How to React when Your Hookup Says They’re on PrEP

hookup prep

Image from LTASex.com

The amount of people using pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) in the US is increasing. A growing proportion of users are men.

PrEP is an antiretroviral medication to prevent HIV infection. A single pill taken once daily is highly effective at preventing HIV. PrEP prevents the virus from copying itself in your body after you’ve been exposed.

Since more and more people are choosing PrEP to take care of their sexual health, this means there is a greater chance that you will meet someone or hook up with someone who adheres to the drug. It’s important to know how best to react. Rather then freak out and cast stigma over him/her as a slutty HIV carrier, consider the following.

As Jerome Stuart Nichols, founder of LTASex, points out, a person who is using PrEP regularly is taking action and responsibility for their sexual health. Wouldn’t you rather share the bedroom with someone who is aware and takes charge of their sexual well being? Think about it.

It’s safer to have sex with someone who knows their status and manages it than with someone who doesn’t. It’s also a good sign that they are great in bed!

Here are five ways to react when your hookup tells you they are on PrEP.

This article was reprinted with permission from LTASex.com. View the original article here.

BY JEROME STUART NICHOLS | LTASEX.com

Like many other people in the last couple of years, I started taking PrEP — the daily pill that lowers one’s risk of getting HIV. Since it’s a new drug, I’ve been keeping up with the news and controversy surrounding it, and there’s been a lot. Perhaps most troubling to me, though, is the rise of PrEP haters. So, I thought I’d give everyone a handy guide on how to react when your hookup tells you they’re on PrEP.

Call them a slut:

As in, “You big slut, good for you!” I’m so proud of you. It’s important to let people know you appreciate their expert slutting skills. It takes one intelligent and thoughtful slut to seek out PrEP as a way to prevent both of you from contracting HIV. There are plenty of people who won’t even look into it because of fear or misconceptions about it. So this person probably has a take-charge attitude, which can be very important in the bedroom.

Freak out:

Feel free to freak the hell out, because this is so freaking awesome! You’ve wound up in bed with someone who’s thought about the sexual risks they’re taking, which means they’re probably going to be super thoughtful and great in bed. Or, you know, you could play it cool. You might not want to seem too excited about this fantastic development.

Ask a bunch of invasive questions:

I mean, you’re in the presence of someone who obviously knows a little something about life. If you’re not exactly sure about what PrEP is, how it works or why it’s so freaking cool, this is the perfect time to get some answers. Plus, you’ll get to know them better and get a sense of how smart they really are, which will help you make a better decision about what kind of sex you want to have. If nothing else, you’ll spend some time getting comfortable with one another, which definitely will make for better sex.

Don’t use a condom:

Or do use one, whatever. You don’t have to change your plans because they’ve told you this good news. If you wanted to use condoms before, now you’ve got an extra layer of protection. If you weren’t going to use condoms, then you’ve still got that extra layer of protection. Even if they’re total fakers and not a part of the cool kids PrEP club, you’re still taking the risks you’re comfortable with.

Make sure to save their number (or favorite them on your app):

If the sex was good, you’ll be able to call them back and get more of it. If the sex was wack, you’ll know who’s texting when they hit you up at 2 a.m. six months later.

Also, since there are many STIs other than HIV, and, you know, shit happens, you’ll be able to notify them if something comes up on your end … or penis or vagina or throat. This isn’t really PrEP specific, just good hookup technique from one proud slut to another.

Go home and take a long hot shower.

I mean after all that hot and sweaty sex, you’re bound to need a shower, right?

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jerome stuart nicholsJEROME STUART NICHOLS is the creator of LTASEX.com and a generally awesome dude. With LTASEX and his musings around the web, he seeks to help people get the most out of their sex, love and life. Through blogs, podcasts and videos he offers unique perspective, advice on living and loving in the real world. When he’s not saving the world from a life more ordinary, he enjoys cuddles, video games, narcissism, fried chicken, managing his anxiety, crochet, and gardening. Follow him @NotJeromeStuart

The Golden Rule to Healthy Hook-Ups

Photo credit: Carolina Ponce

Photo credit: Carolina Ponce

Girl meets boy. They become friends and soon enough, they are hooking up on a regular basis. No love, no commitments – they only do it for the purpose of having sex!

Casual sex has been portrayed in contradictory fashion throughout history. It’s deemed a mortal enemy of love and commitment. People who engage in it are often put down, punished or shamed. At the same time, casual sex is also represented as proof of sexual liberation. As a result, when someone feels like it’s not a good fit for them they might feel stigmatized and fear being perceived as prudish or sexually repressed. It’s a double edged sword.

So how do we reconcile this? Is hooking up unhealthy or healthy?

Sex educator, JoEllen Notte highlights a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggesting that it’s not so much whether you have casual sex that impacts your mental health, it’s why you do it.

This article was originally published on RedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

"Sex that is casual? Shocking!" Image from redheadbedhead.com

“Sex that is casual? Shocking!” Image from redheadbedhead.com

You may have noticed that in the last couple of years there have been a bevy of stories about hook-up culture, online dating, friends with benefits and the general shift from the assumption that everyone should be engaging in “rings and babies dating” to an acceptance that a whole lot of folks are engaging in what could be described as “fuck buddy dating”. Hot on the heels of this discussion has been another conversation. A very intense conversation. A kind of scary conversation. A conversation about how all of this is very, very bad for everyone.

Studies came out telling us that people who engaged in these hook ups were unhappy. Articles came out bemoaning the death of dating, courtship and romance and in general people agreed that this was all very, very bad.

But what if they were all very, very wrong?

When we start to really look at some of the “concern” we see some interesting patterns. Studies set out to prove that casual sex is damaging and (voila!) did! Angry writers who don’t enjoy casual relationships themselves writing scathing indictments of the practice of hooking up because, clearly it is threatening their way of being. Suddenly these “facts” start to look a bit skewed. Are there voices coming from the other side? Perhaps even (gasp!) neutral voices?

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

 

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

When Your Own Kid Might Be Gay

Photo credit: Judy van der  Velden

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden

How do you know if your child is gay? It’s hard to be certain because adolescence is often a time of experimenting sexually, often with both sexes. Studies tell us that it is not uncommon for adolescent boys to explore their sexuality with the same sex.

If you suspect your child may be gay, do you, as a parent, know how to approach the topic with him/her? Do you have the right to ask your child? According to Wesley Davidson, guest writer on Dr. Karen Rayne’s site, your kid will tell you she is gay when she is ready. You may be dying to have your suspicions confirmed, but that can backfire.

In this guest post, Wesley Davidson tackles to DOs and DONTs of discussing sexual identity with your child, particularly if you suspect he/she is gay. Below is a useful list of conversational ice-breakers to try.

Here are some key parenting tips:

  • Do not ask point blank: “Are you gay?” Respect personal boundaries. And don’t force a confession. He or she will tell you when the time is right.
  • Reflect on your own judgments about gender and sexuality. What stereotypes do you subscribe to?
  • Ask you child open-ended question such as his/her opinion of same-sex marriage and offer you positive opinions that demonstrate you accept and respect diversity.
  • Do discuss safer sex, STIs, and contraceptive methods with your child.
  • Be supportive. Studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay teens result in happier and healthier youth.

This article was originally published on Unhushed.

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

I am delighted to have a guest blog post from Wesley Davidson today.

Wesley is an award-winning writer. She has written articles on health and childcare for such publications as Good Housekeeping, Adoptive Families, and American Baby. She is on a panel of experts for the on-line publication, KIDZEDGE.com. Wesley has been on Internet radio, cable TV, and lectured to business groups.

She is currently collaborating with Dr. Tobkes, a New York City psychiatrist, on an advice book for straight parents of gay and lesbian children. She writes the blog Straight Parent, Gay Kid in which she offers support to parents on raising gay and lesbian children, and also writes about LGBTQ issues on gay agenda.com.

Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Necessarily Show Up Right Away

Not every parent is as cognizant as John Schwartz, a national reporter for The New York Times and author of his memoir about raising a gay child, Oddly Normal (Gotham Books). In Schwartz’s family, by the time his youngest son Joe came out at age 13, Schwartz and his wife had “progressed from inkling to conviction.” Their toddler Joe wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones.

Schwartz’s hunch, as it turned out, was right. While some kids may self-identify as gay or lesbian as young as three, others may not know they are gay until their adult years. Time tells.

How Can You Tell If Your Child Is LGBTQ?

It’s hard for parents to know. You can’t necessarily tell by looking at your children if they are gay. Heck, the kids may not even know themselves.

Many teens may wonder if they are gay or bisexual. It’s normal for them to have sexual feelings for both the same and opposite gender partners. They experiment with the same, or opposite gender relationships as they try to discover and develop their identities. Sometimes, their experiences are the signs of their sexual orientation, sometimes they aren’t. Or, it may just be a simple process of questioning.

Gay Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

If parents perceive that all male children must be sports-oriented, “rough-and-tumble” by nature, then they will be aghast at seeing their son playing house or with his sister’s Barbies. Does this necessarily indicate that this child is gay or is this behavior a reflection of society’s perception of how a male should not act or a parent’s read of behavior that’s not boyish or expected ?

Similarly, if a daughter refuses to wear dresses and plays football on a mostly-male football team, is she considered a feminist-in-the-making, a “tomboy” or a future lesbian? It depends on who is judging her according to their standards of how a girl should act.

Don’t Out Your Child

Even if you suspect your child is gay, you don’t want to force your suspicion down his/her throat to try and get a confession. You may be dying to know, but it’s up to your child to educate you when he/she is ready. Your kid may not want to disappoint you with the big news. He/she may be in denial. Or, he/she may simply not know. After all, it’s his/her story.

Offer Acceptance, Not Judgment

Carolyn Wagner, Former National Vice-President of Parents of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said a good place to start is with a statement that offers acceptance instead of judgment. Accepting dialogue lets Mom and Dad be approachable and open to discussion about sexual identity.

Some Sample Ice-Breakers

Ask open-ended questions with a light touch. It’s non-threatening to talk about others, rather than about yourself. For example:

  • What do YOU think of same-sex marriage?
  • Should celebrities be outed or feel they have to come out to their fans? Why should it matter?
  • Do shows like Modern Family depict a gay family as normal as the straight ones?
  • Why is the teen suicide rate higher for youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer) than for straight youth?
  • Why are businesses like Starbuck’s and Oreo stepping forward to be allies with LGBTQ causes while others like Chick-Fil-A are thriving while espousing anti-gay philosophy?
  • Why do some churches accept gays and others tout condemnation based on their interpretation of the Bible? Isn’t religion about universal love and acceptance of all human beings?
  • What does your school do for its diverse population?
  • Are most of your friends having sex (define sex as it is interpreted differently by persons, often according to their beliefs and upbringing).

Sometimes teens who are considering coming out start by testing their parents’ perception of being LGBTQ by gauging their reactions to gay characters on television or religious leaders and remarks on same-sex relationship.

Your Kids Need to See You As An Ally

By bringing up these open-ended talks that can be discussed many times, you’re making your home a safe haven where any subject can be broached. In this environment, your adolescent is more apt to open up about his/her sexuality.

By now, you’ve probably had the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Hopefully, it’s an ongoing discussion that includes STI prevention.

Just as important as discussions about disease is imparting your values about love and sexuality to your child. By teaching them that civil rights are for all people, you are teaching an inclusive attitude and tolerance for all individuals. These attitudes open the gateway for acceptance and security for your child.

Stability and Permanence

Parental support is so important for a gay child. In fact, studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay adolescent result in happier and healthier youth. In fact, The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has ongoing studies that show that gay teens whose parents accept their sexual orientation are less likely to do drugs, be depressed, or attempt suicide than gay teens with parents who react badly to their news about being gay. These conversations can save your child’s life.

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rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea: Wait, There’s Good News?

silver liningSome of the most contagious STIs are chlamydia and gonorrhea. The good news is that both are preventable and curable. The trick is knowing and planning to avoid them as well as getting regularly tested. This article by Corinne Rocca from Bedsider, walks you through the steps of how to deal with two of the most common STIs today.

Here are her main points to being a healthy sexual citizens:

  •   Clear communication about sex with your partner keeps you both emotionally and physically safe. Before you have sex with someone, ask them if and when they have been tested. If you may have an infection, tell your partner.
  • Use protective barriers like condoms and dental dams. When used correctly, a condom cuts the chances of getting chlamydia or gonorrhea by more than half.
  • Even if you don’t have symptoms, get tested. Testing is simple and there are apps to help you find a free clinic near you.
  • Follow through with treatment. Untreated bacterial STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility.
  • Remember, there is nothing sexier than taking care of your sexual health.

This post was originally published at Bedsider

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

With the right action-plan, two of the most common STIs are preventable and curable.

Two of the most common STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in the U.S., chlamydia and gonorrhea, are caused by bacteria. We know that the large majority of people who get chlamydia and gonorrhea are under age 26. It’s difficult to know exactly how common these STIs are because lots of people who have them never have symptoms and never get tested—which means they may be more common than we think. That said, we know that each year at least 1 in 50 people aged 15-24 get chlamydia, and about 1 in 200 get gonorrhea. Yup, that’s millions of Americans each year getting one of these STIs.

Part of the reason these bacterial STIs are so common is that they’re really contagious. Remember the pink-eye or lice epidemics that went through school when you were a kid? Bacterial STIs are that contagious, though fortunately they only spread during sex, not during recess. Unfortunately, if you have sex with somebody who’s got a bacterial STI and don’t use a condom or dental dam, chances are good that you’ll get it too.

Nothing takes the sexy out of sexy times like worrying about STIs, but having a plan to avoid or deal with them will keep you healthier and sexier in the long run. And, bonus, some of the most common STIs can be prevented—and, if you get one, cured.

Plan A: Prevent

Talk about it before anybody’s pants come off. It’s a lot easier to focus on a conversation about STIs before your heart is racing a mile a minute. If you’re considering having sex with someone new, ask them when they last got tested. If they haven’t been tested recently, tell them they’d better get to the clinic if they want some action. For tips on having this conversation, check out ‘It’s Your Sex Life.’ There is also this great article on why and how to talk about health with your sexual partner. You can even make getting tested together part of your extended flirtation, or share your testing results with each other using Qpid.me.

Condoms help. Can your birth control help protect you from STIs? If you use condoms, the answer is yes. (Other types of birth control are great at preventing pregnancy but don’t help with STIs.) When used correctly, a condom cuts the chances of getting chlamydia or gonorrhea by more than half. If having the talk about getting tested didn’t happen in time, you can insist on using a condom. If you need some tips for convincing someone to use a condom, check out this post for effective comebacks.

What does it mean to use a condom correctly?*

  • First, put the condom on before the penis touches the vagina, mouth, or anus.
  • Second, make sure that the condom will unroll in the right direction before it touches the tip of the penis. If the condom is already touching the penis and it’s not unrolling in the right direction, don’t flip it over—discard it and start with a fresh condom.
  • Third, pinch the tip and roll it down to the base of the penis. Use a condom the whole time you’re having sex to make sure you’re protected.

I heard I can’t get it if we only have oral sex. Sorry, not true. The bacteria that cause STIs can’t tell the difference between a throat and genitals. Kissing, on the other hand—even serious French action—seems to be safe territory.

He’s circumcised, so he’s clean, right? Nope. Recent research has shown that circumcised men may get and spread HIV more slowly compared to men who are not circumcised. But there’s no evidence that being circumcised makes any difference for getting or spreading a bacterial STI.

I’m gonna wash that STI right out of my… No dice. Washing the genitals, mouth, or butt after sex does not protect against any STI. Neither does douching.

But he/she looks totally healthy… and delicious. There’s no way to know if somebody has an STI by looking. Many people with a bacterial infection don’t even know themselves that they have it, which is one reason the CDC recommends that everybody in the U.S. under age 26 get tested for chlamydia every year.

Plan B: Get tested—and treated, if necessary

Maybe the hook up has already happened and you need to know what you can do now to protect your health. Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s important to get tested. In women, an untreated bacterial STI can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause pain and scarring in the fallopian tubes. Scars can also block the tubes and make it difficult for some women to get pregnant when they’re trying to.

Luckily, chlamydia and gonorrhea are easy to detect and easy to treat. Testing is painless. Find a clinic near you, pee in a cup, and hand it over to the clinic staff. They may be able to tell you a result right away or within a few days. If you live in certain areas, you might be able to get a home test kit for free in the mail. Getting treated is easy too—you just take the prescribed antibiotic pills.**

What about that awkward moment when you have to tell somebody else they may have an infection? ‘It’s Your Sex Life’ has more good tips for talking about it. If you can’t bear the thought of a face-to-face conversation, try sending an anonymous e-card with InSpot.

If you would prefer to go to a healthcare provider or clinic you already know—maybe a place where you’ve gotten prescription birth control or condoms in the past—you can talk to your provider about STI testing without shame. It doesn’t have to be about whether you’re worried you have an STI—it can be as simple as, “Hey, I heard I should get tested for this every year. How about it?”

Bacterial STIs are too common to ignore, and nothing’s hotter than being on top of your health.

*Check out Bedsider’s page on how to put on a condom for more detail, or download “Condom Pro” to your iPhone to practice putting one on correctly.

**You may have seen headlines recently warning of of strains of gonorrhea that are resistant to all antibiotic drugs. While this is something to keep an eye on, fortunately at this point it’s not a problem in the U.S. The CDC has more information about these strains if you want to learn more.

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

I May Have Herpes. Now What?

Photo credit: Vratislav Darmek

Photo credit: Vratislav Darmek

Did you know that the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is so common that many health professionals believe people should assume everyone has herpes and act accordingly?

Yet, as common as Herpes is, it is surprising that most of us remain misinformed about how the infection spreads and how it can be prevented. One prevalent myth is that there is a “good” type and a “bad” type of herpes, the latter being consider a result of irresponsible and careless sex. The truth is that there is little difference between the two strains. Having HSV of either type is not shameful, nor is it indicative of your worth as a sexual being.  As demonstrated in the article below, Herpes is at its core simply a skin condition.

If you are concerned that you’ve recently been exposed to Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), this article by the CSPH (the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) will help you navigate what are the next best steps to take.

Here is a summary of important facts everyone should know about HSV today: 

  • While there is no cure for Herpes, it is considered a minor, yet reoccurring skin condition.
  • There are antiviral medications that may help manage outbreaks and treat or relieve symptoms.
  • HSV-1 is the most common form of Herpes and many people contract it through non-sexual contact. The majority of individuals affected HSV-1 contract it during childhood.
  • Like Human Papillomavirus (HPV), HSV can be transmitted even when condoms are used due to exposed skin at the site of contact.
  • Two thirds of people with HSV have no symptoms.  Furthermore, HSV may be transmitted even when there are no symptoms and between outbreaks. Check out this article for more about when different STIs are transmittable and when is the best time to get tested.
  • You can protect yourself from HSV by using barrier methods (condoms and dams) consistently and correctly, washing after sex with soap and water, and using lubricants during sexual activity to help prevent microtears (tissue damage that increase the risk of HSV transmission and triggering an outbreak).
  • Specifically ask for an HSV test when get STI testing. Most doctors will not test for herpes if no symptoms are present. Testing is crucial to prevention, especially considering that an estimated 80% of people with Herpes are undiagnosed.
  • For more information about living a healthy and fulfilling sex life with herpes, check out the resources at the bottom of this post.

This article was originally published on the CSPH.

BY THE CSPH | theCSPH.org

Image from the CSPH

Image from the CSPH

So I received oral sex from someone yesterday. Today that person has a cold sore. My understanding is that oral and genital herpes are caused by different strains, hsv-1 and hsv-2, and there’s also a strain that can cause both. So if it’s just hsv-1, I probs won’t get genital herpes, and if it’s the evil one that causes both, I could. This is clearly something that I should talk to my doctor about, but I was hoping you could give me some more info/tell me whether my info is at all factual. Thnx!

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with HSV-1 infecting some 50 to 80% of people and HSV-2 affecting a projected 30% of adults.  Despite its prevalence, however, many misconceptions about this STI exist, and I hope my response will address most of these.  One herpes myth in particular that I hope to debunk is the idea that people are sexually and romantically “ruined” following HSV, which resources such as Love in the Time of Herpes help disprove.  For more information on living and loving with herpes, you refer to the resource list at the bottom of this Q&A.

If you’ve had a recent hook-up and are now concerned about having contracted HSV, feel free to skip to the final section of this article.

What is the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)?

Herpes Simplex is a category of sexually transmitted viruses that oftentimes results in infections of the skin and mucous membranes, manifesting itself in blisters/sores.  Following infection, HSV will establish latency within the nervous system, meaning the virus will attach itself to the cells of one’s sensory nerves, making it one of the few STIs for which there is no cure.  Despite this, HSV is in fact a relatively minor infection; it is literally a simple, yet recurring skin condition.

There are two strains of herpes: HSV-1, also known as “oral herpes” and “cold sores,” and HSV-2, which most often affects the genital and anal region.  Despite this colloquial distinction, it is in fact entirely possible for both strains to affect both the mouth and genitals, as well as other parts of the body such as eyes, fingers, and thighs.  Vulva-owners may also experience sores on the inside of their vaginal canal and on their cervix.  HSV-1 in particular is also associated with potential complications such as oracular herpes and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Is There a Good/Bad Herpes?

While many people are under the impression that there is a “good” herpes and “evil” herpes, the distinction is minor: both varieties of HSV may be contracted both orally and genitally, and while HSV-1 in particular is known as “oral herpes,” it is quite frequently transmitted to the genitals.  However, it’s less common for HSV-2 to be transmitted to the mouth.

Furthermore, under the microscope, both strains are almost identical.  HSV-1 and HSV-2 also manifest themselves similarly and, following infection, becomes latent in the nervous system. Neither type of herpes is curable.

So, if the strains are so similar, why is there the misconception that there is a “good” virus and a “bad” one?  The stigma likely lies in the sheer prevalence of HSV-1, which the majority of affected individuals contract during childhood.  Due to the fact that a majority of individuals have HSV-1, it’s easy to write off the STI as “only a cold sore,” whereas the much less common genital herpes is vilified as a “sexually transmitted infection.”

What are HSV Symptoms?

Upon initial infection, HSV may cause small, painful blisters or sores at the site of infection, enlarged lymph nodes of the neck or groin, decreased appetite, muscle aches, general malaise, burning while urinating, and fever.  The first outbreak generally occurs within two days to two weeks after transmission or contact with infected areas, and symptoms can be quite severe should they occur at all.

A second outbreak may occur weeks to months following the first.  Subsequent outbreaks are often less painful and disruptive, and symptoms may grow more mild over time.  Some individuals, particularly those with HSV-1, may not experience outbreaks for months or years at a time.  The average rate of outbreaks for HSV-2 is four times a year.

With that said, not all people who have contracted HSV experience symptoms.  Indeed, estimates suggest that two thirds of people with HSV have no symptoms or mild enough symptoms that the infection goes unnoticed.  Furthermore, HSV may be transmitted even when there are no symptoms and between outbreaks; one study shows that more than half of asymptomatic HSV-2 carriers exhibit viral shedding.  Viral shedding is how HSV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact even without contact with open sores or bodily fluids.

Finally, symptoms of an oncoming outbreak include fatigue and itching, tingling, and discomfort at the site of the outbreak.  HSV outbreaks can be triggered by a number of sources, including but not limited to: physical and emotional stress, sun exposure, injury, a compromised immune system, surgery, hormone changes such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle, and even the common cold.

How is HSV Contracted?

Herpes Simplex is transmitted through direct contact with a lesion, or from the body fluid of or skin-to-skin contact with an individual with HSV.  Unlike most other STIs, HSV may be contracted through kissing and even sharing drinks; it’s this reason that half of children under the age of six are infected with HSV-1.  Furthermore, like Human Papillomavirus(HPV), HSV can be transmitted even when condoms are used due to exposed skin at the site of contact.

As I previously discussed, many people who come in contact with HSV do not, in fact, show symptoms, or otherwise have symptoms so mild they go unnoticed.  However, whether the individual is asymptomatic or between outbreaks, there is still a risk of transmission.  Indeed, it is suggested that up to 70% of HSV-2 transmissions occur in the absence of symptoms.

It is also important to remember that while HSV-1 and HSV-2 are technically two distinct viruses, oral herpes may be contracted from the genitals, and genitals may contract oral herpes. Research suggests that HSV-1 in particular is commonly transmitted through unprotected oral sex, with up to half of all new cases of genital herpes occurring as a result of HSV-1.

Finally, it should be noted that vagina-owners more easily contract genital HSV than penis-owners.  Studies also suggest that HSV increases the risk of HIV transmission, due to the existence of open sores.

How Can I Prevent HSV Contraction/Transmission?

There are three main ways people can help prevent the contraction and transmission of HSV: use barrier methods during sexual activity; know your status and communicate it with sexual partners; and if you’ve already contracted HSV, consider managing future outbreaks through antiviral medication.

Other ways to help limit the possibility of HSV-2 contraction and transmission include sexual abstinence, washing after sex with soap and water, and using lubricants during sexual activity to help prevent microtears (tissue damage that increase the risk of HSV transmission and triggering an outbreak).

Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of HSV-1, it can be incredibly difficult to prevent transmission.  However, if you are concerned about contracting or spreading oral herpes, you can avoid kissing people as well as avoid sharing items like kitchen utensils and lip balms, namely when a cold sore is present or you feel one forming.  With that said, I understand that kissing for many people is an important component to sexual activity, but not kissing doesn’t have to be unsexy or awkward.  Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or the type to hook-up casually and participate in orgies, you can sexualize preventative measures by incorporating an intentional “no kissing on the mouth” policy in your play, which may encourage some creative measures, or even using gags.

For both HSV-1 and HSV-2, contact with the sites of outbreak and/or kissing should be stopped as soon as individuals feel the warning signs of an outbreak.  You shouldn’t touch a sore; doing so runs the risk of transmitting the infection to another body part.  If you do touch the sore, wash your hands with soap and water.  Wait until seven days after the sore heals before resuming contact with the mouth, genitals, or anus.

Barrier Methods

While the unfortunate truth is that even condoms do not completely protect against HSV transmission, studies show that condoms do, in fact, provide considerable protection, in particular to susceptible vagina-owners.  For this reason, barrier methods are an incredibly important component of limiting the possibility of contractions and transmission of HSV.

In addition to external condoms, internal condoms are a great alternative barrier method.  Internal condoms potentially provide greater protection from HSV transmission, as they also provide coverage for the vulva and outer anus, thereby reducing the amount of skin-to-skin contact.

Due to the nature of HSV, barrier methods should be used during not only penetrative sexual activity, but also any sexual activity that engages with the mouth, genitals, and anal region.  This includes skin-to-skin frottage, also known as dry-humping; stimulation with one’s hands, during which latex gloves can be used; and oral sex.  Safer oral sex consists of using condoms over penises and dental dams over the vulva and anus.

Know Your Status

As with all sexually transmitted diseases, one of the best things you can do to prevent contraction and transmission is to know your status.  This can happen by being tested at a local medical care provider.  With that said, while providers consistently test for STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, HSV is rarely tested for unless the individual is exhibiting signs of an outbreak.  For this reason, you’ll likely have to explicitly request an HSV test, which I will discuss later.

In addition to being aware of your STI status, it’s important to use that knowledge to empower you in your relationships by discussing STI testing and your status with sexual partners.  Not only is your status important, theirs is too!  Although this can be an intimidating conversation to initiate, I nevertheless strongly recommend that you do so; this shouldn’t be understood as a sign of distrust, but rather an important step in keeping you and your partner healthy.  This is especially important considering an estimated 80% of people with herpes are undiagnosed.

Consider Antiviral Medications

It’s important to note that while there is no cure for either type of HSV, there are antiviral medications that may help manage outbreaks and treat or relieve symptoms.  If, following an outbreak and/or testing, you learn that you have HSV-2 in particular, you may want to consider such medications.

There are currently three kinds of herpes antiviral drugs, all of which are available in pill form and can be taken for two purposes: treatment for outbreaks (to shorten duration and severity of symptoms), and suppressive therapy (to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks).

I’m Worried I Contracted HSV – What Now?

When it’s all said and done, it’s understandable that you may be worried about your hook-up’s cold sore.  For this reason, regardless of if you start showing symptoms of HSV, I suggest that you contact your medical care provider to discuss your situation and to get a professional opinion on the matter.

With that said, standard STI testing often does not include testing for HSV unless the patient has a blister.  This is because the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention does not currently recommend routine HSV testing for those in the general population who don’t exhibit symptoms.  If you are exhibiting sores, however, you should visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible as the test is an easy viral culture swab.  Unfortunately, false negatives are very common with this method.

If you are not exhibiting symptoms, you can still get tested.  Serologic, or blood, exams will allow your medical care provider to test for HSV.  There are two ways blood can be tested for HSV: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and antibody tests.  The PCR test is the most accurate, and can type which strain of HSV you have.  Antibody tests are less reliable and may yield false positives, so this may be a topic you want to discuss with your healthcare provider when being tested.

Finally, I want to stress that having herpes isn’t the end of the world. Figures suggest that some 50 million people in the United States alone have HSV-2, with even more people having HSV-1.  Considering how common it is, it is unlikely that you will be the only person you know with HSV, and many health professionals are of the opinion that people should assume that everyone has herpes and act accordingly.

Furthermore, people with herpes continue to have healthy, fulfilling sex lives and happy relationships.  In the greater scheme of things, herpes is merely a minor convenience for most couples.  Having HSV of either sort is not shameful, nor is it indicative of your worth as a person or sexual being.  Herpes is at its core simply a skin condition.

If you have any other questions about HSV, you can call the National Herpes Hotline at 919.361.8488.  In addition, you can contact the Herpes Resource Center at 1.800.230.6039.
For more information on leading healthy, fulfilling (sex) lives with herpes, you can visit the following websites:

HC Support Network: the largest and most active support website for people with herpes

(H)Life: a community forum that seeks to serve as a roadmap and guide for living and loving with herpes

How to Have a Sex Life Despite Having Herpes, by Dr. Laura Berman

Genital Herpes Sex Advice and Suggestions

condom ad condoms too loose

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.

Fifty Shades of Grey: Has It Changed the Way Women Think About Sex?

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

No matter how you feel about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ one must admit it has opened up our national conversation about sexuality,” says sex educator Elle Chase.

In response to the recent movie release and blockbuster hit, Elle Chase reflects on the fame of this story and why the book trilogy resonates with so many women. In many ways, she argues, it has actually changed the way women think about sex and sexuality. Elle brings up three very interesting and original points that many critics have overlooked.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has changed the way we think about sex in at least three ways:

  • The book was released during the economic recession. Such hardships have forced many people to reflect on their basic needs, but also find escape from the stressors of work and joblessness. Our carnal desires are something we do have control over, and it has no monetary cost!
  • Due to massive public acceptance of the trilogy, women are finding it easier to openly talk about traditionally taboo subjects like female sexual pleasure and fantasy.
  • It is not a standard love story. It isn’t even about BDSM. It is about a woman’s self discovery. Our sexual experimentations (or lack of experience) play an important role in the process of self discovery for each one of us.

This post was originally published on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard of the E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, let alone not read the trilogy. Fifty Shades is Twilight for the “Soccer Mom”, and just as poorly written, yet women can’t get enough of it … in fact, no one can. Sex clubs, sex shops and even New York’s Museum of Sex are having Fifty Shades themed events. Even cottage industries of vanilla-friendly BDSM seminars and ladies nights have popped up faster than you can say “Yes, Sir, may I have another?” Dateline, Primetime, Nightline – all the news shows have covered it since it’s blockbuster release in 2011, including the dependably milque-toast morning shows. Back in 2011, even Psychology Today and People Magazine, two publications that couldn’t be more different, had written articles about the Fifty Shades phenomenon. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Fifty Shades, and not only did the E.L. James blockbuster birth a movie franchise, but it continues to inspire merchandise, news articles, events and sex toys. In fact, even one of the bastions of conservative family ideals, Target, is selling Fifty Shades of Grey sex toys. But why did a poorly written romance novel, originally self-published as a fan-fiction e-book, capture the imagination and sex drive of American women? Erotica isn’t new, and neither is BDSM.

Why is this particular book resonating with so many women? I have a few ideas:

#1 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID

Timing. My feeling has always been that under times of socio-economic stress or crisis that people tend to move inward and reflect on what they really have in life, what they can call their own. Taking personal inventory and whittling ones needs down to just the basics illuminates within us what we really care about, what we have control over and how it adds to our life. In a time of economic unreliability, we are forced to define what it is that really makes us happen, what we really need and how to pare down all the extraneous trappings of a life distracted by panaceas of success. Without the sparkly diversion of “things” we want or need, discovering that there is nothing more “our own” than our bodies and our sexuality, can be a realization that changes how we look at sex forever. Sex: if we’re not doing it, we’re thinking about doing it because let’s face it … it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good.

To paraphrase John Mayer, our bodies “are a wonderland” … a wonderland of sensation, feelings and hormones that can give us great pleasure. What could feel more exciting and enticing than a semi-subversive roll-in-the-hay with your neighbor? Or, letting go of your Type-A personality and allowing someone else call the shots … in bed? Maybe the scintillating thought of sharing a surruptitous touch with a stranger on a train, has put a little spring in your step or devilish grin on your face? Our sexual desires are inherent, and for some, might not have been exploited to their fullest potential. Feeling free to indulge in our carnal desires, is the gateway to exploring our sexual selves or at least choosing whether we indulge or not. In a recession, there are very few things we feel we have control of, and even fewer that has the emotional and physical potential to bring us a respite from the stressors and the financial constraints of seeking out a living.

In 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey arrived at such a time of economic upheaval. It’s no accident that it garnered it’s initial success by word of mouth as a free online publication. Mostly hetero/cis women sought out distraction from the hamster wheel of daily life and, in the face of joblessness, foreclosures, war and waning affordable healthcare, and made this book a must-read. Easy and inexpensive escapism into a world of passion, lust and romance … as J. Lo says “Love don’t cost a thing,” and that is precisely the appeal of a Rabelaisian fantasy like Fifty Shades of Grey.

#2 WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

For far too long in western culture, women’s sexuality has been at the very least marginalized and at the most extreme, vilified. In modern society, women are not portrayed as wanting sex. In fact, if you grew up during any part of the women’s movement, you might’ve been led to believe that ‘sexual freedom’ for a woman only meant she had the right to say “no.” However, as a woman and a feminist, I have benefited from the freedom of choice to say “yes,” to my control over my sexuality, “yes” to how I choose to express it and “yes” to sexual pleasure. It seems that Fifty Shades was just the gateway for some women- women who may have felt stultified sexually, to give themselves permission to explore an enjoyable sex life.

Nature dictates that we are all sexual and sensual beings. It’s beginning to dawn on the modern woman that sexual pleasure isn’t just acceptable for men, but just as acceptable for women. Because of the popularity and the subsequent main stream media frenzy of Fifty Shades of Grey, women are feeling more empowered to talk about what sexual pleasure means to them, regardless of whether they are, or are not into “BDSM.” This is a huge step in the evolution of female sexual acceptance where shame had shrouded it for centuries. Through the public acceptance of Fifty Shades of Grey, women have started to give themselves permission to accept and seek out sexual pleasure. These same women began to feel as free to explore their sexual urges as men had been doing for since time immemorial.

It stands to reason, that women who have found sexual liberation in the E.L. James’ books, might possibly be more open to teaching their daughters that sex and the pleasure we derive from it is healthy, and that their right to express it verbally or physically is nothing to be ashamed of. Without trying to, Fifty Shades of Grey has taken away a bit of the taboo for a certain segment of the female population. Women who normally didn’t discuss “such things” are now sharing the titillation and thrill they get from reading modern erotica. Because this book has been so popular, the discussions have started and have even freed a great many women from the bad kind of ties that bind.

#3 THIS IS NOT ABOUT BDSM

Quotation-Tristan-Taormino-freedom-sexuality-human-feminism-Meetville-Quotes-21462-300x205Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a book about BDSM. It’s not even a love story. At its core, this book is an allegory of one woman’s unexpected journey of self-discovery. The heroine, smart yet un-experienced, yields to her feelings, and follows Mr. Grey on a titillating sexual adventure. She’s not an idiot, she recognizes how extreme and foreign her situation with Mr. Grey is, and struggles with it. Yet, measured, she feeds her desires and discovers, in the process what she does, and does not like about this specific kind of sex.

Experimenting with our turn-ons and turn offs is an essential part of discovering what kind of sex we like best and, therefore, having a satisfying sex life. After all, how do we know what we like, if we don’t even know what we don’t like? We try out what makes us curious in other parts of our lives; like trying new foods or choosing an exercise we enjoy (or at least don’t hate). Why should it be any different with sex? E.L. James has given us a sort a heroine’s journey of sexual self-discovery and we see ourselves in that journey. It’s empowering.

Even if we don’t identify with the characters in the book – we want to, it’s the pull of sexual pleasure. For some of us, we’ve masked the seduction of sexual adventure and enjoyment, putting it on the back-burner in order to (perhaps) build a career, take care of a family member or build our own families. Because of this, the tug of this pilgrimage can come late in life, if we allow it to at all.

Regardless of when we feel compelled to go on a sexual discovery journey, we all must. We all deserve to experience passion, discover what leads us to it, and recognize there are many different roads to take and ways to travel there. Fifty Shades of Grey illuminates just one of those paths and ignites in the reader a contemplation of one’s own passage through the hallowed halls of our sexuality.

Unsure what size

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

Campaign Success! Twitter Changes Policy on Condoms

61- tweet 4 condomsAfter intense pressure from sexual health advocates, Twitter has finally modified their policy that blocked advertisements for condoms and sexual health.

Twitter lifted its ban on condom retailer Lucky Bloke, the first company to speak out about the issue, after nine months of complaints and a public campaign to get the policy changed.

“For the many of you who championed our #Tweet4Condoms campaign, I want to thank you sincerely for lending your voice and support.  It is exciting to see that, united, we can make a positive difference even when standing up to a tech giant,” writes Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke.

Lucky Bloke educates consumers about proper condom fit. Their central messages is that knowing one’s size and how to find what condoms fit best increases sexual pleasure and therefore increases consistent condom use.

However, Lucky Blokes’ frank discussion about sexual pleasure was deemed too racy for Twitter and their account was banned from advertising. Twitter’s old policy on “adult and sexual content” meant that any messages about condoms that mentioned pleasure would be outlawed.

But as we’ve stated before, how can you- more importantly, why should you- disconnect condoms from sex and pleasure. Lucky Bloke and other sexual health advocates felt that Twitter’s confusing ban on safer sex messaging marginalized condoms as “adult” content instead of an important public health issue. To stigmatize safer sex products in such a way is irresponsible and dangerous.

Hence, in the summer of 2014, Lucky Bloke launched the #Tweet4Condoms campaign, which sparked international attention about sexual health advocates held back by the policies of social media giants.

After intense pressure, Twitter re-categorized condoms, as well as personal lubes and contraceptives as “health and pharmaceutical products.” Twitter still prohibits any ads that link to “sexual content” and messages about condoms are still subject to review by Twitter. However, their new listing of condoms and contraceptives as a health product is step in the right direction.

Melissa White told RH Reality Check that she is “incredibly encouraged” by Twitter’s policy changes and Lucky Bloke’s account reinstatement. “To have them budge at all shows critical progress can be made. And for that we should celebrate a little,” White said. “We invite tech giants like Twitter, that have this incredible opportunity to join us and work together to end sexual health stigma and censorship for good.”

You can read more about the #Tweet4Condoms campaign here.

condom ad condoms too loose

The Tangled Nature of Sexy & Violent Halloween Costumes

Photo credit: Charles Rodstorm

Photo credit: Charles Rodstorm

Once again, the sexy Halloween costume debate is in full swing this season. On the one hand, women ought to be allowed to explore their sexuality without fear of repercussions: slut-shaming, objectification, harassment. On the other hand, sexy costumes are increasingly becoming the only purchasing option on the market for women and girls. This debate has sparked grassroots activism, from stores of being pressured to remove sexy toddler costumes from store shelves, to radical DIY Liberate Halloween Action Kits.

But this year’s debate takes on a whole new dimension. Dr. Karen Rayne argues that more and more customs are sexualizing violence in absurd ways; some of which glorify domestic violence and victimhood. Drawing from examples in our popular culture, Rayne argues that this trend is a new kind of assault on educating young people about consent, sexuality and gender expectations.

Do you think the sexy costume has taken an absurd and offensive twist? Is non-consent culture permeating Halloween? Read below and conclude for yourself.

This post was originally publish on Unhushed.net

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

sexy and violent Halloween Costumes

Image from Unhushed.net

Sexy Halloween costumes are evident everywhere we go, all October long. I have been inundated with commentary on these kinds of costumes, and given it myself, for years. I’m emotionally exhausted by it, so I don’t write about it anymore.

But this year, my deepest outrage, sorrow, and grief over the way we are expressing ourselves as a culture has been touched just as deeply as it was the first time I saw a “Sexy Halloween Costume” that was toddler-sized.

But this year, it’s not about the sexy costumes. Or, rather, it’s not just about the sexy costumes. It’s the violent, individual, personalized, victim costumes. It’s the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costumes; it’s this Facebook post by a former student of a teacher friend of mine.

This personalization of the Halloween gore is an entirely different animal than the sexiness that has been creeping younger and younger. As offensive as that is, this takes it to a new level.

The integration of sex and violence – the making sexy of violence against women – has been around for along time and it’s getting worse. From Rhianna and Chris Brown to Pink (see below), abuse is being increasingly sexualized.

And now it’s Halloween’s turn to get in on it all.

Gore is one thing. Sexy zombies may be stupid and raise questions of consent (read down a bit, the relevant part is there, I promise), but the personalized and violent Halloween costumes that are starting to show up and weave into the standing sexy Halloween costumes is a new kind of assault on and education of young people.

Assault, battery, murder: these are not hilarious and funny things to trot out on a holiday. My teacher friend whose student posted the Facebook picture responded (in part) with: “Are you speaking out against domestic abuse, or saying that it makes a good costume. How many women can’t wipe off this ‘make-up’?” My friend was the first to comment on the post, so he was able to set the tone, but there were already eight or nine Likes. We need to teach our children how to recognize inappropriate humor and how to stand up to it. Because this just isn’t funny, cute, or appropriate.

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Sex and the Plus Size Gal

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

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

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

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

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

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

This article is posted on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CSPH: Sex Advice for Intersex People

From the documentary film Intersexion (2012)

From the documentary film Intersexion (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

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

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

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

What is intersexuality?

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

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

Sex advice for the intersex person

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

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

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

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

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

Intersex positive art and writing

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

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

Porn and intersexuality

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

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

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

Additional resources

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

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