Ask Oh Megan & The CSPH: Unsafe Sex Toys

 

48- megan-unsafe-toysConsumers beware. Did you know that the US government does not regulate or test sex toys?

Therefore, toy manufacturers can make products out of whatever material they want. This lack of oversight raises serious public health concern as the wrong toys can introduce infections, bacteria and harmful chemicals into the body.

For now, the erotic toy business is self-regulated. There are manufacturers and adult stores that actively try to change safety standards and raise awareness of body safe products, such as Good Vibrations, Smitten Kitten, Metis Black and many more. But it is important that consumers do their own research and educate themselves before purchasing a sex toy.

In this five minute video by Oh Megan and The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, Megan Andelloux answers the question:

What sex toys are not body safe? Here are some key points:

  • In general, toys made of materials that can be sterilized in boiling water or do not absorb bacteria are safe.
  • Unsafe toys can store and introduce infection into your or your partner’s body.
  • Sex toys should never smell. If a toy is scented it generally means the manufacturer is masking the bad smell of off-gases in the material.
  • Steer clear of any material, like Siligel, that can change shape or size.
  • If a toy is translucent or see-through, use it with a condom and throw away after 6 months of use.
  • Toys made of CyberSkin, like FleshLight, are not safe because the material can flake off in the body and expand.
  • Do not put porous material into the body such as toys made with a branded cord, wood or leather.
  • Silicon is recognized as the best body safe toy.

This video was originally published here

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Your sex questions answered by Megan Andelloux, Certified Sex Educator, and founder of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health! Megan answers REAL questions that she has been asked by people like you! Megan has been in the sexuality field for 16 years, and has visited over 75 different schools, is a faculty instructor for the Brown School of Medicine, and is the author of the book “Hot and Fast: Spontaneous Quickies for Passionate Orgasms”

Here Megan gives advice on sex toy materials that are not safe for the body.

If you have a question for Megan Andelloux about anything from sex toys, to gender, to fantasies and sexual health and reproduction – Just ask!

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

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

When to get Tested for STIs/STDs

Photographer Helmut Hess

Photographer Helmut Hess

Did you know that when you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) there is a duration of time in which the infection cannot be detectable through testing? This is referred to as the window period. During this window period, the infected person can pass on the STI to others.

This is why, when you get tested, you are asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks for details about when you last had sexual contact, unprotected sex, etc. The clinic will help you gauge whether or not you’ve cleared the window period for various STIs. Very few STIs have the same window period. Compound this with the fact that clinics only test for STIs that are showing symptoms (unless you specifically request otherwise), makes it crucial that you know your window period for which STIs are being tested.

There is also the incubation period, which is how long the infection takes to show signs/symptoms. During both the window and incubation period an infection is contagious. An infection may never show noticeable signs or symptoms (most don’t), but they are always transmittable to others, and that’s why testing is so important.

As a safeguard against false negative tests due to these two very different periods- window and incubation -it is recommended that you get re-tested three to six months after your initial negative results.

Sound confusing? The following list will help. It’s a clear and organized way to identify STIs and their corresponding window periods.

As a side note from Jenelle Marie: This article is addressing unrine/blood tests and talks about infections for which there are common tests available. However, in instances where visual diagnosis occur (because there are no tests for the infection – low-risk HPV in men, commonly known as genital warts, for example) the incubation period and the window period are the same, thus diagnosis isn’t possible until symptoms are present. 

Read the full article here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Typical STI/STD Testing Windows Are:

Chlamydia Urine Test:
Possible Detection – Within the first week
Most Likely Detection – 2 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 4 Weeks

Gonorrhea Urine Test:
Possible Detection – Within the first week
Most Likely Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 2-3 Weeks

Herpes Simplex 1 & 2 Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 2-4 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-12 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12-16 Weeks

Syphilis Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

HIV Antibody Test *:
Possible Detection – 3 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 4-6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

HIV Early Detection Test **:
Possible Detection – 1-2 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 3 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 3-4 Weeks

Hepatitis A Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 2-3 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 3-6 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 6-7 Weeks

Hepatitis B Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 1-6 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-10 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 12 Weeks

Hepatitis C Blood Test:
Possible Detection – 4-5 Weeks
Most Likely Detection – 6-9 Weeks
Highest Accuracy – 10-12 Weeks

*According to the CDC, most people infected with HIV will develop detectable antibodies within 25 days of exposure and 97% of people will have HIV antibodies by three months after exposure.

**STD testing experts recommend confirming this with the ELISA HIV test , which is considered the gold standard in HIV testing, at 3 months post-exposure.

 

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

Could Enthusiastic Consent Improve Your Sex Life?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

For years feminist activists have fought for a more comprehensive definition of sexual consent- one that emphasizes an enthusiastic and active “Yes!”

Most of us have been taught that “no means no”, which is necessary in some circumstances. However, critics argue that this model reinforces the idea that sexual activities can take place only until there is a “no”. The problem with this is that it validates grey areas of victim-blaming if the person never spoke up nor told another to “stop”. The alternative model, “yes means yes”, makes it clear that consent is an agreement for something to happen. But there is a lot more involved than that.

In this article from Bedsider, E.B. Troast establishes what’s involved in this alternative definition of consent and offers insightful tips on how we can communicate and practice with our sexual partners.

By the end, you will understand what great sex actually involves! Here are key points:

  • Identify your desires and your boundaries.
  • Don’t try to be a mind reader. Considerate and honest communication is key.
  • Co-operative discovery is what all parties enjoy.
  •  Think of sexual engagement as a journey that require planning and communication in order for everyone involved to be fulfilled.

The original article was published here.

BY E.B. TROAST at BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

When it comes to sex, consent is key! But we often skip over the talking part to get to the fun physical part. Movies usually show sex without talking—the partners are just so in tune with each other that communication becomes unnecessary. Alas, that’s usually a fantasy. But what does communicating consent look like?

If you had sex ed in school, you probably learned about “no meaning no” and may have even practiced refusal skills. Being able to say and hear “no” is essential, but it doesn’t help us communicate about the real reasons many people choose to have sex: pleasure, desire, and connection. Enthusiastic consent is a way to communicate your desires, learn about your partner’s desires, and be proactive about consent.

What makes enthusiastic consent different?

People often think of consent as one person asking (or doing) and the other person saying “yes” or “no.” Enthusiastic consent is different. Enthusiastic consent is both partners talking about and deciding what will happen in a sexual encounter. It’s like planning a road trip together—you talk about where you want to go and what you want to see, rather than detailing the exact turns to get there. This goes beyond yes/no questions, focusing on communication about wants and desires. In enthusiastic consent, all people involved move towards desired activities with mutual enthusiasm.

Unlike other sex skills like putting on a condom, consent is rarely taught. But it takes practice! Here are 4 tips to improve your enthusiastic consent and communication skills.

1. Know what you don’t want… and what you DO want!

Knowing your boundaries is essential. Your boundaries may change from day to day and partner to partner, so check in with yourself. Thinking about your own boundaries before anything sexy starts to happen with a partner may give you greater confidence to tell that partner what you are not interested in doing.

It’s equally important to think about what you DO want. Thinking about your own desires can help you identify what is a “yes, please!” If you’re not sure what you want or how you like it, research! Spend some time with yourself and get to know what your body likes. Then you can have show and tell with a partner, guiding them like a pro. You may also want to check out various forms of erotica, which can be another source of inspiration about desires.

2. Start talking

Don’t expect to be a mind reader in the bedroom—or to have your mind read by a partner. The only crystal ball that will show a partner the way to please you is communication. Clear, honest information is key.

This does not have to be a business-like conversation that happens before sex. Telling your partner your desires—whether it’s the first time you’re having sex or the thousandth—can be a real turn on. You don’t have to discuss all your wants before things get steamy; after all, you may find inspiration in the heat of the moment. A desire can be seductively whispered into a partner’s ear or growled as you pull your partner close. “It would be so hot if you got on top” will let your partner know what you want and provide the opportunity for your partner to decide if it’s something they want too.

3. Forget compromise—find the mutual yes!

Compromise is when someone gives up something they want or accepts something they don’t want. Compromise about sex may lead to feeling pressured, resentful, and even regretful. Saying yes just to please a partner, or because the partner said yes to you last time, or because saying no feels risky has the potential to lead to more harm than good.

Enthusiastic consent is based on finding the mutual yes. This means that both partners say what they like and what turns them on, and together they can find the overlap. Try things like:

“Where’s your favorite place for me to touch you?”

“I love it when you ______.”

“I have a fantasy—can I tell you about it?”

4. Plan the journey, not the route

Think about what you want from the experience—how you want your partner to feel, what type of experience you want to have… Is it about having fun? Strengthening love? Creating a connection? Seeing how many orgasms you can both have? If both people are in line with what they want from the experience, they are more likely to feel satisfied in the end.

Just like a road trip, there might be some planning and communication that happens before and after the adventure. Checking in about STI status, recent tests, other sexual partners, birth control, relationship stuff, and what happens after can ensure that you both know what to expect and feel safer throughout.

Enjoy the trip

Changing the way we communicate about sex can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding to learn enthusiastic consent skills. We may be good at reading our partners and figuring out what they want, but we will never really know what secret, delicious desires they’ve been hiding until we invite them to share, and we share our own. Through getting to know what you want, communicating about those desires, and finding the mutual yes with your partner, you may be surprised how much more pleasure you can find together!

E.B. Troast has been providing sex positive, non-judgmental, inclusive sex education in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years. She works with Planned Parenthood and San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI). E.B. may have the best job in the world, because she gets to spend her time learning and teaching about her favorite subjects—sex, sexuality, health, and pleasure!

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

One Thing About Sperm I Bet You Didn’t Learn in Sex Ed

This video is much more pleasant and accessible than anything I bet your teacher showed you in health class.

Do you remember when you learned how babies were made? Do you remember what information was covered? There are a lot of new and important things we know now that were not available in 1990s textbooks.

Here’s a snappy video from Bedsider delivering a lesser known fact about sperm. Watch this and you’ll be convinced how necessary preventative birth control really is (if you aren’t already!).

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Video originally published on Bedsider

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

What Is An STI/STD?

In the days before STDs, there was venereal disease, and sex workers where considered the blamed of transmission. Image from TheDailyMail.co.uk

In the days before STDs, there was venereal disease, and sex workers where considered the blamed of transmission. Image from TheDailyMail.co.uk

There are lots of names for it that have come and gone throughout the decades. During WWI and WWII, it was the euphemistic-laden “venereal disease” or VD (and some people still use it today). By the 1980s, the term “sexually transmitted disease” (STDs) became generally accepted. Now medical terminology have progressed to “sexually transmitted infections” (STIs). There is not a lot of difference between these two terms and most people use them interchangeably. (To learn more about the difference between STIs and STDs, visit the Condom Monologues for a semantic breakdown.)

Despite all these different names, the meaning of STI/STD remains fundamentally the same.

From The STD Project, Jenelle Marie defines STIs as “infections that are commonly/have a high probability of being spread from person to person through unprotected intimate contact…Some STIs can also be transmitted via the sharing of IV drug needles after their use by an infected person as well as through childbirth or breastfeeding.”

STIs do not “prefer” one gender over another- no matter your gender, race, economic class, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, or relationship type- we are all susceptible to infections when we engage in sexual contact. Read more on what sexual activities put you at risk for different infections.

What is sexual contact?

The key is to understand what is meant by “sexual contact”. Now, this term is much broader than vaginal or anal penetration. Here Jenelle Maries unpacks its meaning:

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Sexual contact can encompass kissing, oral-genital contact, and the use of sexual ‘toys’, such as vibrators.

Most people think that kissing is a safe activity.

Even so, herpes, mononucleosis and other infections can be contracted through this relatively simple and often harmless act.

The use of condoms is commonly thought to protect against STIs, but it’s important to remember, all forms of sexual contact carry some risk. Although condoms can be very useful in decreasing the spread of certain fluid-borne infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, they do not fully protect against other infections contracted via skin-to-skin contact such as herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and molluscum contagiosum.

Many STIs are treatable or manageable, but effective cures are lacking for others, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HPV (human papillomavirus), HSV (herpes simplex virus) and hepatitis B & C. Even gonorrhea, once easily cured, has become resistant to many of the older traditional antibiotics.

STIs can be present in and spread by people who do not have any symptoms of the condition and have not yet been diagnosed.

Therefore, decreasing stigma via public awareness and education about these infections and the methods used to help prevent them is incredibly important.

Read the full article here.

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

What Is It Like to be Tested? STI/STD Testing in 5 Simple Steps

Easy-button

With all the stigma and fear surrounding sexually transmitted infections (STIs), going out of your way to specifically get tested can seem like a burden. According to the CDC, less than half of Americans ranging from 18 to 44 years old have never EVER been tested for STIs. This is a serious obstacle that cannot be overlooked when talking about sexual health.

Jenelle Marie, founder of The STD Project, takes on this social fear of getting clinically tested by demonstrating just how easy (and shame free!) it really is. She walks us through her real-life experience of going to the clinic (with her boyfriend):

Here are key points to learn from her STI testing experience:

  • Health practitioners don’t test for all STIs. You need to ask for specific test to be done, particularly for those which do not always show symptoms, like HPV, Gonorrhea and Syphilis.
  • STD testing is available for free!
  • Test results are strictly confidential. In most states, once you are 13 years old, you can get tested without a guardian’s involvement. The clinic cannot share your identity and results with anyone.
  • Depending on the STI, you may be asked to give a blood sample and a urine sample.
  • No single procedure or test will detect all STIs.
  • Getting tested is simple, quick (depending if it’s walk-in or appointment) and the trained staff do not make moral judgement on your sexual behavior.

This article was originally published here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Are you wondering what it’s like to be tested for STIs/STDs?

 Step One: Decide whether to schedule an appointment or go on a ‘walk-in’ day (wait is usually much longer, so patience is a virtue should you choose the latter) – I made an appointment as I have little patience 🙂

Step Two: Fill out some paperwork (this is the government we’re talking about) – HIV testing is the only test they can do completely anonymously (if they do rapid-tests onsite) where they do not require a name (they give you a number) or a lot of other information – this health department did their HIV tests on-site (which means results in 15 minutes), but I was also testing for 3 other STDs, so the paperwork was still required.

For those clinics that do not have rapid-tests, HIV tests will only be confidential. Confidential testing means you must fill out your name and birthday and answer questions about your sexual experiences. This DOES NOT mean they will call your parents or your partners and tell them your test results – test results are strictly confidential. The health department asks that you tell all future partners but does not make you retro-actively tell people, because, presumably, you wouldn’t have known you were positive for an STD until now.

Also, it is very important you answer the questionnaire with complete honesty – depending on the type of sexual activities in which you engage, they may do STD testing for additional types of STDs or they may test different areas of your body for STDs – chlamydia and gonorrhea can both be in the throat or anus, for example.

Lastly, the women my boyfriend and I met made no assumptions or judgments about the types of activities we enjoy – they simply share the risks and make sure you’re safe in all directions (your mind is whirling now, I’m sure). 🙂

Step Three: When your name gets called, a nurse takes you back, asks some additional questions, sometimes does a little preventative counseling and starts the tests by giving you a finger prick.

The finger prick begins the rapid blood test for HIV which is complete 15 minutes later.

Next, a traditional blood sample is taken from your arm for Syphilis testing. The Syphilis is sent to a lab and results are available 7 business days later along with your Chlamydia and Gonorrhea test results.

Step Four: Pee on your hand while attempting to pee into an impossibly small cup for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing (you do this in a private bathroom, so no one has to watch you wonder whether to pull up your pants with pee on your fingers or waddle over to the sink for washing – pants still at your ankles).

Important to note: the longer you hold your pee, the better – anything over not having urinated in an hour should be good.

The nurse said chlamydia and gonorrhea bacteria flush out and are harder to detect when having urinated recently; however, after a longer duration of time, they come back again.

Unfortunately, peeing profusely will not make your STD go away. Dang it!

Step Five: Meet the nurse back in the testing room, get your HIV results, and your FREE CONDOMS!!!! YEY!!!

Who doesn’t love free condoms?!?!

I say, you might as well go get STD tested just for the free condoms!!! (I’ll say anything – obviously – to convince you STD testing is totally harmless and will make you feel much much better!)

condom ad condoms too tight

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

Teenage Sex Myths: The Best Argument for Sex Ed

screen-capture-17

Sex education is important no matter how you look at it. That belief can be strengthened even more just by spending a few moments looking over some of the pervasive myths that still exist among teens, particularly in the USA.

Some teens still believe things like jumping up and down in a hot tub after sex may prevent pregnancy and that condoms are manufactured with holes so won’t protect you anyway!  Lies. Throw in other myths involving Mountain Dew and it makes you want to prioritize sex education with English and Math!

In this article, JoEllen the Redhed Bedhead, deciphers 10 Common Sex Myths that illustrate why we need to teach teens (6th – 12th graders) matter-of-fact reproductive health.

This article was originally published on The RedHead Bedhead site.

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

One of the weirdest things I think about this time of year is the time a few years ago when I was talking to my middle-school teacher mother who had, over the course of the previous year, spoken to me several times about her shock at how much sexually activity was going on between her 6th-8th grade students. She was talking about her students again but this time she was shocked to find that a number of them still believed in Santa Claus. Now, I’m not going to lie, I mined this for some comedic gold (“Okay, I’ll go down on you but if I end up on the ‘Naughty List’ for this I’ll be so mad!”) but it really does highlight a huge fundamental flaw in our (and by “our” I mean “America’s”) attitude toward children and sex ed. These kids are engaging in sexual activities while still in a very, young, naive and vulnerable place, a place where they still thought it was plausible that an obese man and some reindeer magically delivered toys to the entire world every December 24th. So, what else might they believe? What they need the most is education, information and guidance but, as we live in the world of  abstinence-only education that says sex is something kids should be shielded from they are left to draw their own conclusions, with some frightening consequences.

I’ve rounded up 10 sex myths that I think really illustrate why we need to be teaching kids how this stuff works. These range from things I heard growing up, to things my mom’s students say now, to things that are making the internet rounds.  Almost half of these relate to how one can or cannot get pregnant. Now, I know there is a ton kids need to be learning about but as the country with a teen pregnancy rate that is the “highest in developed world” this seems like something we want to get on addressing.  Check it out:

“I can’t get pregnant the first time I have sex.”
Nope, every single time can get you pregnant. Particularly cruel as teenagers are extra-fertile.

Read the full article at The Redhead Bedhead.

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

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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Reclaiming Sexual Intimacy After Cancer

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Dealing with cancer can easily re-orient your sex life. During and even after treatment, being sexual can seem unappealing, painful or maybe completely off your radar. Dr. Melanie Davis offers guidance for reclaiming sexual intimacy after cancer and facing the challenges that entails.

This article is intended to help you navigate sexuality after cancer treatment. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Making small changes in your mindset can help to successfully reframe intimacy.
  • Non-goal oriented sexual intimacy (activities that do not lead to orgasm)
    eliminates the chance of “failure”.
  • Communicate with your partner— agree on how you define “sex”.
  • Take care of yourself so as to ensure comfort during sexual encounters.
  • Put sexual intimacy on your priority list on your own terms.

This article was originally published on Coping Magazine.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

You may have crossed sexual intimacy off your priority list when you found out you had cancer. If you’re in active treat­ment, you may not feel like being sexual in the same ways you were before diag­nosis. After treatment, sex may still seem unappealing or even painful. This is all normal. But if you’re ready to bring sexual intimacy back into your life, you can work through the challenges – one small step at a time.

Defining Intimacy

Many people think of sexual intimacy as sexual in­tercourse or other genital stimulation resulting in orgasm, including any ac­tivities that lead up to it. However, if you broaden your definition of intimacy to include other pleasures that may or may not lead to orgasm, you can be sexually intimate without the pressure to engage in activities that aren’t com­fortable for you right now.

Sexually intimate activity can be goal oriented or non-goal oriented. Goal-oriented activities are considered complete when they end in orgasm. The problem with goal-oriented sexual inti­macy is that there’s a chance of failure if you or your partner do not experience orgasm. Failure can be frustrating, es­pecially if it happens on a regular basis.

On the other hand, non-goal-oriented sexual activity can’t fail because there is no goal, other than pleasure. Orgasm may happen, or it may not. There is no pressure to do more than you can comfortably do, given your interests, level of desire, and physical capability. Examples of non-goal-oriented intimate activities include kissing, fondling, body rubbing, massage, watching or reading erotic material, taking a shower or bath together, recalling past sexual encoun­ters, envisioning future encounters, reliving your favorite dates, cuddling with or without clothes, holding hands, walking arm in arm, or engaging in any other activities that you enjoy. They can also include genital stimulation or pen­etration as long as you and your partner agree to stop the activity if it becomes anything other than pleasurable for either of you.

Reframing Intimacy

Changing your mindset from goal-oriented sex to non-goal-oriented sex doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some time to get used to the idea that even though you or your partner may be aroused, sexual activity could end prior to orgasm. Communication and trust are crucial because you need assurance that you will not be pressured to do more than is comfortable or desirable for you.

New Jersey-based “reinvention catalyst” Gailann Bruen, LCSW, suggests making changes in imaginary 1/16-inch increments – tiny steps so small you are almost guaranteed success.

“My husband and I always planned to travel, but when he developed heart issues, he chose not to fly,” Gailann says. “A friend advised us to create local memories together. It turned me around. Now I tell people, ‘Don’t focus on what you can’t do, but on small things you can do together.’”

Gailann suggests taking a drive, going out for coffee, and hugging and touching throughout the day. “Work within what’s possible, and focus on all the tender intimacies. Touch and sweetness are so important,” she adds.

Redefining intimacy in this way requires communication. You and your partner both need to agree to change the way you define sex. Start by discussing how you can maximize closeness and intimacy within your levels of energy, desire, and physical ability.

“Talk to your partner about what’s possible for you now,” says Melissa Donahue, LCSW, of the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness in Bedmin­ster, NJ. “If intercourse is off the table, say so, and make sure your partner agrees not to push for it. Once you know that your boundaries will be respected, you won’t have to be anxious when your partner touches you.”

It’s also important to make the most of what you have by eating a healthy diet, getting ample sleep, finding ways to reduce stress, following your doctor’s post-treatment plan, and getting regular exercise. Take pain medications 30 min­utes before you begin any type of sexual activity if you typically experience pain during intercourse, and arrange for inti­mate encounters to coincide with your most comfortable, energetic times of day.

You can put sexual intimacy back on your priority list once you realize you can do it on your own terms. Take things one step at a time – you can make changes in tiny, 1/16-inch increments.

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis