dear Mr. Akin

You know what? I’m not even going to talk about the way your claims about “‘legitimate’ rape” re-traumatize and dismiss the experiences of the millions of rape victims in your country. I’m not even going to talk about the bone you just blatantly threw to rape apologists and misogynists across the board. I’m not even going to delve into the depths of how disgusted and insulted I am that you think it’s acceptable to claim that parsing “legitimate” versus “nonlegitimate” rape can be the result of “misspeaking”. There are lots of other people who have addressed this, likely more eloquently than I can, for example here, and here, and here, and many other places.

Here’s an aspect of it all that really bothers me.

Really. Fucking. Bothers. Me.

That I haven’t really seen addressed yet.

 

So, dear Mr. Akin, thank you for furthering the simultaneous fetishization of and ignorance about the female body. Thank you ever so very little.

 

As women, we aren’t really taught about our own bodies. At all. Our reproductive system is nothing but a vague Georgia-O’keeffe-esque diagram in a textbook and a monthly load of blood to us, unless we have the good fortune to attend private school with real sex ed, or our parents actually buy us a copy of some intimidating hardback book on the subject. Everything is treated as though it needs to be shameful, private, and mysterious. We’re bombarded with ads for tampons that will supposedly make our periods undetectable, pictures of porn stars with any undesirable vaginal quirks (or, you know, labia minora) ironed out with surgery, and Health classes that teach nothing about our uteruses other than that they make babies.

You think I’m joking or exaggerating? I have multiple female friends who were straight-A students in high school, yet didn’t learn until college that the urethra and the vagina are separate orifices. If that alone doesn’t alarm you, I don’t know what to say.

Men are encouraged to know even less. Men are supposed to get flustered and embarrassed by the mere mention of the female reproductive system. Menstruation? Pregnancy? Cervical cancer? Cue red face, dismissive waving of a hand, gruff rebuttal about how that’s all woman stuff  they neither want nor need to hear about.

 

Note that this doesn’t work the other way around; women are expected to understand the functioning of the male reproductive system. Why? Because Men Can Get You Pregnant. As such, we’re expected to treat male genitalia like a loaded gun – better learn all about the million ways something could go wrong if you come in contact with it, because You Know Guys Just Can’t Be Held Responsible.

 

But womens’ genitals and beyond are treated as simultaneously gross and one of the great mysteries of the world. How does it all work? Nobody knows! (Or so people seem to think.) It’s just a mysterious baby-making-factory-and-warm-squishy-semen-receptacle, once you get past the labia (and hey, didn’t porn teach you that those are supposed to barely exist in the first place? What’s the deal with all this extra…stuff?), and those who could pioneer programs to change this ignorant concept seem perfectly happy on keeping it that way.

And that’s why Todd Akin thought he could get away with claiming that womens’ bodies are capable of somehow magically distinguishing between “rape semen” and “wonderful miraculous gift-from-god baby-making semen”…

…and why, disgustingly enough, there are probably a fair number of people who would believe him.

 

Because the female reproductive system is sold to us as some grab-bag of mystical and vaguely disgusting properties wrapped up in a sex-toy exterior, rich white self-proclaimed-”mens’-men” politicians can squeak by with claiming that womens’ bodies can exempt men and society at large from any responsibility for things like forced pregnancies.

Now, go ahead and tell me again that we don’t live in a patriarchal society, and that we’re not in the middle of a very real war on women.

Advertisements

a follow-up on “on safer sex, part 2”

I just realized that my last post was a little lacking in terms of the “what to expect if you find out that you do have an STD” section. Rather than editing – which less people would see – I thought I’d add a few additional notes up here. They’re less big, cohesive statments like the ones made in the original post (you need to inform past/present/future partners, self-care is a good thing, etc) and more just a series of small tips, tricks, and things to note. This is by no means even close to comprehensive, and if you are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, you ‘d do well to follow the advice of a trained professional rather than just relying on the ramblings of a nineteen-year-old blogger.

 

Without further ado:

1. HPV. If your doctor does a visual check and suspects an HPV infection, there are a few things you should do. One, you should try to get tested to see what specific strains you have, especially if your previous or current partner/s have had the Gardisil vaccine. Doing so could mean being able to tell whether or not you likely infected your partner as well.

Also, it’s worth getting the opinion of a dermatologist as well, especially if you’re male. There are several skin conditions that can look like genital warts, but are actually harmless and easy to remove. So, if your doctor suspects that you have genital warts, you should always get a second (or third) opinion, particularly if you don’t have a history with this paticular doctor. I can think of few things worse than freaking out over an incorrect diagnosis.

2. Anything bacterial (syphilis, chlamydia, gonhorrea, etc). If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics (rather than receiving them in the form of a shot), you absolutely need to finish all of the pills. Just like any other infection, you can’t stop taking the antibiotics just because the symptoms went away, otherwise the infection can return – and sometimes, can become resistant to the antibiotic you’re taking. Finish all the pills on the schedule recommended on the bottle. You’ll likely need to get re-tested later to make sure that the infection really is gone.

For those who’ve never taken antibiotics before, they can kinda kill your stomach, because they destroy the good bacteria that help you digest food along with whatever infection they’re meant to get rid of. What will help is, first of all, to always take the pill with food. I know that sounds counterintuitive – to eat more to avoid an upset stomach – but it really does help, even if it’s just a spoonful of peanut butter. Also, eat yogurt, especially the kind that says it has “active cultures” – it helps replace the bacteria in your intestines, which will help keep you from getting an upset stomach.

3. Herpes. It’s important to know that, even though there are medications to reduce the frequency of outbreaks and help prevent transmitting the virus to your partner, there’s actually no 100% effective method to ensure that you won’t give it to your partner (even if you’re not having an outbreak at the time of intercourse). The choice of whether or not to take such medication is 100% up to you; some people have very frequent outbreaks and benefit a lot from medication, others only have a few outbreaks in their lifetime and have no need for it.

4. HIV.Always, always, always re-test for this one. Though it’s statistically unlikely, there is the small chance of a false-positive or false-negative result. If your test shows up as positive, your doctor will almost certainly order additional testing to confirm the result. If he/she doesn’t, specifically request further testing…and, personally, I’d recommend doing so with a different doctor, as any medical professional who doesn’t double-check this sort of thing is more than a bit sketchy. With something this important, you really can’t afford to just rely on the result of one single test.

 

Okay, I think that pretty much covers the important things I glossed over before. Hopefully this was a helpful addition to the last post!

-Avvie

on safer sex, part two – sexually transmitted infections

If you want medical journal articles and in-depth analysis, I’m gonna suggest heading over to the CDC website or something; my goal in this post is just to give a basic rundown about how to avoid these things, what your responsibilities are, what factors are risky, and just addressing a few general misconceptions I see floating around a lot. This is especially important considering the recent news from the medical community stating that there is now a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea floating around in the U.S. and elsewhere.

 

See, I don’t know about anybody else, but in high school the extent of my sex ed class was “sperm meets egg, baby happens, don’t abort it or you’ll regret it forever”. Lots of referring to embryos as Unborn Children, lots of anatomy/physiology, nothing in terms of possible health effects other than “wear a condom”. I was stunned by how little I (and my classmates) knew about anything to do with our sexual health; I mean, I understood that sexually transmitted diseases existed, because my mother was a microbiologist, and I knew there was one called HIV that was really bad and that there were a few others that were really hard to spell, but that was it. I was ignorant, man. My bubble surrounding all that didn’t get burst until I was raped my sophomore year; I then found myself in the local community health clinic with my feet in metal stirrups getting my cervix swabbed. Hearing the nurse spout off all the possible ramifications brought my “don’t get pregnant and everything will be okay” idea to a screeching halt, and I dedicated myself to learning whatever I could find out about STIs and teaching my friends.

It’s funny (in a dark, very non-funny sort of way) the way that we tend to look at STIs. Like rape, we view them as something that “happens to other people”. I always had this weird idea that as long as you weren’t having sex with random heroin users in back alleys, you were pretty much safe. I hear that sentiment echoed by a lot of my peers still, which frankly scares the shit out of me, because we’re grown-ass adults still thinking like high school freshman – and when it comes to your health and the health of others, that’s not really an acceptable thing.

So, allow me to shatter your illusions for a moment.

 

Hi, I’m Avvie, who goes to a good college in a good part of town, and I have a good friend who recently got herpes from her boyfriend (he never even showed any symptoms).

Hi, I’m Avvie, and my straight-A-student best friend from high school contracted gonorrhea and spread it to her regular partner before she even realized she had it.

Hi, I’m Avvie, and my Ph.D. scientist mother has both strains of HSV (the virus that causes oral/genital herpes).

Hi, I’m Avvie, and one of my coworkers at a high-end downtown clothing store had a high-risk strain of HPV (the virus that can cause cervical cancer and/or genital warts).

 

Sexually transmitted diseases happen more than we as a society like to admit. A lot more. A hell of a lot more. And they don’t contain themselves in neighborhoods, schools, and age groups that “other people” fit into.

 

Maybe you think you already know about this stuff. Yeah, yeah, you didn’t doze off in Health class, or your mom is a nurse, or whatever. No, fuck it. Get off your high horse, listen the fuck up. I don’t know you, I don’t care if you want to be a smug know-it-all if it only affects your health. But, newsflash, it doesn’t. It affects a lot of people around you, in a lot of ways.

There’s shit you need to know. You need to care about this. A lot.

And here’s how to go about that.

 

 

1. PROTECTING YOURSELF

The best offense is a good defense, or whatever the heck it is they say these days. So when it comes to your sexual partners, realize that you can take nothing for granted.

Sure, maybe your partner shows no visible symptoms of an STD (no weird discharge, bumps, discoloration, whatever). That’s helpful, but Jesus fucking Christ it’s not enough. A ton of STDs can be asymptomatic for weeks, months, years, or even forever. Everything from chlamydia to herpes to HIV can potentially go undetected for more or less a lifetime. This is especially true for men, as women are statistically more likely to show symptoms at some point.

Bottom line: your partner needs to get tested in order for you guys to have safer sex. It’s not an exception, it’s the rule.

 

Now, I’m going to tell you something that will probably seem really paranoid and off-putting, but bear with me here:

Always, always assume your partner will lie about this.

 

No. Seriously. I’ve had a partner lie to me about his medical and sexual history before, and it was a fucking awful and traumatic experience. Up til then, I was happy to trust a “sure, of course!” in response to my asking if a partner had been tested recently. Now? No fucking way.

Ask to see documentation of the testing. Don’t fall for any “but they wouldn’t give me any” bullshit; clinics will provide you with written proof of your own test results if you request it. Don’t trust a saved voice mail. Ask to see the results, on paper. If your partner tries to throw a “just trust me” in your face upon this request, I’d highly suggest nixing your plans to be intimate with him or her. Someone willing to dismiss your health concerns for the chance to get into your pants is, generally speaking, not someone you want to be involved with.

 

Some people think all this can be circumvented by using condoms. The answer is that condoms are very, very helpful in making sex safer. Not only do they offer good contraception, but they protect well (but not 100%) against certain sexually transmitted diseases. Proper condom use should be a part of everyone’s repertoire.

Problem is, condoms don’t protect against certain STDs, and condoms can tear or break, and condoms can leak.

What don’t they protect well against? Herpes and HPV (again, cervical cancer and/or genital warts) are the major culprits. These two STDs are spread through any skin-to-skin contact, rather than bodily fluids, so a condom will do little or nothing to help (little-known fact: it is possible to spread herpes even if the person is not currently having an outbreak).

Condoms also aren’t of much help when it comes to oral sex. A lot of STDs can be transferred through that sort of stuff, though the transmission rate is usually lower than through vaginal/anal sex. You don’t have to swallow semen to be at risk. In fact, oral herpes (also known as cold sores) can be spread to a partner’s genitals and visa versa.

 
One other important note on self-care: if you’re under the age of 26, do everything you can to get the Gardasil vaccine. Talk to a doctor about it, or read up on it online; it’s the only vaccine I know of that actually helps to prevent any STD. It protects well against two strains of HPV that cause the majority of genital warts cases, and two more that cause a significant number of cervical cancer cases. In my humble opinion they haven’t done nearly enough research on the required follow-ups to the vaccine, but it still could potentially make a huge difference to your own health or the health of future sexual partners. If you can, do it.

 

 

 

2. Protecting Your Partner

Get tested.

No, seriously, get fucking tested.

No, I don’t care if you feel fine and have never had any symptoms. Get tested.

I don’t care if you’ve only had one sexual partner.

Get fucking tested.

I don’t care if you’ve never touched an intravenous drug in your life.

Get. Yourself. Fucking. Tested.

 

Okay, so, I’m being unfairly harsh. Getting tested is a scary notion for a lot of people, I get that. The idea of potentially finding out that you have an STD is nerve-wracking.

But imagine how much worse you’d feel if you did have something, and unknowingly infected someone else, okay?

 

Where:

Almost every city I’ve ever been to has had some sort of community clinic that has sliding-scale fees, so cost really should not be an issue. In fact, some places also have centers specifically for cost-free testing. Planned Parenthood is a good place to start looking. Consult Google, Yelp, the Yellow Pages, your school nurse, or a friend or two. I guarantee you, there will be options.

 

When:

Different STDs can be detected different amounts of time after possible exposure (consult Google for more specific numbers on that), but a general rule is that you need to wait at least a couple weeks after the last time you had sexual contact with someone before you can expect accurate results. For HIV testing specifically, you actually can’t really guarantee accuracy until six months after, though most people will develop detectable antibodies within the first three months or less.

 

What:

One of the most frustrating things I’ve found in the healthcare system is the fact that, if you just walk in and say “I want to be tested for STIs”, chances are they’ll only test you for one or two things. I once asked for full-spectrum testing, only to be told that I would only be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Um, what?

It definitely helps to discuss your “risk factors” (types of sexual activity you’ve engaged in, any drug use, number of partners, etc) with the doctor if you feel comfortable with it. However, don’t expect that he or she will automatically know all the tests you should get. At one point, a college-health-center nurse tried to talk me out of getting HIV tested after I was raped, because “I was probably fine”. No, guys, the doctor does not always know best.

So, know beforehand what tests you need. If you want to cover your bases, my suggestion is to specifically request to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, herpes, trichomoniasis and syphilis. In addition, ask for a physical exam to look for any potential symptoms of HPV infection – ladies, sometimes this will just be part of the deal anyway, if you’re getting your annual exam. Guys, you will probably need to specifically request this. Don’t skip this step, even if you’re sure you’re fine, because doctors are trained to look for a lot of things you might never even notice.

Now, if you really want to make sure your bases are covered, consider getting tested for HIV twice (once at three months, once at six), request any available tests for HPV (some places will offer this, some will not), and get tested for any strains of hepatitis that you haven’t been vaccinated against.

Also, specifically for those of us with a vagina: if you have had any discomfort, itching, weird discharge, or anything else, it might be worth asking for a test to detect a potential yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. Both of these can potentially be transmitted sexually, but can also just sort of happen on their own (I’ve gotten the latter once, in high school) because the PH level of your vagina got thrown out of whack or something. You’ll be prescribed some antibiotics or a cream, it’s really no big deal.

 

How:

Other than the physical exam (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like), you’ll probably need a swab (of mucus, discharges, cervical cells, whatever), a urine test, and possibly a blood test. Important note: you can be tested for HIV even without a blood test! Many clinics carry HIV tests that you use just by swabbing a little paper tab over your gums, so fear of needles is absolutely no excuse for skipping that test!

I should note that none of this should hurt. In my experience, reproductive health clinic nurses are some of the frickin best phlebotomists in the world – I used to be afraid of needles, but honestly they never even so much as left as bruise when I got tested. Plus, they don’t actually need that much blood to test for most STDs, so it’s not nearly as bad as getting blood tests for most other things.

Generally, results take three to five days to come back from the lab, and the clinic will contact you with them as soon as they can.

 

 

Again, this will sound vaguely crazy, but try not to be too embarrassed or shy. These people do this stuff for a living, and I guarantee you are definitely not the strangest case they’ve seen in their careers – hell, you’re probably not even the strangest case they’ve seen in any given day. Their job really is just to help you stay healthier, and keep the rest of the world a little healthier, too.

 

Now, here’s the tough question. What do you do if a test comes back positive?

1. Try not to freak out. I know it’s tempting, but give it your best shot. STDs are not uncommon, and you’re not some sort of subhuman for having one. Hell, over 50% of people will contract one at some point.

2. Find out what your options are. Some STIs can be cured with something as simple as an injection of antibiotics or some pills to pick up at the pharmacy. Even for chronic infections, there are medications that can help symptoms and lower the frequency of outbreaks or complications. Generally speaking, the sooner you start on a treatment plan, the more effective it will be. Ask your doctor to discuss some possible steps you can take, join a support group, do some research – whatever it takes to make you feel like you’re making positive steps toward dealing with it.

3. Inform your partners.

This is absolutely the most important thing. Before you have sexual contact with anyone (this includes kissing, in many cases), you need to let them know about any potential health risks. Will this lose you some opportunities for sex? Yes, probably. I won’t lie about that. But it will also make you the much bigger person in the situation, which is a hell of a lot more important.

Let me reiterate this.

There is no excuse for failing to clearly and accurately inform your partner of any potentially sexually transmitted infections or diseases you may be carrying.

Now, let’s say you at one point contracted chlamydia, faithfully took the antibiotics, and got re-tested to ensure that the infection had been cleared. A year down the road, do you really need to tell a partner about that? I’ll leave that one up to you. But if there’s any chance whatsoever that you might still have the infection, it’s your responsibility to tell them. I don’t like to “should” on people, but this is one situation where I’m going to take a lot of liberties with that.

Another note: you need to inform future partners, but you also need to inform any past partners who may have a) given you the STD, or b) been exposed to it. If you test positive for any STD and have had any sexual/intimate contact with anyone since the last time you were tested (or even just within the last year, as a rule of thumb), you need to let them know, so that they can get tested and ensure that they’re not passing on anything to their current or future partners. It’s tough to do, but it really is non-negotiable. It needs to happen. You’re not allowed to rely on their spontaneously deciding to get tested before they have another partner.

 

 

We care about safer sex, right? We’re a generation that faces a world where diseases can spread quickly and easily, and people start having sex fairly early. As such, we need to make conscientiousness about sexual health the rule, rather than the exception. It’s all about respecting yourself and your partners; and if it catches on, we’d be a heck of a better society for it.

I’m not trying to scare or guilt anybody.

I’m just trying to fill in the miscellaneous (and majorly important) gaps our educational system has left behind.

 

on safer sex, part one – establishing consent

I’ve recently decided to start this series as a slightly more sex-positive part of my blog, mostly because I feel like the sex education in our schools (when we have any) and the rest of our lives is horrendously inadequate. I know that for some of you I’m probably beating a dead horse, and I also know that there are probably plenty of other bloggers out there who have already done this a lot better. But, fuck it. You can’t talk about sexual violence without incorporating the other aspect; that is, sexual activity that attempts to be healthy in every way. Safer sex doesn’t stop at using a condom. It encompasses so much more than that. And, as the daughter of a med school teacher, I’m in a rather unique position to discuss a lot of that in accurate layman’s terms.

This particular installment involves one of my favorite things: consent. It assumes that you are already a person who cares whether or not your partner is comfortable with and enjoying sexual activity – if this isn’t the case, there are a variety of other posts on this blog (check the ‘rape’ tag) that may be more appropriate for you. If you do care, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t do a whole lot unless you understand the ins and outs of it a little better.

 

So, a prelude: what is consent? Or, what isn’t consent?

This is one of those things that’s been done to death by a lot of other blogs, but in my humble opinion it’s still worth reiterating (all the time. To everyone. Shouting it from the mountaintops, even).

Consent is a lot of things, but the most basic are:

1. Consent is active. The lack of a “no” does not constitute consent, nor does silence, nor does something seemingly ambiguous like “it’s getting late” or “I’m sort of tired” or “but I have a boy/girlfriend”. Even if your partner lets you do whatever you’re doing, you have not obtained consent until they have actually said “yes” to the activity.*

2. Consent is specific. Just because your partner said “yes” to something once, that does not mean they consented to do it again. Consent only applies to the situation at hand: the specific time, place, kind of sexual activity, and person/s with which they’re doing whatever they’re doing. This also explains why it’s entirely possible for partner rape to occur: just because you had consensual sex with someone one time, that does not mean you can just assume they’re down for it the next time. When in doubt, ask.

3. Consent is freely given. It’s not enough that a “yes” is obtained; how it is obtained is just as important. A “yes” given in a situation where your partner knows that you will be angry or act out if they don’t agree to sexual activity does not count as consent. A “yes” given after you have begged, wheedled, or asked repeatedly does not count as consent. A “yes” given after you make any move to intimidate your partner does not count as consent. A “yes” only counts as consent when your partner is able to feel that ze  is being given a real choice in the matter, rather than being pressured into cooperating.

4. Consent is retractable. Okay, cool, so your partner freely agreed to do a certain thing with you. But you’re not home free yet: you also need to understand that consent is defined by the last thing your partner said on the matter. So if, partway through the activity, ze changes hir mind and indicates that ze would like to stop, it is 110% your responsibility to respect that and stop right away. Do not try to change hir mind, do not argue or say “just a little longer” or “you need to let me finish”. Ze needs to do no such thing. Just because you were given a “yes” initially, that does not give you the right to carry on if that “yes” is retracted.

 

On the most simple level, that’s really all you have to keep in mind. Make sure your partner* has actually verbally said “yes” to the particular thing you want to do at that particular time, don’t pressure them into the decision, and be prepared to stop if they ask you to. Easy peasy lemon squeezy pumpkin pie, right? Well, sort of.

See, the media (and pretty much everywhere else we learn about the actual act of sex*** from) doesn’t really provide us with a great framework for learning how to actually implement this. It’s one thing to understand the checklist what you need in order for sex to be consensual, but to be quite honest, a lot of us have no idea how the fuck to actually ask for consent without sounding like a textbook/robot.

So, I’ve compiled a handy-dandy selection of ways to ask for consent that can help keep things a little easier – and that, if done right, can actually be pretty sexy. It’s not like you need to bring sex to a screeching halt every time you want to try something else or make sure your partner is comfortable and into it; just, ya know, check in occasionally. If anyone can think of any that they’d want to add to this list, please please PLEASE contact me about it!!! I can only think of so many on my own.

 

Before starting a sexual activity:

  • “Is it okay if I ________?” Personally, this one is my go-to. While it might initially sound insecure, try whispering it into your partner’s ear. That tends to bump anything up on the erotic scale, if my experience is anything to go by.
  • “Would you want to ________?”
  • “Do you want to try _______?”
  • “I’ve always sort of wanted to _______. What do you think?” Be a little careful about this one mid-coitus: if what you’re suggesting is drastically different than the sorts of things you two have done in the past, it might be best to discuss it before your clothes have hit the floor.

 

During whatever you’re doing:

  • “Is there anything else that you’d want to try?” This serves a nice double purpose of both encouraging your partner to be open with you about hir preferences and offering hir an out if ze is uncomfortable with what’s going on but too shy to say so.
  • “Does that feel good?” Again, while you might worry that this comes off as shaky or insecure, it’s not hard to remedy that. Just be careful that you don’t sound like you’re fishing for a particular answer.
  • “Do you need to take a break for a bit?” Straight gentlemen, non-straight ladies, and anyone else who might ostensibly have a female partner: this is one you should definitely make use of if you ever notice that your partner getting dry during sex. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she isn’t enjoying it; sometimes, it just happens. Better safe than sorry, though…just ask, because the worst that could happen is that she says she actually is enjoying it, in which case all you need to do is offer to grab some lube before you keep going.
  • “Do you want me to keep going?”
  • “Would it be better/easier if I ______?”
  • “Do you like it this way/with this/without this/etc?”
  • “How do you want me to do ______?”
  • “Let me know if you want me to do anything differently.”

 

 

And, remember: as a very wise man once told me, there is a safe and healthy way to do just about anything. Safe words are 100% your friend. Especially when engaging in more unusual or taboo things, it makes it way more enjoyable for everyone involved: you get the satisfaction of knowing that your partner is enjoying it, too, and your partner can enjoy hirself with the reassurance that you care about respecting hir boundaries.

Now, I’m no spokesperson for the fetish community, and I’ve never visited a bondage dungeon in my life. But hopefully, what little I do know can be a drop in the bucket as far as fighting all the misinformation out there (incidentally, this is my biggest beef with the “50 Shades of Gray” bullshit; not the terrible writing, but the damage it does to the idea of safe, consensual kink).

The basic tenants are this (and, really, you should do the first one even if you’re engaging in the most vanilla sex possible):

1. Establish boundaries. “Hard” boundaries and “soft” boundaries: respectively, things you never want to try or engage in versus things you’re not totally comfortable with but may be willing to explore given the right settings. In a more casual setting, this doesn’t need to be a big/fancy affair. Just ask your partner, at some point, if there’s anything they’re really not into, and make a mental note to avoid those. In a more kinky setting, this is an absolute must, and it would actually be a good idea to put it into writing.

2. Use a safeword. Respect that safeword like it is your fucking bible. For those unfamiliar, a safeword is a word that your partner (or you!) can use as code for “for whatever reason, I am no longer comfortable with this and it needs to stop NOW”. It’s particularly useful in a lot of dominant/submissive or “consensual nonconsent”**** play where saying “no” or “stop” might be part of the roles played. In other words, it’s a failsafe in situations where boundaries might be pushed and consent can be difficult to gauge by more conventional routes.

The caveat to this is that you must always, always respond to that safeword as an immediate and incontrovertible command to STOP. There is never any room for debate: when your partner says the safeword, you stop. Ignoring a safeword is not just a party foul, it is full-blown sexual assault. Your safeword is your partner’s method of withdrawing consent, and failure to respond accordingly is inexcusable on about fifteen separate levels. Moreover, exactly like the more standard forms of gauging consent, you absolutely cannot use your emotions as punishment for your partner if ze decides to retract consent.  If you try to argue with or threaten or shame hir for using the safeword, or if you badger hir about re-trying whatever pushed hir boundaries, then, safeword or not, you are not engaging in consensual play.

 

So, what am I really getting at with all this?

What I’m trying to impress on you is that, no matter what you’re into, no matter how much or little you know your partner/s, and no matter how little way you have with words, there is always a safe, healthy, and respectful way to check that you have your partner’s consent before engaging in whatever floats your boat.

And maybe you already knew all this, and that’s really great. Tell some other people about it. Link your five favorite people to this post, drunkenly explain it to your friends on the football team this weekend, or really go all-out and print out a little flyer on consent to pin up in your college’s residence halls And heck, if you didn’t know already, I hope some of this managed to help! :3

 

(P.S. if there’s anything you’d like to see edited into this installment of the series or addressed in a future one, I’d love to hear from you about it!)

 

 

Avvie, over and out.

 

 

 

 

* There are ways to gain consent nonverbally as well; however, this is a little beyond the scope of this post, so maybe I’ll need to make another specifically for it. To be on the safe side, it’s just best to always look for verbal consent unless you’re well-versed in the ins and outs of nonverbal kinds.

** I use the singular here, and for most of the post, but all of this applies just as readily to situations with multiple sexual partners. I’ve just kept it mostly to sexual situations involving two people for the sake of grammatical simplicity.

*** For the purposes of this post, “sex” = “any sort of sexual/intimate activity”, not just penetrative intercourse.

**** For the record, I have no problem with people engaging in “rape play” (i.e. roleplaying a rape situation, but with pre-arranged consent and a safeword). I couldn’t handle it, myself, but as long as both partners enjoy the roleplay and the underlying consent is there, I can’t actually think of a reason to condemn it.

we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Holy shit. It’s seriously something out of a horror movie…but more than scary, it’s also just so incredibly sad. As a person with no particular connections to anyone in Aurora who might have been there that day, even I’m having trouble getting my head around it. I can’t even imagine what it must be like a witness, or some of the injured, or a loved one of one of the twelve people killed. I’m seeing people all over Reddit asking for advice with coping after losing a friend in the incident, and it makes my heart sink to somewhere in the region of my kidneys.

 

What makes it even worse is knowing that, after a few days of statements about the nature of the tragedy, our political figures (and a lot of laypeople as well) are going to start making this an issue of gun control.

And I think it’s so unforgivably fucked up to be using so many peoples’ pain and trauma as a political tool like that.

 

Now, I am not against gun control. The idea of everybody and anybody being able to just pick up a handgun like it’s nothing is very, very scary. But what I’m getting at, here, is that that’s not what’s at the heart of the issue here. I know this will sound like I’m quoting the NRA, but I promise this does go in a very, very different direction than that sort of propaganda…

If someone really puts their mind to it, they can probably commit violent crimes, and kill people, with any number of things that it’s impossible to control. Have you read Fight Club? Despite many glaring inaccuracies in that book, there is one part that is very, very true and carries a lot of weight to any conversation on public safety: you can make explosives out of any number of commonplace things. Frankly, you could probably do the same to create a crude firearm, though I have no personal knowledge on the subject.

Access to weapons is not the problem, it is a thing that aggravates the underlying problem: the fact that the U.S. mental health system has been completely fucking gutted.

 

I think that just about anybody will agree when I say that a person has to be very mentally unstable before they’ll do something like kill a bunch of people. Two important caveats: 1) not everyone who is mentally ill is violent, and 2) there are some exceptions, such as Ted Bundy, where he was able to mask how deranged he was very, very well.

But the fact remains that, of the killings I’ve heard of, the large majority were perpetrated by individuals who were known to be unstable. Their friends, coworkers, family members, or neighbors knew this. Many of them had gotten into trouble with the legal system before – domestic violence or child/animal abuse charges seem most common – or even had previous brushes with the mental health system. For fuck’s sake, James Huberty, who killed 21 and injured 19 in a mass shooting, had even attempted to reach out to a mental health center the day before he went on his rampage; however, they did not return his call.

 

It’s absolutely playing with fire, the way we’ve stripped this system of anything that could remotely be helpful to the common citizen. What has been done is analogous to eliminating all but a few hospitals in the country, and only keeping emergency rooms running. We still have the capacity to do an evaluation on someone who has made a suicide attempt…but after that 72 hours is up, they’re given a “recommendation” or some pills that, if they have any sort of paranoia or denial, they will likely not take in the first place, and then they are set on their merry way. You want preventative care? Too bad. You want the chance to, even voluntarily, be committed to some medium-to-long-term inpatient therapy? Too bad. If your problems are larger-scale than can be helped by seeing a therapist, but you haven’t gone postal and killed or injured anyone, you are S.O.L.

 

Let’s have two real world examples: my rapist, and also myself.

He tried to kill himself, publicly, after months of erratic and threatening behavior that was observed by several people around him, and was apparently violent when they tried to take him for his evaluation. Seventy-two hour watch period, throwing a few more pills into his concoction, a pat on the head and he was set free. A few months later, he has another psychotic break, runs away, tries to walk from Bakersfield to the Pacific Northwest without shoes on in the middle of July and is found collapsed in Fresno. Emergency room followed by another 72 hours, some finger-wagging from a few doctors, sent back home. Another month later, makes a few disturbing and disjointed calls, packs his new truck and then leaves it in the driveway, disappears on foot in the middle of the night on some form of illegal drugs and assaults somebody. Badly. You guessed it: seventy-two hours, some new pills, and done. As of a year later, he is given a conditional dismissal: found guilty, but no sentence made. His ongoing rape and abuse of an underage girl is reported to the police, they don’t even assign a case number. That’s the last I’ve heard; it’s the last I know.

That is a kid that, quite clearly, should have been involuntarily committed a long time ago. Now, I am not a fan of much of anything involuntary. I claim to be an anarcho-communist, for chrissakes, there is nothing I like about the idea of involuntarily committing anyone to anything. But when someone has clearly demonstrated a) the capacity to carry out extreme and repeated violence against both themselves and others, b) blatant unwillingness to take medication or continue with outpatient therapy, and c) psychopathic behavior*. I don’t know what else to recommend or think in a case like that. I just don’t.

 

Okay, then, there’s my case.

I’m smart. I know I’m smart. I’m really, really smart. I was talking in complete (albeit short) sentences by a year old, could name all the planets and most commonly known dinosaurs when I was barely three, and had the reading comprehension level of the average eighth grader by fourth grade. I have a perfect score in my computer science course and can make my points convincingly enough for even the Provost of my college to seek me out for advice on improving policies.

Problem is, it’s hard for me to actually be a contributing and functioning member of society even though I’m so smart. I was raised in a severely emotionally/verbally abusive household with some other things I don’t even like to think about thrown in there as well, and more or less isolated from normal childhood experiences entirely. I was raised by two autistic parents who couldn’t stand each other and nearly divorced because my father had wanted me aborted so badly, and to whom my academic success was infinitely more important than my happiness. I was raised in a household where accidentally dropping a baby carrot on the floor would lead to my father leaving us for hours or days, and attempting to see my friends would send my mother into a bout of sobbing and suicide threats.

In other words, I never really learned how normal interactions with normal people work, or how to have or communicate emotions, or how to put certain things (such as perceived failure) in perspective. I have struggled with self-injury and an eating disorder for over half of my life, have dealt with fluctuations of anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember.

I know I’m smart, and I know I care a lot about people. I know I could contribute a lot to society. But even though I’m smart, I nearly failed my second-semester Calculus class because I went into panic attacks every time I didn’t understand something right away because I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is it this is the thing that will prove that I’m really just stupid and useless and I can’t ask for help because I’m so frustrating and anyone who tries to explain it to me will hate me and think I’m an idiot. Even though I’m smart, I had severe doubts about my ability to finish high school or college because the pressure got to me so badly that the need to have someone left to take care of my aging parents has at times been the only thing keeping me from acting on suicidal thoughts. Even though I’m smart, I sometimes can’t concentrate in class because I was up the whole night before compulsively picking at my skin. And even though I care a lot, I find it extraordinarily difficult to have relationships with people because I don’t really know how normal friends act, or when people are and aren’t upset with me, or how to advocate for myself in any way. I don’t think I even know how to have emotions on a normal level.

I have tried the Normal Therapy that is still available for people. I’ve tried to balance my everyday life with bi-weekly hour-long stints on industrial-upholstered squashy couches having discussions with therapists that really end up going nowhere. It aggravates the problem, if anything, because I am left trying to both continue a lifestyle that is often nearly overwhelming me, on top of trying to make flailing attempts at working through very deep-seated problems that I have struggled with for the majority of my life.

I have thought for a long time that some sort of inpatient treatment – in the short or medium run – could potentially help me a lot.

Problem being, there is no inpatient program that would actually be available to me. Considering that I am able to perform the functions of daily life – I can keep myself and my environment clean, feed myself, hold down a job, attend school – and have not tried to kill myself or someone else, the few publicly funded wards still around are not the place for me. They are designed for people who are truly at the end of their rope – an emergency room of sorts. I, with my middle-class upbringing and lack of specific and imminent danger to myself or others, have no business there.

Then, there are the few private ones, which are so fucking expensive I can’t get my mind around it. Choosing to receive treatment (beyond the issue of my parents likely disowning me for it) is not something I can afford to do at the expense of being able to finish my fucking college degree. There was one hospital in particular that I had considered for a while back in high school, during a period of time when my self-injury had progressed to a daily occurrence. I couldn’t do it anymore; it was tailored for people 18 and under. I’m too old for it.

I have no fucking options, unless I’m willing to throw away a large portion of my life’s opportunities in exchange for subpar care in an underfunded and understaffed facility that is only designed for people much worse off than myself in the first place.

 

I am one of the lucky ones. I am not violent, I am not a threat. I am merely struggling, confused, scared. The system is losing something by letting people like me slip through the cracks; but when they’re even overlooking people who are prone to violence, who do present a danger, that’s when tragedies happen. Maybe that tragedy is another mentally ill person becoming homeless, maybe that tragedy is another mentally ill person carrying out an act of mass violence. Neither is acceptable. None of it is acceptable.

This is not an issue of gun laws. This is an issue of our society’s unwillingness to confront the issue of how we handle mental health services.

 

 

 

 

*Look it the fuck up if you want to tell me that I’m going into hyperbole or misusing the word. He literally fits every. Single. Descriptor.

well, that was an unexpected trigger

So in my biology class we’re learning about things like gene therapy and RNA interference, and since we have a group quiz tomorrow and I already finished everything else tonight I opened the book to the assigned reading for once, and surprise! It’s all about cancer.

And that’s fine and good. I mean, it’s a biology textbook, for fuck’s sake, of course it talks about things like cancer and trisomy and all sorts of stuff. But the chapter started out with this awful story about this college girl who gets a cyst in one ovary and has to have it removed and then a few months later she gets cancer in the other ovary. And for some reason it made me remember my Not-My-Father and my Person-Who-I-Don’t-Call-My-Sister-Anymore, and how My Not Father got brain cancer when I was fifteen and just sort of collapsed in on himself until his skull was the only thing normally sized about him and his legs were only as big around as my wrists. I remember that the last conversation I ever had with him was after my sister paid someone to follow me to the clinic where I went to make sure that I wasn’t going to have my rapist’s baby after all and that the places he had torn me were healing. My Not Sister had called screaming at me, all these things Slut Can’t Believe You You’re Awful Lied To Me Too Young and I never said the word rape because I couldn’t and I knew she wouldn’t believe me anyway. And then her telling my Not Father and him looking up from the frail little nest of blankets on the couch and asking my mother and my Actually My Father how they felt about their daughter being sexually active and me sobbing and denying it and how my mother never believed that lie and for years after she made jokes Ha Ha You Probably Have Genital Warts Slut Ha Ha That Fever You Have Is Probably Syphilis Ha Ha Dress Like That And Men Can’t Help Themselves You’ll Get Into Trouble.

And I never talked to my Not Father about it and he still said he loved me and was proud of me but then he died anyway. He choked and gurgled on his own lungs through buckets of morphine while I held my Not Sister on my lap even though she was so much taller than me and rocked her and sang Blue Wing in her ear so that she wouldn’t hear him trying to suck in air.

 

And then somehow I’m throwing the book down on my bed and fumbling for something to take my nervous energy, but since I promised myself I wouldn’t relapse and self-injure again all I can think of is the pack of Marlboro Reds. And then I start laughing, even though it’s not really funny, because for a second there I was seriously considering a cigarette to make me forget that cancer had upset me.

because nobody really wants a used car

TW: self-injury, self-blame, rape, anger, a lot of things. As you all know, I don’t put those “read more” labels on these suckers for nothing.

Read more…