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit consent obsessed and, while consent is not always about sex (in fact, a lot of what we’re talking about applies to most non-sexual situations and, ahem, communities), I’m happy to report that my own life got way easier, more comfortable, more fun and, frankly, sexier once I figured this consent business out….

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

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JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

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).

15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices

Image from Bedsider.org

If any one of these warning signs relates to your experience, you are not in a balanced, healthy relationship.

Some of the warning signs may seem extreme (like “Do you find him poking holes in condoms?”), but the fact is that these things do happen. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) one in five young women say they have experienced reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when one partner forces the other into sex without contraception.

Even more common is facing a partner who dislikes condoms and tries to convince the other to have condomless sex (read our post for the best lines of defense against excuses not to have safer sex).

As Lynn Harris points out in the article below, such an interaction is ultimately about one person having power over the other. It is the opposite of a healthy, loving and respectful relationship.

Here Lynn Harris offers tips on what to do if your partner is showing signs of disrespecting your contraceptive choices. Ultimately, it’s not about the birth control. It’s about another form of control.

This article by Lynn Harris was re-posted with permission from Bedsider.org

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Alice’s boyfriend really didn’t want to wear a condom. “You don’t know how good it feels without one,” he’d say—over and over—or “I can’t come with one,” recalls Alice, 23, of Seattle. “He’d been able to before, so I should have realized that was bullsh*t. But he’d slowly talked me into it.” When she finally let him go without, she says, “I was like, ‘Fine, if it makes you shut up about it, go ahead.’”

That was the day Alice conceived her son, now 4. But don’t call it an “unplanned pregnancy.” It wasn’t just that Alice’s boyfriend liked the feel of condomless sex. He wasn’t in denial about the consequences. Alice hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but her boyfriend had. Guys like him want to get girls pregnant. As Alice now knows: “He really wanted a son.”

As I noted in a previous article for The Nation, and others have noted, stereotypes about women being the ones to “trick” their partner into pregnancy are extremely misleading and potentially destructive. Experts have put a name to the phenomenon of reproductive coercion, where it’s men who force women into sex without contraception. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), one in five young women say they’ve experienced pregnancy coercion; one in seven say a guy has sabotaged her contraception. Though other abuse may not be occurring, it sure as heck might: women who have been abused by a boyfriend are five times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and eight times more likely to be pressured to get pregnant.

Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. “It’s about one person controlling another,” says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.

Reproductive coercion happens to teens and adults, rich, poor and average; any race or religion; women in long-term relationships, hookups, and in-between; women like Anya Alvarez, 21, who was having sex with a guy she’d just started seeing when she spotted her NuvaRing on her rug—which, needless to say, was not where she had put it. Yep: he’d yanked it out. “He said he’d done it to other women and they didn’t mind,” she says. Even in a new relationship, or something you wouldn’t call a relationship at all, you need to be careful.

Red Flags

“One clear warning sign: a partner who doesn’t support your using whatever contraception you want,” says FVPF senior policy director Rebecca Levenson. “Even if it’s subtle, like weird-supportive, it still gets him what he wants.”

  • Does he refuse to wear a condom? “That’s near-universal with reproductive coercion, and can start on sexual-date-one,” says Heather Corinna, founder and director of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.
  • Does he equate birth control with cheating? As one woman (“Erika”) reported to the FVPF: “He said the pill made women want to have sex all the time, and that I’d cheat because I wouldn’t need to use a condom.”
  • Do you go behind his back to get contraception? “Erika” snuck to a clinic for the pill. “For a year, I made sure he never saw them,” she says.
  • Does he say things about hormonal birth control (Pills, implants, IUDs) like (MYTH ALERT!!!!). “Those make you gain weight, which you struggle with. I love you so much I wouldn’t want you to do that”?
  • Does he threaten to hurt you if you use contraception—or consider abortion?

There’s also sweeter-sounding baby-making talk. “It can seem like he’s trying to express commitment or get serious,” says Corinna. “Only people who love you want to make babies with you, right? Wrong. Some people want to create a family for the best reasons. Others want to control you, make it harder for you to leave, or create new, smaller people to control. The folks with the good motives will not ever pressure or trick you.” Does he:

  • Say things like “If you have a baby we’ll always be connected” or “If you really loved me you’d have my baby”?
  • Refer to sperm as mini-hims? Alice: “My boyfriend would congratulate himself for sending in his buddies to get the job done.”
  • Say someone who uses contraception doesn’t love their partner? Or contraception keeps people from being close?
  • Talk about pregnancy or parenthood without including your needs or your body?

New guys may deploy all sorts of lines. Check your gut; don’t take a chance. If something sounds off to you—like “I had a vasectomy” or “I smoke pot so I’m infertile”—it probably is.

And some actions say it all:

  • Do your pills keep disappearing?
  • Does the condom keep “breaking”? The third time this happened to “Libby” in Illinois, her boyfriend admitted he’d removed it. After that, he began raping her without one.
  • Have you caught him messing with your birth control or poking holes in condoms?
  • Does he break his promise to “pull out”?
  • Does he sneak off the condom (NuvaRing, etc.) during intercourse?
  • Does he physically force you to have sex without protection?

What to do?

If even one of the above sounds familiar to you…one is too many. Steps to take to protect your health:

  • If on date one refuses a condom—“ground zero for safer sex,” says Corinna—kick him out.
  • If sex suddenly feels different, check the condom.
  • Consider contraception you can hide, or that’s tough to sabotage, like Depo-Provera or IUD. (Note: This alone does not prevent STIs.)
  • Get tested for STIs (see our post on how easy it is to get tested). Some are symptomless, but can do future damage. Talk to a health care provider. If it doesn’t make sense for you to leave the relationship now, you can at least try to prevent STIs or pregnancies.
  • Imagine a healthy relationship. No pressure, no tricks; just love, support—and, if you’re ready, sex that feels right. “If a female patient whose partner refuses condoms says, ‘They don’t feel good for me, either,’ I say, ‘That’s because he’s not sharing a real, intimate relationship with you,” Dr. Walker explains. “It’s not about the condom.”

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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

Why, What, How to Talk to Your Sex Partner

Photographer Jaded One

Photo credit: Jaded One

No matter how much you study up on sex, without communication your relationship is sunk! Sexual communication isn’t easy and what we see in the media is rarely useful in terms of real-life scenarios. Scarleteen is here with comprehensive pointers on communication as a whole, and specifics on what to look for in productive sexual communication.

This article is meant to help you navigate the challenges of talking about sex with sex partners— from how to talk and to what to look for in the talking. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Clear sexual communication keeps both partners physically and emotionally safe.
  • Before engaging sexually with a new partner, look at how you communicate with them about other things.
  • Pick emotionally safe and neutral spaces to talk about sex.
  • There are several keys to productive dialogue- don’t miss the list below!
  • If you feel like you don’t feel comfortable communicating with someone, consider holding off on partnered sex with them until you do.
  • If you start with open communication and keep talking, it will get easier and more comfortable.

Read the original article at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

You can read everything from the Kama Sutra to The Joy of Sex, watch porn vids until your eyeballs fall out, have a ton of sexual experience or psychically channel Mata Hari or Casanova, but if you don’t know how to openly communicate with your partners, with your words, chances are neither you nor your partner are going to have really healthy, beneficial and satisfying sexual experiences, especially in the long-term.

Communicating clearly and well about sex and relationship issues, before and after you become sexually active with someone — the whole works, not just when whispering sweet or saucy nothings into a lover’s ear — not only puts you in a place where you can have satisfying sex and sexual relationships, short and long-term, and feel good about them, it helps keep everyone safe and sound both physically and emotionally.

If you have a car, you know that you’ve got to keep a pretty good eye on the oil in the engine: if you run out, no matter how great of shape your car is in, it’s not going to keep working, and may well explode in your face. Solid communication is the oil that keeps the engine of your sexual relationships running smoothly.

How to Talk About Sex

Talking with your partner about sex isn’t just about asking what one person has or hasn’t done before, wants to do, or about what gets everyone hot under the collar. Talking about sex with a partner also involves discussing what pace you’re comfortable with, your sexual health and your partner’s health, what you want or need to be comfortable engaging in a given sexual activity, how you masturbate, how you feel about your body, what feels good and what really doesn’t, safer sex and birth control, your sexual ethics and beliefs, relationship model negotiation, the works. Good sexual communication means you are creating and maintaining an environment in which you and your partner(s) can really talk openly about sex — in and out of bed — even when what you have to say isn’t very sexy or isn’t what the other might want to hear. It means being able to say no and having no be accepted and easily respected without pressure to say yes: it means being able to say yes knowing it doesn’t mean you or they have to say yes every time.

It’s no big shocker that talking about sex openly and intimately isn’t very easy. Most of the media around us doesn’t portray sexual discussion realistically or wholly: we’re shown either only the super-fantastic earthshaking stuff or Very Big Problems, not all of the shades in between that make up most of our sexual experiences. Most of the talking about sex we see in the movies only happens when people are having sex, and tends to consist of little but monosyllables or the standard “That was great,” after sex is done. And it isn’t just teens who have a tough time with sexual communication. Many adults in long-term sexual partnerships don’t have the hang of it, and plenty still prefer to avoid sexual discussions rather than practice them. A rare few of us grew up in households where sex was discussed healthily and openly. Good sexual communication generally requires more than a single word response. For a lot of people of all ages, honest and open sexual communication is brand new terrain.

Before you become sexually active with someone, take a look at how you communicate with them about other things. Are you able to talk openly and freely about your feelings for each other, about relationship models, time management, previous romantic/sexual relationships and peer and family relationships, and deal with crises? Are you friends: do you talk like friends? If not, it’s wise to take a pause and evaluate if that partner is a smart sex partner for you yet: after all, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about needing a little more time together (or a little more space) or what’s going on with your family, it’s going to be a serious challenge to talk about wanting to be touched more here or there, to need to change how the two of you are practicing safer sex or birth control, or about having a yeast infection. If daily communication, especially about things which are very close to your heart, doesn’t feel pretty easy just yet, work on that first, or consider that that person may not be an ideal partner for you.

Look at your own existing sexual communication in other parts of your life. Are you able to discuss sexual issues with your friends or your physician with a decent level of comfort and honesty (even if things sometimes feel a bit awkward)? Can you use language for sexuality – like the correct words for your sexual parts, or real terms for sexual activities – comfortably?

If you’re already at those points, then you’ve got a great foundation for sexual communication. You can lay it down from the onset – before you have any kind of sex at all — just by saying something like, “Before we have sex together, I want us to aim to always talk about sex honestly and freely, even when it seems weird. I feel like that’s important for both our physical and emotional safety as well as so that we can have really great sex.” Just making your intentions clear like that opens the door, allowing both you and your partner permission to talk about sex with maturity and be honest when you do.

Want to try on a few basic conversations one might have with a partner or potential partner that are pretty common, just to get an idea of how we can have them, and how hard it really ISN’T? CLICK HERE, and have a look at how some varied talks about sex with a partner can go.

Those sample conversations don’t have to be literal scripts for you, and my vernacular may not sound like the way you and your partners talk: I’m 37, and you’re probably not. “Gag me with a spoon,” and “Like, totally, that’s grody to the max,” were part of my teenage lingo: thank christ, they’re probably not part of yours. But the basics remain the basics: sound sexual communication is all about being honest (even when it feels awkward or embarrassing — but, if you’re going to be naked and/or sexual with someone things are going to be awkward and embarrassing sometimes, no matter what), being forthright and open (which anyone can do while still being kind to the other person), owning your own stuff (and the other person being able to do the same), and accepting that sometimes, because we need to communicate important things, sex might not seem so sexy for a bit, and we may even shelve sex we were going to have in exchange for talking about it. Even if that seems like a bummer at the time, I can guarantee you that it’ll mean the next times you DO have any kind of sex, it’s far more likely to be emotionally, interpersonally and physically better.

Where to have a talk? Pick emotionally safe, neutral spaces to talk about sex in. Often, it’s best to talk about sex in-depth when you’re not in the middle of having sex, when no one is naked (since most people feel more vulnerable that way), and when you’re not in an environment which can make it feel like having sex is more important than talking about it. Obviously, too, talking about sex between two people very personally isn’t a conversation for when you’re in a big group, hanging out with friends, or in the busy halls at school, where even the walls tend to have ears.

Suffice it to say, there will be times that it either feels just fine to talk about sex while in bed, and times when it’s also unavoidable. For instance, if you’re setting a limit on what you want to do in the midst of your partner starting to do that activity without asking, you need to set that limit right there and then. Or, if you two are laying around after sex and strike up a conversation about your sex life and it feels safe and comfortable for you to have it then, then no problem.

Check out some general themes we usually see in productive and communicative sexual conversations:

  • “I” statements. In other words, “I feel that…” rather than “You make me feel like…” Or, “When you do X, I experience Y,” instead of “You do Y to me.” “I feel ready for sex,” not “My friend Joe is having sex with HIS girlfriend.” When you’re speaking for yourself and about yourself, frame it that way. Even if you are calling out a partner on their behavior or actions, people tend to stop listening when an expression sounds more like an accusation.
  • Acknowledge the awkwardness. In so many ways, anything sexual between people IS awkward, and talking about it often is, too, especially when those conversations are being had for the first time. You can let a lot of the air out of the balloon just by saying that you feel awkward, and by being okay with that: it helps make it okay for your partner to feel awkward, too.
  • Same goes double for accepting that sex talk can be loaded. As a longtime sexuality educator – completely outside of my personal life – I’m acutely aware that people can fly off the handle pretty easily when talking about their sex lives, and that most people are pretty hypersensitive about sex. That’s unsurprising: sexuality is very personal, it makes us feel very vulnerable and exposed, and there’s an awful lot of pressure in the world to be sexually perfect, no matter how unrealistic that is. Prime the pump (as it were) and make sure your partner is in the right headspace to have a discussion about sex at a given time, just by asking if they are, and if they’re not, just make clear you need to soon, and would like them to let you know when it is a better time for them. Reinforce care for them by letting them know that you love and care for them and that you like being with them: you just want things to be as good between you as possible. Be aware of their personal sensitivities and insecurities and speak with kindness. “I think maybe your penis is too small,” for instance, is not a sensitive thing to say (and probably not even the real issue). “I’m feeling like this would feel even better with something fuller, maybe your hands?” is a serious improvement. “I’m having a hard time working out the difference between our reality and what I see in porn,” is far more accurate, sensitive and productive than “Why can’t you do what everyone in porn does?”
  • Watch your language.Part of communicating well (whether you’re talking about sex or something else) involves using terms which both people know the meaning of and are comfortable with. You may hit roadblocks to productive sexual communication if, say, you’re talking about “tea bagging” or “fingering” and your partner has no idea what you’re referring to (hint: when you say tea-bagging and they ask if you prefer herbal or black tea, they don’t understand you), or if your partner calls your genitals a “pussy” or a “prick” and those terms seriously turn you off or are gross to you. Be sure that when you are talking about sex, that you do so without making too many assumptions, and with care to what language you are using to express yourself; be open to making changes or clarifying in order to better that communication. Ask about what words work for your partner; tell them what words and language feel best to you. Everyone also has different levels of comfort when it comes to pillow talk — talking about sex during sex. Some people may like a partner to “talk dirty” during sex who either isn’t comfortable with that in general, or who is comfortable with that, but not yet. Plenty of people have a hard time — or just don’t like — talking about sex during sex, for the effect of heightening arousal, in general. Again, these tend to be matters of compatibility, and by discussing them — even in advance of sexual activity — even partners with some divergence of opinion can often find middle ground that works for both of them.
  • Make sexual communication an ongoing process. In other words, don’t expect one talk about one thing to be the only talk you’ll have or to net instant results. Most people tend to need time on their own to mull talks about sex over, since partnered sex can be so complex and sometimes tough to sort through, and a lot of the time you won’t have “The” talk, you’ll have a series of evolving talks about any given issue. As well, folks may not want to have a six hour gab-a-thon about a sensitive or emotionally loaded issue. It might be better to talk a bit about something one day, then suggest you go do something mellow and unloaded and talk about it more in a few days.
  • Expect the Best. If you walk into a sexual conversation anticipating that it will go poorly, it’s much more likely to. You’ll probably be more timid than you would otherwise, won’t do the best job of really stating your case, and may be less likely to be honest. If, instead, you walk in with the expectation that what you have to say is productive and important, and your partner can absolutely handle talking about sex (and if they’re having sex, they’d better be able to talk about it, too!) and listening to you, you’re more likely to communicate well and most honestly, and your partner is going to hear your confidence and trust in them in your voice.
  • By all means, accentuate the positive. Unless you’re talking with someone who is being abusive or is not minding your boundaries, when you have an otherwise positive sex life with someone, you can make them feel at ease and secure by being sure that even in areas you may be being critical, you’re also acknowledging the good stuff. For example, let’s say that you really enjoy sex with your partner, but their utter lack of communication makes you feel clueless as to what to do to be sure they’re enjoying it too. To keep positives in there, you might say something like, “I love being with you, and I love how you give me clues about what you like with your body. I think things could be even better, though, if you could also tell me, with words sometimes, what you like or want.”
  • Don’t ditch your sense of humor. Obviously, there are some conversations in which humor just isn’t appropriate – like when a partner is seriously stomping over your boundaries, or a partner needs to talk about previous sexual abuse with you. But in a lot of conversations about sex, it’s fine to have moments of lightness, and it’s helpful to inject a little laughter to help everyone feel more comfortable.

There are some people who strongly feel that any kind of talking during or about sex kills their buzz. Trouble is, we just HAVE to talk about sex at least sometimes, and if we’re really fully present with sex, then talking about it shouldn’t be a huge bummer. Someone who feels that way may also not be in the healthiest headspace: maybe talking kills things for them because they’re trying to pretend something is fine when it really isn’t. Maybe they’re trying really hard to avoid being vulnerable or close (in which case it’s mighty silly for them to be having sex, which is all about that), or want the sex they’re having to be more about a fantasy than the reality. Maybe they don’t want you to talk because they don’t want to leave you real room to say no or have a say. Maybe they’re really just not ready for sex with someone else, because being able to communicate is a big part of being ready.

If it feels to you that sexual issues cannot be discussed by you or your partner — either because you don’t feel ready, or because you think talking about them will spur on anger, upset, jealousy or massive insecurity — then you might want to wait for partnered sex with that person until you both do feel able to talk more comfortably, and have more practice doing it outside of bed, where any conversation tends to be a lot more loaded. Suffice it to say, if it feels patently unsafe to ever talk to your partner honestly about anything to do with sexuality, that’s just not a safe person to be with sexually at all.

Often, it also takes a few tries — and sometimes more than that — before we meet someone whose needs and wants are compatible with ours, or can work with a partner to find middle ground that works for both people. Because of that, it can be tempting to try and let things go unsaid we really need to be talking about, like limits and boundaries that aren’t being respected or communicated, wants or needs that aren’t being met, relationship models we know we can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just going too fast. Resist that temptation if it happens: you don’t want to set patterns or precedents for things that aren’t okay with you or aren’t working for you, because that makes it even harder to work them out in the long run. Put your limits and boundaries onto the table as soon as they come up. Even if it’s difficult, awkward, or feels risky to do, it’ll be a lot easier to set limits earlier rather than later, and taking risks to better understand each other is always a healthy risk to take with a good chance of delivering something positive and healthy.

Once you have some basic solid communication practices and dynamics down, it’s just a matter of basic care and feeding: if and when you do start having partnered sex, you’ll keep talking to one another, all the time, and it should become second-nature to always be communicating, sharing ideas, feelings and experiences without trying too hard. It’s not unusual, when you first start having partnered sex to go without heavy verbal communication for a while, because it’s new (and that newness can make things so exciting that even sex that isn’t physically so great is made better by the rush of something new), because you’re both caught up in all the things that feel good, and because things that aren’t yet as you like them, will just take more time. But over time, not only are you likely to need to talk more, you’ll both probably want to talk more, too.

Partnered sex is one of those things that tends to get better the longer you do it with someone, but part of why is communication that increases over that time. So, communication is important, but the sex you’re having also doesn’t need to feel like a lecture series to be healthy. You’ll probably find – as most people do — that when you start from a place of open communication, and keep communicating regularly and as needed – just opening that door not only makes communication become easier and easier over time – and when you get good at it with one partner, it tends to get easier with other partners over time — those regular habits will allow you to have more times when body language and monosyllables do you both just fine, and all the better than they would have if you didn’t have great verbal communication, too.

(Adapted and expanded from S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College)

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

Best Lines of Defense Against Partner’s Excuses Not to Practice Safer Sex

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This post is for anyone who has ever complained about condoms/dams, or has faced complaints from a sex partner; or you are new to safer sex (or you’ve been out of the game for a while) and want to start practicing. In many ways, this post is actually for everyone! We’ve pooled together resources from Condom Monologues and Lucky Bloke to help prepare you with the best lines of reasoning and defense to common excuses against protective sex barriers.

Note: Negotiating safer sex is not confined to heterosexual relationships in which the female is making the male do something. This is an issue that happens in all types of relationships and power dynamics across genders. Knowing how to assert health boundaries is a tool for everyone (of all genders) to have:

Partner: “Condoms never fit me.”
You: “If you’re too big to fit any of these different sizes than you are too big for me.”

There is a deluge of condoms on the market today, all in a variety of smells, tastes, materials, and yes, sizes. There are condoms that are as small as 1.25″ in diameter and ones as large as 2.3″ in diameter. You would be hard-pressed to find a sexually active man who didn’t fall in that range! Need help determining his condom size? Find it here: http://www.luckybloke.com/choose-size

Partner: “It doesn’t feel good.” “I can’t feel anything”.
You: “I can’t enjoy sex if I don’t feel safe.”
“The safer I feel, the hotter the sex.”

or

Partner: “I want to be closer to you/feel you.”
You:“I can’t feel close to you if I don’t feel safe.”

Condoms, dams and lubes have come so far that, in a lot of ways, sex can actually be enhanced with these safety tools. Most importantly, you can feel safe knowing that you have greatly reduced your risk of catching STIs or getting pregnant when you aren’t ready to. Think of protective barriers as sex accessories.

Heather Corinna explains it best: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

Partner: “You think I have an STD”. “You don’t trust me.”
You:“This isn’t about me thinking that here is something wrong with you; this is about both our health.”

You know what? Using a condom and other protective barriers shows that you both care about yourselves and each other! Having unprotected sex is not an act that builds trust. Instead, it is an act that can occur as a result of already-built trust. Knowing that your partner will be there for you if sex results in a pregnancy, and knowing that your partner is not exposing you to a sexually transmitted infection, are what enables you to trust them with the act of bareback sex. See how that works? Trust is earned.

Partner: “Just this one time.”
You: “We’ve got all these condoms/dams. Let’s do it more than once!”
“Once is one too much for me.”

Being prepared with a variety of condoms/dams will be a great help. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to take care of their own health. Don’t assume one partner will be prepared, unless you have talked and made this arrangement with them.

It’s best to prepare with a variety of shapes, textures and flavors, latex and non-latex, because you want to find barriers that suit both you and your partner best. Plus experimenting adds a whole new dynamic to play. There are variety sample packs, like the one’s curated by Lucky Bloke, that can help you on your safer sex discovery.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES SexEd, Activism, Storytelling and More… 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

What Makes Someone A Slut?

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Slut. It’s a loaded word. What does it mean? When does someone qualify as a slut? Renowned sex educator, Megan Andelloux, shares how she handles the question in workshops: “What Makes Someone a Slut?”

Don’t miss her tips on steps you can take when you hear someone called a “slut”. Key points:

  • It’s ambiguous. There is no single definition. Different people have different ideas of what “slut” means.
  • Due to differing definitions, any number of situations can lead to a woman being labeled “slut”.
  • Some women are reclaiming the word in an empowering way.
  • Most importantly- call people out when they use the slut word. Ask them what they mean.

BY MEGAN ANDELLOUX | ohMegan.com

megan_andellouxMEGAN ANDELLOUX is a Clinical Sexologist and certified Sexuality Educator, listed on Wikipedia as one of the top sexuality educators in America, her innovative education programs, writing, social media presence, and ambitious speaking schedule has made her one of America’s most recognized and sought-after experts in the growing field of sexual pleasure, health, and politics.
Follow Megan on twitter @HiOhMegan

10 Of The Best Things You Can Do For Your Sexual Self (At Any Age)!

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When you stop to think about birth control, infections, relationships, feelings, logistics and everything else, sex and sexuality can seem overwhelmingly complicated. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sexual education to the rescue with 10 things you can do for your sexual self!

This article is meant to help you remember the human element of sexuality, and keep the essentials in the forefront of your mind.

Here are main points for how you can best care for your sexual self: 

  • Get to know your body and what you like on your own – be your own first partner!
  • Learn to talk openly about sex.
  • Be honest with yourself and your partners.
  • Remember, drama isn’t love.
  • Use and trust your own best judgment.
  • Love your own body.
  • Own and respect your feelings— even when it’s not fun.
  • Don’t try to make your sexual identity your WHOLE identity.
  • Become sexually educated— know your stuff!
  • Enjoy yourself and your sexuality.

View the original article on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

10 thingsIf we look at our sexuality one way, it looks a million times simpler than it actually is. If we look at it another way, it appears a million times more complicated. While it’s important that we bear everything in mind we need to in terms of infection and disease, birth control, our relationships, our bodies and the whole works, now and then we need to remember the bare bones and the human element of the thing, and keep the essentials in the forefront of our minds.

Choose yourself as your first partner

We hear a whole lot about who should be our first partner. Most of the time, we’re told it should be someone we love and who loves us back, someone committed to us long-term, perhaps even someone we plan to spend the rest of our lives with. I agree completely, because you, all by yourself, have all of those qualities, more than any other person ever can.

No one is ever going to know your body like you are, and no one else is ever going to be able to GET to know your body well unless you do to begin with. Really claiming and recognizing yourself as your first and foremost sex partner is a powerful thing. It equips you with some tools for healthy sexuality and balanced relationships for the rest of your life: it can help you to best determine when it’s the right time for you to have solo sex (like when you’re just plain horny) and when it’s right to take a partner (like when you’re wanting deeper intimacy, or are able to account for another person’s feelings and desires). Getting to know your own body and sexual identity through self-evaluation, through masturbation, enables you to find out a good deal of what you like and dislike physically, to see and feel what your genitals and the rest of your body are like in a healthy state, to discover how your individual sexual response works, explore your orientation and gender identity, and to gauge your sexual expectations realistically.

All too often, young men and women — more often young women — may rush into sexual partnership simply because they think a partner can give them something on a sheerly physical sexual level that they can’t give themselves because they haven’t become their own first sex partner. And many times, that results in hurt feelings, overly high expectations, and careless treatment of sexual partners, especially when a person just isn’t ready for all that sexual partnership requires. All too often, “hormones” are said to be why a teen feels the drive to partner with someone else, but the truth is, your “hormones” and your physical body do NOT know the difference between your fingers and someone else’s. Your mind and your heart might, but your clitoris or penis do not. Spending dedicated time being your own lover first helps you be able to know the difference.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

When and if you’re sexually active with a partner, communication is typically the biggest hurdle in those relationships. If we feel awkward or uncomfortable — or unable — bringing up issues about birth control, safer sex, sexual boundaries, sexual satisfaction or dissatisfaction, things we need to be emotionally or physically safe, we not only greatly limit the mileage of those relationships, we put ourselves and our partners in positions which can be very detrimental to all of us. At best, being unable to communicate can greatly limit our pleasure, enjoyment or emotional well-being. At worst, they can get us deeply hurt emotionally or physically or hurt others, or be the root of an unwanted pregnancy, disease or infection transmission. Being able to talk openly about sex can’t just protect our hearts, minds and bodies, it can save our lives.

We can all learn to talk about sex, even in a culture where that is a major handicap. Start simple: talk to friends or family about sexual issues or questions. Learn to ask your doctor when you’ve got questions or concerns about sexuality or sexual anatomy, even if it feels embarrassing or a little funny at first. And well before you get sexually involved with a partner, start establishing meaningful dialogue about sex: about both of your expectations and wants, about your readiness levels, about birth control and safer sex practices, about how you’ll plan to deal with friends and family regarding your sexual relationship, about what relationship model you’d like to build, the works.

Live in the real world

Honesty, like most things, starts at home: in other words, with yourself. Sex can be a veritable minefield when it comes to game-playing, delusion, manipulation and control, even when no one intends any of those things. Being willing and able to be honest about your sexuality is your biggest asset when it comes to being happy, healthy and whole in this regard.

Be willing, for instance, to take a deep look at what you want and what you need and to make choices based on the real deal when it comes to those things. For instance, if you know that you’re not entirely sure about a sexual partner in terms of furthering your activity with them, don’t shove that feeling in the closet for fear of losing them if you don’t agree to what they want. If you know you’re questioning your sexual orientation, be clear on that with potential partners.

If you know you can’t be sexually active without lying to friends and family, consider putting a hold on things until you can be honest about that. If you aren’t as into someone else as you know they’re into you, let them know, don’t lead them on or take advantage. Don’t make promises you can’t keep: of eternal love (even if it feels that way), of monogamy, of sexual favors you aren’t sure you want to, or can, deliver.

Insist on honesty from your partners as well as from others involved, even tangentially, in your sexual life: friends, family, your doctor, and learn to accept that honesty, even when it’s not so easy. Being in an environment of honesty sometimes means that the people we’re involved with tell us what they really feel, rather than what they think we’d like to hear, which isn’t always comfortable, but which, both long and short term, is the best thing for everyone.

Break down your drama addictions

It’s easier than any of us would like to think to mistake high drama for love or passion, especially when we’re younger. Most of us are pretty restless in our teens: maybe school is just utterly boring, maybe we’ve had the same social circle for years, maybe our towns or cities don’t offer us much to do, maybe we’re just feeling ready to move on with our lives, but can’t because of our age. So, it’s not at all surprising that when a love affair enters our lives, we’re going to be pretty excited about it.

But it’s very clear that a lot of teens (and older people, too!) confuse drama with love, affection or real connection. The higher the level of drama gets — parents disliking a partner, promises of marriage, a profound age difference, even emotional or physical abuse — the more a feeling of love or passion is interpreted because the emotional stakes are raised and the tension is elevated.

That’s not unreasonable, after all, writers have been using that exact same device to elevate their readers emotions for thousands of years. But. It isn’t real, even when it very much feels real. We’re simply reacting to those escalated circumstances, and all too often, that drama can keep young couples together, not love or real bonding.

So, when the drama kicks in, try to learn to see it and know that then, more than ever, is NOT the time to leap in with both feet, but to step back and really look at what’s going on. To take a break to do that, if need be. To do whatever it is you need to to get a good, solid reality check. One of the best tests of love, really, is if it still feels like love when it’s at its quietest and calmest, not just its loudest and most tumultuous.

Be a smartypants

Let’s be honest: very few of us, whether we’re 15 or 65, can be truly objective when we’re head over heels in love or in lust. So, it’s a bit of a given that when making sexual choices, we can rest assured that our judgment is bound to be a little colored from the get-go. Being in love, having a crush, and sexual partnership is heady stuff. That’s some of why it can feel so nice. Colloquially, some of us call that space NRE, or new relationship energy. It’s great stuff, and it feels fantastic, but it can do quite a number on our analytical or critical thinking.

It’s important to recognize that when we’re in that space, we probably need to use a little more caution than usual when making decisions because those feelings can really do a number on our heads as well as our hearts. Other additional factors may also be at play which can impair sound judgment: body or self-image issues, feeling pressured to be sexually active or have a sexual or romantic partner, performance pressures, rebellion or conformity issues, and even simple curiosity.

And by all means, handicapping your judgment intentionally from the outset with alcohol or drugs which impair your critical thinking is just never a wise idea.

Start a revolution: Stop hating your body!

We live in a culture that is obsessed with appearances, in which lookism and ableism are epidemic. The messages we’re sent via our culture and media about our bodies are almost always about how they look or how perfect they should be, and more specifically, how they look to the opposite sex (despite the fact that some of us aren’t even interested in the opposite sex, all of the time, or ever). Advertisements for gyms or exercise regimens rarely talk about feeling increased energy, getting sick less often, getting better strength or balance, but all too often, instead work to sell us on trimmer thighs, tighter bottoms, or washboard abs because those things fit our current physical ideals of beauty and attractiveness.

That isn’t to say we have to ignore how our bodies or faces look. People are amazing creatures, great to look at, and sexual attraction is part of our physical nature. But it’s only one part of many. Our bodies enable us to do everything we do each day: to go to work or school, to build cities and cultural movements, to create and nurture families and friends, to live out our whole lives. And the state of our bodies effects the state of our minds: when we’re physically healthy, it’s a lot easier to be emotionally healthy.

So, take good care of your body in every way you can. Give it healthy food, the rest and activity it needs, the healthcare — sexual and general — it requires, both preventatively and when you become ill. Don’t sacrifice your health or well-being for appearances with fad diets or starvation, with obsessive focus on physical perfection, with conformity to ideals which not only may not fit you, but which change almost as often as most of us change our underpants. Understand that when it’s right for you, be it by yourself or with a partner, sex can also be part of honoring your body, whatever it looks like, however it works. If any sex you have with someone isn’t about your bodies just as they are, it’s not likely to feel very good or leave you feeling very good about yourself….

…Screw magazines that tell you to focus on what you’d like to improve about your body. Heck, if you’ve got one, burn it. If you’ve got health issues to deal with, or need to make some healthy changes in terms of what you’re eating or not getting enough activity, do that. But your body is not a home-improvement project. Most of it is perfect as-is, right now. So, document that. Sit down and make a list of all of your favorite parts, and write down why they’re your favorite. Maybe you like your eyes because they’re aesthetically beautiful, or your legs because they get you where you need to go. If you need extra help when it comes to appearances, instead of comparing yourself to fashion mags, get some pictures of your relatives, as far back as you can go, if they’re available to you. In them, you’re going to find your arms, your hair, your face — you can discover where a lot of you came from and see yourself a bit differently when you’re looking at you in someone else.

Some studies or philosophies have put forth that young people, especially young women, who are sexually active suffer from low self-esteem in ways those who are not do not. The usual assumption made about that premise is that sex, especially sex when you’re young, must be bad for you, but I’d posit that that isn’t so. Instead, what I’ve seen a lot of over the years is some people who seek out sex or sexual partnership to try and fill a void in terms of self-esteem or positive body image reinforcement that already exists before they seek out the sex, and then most of them discover — alas — that the sex or boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t fill that void and get even more depressed and self-hating, thinking something must be wrong with them.

Honor your feelings

Sometimes it takes a lot of tries before we meet someone whose needs and wants are the same as ours. Because of that, it’s tempting to try and compromise things we really shouldn’t compromise, like limits and boundaries, relationship models we know we don’t want or can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just too fast.

Sure, part of any relationship is compromise, but we should not and cannot compromise our essential character or nature, nor what we know we need in a relationship to participate in one healthily and happily. If we find we’re sticking in a relationship where we know our partner wants things we can’t or don’t want to give, for instance, we’re likely not honoring our feelings, perhaps because we don’t want to hurt them, or because we’re afraid of being without a partner, or because we just don’t want to make a huge mistake. But, you know, in relationships that are right for everyone, we can safely voice our feelings and work with them, and we need to be able to do that to be in good relationships. Most of us adults have been in relationships where we’ve voiced deeper feelings than our partner felt, or asked for more than they could give, and that’s resulted in a split we didn’t want. Or, we’ve had to tell a partner they were asking for more than we had available and either pull away from the relationship or take it back a few paces. While at the time, none of that is ever fun, in hindsight, we’ll all know that was best for everyone. As well, most of us have happier tales of honoring our feelings that brought about far better outcomes than we would have had had we not voiced our true feelings. Sometimes, when you love someone deeply and tell them, they tell you — and mean it — that they love you just as much back.

A big part of honoring your feelings is being able to first look at them and recognize them yourself. So, take a good look at them, even if they’re not so realistic. If you have a good idea of what they are, in a given situation or in general, you’re in a better place to honor them, to see how they may or may not be creating obstacles, to get a good idea of what you really want and need so you’ll be able to recognize when those needs can be met and when they can’t.

And while we’re at it, don’t talk yourself into a situation that isn’t really right for you, especially when it comes to casual sex. That isn’t to say that casual sex can’t be okay for some people sometimes, because it can. But much of the time here at the Scarleteen community, we see people clearly talking themselves into believing they’re okay with no-strings-attached or friends-with-benefits scenarios when they truly want more than that, but have convinced themselves to settle for less because they feel it’s better than nothing, or think that sex with someone casually will make that other person develop romantic feelings after all. Bzzzt. What you don’t want isn’t better than waiting for what you do want, and sex can’t change anyone’s real feelings. To boot, saying you’re okay with casual sex to a partner suggesting it when you know you aren’t in your gut makes YOU the bad guy for being manipulative and dishonest, not them for wanting less than you do.

Don’t try and use sexual identity as your whole identity

Part of our development in our teens and twenties is seeking out and discovering our self-identity. It’s why it’s not uncommon for teens to be very enthusiastic about something one month that’s completely forgotten the next. A little embarrassing when we have to backpedal sometimes, but it’s all normal, and we’ve all been through it (some of us way more times than we’d care to admit).

So, it’s also not unusual to do the same with sexual identity.

Sexual identity, is, by its nature, somewhat fluid. While some portions of our sexuality are at least somewhat fixed, like our sexual orientation (whether we’re attracted to men, women or both/all gender), parts of our gender identity as well as some of our preferences, many aspects of our sexual identity will develop and shift all through our lives. So, while your sexual identity is an integral part of who you are, there’s never any hurry to claim or label it, nor is it a good idea to make your current sexual identity your whole identity — because when it shifts and evolves — and it always will — you may find yourself feeling utterly lost in terms of knowing who you are. As well, sex is only part of our lives. If every part of us is completely wrapped up in it, we’re likely to miss out on other equally enriching and fulfilling parts of our lives.

Who are you, besides so-and-so’s girlfriend/boyfriend or Jane or John, queer or straight person? Jot it down, and make note of what accompanying activities you engage in to support all those other aspects of your identity. Are you a musician? If so, how much time are you getting to play and practice? Are you a good friend? Spent much time with yours lately? Are there aspects of your identity that keep getting shoved on the back shelf, even if you would really like to explore them? Look at your time during the week, and carve out some for those parts. Sex is great, and having a partner equally great, but if we aren’t more than our sex lives or sexual identity, not only are those aspects of our lives going to peter out fast, the rest of our lives are going to seriously suffer for that.

Become a sexpert!

Obviously, no one needed a book to figure out how to put Tab A into Slot B when it came to sex. If they had, none of us would be here today, because our eldest ancestors certainly didn’t have The Joy of Sex hidden under a straw pallet in the back of the cave. While there are some things we don’t need books or media for — and some it’s best we learn on our own anyway, like discovering what a partner finds pleasure in — there are others we do. We live in a different world than our hunting and gathering forebears. We have longer lifespans, different and more complex health issues, we choose not to procreate, we have factors in our lives and culture that make our relationships more complex. As well, we simply know things now we didn’t back when that really can benefit us, like understanding how our reproductive cycles really work, how disease or infection may be spread, like that our sexual or gender identity doesn’t have to be what is prescribed for us.

So, dig in and educate yourself! Hit the library or the net and read up on your body, the body of your partner if they’re opposite sex, on safer sex practices and disease and infection news, on birth control options. Fill your mind with material to help you start to evaluate things like orientation and gender identity, the quality of your relationships, and your own wants and needs when it comes to sex and sexual partnership.

Do yourself a favor, though, and be selective with that media. Look for sources that offer you real information, not salacious tips on how to bring someone else to orgasm or how to achieve firmer breasts. On websites and with books, look for mentions or endorsements by credible organizations or resources in sexuality and sexual health. We get enough garbage and misinformation on sex from television, movies and popular magazines as it is — none of us needs any more of that gump.

It truly is best to educate yourself about sex and sexuality BEFORE you leap in headlong, especially with a partner or partners. All too often, people only start educating themselves during or after a crisis (such as a pregnancy scare, an acquired STI, or being physically or emotionally hurt during sex), and while late is always better than never, in advance is always better than after the fact.

Most of all…

… don’t forget that sex and sexuality are supposed to be pleasurable and bring you joy and richness. So many of the messages sent out to young people are about the dangers of sex or dating, are about saying no to sex based on very general and arbitrary ethics that may not be your own, and make sex out to be the Big Bad, when really, it doesn’t have to be. If you aren’t ready for sexual partnership, then no, sexual partnership isn’t going to be right for you right now. But even if you try something out and discover it isn’t, it’s unlikely to cause you lifelong trauma. We all err sometimes; we learn, we move on. We’re an adaptable species like that.

Your sexuality is yours to have, explore and enjoy even all by yourself, and yours to share with partners, when and if you’re ready and willing to do that. When you respect it and you, it’s a wonderful part of who you are, one that has the power to enrich your life and make you feel physically and emotionally great. And it can be great responsibly and healthfully: a lot of the time, we plop sex and adventure into the same pile, and assume that for sex to feel great, it has to be risky or we have to feel “naughty” doing it, and that just isn’t the case. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that if our culture could ditch a lot of the taboo and shameful attitudes it has about sex, the whole lot of us would be a much healthier people, physically and emotionally.

So, if you’re engaged in sex in any way that makes you feel bad, stop and look at that. Sometimes, sex can be disappointing, either alone or with partners, that happens the same way any aspect of life can be disappointing or just plain lame. But if that’s the case continually, it’s time for a change, be that by splitting from a partner, pulling back on something you’re doing or asking for things you want but aren’t getting, taking better care of your sexual health or spending more time getting to know your own body, reevaluating your sexual identity or taking a break from sex altogether for a while. If you can’t feel or experience the joy of sex, then it’s just not worth doing. And when you can? Let yourself enjoy it. That’s what it’s there for.

To sum up?

1. Be your own your first partner, before anyone else.
2. Learn to talk openly about sex.
3. Be honest. For real.
4. Ditch the drama. Save it for the movies.
5. Use and trust your own best judgment.
6. Respect your body and yourself.
7. Honor your feelings, even when it’s a bummer.
8. Be your whole self, not just your sexual self.
9. Further your sexual education.
10. Enjoy yourself and your sexuality.

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

Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Love Condoms

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The rate of STI infection among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is exceptionally high and this can be owed primarily to young people either not using condoms or other barriers, or failing to use them properly. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and support for young people, is here with 10 reasons to  love condoms- reasons many of us never considered before.

This article is meant to help you understand the effects of inconsistent and unassertive condom use, and provide you with ten insightful reasons to use protection correctly, every time.

Here are the main points:

  • Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.
  • Proper condom use decreases transmission risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.
  • Issues like maturity, pleasure and communication all have an impact on one’s level of confidence using condoms.

View the original article here

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

lovegloveAt the present time, the United States now rules when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And not in a Whoohoo, go USA! kind of way. You’ve probably also heard that the rate of sexually transmitted infections in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.

Figuring out why isn’t tricky for those who work in sexual health. Some people will say this is because teens are having more sex than ever (not true: you’re having less sex than teens a generation or two before you did), or because people are having sex outside marriage (a fine fairy tale for those who don’t see lab results for STIs among some married people or who don’t know about the history of STIs). But those of us who work in direct care know why STI rates are so high and why they’re so disproportionate in young people right now.

It’s primarily because so many young people — and namely those in the 18-24 group, as younger teens are often better with condom use than people of any other age group — are not using latex or polyurethane condoms and other barriers to protect themselves and their partners, or are not using them correctly and consistently. As someone who talks with people every day about their sexual behavior, and who also tracks young people’s sexual behavior and health over time, I know this all too well. We observe users who come to Scarleteen and see that those who have not used latex barriers at all or consistently are overwhelmingly the same users who eventually come to report an STI. Sure, every now and then we do hear from a user who always used condoms properly and who still got an STI. But that happens about as often as I find a $5 bill on the sidewalk.

There are other reasons the STI rate is so high in younger people. Cervical cell development of younger women isn’t complete, making the cervix more prone to infection. People in your age group often tend to have more sexual partners and shorter relationships than older people. The overall rate of STIs is higher than it used to be, making it easier to land one. But we know that the main reason is that overwhelmingly, many people in your age group are either not using latex barriers at all, or are not using them all the time, every time, correctly. While many older adults aren’t much better with condom use, it does matter more what you do because two thirds of all individuals who acquire STIs are younger than 25 years old.

It’s not complicated: most people who acquire a sexually transmitted infection are simply not using condoms or are not using them every time and properly.

A report from Child Trends DataBank in October of 2008 (based on data from the CDC) found “53 percent of teen boys say they don’t always use a condom. Among girls, about two-thirds say a condom isn’t always used. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy are major health consequences associated with unprotected sexual activity. Although a similar percentage of teens are sexually active in the United States as in western European countries, the U.S. has much higher teen pregnancy and STI rates than does Western Europe. This is due to lower consistency and effectiveness of contraceptive use in the U.S.” They add that “Condom use is higher among younger students than it is among older students. In 2007, 69 percent of sexually active ninth grade students, compared with 62 percent of eleventh graders and 54 percent of twelfth graders, used condoms. Part of this drop is due to higher levels of use of other forms of birth control among older students, although it is still a cause for concern since condoms are the only form of effective control against STIs for those who are sexually active.”

Condoms work very well at reducing STI transmission: According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%. The 2000 NIH review concluded that condom use significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea for men. A 2006 study reports that proper condom use decreases the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.

You can read more about STIs all over Scarleteen, like here and here and here and… you get the picture. But you probably already know why you should use condoms. Our users generally report higher use of condoms than the overall demographic, so maybe you don’t even need to read what I’m about to say. But you’ve probably also heard or thought some things about condoms that might be keeping you or others from using them or from using them consistently, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard everything I’m about to say. Even if you’re already using condoms and using them every single time properly, I bet you know someone — a sibling, a friend, maybe even a sexual partner — who could stand to hear some of this. So, why use condoms and other barriers?

In a nutshell:

1. Because it can help you to get closer
2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think.
3. Because chances are good that eventually, you’re going to either have to use condoms or knowingly be putting partners or yourself at a high risk of infection.
4. Because it pays it forward.
5. Because it feels good.
6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.
7. Because it can keep you from proving people right who say you don’t have the maturity or the ability to have sex responsibly.
8. Because if you’re male, you can help to show men are better than the lowest common denominator.
9. Because being unassertive really isn’t sexy.
10. Because I love you.
For more details on all of these points, keep reading.

1. Because it helps you get closer

I know: I’ve heard some people say that condoms and other barriers keep people from getting close, too. But the folks I hear say that rarely seem to be the folks whose relationships are all that close or intimate. The people I hear from who DON’T say that about condoms, and who practice safer sex in their relationships seem to be the ones getting closer and feeling closer to each other.

Avoiding potentially sticky or difficult conversations doesn’t bring us closer: it keeps us apart. Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you and yours. Having to discuss sexual anatomy, sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together. Talking about these things together, working through any misunderstandings or emotional issues around them and having something that adds extra communication to any sex you’re having are all the kinds of things that nurture closeness and real intimacy. Silence doesn’t bring people closer: communication does.

A lot of what we hear young people say about not using condoms has to do with one or both partners finding it hard to assert themselves, or being worried about a negative reaction: that’s not about closeness. Even more troubling is a conversation about condoms that starts with “I don’t want to use them because I want to be close,” and often leads to a bigger discussion in which what comes out is, “I’m scared to ask him to wear a condom.”

Being outright afraid to ask someone to do something to help safeguard the health of you both shows a serious LACK of getting close (or a desire to avoid getting close enough to find out if someone is or isn’t the person you currently think they are or hope them to be). We can’t say we and someone else are very close and at the same time say we feel scared of, with or around them. When we’re earnestly close to someone, we feel able to say or ask things when we don’t know if we’re going to get a positive response. If we want a close relationship, we have to not only say or bring up the things we know they’ll like hearing, or have a positive reaction to, but the things when we’re not so sure they’ll like or which we know are loaded, but that we need to say and talk about for our well-being and health and the quality of our relationship.

2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think

I’ve been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they’re “not into condoms” with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life for… well, a whole lotta nothing much.

Why I’m having déjà vu is because I’m old enough to remember when some gay guys were all about that. I remember seeing how many of them died and were part of others dying because of it, as well as how many of the men who barebacked only because they didn’t know what we and you know now about how to protect ourselves died from barebacking. That trend in the gay community was not only lethal, it also resulted in those who were the least responsible defining a whole group of people culturally in a very negative way that is still strongly harming the GLBT community. It hurt all of us, not just the people it hurt directly.

On top of risking your life and health, any social status you might get from being the girl who’ll take big risks other girls don’t is likely to be temporary, and will also change very radically when you go from “That hottie who doesn’t make guys use condoms,” to “That [insert derogatory term for women of your choice here] who gave everyone Chlamydia.”

Not a pretty thing to say, I know. But it is what tends to wind up happening in the real world. The tide turns very quickly on girls who are sexually active PERIOD in our culture, even responsibly, but all the more so for those who aren’t responsible in their sexual behavior. I don’t like that or the misogyny it’s based in, as guys are rarely treated or talked about like that, but it’s out there. It’s tenuous enough to be a sexually active young woman, but when things go amiss and you do wind up with and spread an STI, it’s usually going to be framed as being YOUR doing, not the doing of everyone or anyone else who had sex with you and made their choice not to use condoms, too. Those are strongly sexist double standards, but they are out there and they can really hurt when directed at you, especially if you have to suffer in silence alone, knowing part of that result had to do with your own choices and actions.

From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it’s worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others `to treat us without real care. Lack of self-care and solid self-esteem can’t coexist. If we have good self-esteem, we see ourselves as valuable and worthy of care. If your esteem isn’t so great, and you want it to be better, then insisting others treat us you care is one way to improve it: accepting or advertising yourself as open to being treated like a throwaway is a way to make sure your esteem gets even lower.

3. Because you are likely to end up with an STI if you do not use condoms and other barriers consistently and correctly

If you have sex with others without using condoms or other barriers correctly and consistently, you are likely to wind up with an infection at some point. And if you and your partner(s) don’t also get tested regularly, you — like most people with an STI — won’t even know you have one that you’re spreading around.

When we have users who interact with us at the boards talking about how they’re not using condoms, it’s a bit like being able to see into the future. Because inevitably, someone like that who sticks to that habit of going without will eventually post about an STI they wound up with within a few years, if not sooner.

A lot of people have a false sense of security based on not having gotten an STI yet. Mind, some of those people haven’t been tested to know their status, but some have. If you go without condoms or other latex barriers for a few months or a few years and didn’t get an STI, it can be easy to believe that not using condoms is going to work out fine for you. But because we don’t wind up with an infection in a month or a year or two of not using barriers doesn’t mean we won’t in time. The studies and statistics on STIs also tend to reflect that very clearly. The highest STI rates in young adults usually aren’t in the youngest sexually active teens: the group with the highest rates is usually those 18 and over who have often been sexually active for a year or two already.

And of course, if and when your luck runs out and you get an STI, especially if it’s one you can’t get treated and which is then out of your system via that treatment, you will then either need to use condoms or be purposefully putting others at risk (and yourself at risk of infections you didn’t get yet).

It’s a lot easier to establish your sex life in the habit of using safer sex practices than it is to add them later. If you start using condoms (and getting tested) early in your sex life, continuing to do so is a no-brainer. You get to be an ace at using barriers sooner, get to learn how to have conversations about safer sex as you’re learning to have all kinds of conversations about sex, and the more you do it and the sooner you start, the tougher it gets to space out safer sex, and the less and less it seems like any big deal. When it’s a solid habit, you just reach for that condom instinctively. And when you reach for it like that? Partners tend to react just as instinctively and just put it on with no fuss.

Most people will need to use condoms at some point to avoid infections. If you’re going to need to eventually anyway, why put it off, especially during the time in your life when you’re at the highest risk of infections and most likely to get one?

4. Because it pays to go forward

Younger people are particularly prone to monkey-see/monkey-do. In other words, if you and yours don’t use condoms, your friends are also less likely to. And then so are their friends. And theirs. And all young people.

Using condoms not only protects your health, it protects and can improve our global health. If you don’t get and spread an STI, you’re part of the solution to the problem: you, all by yourself, literally can help improve the public health just by not getting sick. Sexually transmitted infections impact our public health deeply. While many are easy to treat (once you get tested to know you have one, that is), and many won’t impact the individual health of most who get them, we’re not all at the same level of health nor do we all have the same level of access to healthcare and treatment. Some STIs that are no-big to most of us can be life-threatening to others because of preexisting conditions or suppressed immune systems. You might be able to get something treated easily because you have health insurance, but someone who winds up with an STI from your now-ex you gave one to might not have those same resources.

One thing I’ve always liked about using condoms is that I not only get to know I’m caring for my health and that of my partners, but that I am caring for your health, her health, his health and everyone’s health. Using condoms is one way I can to care for the whole planet while at the same time caring for myself. And that’s pretty awesome to be able to do with just a little piece of latex and an orgasm.

5. Because it feels good

Say what? You thought condoms made things feel less good, right? Actually some studies (Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use, Mary E. Randolph, Steven D. Pinkerton, Laura M. Bogart, Heather Cecil, and Paul R. Abramson) find that those who report that are often those who do not use condoms, haven’t in a while or who don’t use them often. They have also found that men believe this is so (even without any actual experience) more than women do, and that belief influences men’s experiences with condoms and whether or not men will use condoms. While yes, many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, overall, people who use condoms and are used to using them tend to report experiencing greater pleasure with protected sex than those who often go without protection. In other words, people who use condoms often — most likely because they have better attitudes walking in the door, and because they learn what condoms they like and how to use them well — don’t really express that using condoms decreases their overall pleasure or satisfaction. The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s the people who don’t use them at all who tend to complain about them the most.

Even for males who report a difference in pleasure between condom and no condom, though, the differential is pretty minor between them and those who don’t report a difference. And in studies on women, there’s most often no real difference in sensation reported at all. Physically — when we’re talking only about physical sensation — for most men, condoms slightly decrease sensation. For women, that’s rare, which isn’t a shocker since unlike the clitoris, the vagina has few sensory nerve endings. The vagina tends to feel pressure, but not fine sensations, like the diff between a condom and bare skin. Mind, for some men, that decrease can be a bonus: for those who are looking to keep an erection around for longer, a decrease in sensation and the pressure a condom puts at the base of the penis can extend erection time for some men.

People who say they “can’t feel anything” with a condom on are either a) being dishonest or b) not using condoms properly. While a lot of people are dishonest, a lot of people also don’t know how to use condoms properly and what can help with pleasure. For instance, thinner condoms are just as safe as thicker ones. There are more condom types than what your average drugstore carries, and some kinds of condoms have all kinds of neat stuff going on to help increase pleasure, like extra headroom, textured dots on the inside, the works. Putting a few drops of lube inside the condom before it goes on as well as some lube outside the condom makes a big difference with sensation and can make sex feel better, full-stop. Having a partner put on a condom for you as part of the sex you’re having — rather than as an interruption — is something a lot of people find enjoyable and sexy.

How something makes us feel with sex is also bigger than physics. A Kinsey Institute study in 2008 (Relationships between condoms, hormonal methods, and sexual pleasure and satisfaction: an exploratory analysis from the Women’s Well-Being and Sexuality Study, Jenny A. Higgins, Susie Hoffman, Cynthia A. Graham and Stephanie A. Sanders, Sexual Health, Volume 5, Number 4) found that women who use both hormonal contraception (for those with male partners who need it) and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction than women who go without condoms or only use a hormonal method of birth control. In that study, women who used hormonal methods alone were least likely to report decreased pleasure, but they also had the lowest overall scores of sexual satisfaction compared with condom users. What does that mean? That pleasure as a whole is more than just mechanics or vaginal/penile sensation.

Sex is about our whole bodies, as well as other parts of our genitals than a condom touches and it’s also about how we feel emotionally and intellectually and how sex is part of our whole relationships and our whole lives. It feels good to know you’re taking care of yourself and others, and to have a partner give a hoot about your health and peace of mind. It feels good to have the self-esteem and the confidence to stand up for ourselves and what we need to stay healthy, and to only be in relationships where caring for ourselves is in alignment with what a partner wants: if that’s at odds with what they want, we can’t possibly expect to have a healthy, happy relationship with that person.

It feels good to approach partnered sex smartly and soundly. Knowing we’ll be protected well before sex even starts is going to incline us to be more interested in having sex in the first place. When we know our risks of infections are highly reduced, it’s much easier to relax before, during and after sex, and being able to relax more means our sexual response systems work better so we can get more sexually aroused and enjoy sex more. Worry and anxiety inhibits sexual response and limits pleasure.

6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.

Let’s tell the truth right now. You don’t want to risk getting an infection. You don’t want to feel like you can’t ask to be cared for and treated with care with anyone you’re sexually intimate with. You don’t want to argue about condoms when you want to be sexual. You don’t want to be with someone even casually who cares more about getting themselves off than if they make you really sick in the process of doing it. You don’t want to have a sex life where it’s not okay to press pause for a sec for any reason, whether that’s about a condom being put on or adjusting to find a position that feels best. You don’t want to have to risk your health to prove your love to someone else.

There are some fictions that avoiding safety behaviors like condom use holds up, like the lie that sex should be all about either what pleases men, first and foremost, or about men calling all the shots, just because they can. Again, we’re dropping denial here: many guys who say they can’t get off with condoms are not telling the truth. Some haven’t even used condoms, and are just saying what they think they’re supposed to or because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re newbies with condoms, but some are outright lying. They have used condoms before and gotten off just fine, and they haven’t refused to use them with other partners who they know won’t have sex with them without a condom. And some, when they say they can’t get off with condoms mean something else: that what they get off on is seeing if you’ll sacrifice your health and life just to get them off. Not only does anyone want to avoid having sex without a condom with a partner like that, you don’t want to sleep with someone like that, period. Heck, you probably are safest just staying off their block.

Many people still believe the propaganda that there are microscopic holes in condoms that pathogens can get through easily: but that isn’t true, and we have always had every evidence that wasn’t so. Some people have the idea that people only use condoms with partners they feel or think are “dirty,” with sex workers, or for extramarital affairs. But in fact, even many married couples use condoms: according to a Population Reference Bureau survey in 2008, in developed countries condoms are the most popular method of birth control: around 28% of married people use condoms.

Another whopper? Only “promiscuous” people get STIs. I put that in quotes because we don’t ever know what that term means. To one person, that means 300 partners, to another, 20, to another, anything more than one. Many people get an STI from just a first or second partner, and some people who have had 50 or even 100 partners have never had an STI. Plenty of unmarried people have never had an STI, while plenty of married people have: one of the first big waves of sexually transmitted infections here in the states after WWI was among marrieds. ALL kinds of people get STIs. The idea that no one can or is likely to get an STI through first-time sex, or sex with a first partner reminds me of the idea my mother’s generation had that no one could get pregnant with first-time intercourse. It’s understandable given how much cultural messaging cultivates this idea, but it’s also just not true. People of all stripes get STIs every day: good people and not-so-good people. People of all colors and genders and orientations. People who grew up on this side of the tracks and people who grew up on that one. People who have had five or twenty partners and people who have had but one.

Then there’s the fiction that it’s not young people, or people who with their first or second partnership have to worry about STIs, but older people. You already saw the stats about who has the highest rate of STIs, so we’ve hopefully shredded that myth already. How about the one that says only gay men need to worry about STIs? Nope: the highest rates of STIs are in young, heterosexual women. Even HIV, once ignorantly called “the gay plague,” is more likely to be transmitted via heterosexual partnerships than homosexual ones, and worldwide, heterosexual women account for around half of all cases of HIV: 98% of which are in developed nations like the U.S.

Let’s not forget the one about how as long as people love and trust each other, or as long as people are lucky, no one is going to get sick; that STI transmission is all about luck or love or trust and not about something much more tangible and less arbitrary.

We can love someone all we want, but there are some things we can’t control — like how many of us are exposed to STIs via rape before we ever chose to have consensual sex, like how often partners — even in otherwise loving relationships — are dishonest or unfaithful, like how many people have already had sexual partners before they met a person they want to spend a life with. It’s important that we don’t base our ideas about STIs on a minority group or an unrealistic or unattainable ideal.

Viruses and bacteria don’t care who loves who or who trusts who. If we’re exposed to the genitals or fluids of others, we’re potentially exposed to STIs. If we reduce that exposure either by not having genital sex or by using latex barriers when we do, we’re much less exposed. If we go without, we’re wide open to this stuff, just like we are when someone coughs in our face. If your partner has a cold, we may get it whether they love us or not. If our partner has Chlamydia, we may get it whether they love us or not.

If we can’t be truthful in our sexual lives about our sexual health and about how we want support from partners in staying healthy, we’re unlikely to be able to tell the much harder truths that are part of a great sex life: like to talk about what we like, what we fantasize about, what we’re afraid of, what we’re feeling emotionally, what we don’t like. If we can’t say no to sex without condoms, we also are unlikely to be able to say no to sex we don’t want, full-stop. Asking someone to put on a condom is one of the easier things to ask for in our sex lives. If we can do that, asking for the other stuff also gets easier. The more truthful we can be about all aspects of our sexuality, including things like STIs and condoms, the better our sex lives are, both when it comes to our health and also when it comes to our sexual satisfaction.

7. Because it can keep you from providing people right who say you don’t have the maturity or ability to have sex responsibly.

Abstinence-only initiatives, for instance, get away with what they do in part because some of the things they say are true. Some young people really don’t — they say can’t, and in certain numbers, it sure starts to look like a can’t — make smart choices with sex, even when they know better. If you read any newspapers or listen to any news, you know that the standard way teen and young adult sex gets presented is as a giant public health problem and a big, scary panic. When you face discrimination about your age and sexuality, that has a lot to do with that presentation.

Some of why it’s presented and interpreted that way is because it is that way: not because young people are having sex, but because so many are without using safer sex and contraception. Right now, and over the last ten years, as a generation your sex life really is becoming a serious public health problem, primarily because you have not been using condoms, or using condoms consistently and correctly.

Do you really want to prove those folks right? Really? Do you want to be the person or group of people who they can use as evidence to show that people in their teens and twenties should be treated like children? I sure wouldn’t want to help anyone disrespecting me to be able to keep on doing it, and doing it with evidence I’m handing right over to them wrapped in a bow. As a youth advocate, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to argue that despite the way some youth behave, I know in my guts that you are all capable of handling your sexuality with care and maturity. It’s so frustrating, because I really do know that you are that capable: I see plenty of young people doing a better job with their sexuality than plenty of older adults are, but what I see and know is continually overshadowed by those who don’t have sex with care and caution and the reality of the level of STIs in your age group. Yep: I admit, I am asking you to use condoms to help make my job of advocating for you easier on me.

Perhaps your competitive spirit might also get riled by knowing my generation did a better job than yours with condom use. From that same AAP report I linked to earlier: “Among sexually active adolescent males 17 to 19 years old living in metropolitan areas, reported condom use at last intercourse increased from 21% in 1979 to 58% in 1988. Reported condom use at first intercourse among adolescent women 15 to 19 years old increased from 23% in 1982 to 47% in 1988. Data from the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males indicate that these increases continued, with reported condom use at last intercourse among 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from 57% in 1988 to 67% in 1995. The CDC data indicate increases in reported condom use at last intercourse from 38% to 51% among females and from 56% to 63% among males for those in grades 9 through 12 between 1991 and 1997.”

What about after the mid-to-late nineties? By 2003 (when we were still around that 73%), those increases in condom use started to come to a standstill then backpedal. Current data shows that “only 45% of adolescent males report condom use for every act of intercourse and that condom use actually decreases with age when comparing males 15 to 17 years old with males 18 to 19 years old. Also, females report less frequent use of condoms during intercourse than males, presumably because many adolescent females are sexually active with older partners. Rates of pregnancies and STDs in females are unlikely to decrease beyond current levels unless condom use by adolescents and young adults continues to increase significantly in the years ahead. Condom use by one half to two thirds of adolescents is not sufficient to significantly decrease rates of unintended pregnancy and acquisition of STDs.”

8. Because if you’re male, you can help show men are better than the lowest common denominator.

In a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 U.S. men interviewed about condoms, the most frequently cited negative reactions were: reduces sensation, requires being careful to avoid breakage, requires withdrawing quickly, embarrassing to buy, difficult to put on, often comes off during sex, embarrassing to discard, shows you think partner has AIDS, and makes partner think you have AIDS.

Let’s briefly deconstruct these:

  • Gander, meet goose. If we’re going to talk about condoms changing how sex feels, we need to remember that something like the pill does too, and, unlike condoms, it changes how a woman feels all the time, both during and outside of sex. And as someone who has had a barrier over a much more sensitive part than a penis (the clitoris) and has also used hormonal medication can tell you (and that’s on top of knowing the data I do as a sex educator) a latex barrier, when used properly doesn’t change sensations more than most methods do for women. Other methods of contraception can cause pain and cramping, unpredictable bleeding, urinary tract infections, depression and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. Condoms are the LEAST intrusive and demanding of all methods of contraception, even though some guys talk about them — without considering this perspective — like they’re the most. If guys could feel what life can be like on the pill, use a cervical barrier or get a Depo shot, they’d easily see condoms for the cakewalk they are.
  • You have to be no more careful to avoid condom breakage than you have to be careful with someone’s body during sex. If you’re engaged with someone’s genitals and treating them the way they need to be treated to avoid pain or injury, you’re already being just as careful as you need to be with condoms. And if you’re not treating someone else’s body with care overall, you need to step it up and start doing that anyway.
  • You also always have the option of putting a new condom on and going back inside the vagina if that’s what the both of you want.
  • Condoms are no more embarrassing to buy than tampons: at least someone thinks you’re about to get lucky. For that matter, they’re not more embarrassing to buy than the magazines some of you read. And as you grow older, your “embarrassing purchases” list will increase, anyway: from Rogaine to hemorrhoid cream, denture cleaner to adult diapers, condoms are hardly the only thing you’ll need to purchase in public sometimes you really wish you could buy privately. Welcome to adult life, folks. That said, you always have the option of buying condoms online if you want.
  • They’re only difficult to put on if you don’t learn how. Practice makes perfect.
  • They don’t come off often during sex unless you’re not putting them on properly, not adding lube when you need to (and when your partner would then likely need you to as well for them to still have sex feel good) and when you’re using a condom that isn’t too big or too small for you.
  • Again, if tossing a condom in the trash is embarrassing, how about tampons, the medication you’re taking for Gonorrhea or a dirty diaper?
  • Condom use does not say you think someone has AIDS. What it says to a smart partner is that you have a head on your shoulders, you care about them, and that you have the maturity to recognize that they shouldn’t carry the responsibilities of sex all by themselves.

While some of these attitudes come from guys who are simply uninformed or misinformed, for those who know better or should, some of this stuff is just plain foolish. And THAT’s embarrassing, no? Male attitudes about condoms have more influence on whether or not condoms get used than female attitudes do. That’s because a) women’s attitudes tend to be better, b) men as a class still have more power than women (and men influence other men more than women do), and c) you’re most often the ones wearing them or the ones who make a fuss about wearing them.

9. And if you’re all hung up on what’s sexy…

Being open about all parts of sex, not just about what you might do to someone to get them off, is sexy in most people’s books. Being all ooh-ahh about giving a blow job or going down on someone, but then recoiling like a kid with mushy peas on their dinner plate about condoms doesn’t tend to be a turn on for a lot of people. For some — including the person with that response themselves — it can be a pretty serious turn OFF. I’m older than our readers, but speaking for myself, when someone reacts that way when I pull out a condom (and they rarely do), I’m just done. It feels seriously uncomfortable, like I was about to be sexual with someone who isn’t really ready for all of sex; like I was about to be with someone who is emotionally and intellectually many steps behind me. That’s not sexy to me at all: it sends a very clear message to my brain — the organ that drives most of our sexuality — that turns all of my turn-on signals into turn-off signals in two seconds flat.

Assertiveness is sexy: look at who you and the world as a whole tends to find sexy and that’s obvious. Being confident about caring for yourself and the firm belief and insistence anyone else you are sexual with must treat you with that same respect and care is sexy. Caring about yourself and your health, and caring about the health of others is sexy. Having limits and boundaries you don’t let anyone else trample on is sexy. Coming to, addressing and responding to the things that keep everyone as safe as possible during sex is sexy. Being confident in yourself and someone else that they’ve got some real maturity and smarts when it comes to sex is sexy. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing UNsexy about handing someone a condom or a dental dam that you’re giving them as a way of cementing a great, big, wholehearted “yes” to you two being sexual together. What could be unsexy about that?

Sexy is as sexy does. There is no one way to be sexy, no matter what anyone says. Being sexy is about how you feel sexy and sexual, and how you project those feelings to others when you’re feeling them. So, for sure, if when it comes to safer sex you are a shrinking violet, that’s probably not very sexy. But if you pull out or put on a condom with confidence and a smile, and if you get it in your head firmly that this is sexy, then it’s likely to be perceived as sexy. If you feel sexy in it, and it’s sexy to you, it’s going to be to someone else. To everyone else? Probably not, especially since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is sexy to absolutely everyone. But.

People who claim their own sexuality in a real way and feel confident in it, which includes taking care of themselves and insisting on the same from others, tend to be the people who both express feeling the most sexy and who others perceive as sexy.

10. Because I love you.

I’d hope that at this stage of my career as an educator, it’s obvious that the primary reason I do what I do is simply out of love for all of you. The benefits are nonexistent, the pay blows chunks and sometimes I have to take a whole lot of crap from people who think I’m Satan incarnate for helping you out with sexuality: if I didn’t love you and think that a good way for me to express that was by doing what I could to help you take care of yourself and have a healthy, happy sexuality, I wouldn’t do this job at all.

Getting an STI is rarely the end of the world. While a couple are literally deadly serious, most are treatable and most will not have that great an impact on your life if you find out you have one early and get treated. But I don’t want you to be sick if you can avoid it. If it can be avoided, I don’t want you to have to deal with the negative feelings around an STI that are tough to avoid in a world that really stigmatizes STIs and the people who have them. I don’t want you to have to get extra pap smears, to have to endlessly experiment with new drugs for HIV or to have to tell a potential partner you have a genital herpes outbreak. I’ll support you if you do, and know that I don’t think anything different about you than I think about someone who has the flu or leukemia, but whatever I can do to help prevent it in the first place is something I want to do.

I know that if you just don’t have sex that you are even less likely to get an STI than if you use condoms. But I don’t just tell you not to have sex because a) I know that most people, once they are into or past puberty, will have and want a sexual life with partners, b) I think that sexuality is part of who we are and can be a great part of our lives and c) I know that you can reduce your risks of unwanted consequences very well and still be sexual when that’s what you want. I also know that a truly great sex life includes protecting yourself and others as best you can from negative or unwanted consequences of sex.

I know from my work and my own sexual life how much more enjoyable and less stressful sex is when you’re safe and smart about it. Not having to worry about the complications of an infection, about giving an infection to someone else, or about taking huge risks with infection is nice: it’s much less stressful than the alternative. It’s often amazing to me, as someone who has had more sexual partners than most of you ever will given generational differences, to talk with many of you who are terrified about the risks you’ve taken after the fact within sexual lifestyles and scenarios that are comparatively more conservative than mine have been, but far less safe as far as protecting your sexual health goes. I don’t panic after sex, and that’s not because I have some secret or don’t care about the bad stuff that can happen: I don’t panic because I know I can keep myself very safe and still have the sex I want to, and I have more than two decades of doing so to look back on and see how well that’s worked. I can see the same with the people I work with as users or clients in my sexual health work.

When it comes to sexuality, here’s what I want for the people I love: I want it to be great for them and anyone they are sexual with. I want them to feel good about their sexual lives, not scared, freaked out, panicked or upset. I want them to stay healthy. I want them to feel empowered by their sexual choices, whatever they are. And I’m not sure how all of that can happen if and when anyone is taking unnecessary risks or avoiding asking for, and insisting on, sexual partners treating them with care, which certainly includes not exposing them to illness when that can be avoided. Because I love you, if and when you want a sex life with others, I want you to have one that is wonderful and enjoyable, but also as safe as it can be so that it can keep ON being wonderful and enjoyable.

I love you, so I want you to use condoms and other barriers if you’re going to be sexually active, and to chillax with the genital sex that presents possible STI risks if you can’t. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Safer Sex Wrap Up

Safer sex is a group of practices of which condom/latex barrier use is one part. The standard guidelines for safer sex suggested by public health agencies are that any two (or more) people who are new partners use condoms or other latex barriers for all vaginal, anal and/or oral sex for at least six months, and then only ditch them (if you want to) AFTER each has had a new round of testing for all STIs with negative results AND those two people have been sexually exclusive for six months.

If you and/or a partner didn’t have previous sexual partners for ANY genital sex of any kind or it’s been longer than those six months since either or both of you did, then if you get tested straightaway w/negative results if you had no partners or tested when it’s been more than six months since a previous partner, then your risks are already very low. That doesn’t mean after all that you’ll have NO risks: rather, it means that so long as you both stay sexually exclusive afterward, at that point, your risks are likely very minimal.

To completely eliminate our risks of STIs, we need to not have sex. With anyone. Ever. We’d need to avoid the nonsexual behaviors that can transmit some infections, like IV drug use. We’d also need to avoid sharing towels and linens, kissing our aunt Mabel who has the cold sores sometimes, and a whole bunch of other things very few of us who live outside a hermetically-sealed bubble will be able to avoid.

If you want to see the safer sex guidelines other sound sexual health organizations advise, here are a few for you to peek at:

Very few people will not have sex with anyone in a lifetime: most young adults will also have at least one sexual partner before their 20’s. If we’re going to be sexual with partners, to reduce our risks and make oral, vaginal and/or anal sex safer we need to use latex barriers, get tested (and treated if we have any infections) and limit our number of sexual partners. Doing just one of any of those things can help some, but it’s all three of those together that public health agencies make clear have been shown to be most effective.

We have much bigger piece on safer sex here. You can also find out about how to use condoms properly here, and find out what all your options are with condoms here. Have questions? Come on over to our message boards and we’re glad to talk things over with you.

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.

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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

 

How to Tell a Sex Partner I Have an STD

Photographer Caralin Walsh

Photographer Caralin Walsh

A prerequisite to loving, healthy sexual partnership is trust and honesty. Thus, it is important for you and your sex partner to talk about your STI history and status (if one of you don’t know your status, why not get tested together?).

Initiating disclosure can feel worrisome. How can you avoid rejection? Jenelle Marie of The STD Project offers her approach and shares experiences from others.

There are effective ways to disclose. Here are main aspects of Jenelle’s approach:

  • Do it face-to-face.
  • Honest information is key. Share the facts and contextualize them with a positive attitude.
  • Give the other person time to digest the information.
  • The person’s decision to end the relationship due to an STI is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

The original article was published here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

So, you have an STD.

You might even being learning to live with yourself by now (you certainly should be, but I know this takes oodles and oodles of time) and you might have finally resolved to regard the experience as a phenomenal learning opportunity – one you wish you wouldn’t have had to learn first hand, sure, but a learning opportunity nonetheless.

Consequently, you’ve started to date! Cheers!

Or maybe someone came on to you while you were dutifully trying to swear off relationships for the rest of your life?!?!

Either way, the time has come to have ‘the talk’. NO ONE wants to have the talk with anyone EVER, but you must have it if you’re ever to develop a loving, healthy relationship with someone again – at least enough to get in the sack with them that is!

It may shock you, but sex is still fantastic with an STD.

Do your best not to worry too much about that right now, I’ll get you there.

Anyhow, now what? What in the world are you going to say to the potential love of your life to get them to not run for the hills?!!?!

Well, I’m sure there are many ways to go about telling someone you have an STD, however, not all of them will help you keep the other individual.

Albeit, what I’m about to share is certainly not a guaranteed method, by any means; it’s just what I think works best. I’ve had quite a bit of luck in this approach; I’ve been married, I’ve had great long-term relationships, and I’ve never lost a partner simply because of my STD. So, in some ways, I’m proof there’s a good way to do this kind of thing. Others tend to agree and I talk about their perspectives in depth here.

In the end, only you will know what works best for you, but in the meantime, you can try this approach on for size until you do.

No Text Messages, Emails, or Singing Telegrams

First of all, it is my belief that any mode of telling someone you have an STD other than face-to-face is bad form and would give that potential someone all the more reason to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’

I know, it would be so much easier to have Barney show up at their door singing about loving people despite their differences, STDs are ok, just love one another, etc., etc….

But, this is one conversation where today’s ingenious and creative technological approaches just won’t cut it. Besides, even though the conversation is tougher/more embarrassing in person, it provides you an opportunity to gauge their initial reactions and it allows them to see how sincere you are.

All in all, in-person is a win-win.

However, and this is a very big however, where you tell someone you have an STD is just as important as how. What I mean is, the place you choose to sit someone down to have this conversation should be fairly neutral and a calm atmosphere.

At the bar, while babysitting your best-friend’s two year old, or at Starbucks are all HORRIBLE ideas.

In my experience, I’ve made a special trip over to the individual’s home while they were alone and not in a hurry with the pretense of, ‘Hey, can I drop by for a few minutes, I’d like to chat with you about something?’

Telling someone in the comfort of their own home or in private serves two purposes. It allows the person an opportunity to react how they would naturally without being influenced by on-lookers or having to ‘put on airs’. And, this leaves the individual in a comfortable environment to ask as many questions as they like or to do their own private research without pressure, which, leads me to my next point.

Be Honest, Positive, & Resourceful

In sharing your status, it’s incredibly important you’re as honest as possible.

I’ve always shared how long I have had genital herpes, how I got it (or, at least what I know about how I got it), what I’ve learned from the experience, how hard it’s been at times, and what it means for my health. Many times, I’ve told my story in tears – not with the intent of playing the sympathy card (although, I’m sure it could have been perceived that way) – because, quite honestly, it’s an embarrassing and scary conversation to have and re-telling my story generally re-surfaces some old emotions. Regardless, I think that is all O.K. because it’s honest.

From there, I share the facts and figures and let them ask whatever questions they’d like to know. I give them the information I know, what herpes does and doesn’t mean for me, and the very realistic truth that an STD has been manageable for me and has not hindered anything in my life. I have passed my STD on to others, understandably – not all of my partners have contracted it (quite a few have not) – and the risk is still very real.

I also share with them some of the resources I’ve used to gather my information. Letting the person know there’s a lot of information on the web and encouraging them to do some research on their own is always great. This let’s the individual know you respect their opinion and that this kind of decision takes some thorough consideration.

Then, I leave.

Often, I’ve shared my story and then said something along the lines of, ‘I know this is a lot to take in, and I’m not expecting a reaction or response immediately – no matter where you want to go from here, I respect that entirely, of course. Do some research, and then let’s talk about how you feel when you’re ready.’

Give Them Time

Everyone is different.

Some people have responded immediately with an incredibly surprising, ‘You mean, that’s all you had to tell me? So what? This doesn’t change how I feel about you.’ Others have needed more time to digest, to come back and ask me questions, and then to digest some more. Because of the taboo nature of STDs, it’s hard to decipher how anyone will react.

As a result, it’s nice to let them know they can have as much time as they need.

In the end, some people may choose not to continue the relationship.

This is an understandable reaction even though it will probably break your heart.

Consider yourself lucky to know why they do not want to go further. You could probably care less about the silver-lining to all of this when your heart is broken…. But remember, most people never know why a person stops calling them or chooses to see other people; they are stuck analyzing everything they did and wondering if it was their looks, their personality, their family, etc.

Should someone choose to end the relationship as a result of your STD, know it actually has nothing to do with you. They were scared – rightfully so – and the relationship had not developed enough for them to be willing to take the risk. Sucks, yes, but it’s not the end of your dating career and it means you’re still awesome despite your STD.

Believe me, it’s true. 🙂

And, for those of you who like bullet points, here’s the abridged version of how to tell someone you have an STD:

– Tell them in-person while in a calm and quiet environment – their home could be a good choice
– Be honest about your experiences, be positive about yourself and your STD, let them ask questions, share the facts and figures, and point out some good resources
– Let the person have some alone time to do their own research and to decide how they would like to proceed.
– Don’t take their decision personally

If All Else Fails…

Should you be in a situation where you have already put a person at risk and you cannot bring yourself to discuss your STD face-to-face, should you feel telling the person would put your safety at risk, or for any other reason you are not able to have a conversation directly, there are a handful of websites designed to notify partners of your STD for you and anonymously.

These are great sites designed for those in fear of judgement but wanting as much as possible to do the right thing.

In fact, the guys at Don’tSpreadIt.com, in particular, are on The STD Project’s facebook page and I’ve chatted with them frequently – they’d love for you to take a gander at their site! 😉

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject