Writing about STIs

I’ve been meaning to write about STIs for a while now. As an insanely anxious and sexually active young person, STIs have always been fear #1 when it comes to sex. After I learned things like herpes and HPV can spread even with barriers, I freaked a little. I always had this fantasy that that magical little layer of latex, could give me all the pleasure of sex with none of the risk. Of course that wasn’t true, something I had to deal with when I got my first irregular PAP result. I was officially “adventurous women” zone.

Saying you should writing about STIs, knowing how much your story could help other is one thing; doing it of course is a whole other scary ball of vulnerability. When I pitched the idea to the RedEye, I was kind of banking on the idea that they would think the topic was too sensitive. Instead they said they loved it and wanted a draft in a week.

So there I was writing about my irregular pap, my freak-out, my lovely boyfriend and my sex life. When I was done writing it was almost 2,000 words which is 1,400 over the 600 word limit. Luckily my editor worked some magic. Of course I couldn’t capture it all but this is what I mainly wanted to say to young women: you have to be your own sexual health advocate in this world; you have to ask questions; you have to push for tests; and yes you are going to have to push through the inevitable shame that sex-negative doctors will unknowingly shove at you.

We are not living in a sex-positive world yet. And women are still not sexually equal to men. There are harmful stereotypes and soul-crushing negativity that will stomp out our sexual journeys, and possibly our health, if we don’t advocate for ourselves and our healthy sex lives.

The first step for me and for many young women is to talk about sex more vulnerability; talk about our fears, our STIs, our abortions, our pregnancy scares, our disastrous one-night stands, our mistakes; to talk about these things with self-love and compassion, knowing the only way forward is through.

My full unedited HPV story is below or you can check out the abbreviated version at the RedEye here. 

Like many middle-class white ladies in their twenties, before this summer what I knew about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), I knew from that one infamous HPV-freak-out episode of Girls. You know the one where Hannah freaks out about getting HPV and her ultra-bohemian friend eases her woes by telling her “all adventurous women do.” The episode is full of less-than-truths, lots of confusion, and a fair amount of anxiety, that left me assuming HPV was either synonymous with a regrettable ankle tattoo or something that would ultimately kill me. And yet I felt fairly comfortable with my limited, HBO-informed knowledge of this scary sounding STI, at least I did until my own pap results came back abnormal.

But before I get to that moment of instant irrational panic, let me tell the whole story. I’m a huge advocate for safe sex: I like to throw around condoms like they are magical stretchy bags of sex wonder; I get tested just about every time I’m in the doctor’s office because it’s easy and free; and despite my Girls-influenced misinformation about HPV, I tend to know my shit about STIs thanks to some well informed sex-positive friends. So when I started bleeding regularly after sex, I knew something was wrong.

After the usual battery of STI tests came back negative, my well-intentioned but clearly out-of-touch nurse practitioner suggested “taking a break from sex,” as if ignoring the problem is a solution. I cannot emphasize this enough, ladies: you have to be your own advocate. If you think something is wrong, you need to stand up for yourself in the doctor’s office even to sweet middle-age nurses who think you’re just exhausting your lady bits with too much fun sexy time. After persisting, I convinced my primary doctor to perform a pap, a test that checks for irregular and possibly cancerous cells on the cervix and is recommended for women every five years.  

The tests came back abnormal. I freaked a bit.

To be super clear here, I had a pap smear; I did not have an HPV test. The actual test for HPV is not recommended for women under 30. This is because most sexually-active will be exposed to HPV and most people’s bodies fight the virus effectively within two years. Occasionally certain strains of HPV will turn into genital warts or cancer. But for the majority of young women and men, HPV is something they will have and fight without ever knowing it. But many abnormal pap results indicate HPV.

A pap being abnormal meant some of the cells on my cervix were not quite right and further tests were needed, a punch biopsy of my cervix to be precise. Nobody likes the word biopsy but nobody with a cervix has any desire to have anything punch anywhere near their precious cervix. After talking to the rushed nurse, I scheduled the violent-sounding procedure, quickly hung up the phone and crumpled onto the floor.

I then proceeded to call every single lady I knew from my mom to my cousin to my best friend to tell them about my abnormal cervix. I was shocked by how many people had already been through the torture-biopsy. I made all of them describe the procedure in minute detail. I googled a lot. I called back my doctor and made them explain the procedure. By the third slightly tear-y call to the doctor, they also prescribed a Xanax to take before the procedure. I was a mess.

Luckily throughout my panic, I had a pretty incredible partner to be all logical and comforting, as I fell down the rabbit hole of webmd and HPV message boards. I would drink bourbon and tell him about the crazy things I read online and he would hold my hand and remind me that I was not HPVsurvivor49 and that I was going to be okay. Although there is no HPV test for men, having an honest conversation about STI risk can be an oddly bonding and intimate experience, especially when done over a bottle of Kentucky’s finest.

By the day of the biopsy, I was well-informed but still nervous as a natural hypochondriac would be. As I swallowed my Xanax and waited with my partner though, I will say I relaxed a bit. If Girls got anything right it is that all adventurous women do have this experience, not necessarily the punch-in-the-cervix experience, but the experience of walking into unknown, treacherous-appearing territory, with possibly-Xanaxed steady hearts.

The biopsy itself was similar to a pap smear with the traditional gown, stir ups and every one’s favorite speculum. The biopsy is a little pinch of skin from the cervix. Personally I didn’t feel the first two but as my cervix began to react to the tugs, the third hurt a bit and I was ready to be done by the fourth. After a glass of wine, a few Tylenol and some binge watching of Battlestar Galactica, I was almost embarrassed by how nervous I was. The next day I was up and kayaking, blissfully glad I had survived my little adventure

Then of course there was the waiting, waiting to find if the little irregular legions on my cervix were cancer. They weren’t.

They healed. Bleeding after sex stopped. I’m scheduled to have yearly paps until the results come back normal but for the most part, I survived not thanks to any of my own mis-information or fears but completely to the wonderfully supportive people I had in my life.

STIs are scary in large part because of the half-truths we learn from HBO shows, awkward health teachers and the internet. When we think of STIs we think of big scary photos of open herpes legions or people dying of AIDS. This fear leads to blame and shame. We think STIs are a consequence of silly sex mistakes, that only the slutty ones who deserve STIs are the ones impacted. Our fears and our shame keep us from talking to those around us, who are the ones in the end who will help us through this maze of sexual adventure.


WTF: Why is female masturbation (pleasure) so flipping shocking to people

CW recently cut a brief female masturbation scene in their new period show “Reign” and instead cut right to the part where the King of France decided to “bed” the maiden. Just to be clear, they cut the “graphic and offensive” masturbation scene in favor of what today we call statutory rape. So rape= okee dokey for TV. Self female pleasure = not so much.

I’ve got to say this make me royally pissed. I’m annoyed that we are at this place is society where women are constantly shown as sex objects but are not allowed to enjoy sexuality. I’m sick of sex being shown as something done to women instead of something enjoyed. No wonder our young men and women have so many fucked up ideals on sex.

And why are Americans so flipping freaked out by female pleasure?! Well I’ve got lots of thoughts on this but I think Tracy Clark-Flory says it best:

“Female masturbation forces us to acknowledge that women are sexual creatures, and that can be deeply disturbing for some. After all, we’re supposed to be the gatekeepers holding humanity together — and if we’re not at our post, then who is?”

Why I stopped counting my number

I was pumped to have a new Thought Catalog article out yesterday on the “Top 5 reasons you should stop counting your number of sexual partners.” It was a little piece I’d been mulling on for a year. Lovely to see those things actually come to fruition. But the whole thing started out as my personal experience of why I chose to stop counting my number. In the end I cut that out since nobody wants to hear my sad sack stories of dry humping but I decided to include my personal “giving up the number” story here. Enjoy and don’t judge too harshly!

#personalstory: Why I stopped counting my number

Whenever I meet a new group of girls the “number” conversation inevitably comes up. Usually it happens some Thursday after work, a few martinis in. “So what’s yo-oar number?” they ask, eyebrows raised in anticipation. Always my mind does this mental calculation of trying to add together a lifetime of sexual experiences into a quantifiable number and then rectify that sum with whatever social construct I am currently in. I always feel like it is like this weird game people play to see if my number will fit in with their preconceived notion of who I am.

Yet I always felt safe as long as I could count my sexual partners on two hands. For some reason, I have always had this fear of reaching double digits. On the surface as a feminist I understand why this was an irrational fear. Nine is not so different from ten. A number will not define who you are as a human being. But as a flawed individual and an occasionally silly girl, double digits seemed like risky territory; the stuff terrible slut-shaming movies are made out of.

So as my second hand began to fill up with sex partners, I began to try to disqualify previous sexual soirées. Did it really count if he didn’t come? What if I didn’t come?

And then one day as I was pondering sex as I do too often these days, I realized how insanely ridiculous it was that I was equally weighing all my sex partners.

I could get into specifics here but I really don’t think I have to. For the most part we all have sexual experiences that range on the continuum of “paradigm shifting, what did the world look like before your dick/vulva” sex to “good god, I would rather dry hump chair arm than ever look at you again” sex. They don’t merit the same weight in our life story so why would they get the same weight when we count.

Besides a number doesn’t say anything about my sexual maturity, my sexual satisfaction, or my sexual health. Does it matter if I rank on the Charlotte or the Samantha side of things? I’ll always be a slut to one person and a prude to another.

Sometime last year, I just decided to stop counting. I decided that I would stop trying to quantify my experience and instead try to learn from each experience, learned what I liked, what I didn’t, and most importantly what I really wanted.

Now when that age-old question of “how many” comes up, I like to still a line from my brilliantly naughty and impossibly eloquent friend Jorge how told me: “If you are still counting your number, you should stop counting and start having more sex.”

Why Women Slut Shame Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus is the twerk and subsequent slut shame felt round the world. Her VMA twerking drama will not die down no matter how sick we all are of analyzing the phallic nature of that fucking foam finger. And although I get that Miley’s been kind of an entertaining freak show lately, it is frankly crazy to me how many people give two shits about her current slutitude level. Why didn’t we just write off her twerk up as another bad VMA performance, like a more racist Brittany Spears circa 2007?

South Park knew Miley was going to be the next sacrificial slut back in 2008!

Instead people, and particularly women, continue to weigh in with their opinions about Miley and her twerkiness. The judgement-o-rama continued when Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter (and then a second, third, fourth and FIFTH open letter) to Miley, after Miley said Sinead was an inspiration for the “Wrecking Ball” music video. Sinead’s letter was not a pretty one, nor was the Twitter fight post-letter particularly graceful for either of the artists. Sinead claimed she was acting as a “mother figure” when she told Miley that she was being pimped out by the music industry. If I had a quarter for every time my mom called me a prostitute…

Whether or not Sinead truly thought she was acting in Miley’s “best interest,” it is not her job, nor mine, nor the media, to decide what is sexually-appropriate for Miley Cyrus and what is not.

Look I get the need to gawk at a twerking car wreck. As human beings it is our God-given freedom to judge Miley’s performance, to say things like: “That was the least sexy performance I’ve witnessed since Jim Levenstein’s strip tease in American Pie” or to think “Please stop licking things or at least make sure your tetanus shot is up-to-date.”

It is not okay for to go from “your performance was horrendous” to “you are a horrendous slut,” which is essentially what Sinead and the media and most of America did. We went from hating an action to condemning a woman.

But why did we, particularly as the women of this free liberated world, do such a silly and un-feminist thing like slut shame a 20-year old woman?

I think we slut shame Miley to prove that we aren’t the whores. We make Miley the slut, make her smuttiness deplorable and thus create that whorey “other” we can point to as “everything that is wrong with America.”

Then, all us liberated women of the world can be the acceptably sexual ladies on the street and proper freaks in the bed, that we so want to be.

None of which is to say that Miley deserves our praise, or that her twerking was good. We should definitely be talking about her appropriation of black culture as well as why nude is not a flattering color on her. But as for her sexuality, Miley appears to be like a lot of 20 year old women: visibly awkward with her own scantily clad body and unsure of how to express her sexiness in a society filled with mixed messages for young women. Sound familiar to any other women out there?

5 Things Sexier than doing stats homework on a Saturday night

Here are five things that are sexier than staying in on a Saturday night to do Stats homework….

1) This scene from Take This Waltz

2) This music video by Bastille. (Or this one…or this one…or anything those glorious men do.)

3) This photo of JGL along with the fact that he is brilliant. 

4) This tumblr…oh gawd, this tumblr…. Men with Chest Hair

5) This from Anais Nin

“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me,who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent,who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”

#stoked: Playboy’s College Edition focuses on consent

#superstoked to see my college representing some awesome consent wear here! Go Badgers!

Playboy’s 2013 Review of Campus Sex Life focused on consent! Pretty rad to see consent made sexy. I may not be a fan of a lot of the bull shit Playboy pulls, but they are a force to be sure. I’m happy any time the powers make a decision to promote something that can make Americans sexually healthier! Read the HuffPost article here. 

Update: IT WAS AN AWESOME HOAX. Glady be fooled by these awesome feminists any day!