All the Ways You Can/Cannot Contract HIV

There is a lot of stigma attached to HIV and the subsequent AIDS, most of which stems from false information. 

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks your immune system, which, over time can develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) which is a condition. HIV can be contracted if cum/pre-cum, rectal or vaginal fluid, blood, or breast milk that is carrying the virus comes into contact with damaged tissue or mucous membranes in your body. These membranes are found in the penis, vagina, rectum, and mouth. You cannot contract HIV through saliva or free-standing semen. 

There are many misconceptions about how people contract HIV, so let’s settle this once and for all.

CAN:

  • Unprotected vaginal sex
  • Unprotected anal sex
  • Sharing/reusing syringes that have been exposed to HIV
  • During pregnancy, birth, and the breastfeeding period between mother and child

 

CANNOT:

  • Vaginal/anal sex with a condom
  • Vaginal/anal sex with a partner who is on PrEP
  • Vaginal/anal sex with an HIV positive partner whose viral load is undetectable
  • Kissing
  • Touching cum
  • Oral sex (while it is hypothetically possible to contract HIV from swallowing/your partner ejaculating in your mouth, the CDC asserts this is extremely rare, and there are very few such oral transmissions on record)
  • Groping
  • Food prepared/handled by an HIV positive person 
  • Biting (unless severe trauma is inflicted to the skin tissue; again, there have been very few documented cases of this)
  • Receiving a tattoo or piercing (again, hypothetically possible, but there are NO reported cases of this kind of transmission)
  • Mosqutio bites

 

While the ways you cannot contract HIV outnumber the the ways you can, this list by no means seeks to downplay the seriousness of HIV/AIDS. While infection rates in the United States have drastically dropped since the worst years of the American outbreak in the 1980s and 90s, HIV/AIDS is still classified as a global pandemic. The history of the disease is expansive and complicated, fraught with governmental neglect of marginalized populations (one that continues today, through systemic restriction of proper health care and sexual education to minority populations). It is important when discussing HIV/AIDS, you’re sure you don’t contextualize the pandemic solely through a Western perspective. Data suggests 66% of new HIV infections in 2015 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Due to advances in modern medicine, HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it was thirty years ago. However, diligence and the practice of safe sexual methods is vital in ensuring the epidemic does not once again reach the disastrous proportions of the past.

 

Resources:

To find free, confidential testing locations near you, visit https://gettested.cdc.gov.

For information regarding PrEP, a preventative drug, talk to your doctor or visit  https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html.

A list of HIV/AIDS hotline numbers can be found at here.

 

Likes, Swipes, and Fast Food

Our generation is addicted to instant gratification. 

___

Fast food companies have a finger on the pulse of culture like no one else.

It’s their job to know what we want to eat, what we should be feeling, and what we’ll want to eat next. In a very real way, porn, fast food, and Instagram are practically the same thing.

… Let’s rewind a bit.

My generation grew up experiencing and learning about sex in completely new ways than generations before. We were the first to have unfettered and free access to porn on a global scale, aptly earning us the accolade, the Porn Generation.”

Beyond erotic porn, Gen Z and millennials grew up in a world where, with (almost) everything we wanted, we could have it now.

At its core, porn takes the most arousing parts of a given interaction, namely sex, and puts those parts front and center. In that sense, McDonald’s is quite literally food porn — just the good stuff: greasy, salty, and sugary all on one tray, served piping hot and fast. Once you’ve gotten your fix, you move on with your day, though perhaps feeling slightly guilty about what you’ve just consumed, until you crave it again in a few hours.

This craving is your brain literally being rewired by the ingredients of your meal, and begging you for one more hit.My generation’s expectation for instant gratification in potentially unhealthy ways does not end there.

Think about how many young people perceive their lives nowadays as framed through social media. We spend hours curating ourselves around an artificial sense of perfection, and in turn, get rewarded with short-term signals: hearts, likes, comments. Then, we conflate these signals with real value and love.

Feeling down? Post that picture you took last week.

Is it cloudy today? A #TBT to last summer is sure to brighten your mood.

We seem to be stuck in a world of instant gratification from the moment we wake up: a constant hum of push notifications and low-level stress. We might think that we are multi-tasking, but in reality, it’s harder than ever to singularly focus. What this really is, in the words of Chamath Palihapitiya, is fake and brittle popularity. It’s short term, and like a drug, leaving you vacant as you conflate its side effects with #realfeelings. Our ways of seeing have been permanently altered by how we send and receive “love.”

Ask any modern couple that’s been in a long-term relationship, and they will tell you that part of the secret lies in a myriad of little, non-grandiose, unsexy actions. It involves frequent attention and awareness, discipline, effort, and being able truly to care for someone — the ability to sacrifice for them, over and over. Living in a bubble of instant gratification, we have convinced ourselves that hard things are easy.

We now find ourselves in an alternate universe, governed entirely by the quick hit: Tinder on the subway, Instagram in the elevator, a burger for lunch. Whatever we want, good or bad, is just one click away.

Whether we like it or not, we are the Porn Generation. So what is that doing to our ability to appreciate the mundane, day-in-day-out, facets of our lives? If we are constantly thinking of optimizing our primal needs for pleasure, we are more likely to act selfishly and think of ourselves first. How can we reconcile this, knowing that behaving in such ways can hurt us on a regular basis?

I honestly don’t know… I am just as guilty as anyone of falling into all of these traps. Although, they say the first step to fixing a problem is knowing there is one.

We are being robbed, rewired, and permanently changed by technology — are we cool with that?

 

Taboo-Free Vaginas

It’s an unspoken mantra that girls’ genitals are “dirty,” or that it’s wrong to look at or touch them. Isn’t that why our society puts millions of dollars into how your genitals should look? I remember, growing up in a Catholic community, that my schools separated puberty talk: there was no mention of masturbation and instead we just touched on periods. My 5th grade teacher was visibly uncomfortable, and in response, no one was able to take the initiative to ask any of the questions they were dying to have answered.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around why vaginas have such a bad rap. In my opinion, they’re pretty freaking amazing. I mean, that’s where “most” new life enters the world from. People don’t like to talk about genitals because they are sexual organs, which makes people uncomfortable. However, just because they are sexual does not mean they should be sexualized. They are natural parts of the human body and everyone deserves the right to be educated on their body so they can make safer, informed choices on how to care for themselves. Did you know that our mouths tend to have more germs than our genitals? That urine is sterile? Oh, and that vaginas are self-cleaning?!

Vaginal discharge is the substance that comes out of the vagina and it’s a way for it to clean and regulate itself. Every person with a vagina experiences it — it’s a healthy part of the reproductive cycle. It’s so important to know that you do not need anything other than warm water to clean your vagina. No soaps, creams, washes, should ever be put up there. And do not douche! Discharge can look, feel, and smell different. Here’s a little break down:

  • Clear and thin – this is the discharge around ovulation and when you are aroused
  • White/yellowish and thick – this discharge occurs when you are less fertile during the month
  • Mild but not a strong odor
  • Slightly brown or red around your period (before or after)

If you notice a change in the color, smell, or consistency, you could have an infection. If it smells fishy, you could have bacterial vaginosis, if it’s very thick and your vagina feels irritated or itchy, you could have a yeast infection. It’s important that if you notice this, you visit an OB-GYN to get properly diagnosed and treated.

Don’t use panty liners or pads for discharge when you’re not on your period or spotting. They can cause infection by creating warmth and locking in moisture. You should try wearing THINX underwear because they absorb the moisture, not allowing for any unwanted bacteria build-up!

Some other fun tips on how to keep your vagina at optimal health? Wet bikinis and sweaty gym clothes should be changed ASAP and shower after working out! This will keep your vagina nice and dry. Also, taking probiotics regularly has been proven to help keep your vagina’s pH balanced and reduce yeast infection outbreaks.

Every person with a vagina, experiences discharge. So don’t feel gross or dirty for having it and NEVER let anyone make you feel that way. You should be a proud owner of a vagina! Your vagina is a self-working, self-cleaning machine. Not to mention, the clitoris is the only organ in the entire human body that’s sole purpose is pleasure. I put together a fun little list on why vaginas are so amazing and why you should also be proud if you have one!

  1. IT GIVES LIFE.
  2. Babies come out of vaginas! Sperm has to go through the vagina to even start the process of fertilization.
  3. Vaginas are diverse, and with diversity comes beauty. Each and every vulva is unique. They come in different shapes, sizes, and colors!
  4. It allows for many different kinds of orgasms: clitoral, vaginal, blended, G-spot, multiple, to name a few.
  5. It’s self-cleaning!
  6. Your vagina knows how to take care of itself.
  7. Your vagina can communicate. Not literally, but your vagina will tell you if something’s wrong. It can do this through discharge, odor, swelling, or feeling.
  8. It has the most feeling! Your clitoris contains over 8,000 nerve endings. This is more than any other part of the human body. And its sole purpose is pleasure!
  9. Your vagina can expand. It can expand to more than twice its size when aroused, and that’s not even talking about childbirth!
  10. It tells you when you can get pregnant! The cervical mucus changes during ovulation. Your discharge will be clear, rubbery and stretchy if you’re not on oral contraceptives. This is your body preparing for easier fertilization.

 

This post was created in a partnership with THINX, an innovative period solution company. You can read their periodical here. 

 

Photos by: Samantha Casolari

Single Stigma

For some of you, the morning after a sexual encounter may begin with groggy words of endearment like, “Last night was fun, gonna call an uber in a sec.” From that point, the exchange may shift to your relationship history. “How long have you been single?” Then, it could end with something like, “You’ve never been in a relationship before?! That’s shocking! Especially because you’re like, so good looking!” As someone who’s been single for 9 years, with the exception of short term hookups and two-night-stands, my impermanent suitors have reacted with this backhanded compliment almost every time I’ve shared my status.

The shock value of their responses may have lost its punch over the years, but I’m left retracing the origins of my dating and hook-up experiences, and often placing the blame on myself for not “putting myself out there enough,” or for “giving off the wrong vibe.” Navigating the dating world amidst these expectations and assumptions is exhausting. When my partners have questioned the duration of my single status, using conditions like beauty and appeal as reasons for their confusion, I become frustrated. Not because they’re ill intentioned, but because being single is so often misunderstood as involuntary, or as some kind of solitary confinement.

The weight placed on beauty in a relationship status— whether “taken” or single— has created a false standard that beauty should serve a purpose, and exist merely for someone else’s taking. Physical appeal, especially that of women, has been learned as something to be observed and enjoyed by others (predominantly men). If one is deemed beautiful, pretty, sexy, or hot, their “single status” becomes outlandish, or undeserved. People are surprised if beautiful people are without partners, as if the concept that one might not want a partner is simply out of the question. Beauty shouldn’t equate sex, romance, or be a determinant of why someone is in a relationship or not. Beauty is exploited and fetishized, which furthers the assumption its primary purpose is to please.

I’m a woman that’s horny often, lonely sometimes, and usually down to spend the night with a respectable, attractive guy if the opportunity arises. Although inexperienced in the world of relationships, I’d imagine that when you’re in one, there are momentseven if they’re fleeting when you want nothing more than to be a maverick, unbound by responsibility.

For me, it’s the same as a single woman. There are moments when I want nothing more than to be loved, spooned, and nurtured by a boyfriend, even though I’m content being single. Of course, I’m not speaking for all singles, but personally, I’ve discovered and explored many parts of myself as an independent that I wouldn’t have been able to embrace otherwise. From the excitement of coming home to my bedroom and spreading my limbs across my comforter, to the endless time I get to devote to my friends and weekends out, the bliss and harmony of being able to do what I want, when I want, fills me up. I’ve had years and years to work on friendships, try out new pick-up lines, learn how to navigate sex with different people, and get a feel for what the hell is out there.

One time, I was chatting with a male friend at a party, and the conversation turned to our relationship statuses, and the pro’s and con’s of being single versus in a relationship. He told me that maybe I needed to try being more open because I came across “stand-offish.” It was awful to feel like my character was not only being judged, but that my apparent isolationism was the reason I was single. Once again, I found myself reflecting on scenarios where I was at social gatherings, questioning whether or not I should have presented myself differently, approached that cute guy, or ventured out from my clique of girlfriends. I replayed the way I carried myself, my gaze. Did I come across “bitchy” and cold? Am I single because I’m that cold bitch?!

These toxic questions made me question the pride I had come to so closely associate with my singledom. I felt incredibly self conscious. After talking to many different people, gathering opinions, and taking the time to just think, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should all try to be better about making assumptions and judgments about people based solely upon the way they’re standing, or who they are or aren’t talking to. While it can be intimidating to approach someone who seems removed, or above it, I’ve realized that nine times out of ten, that person is either…

A) enjoying the evening with their friends, or B) feeling the same way you do. Yes, A and B may lessen the amount of new people you speak with in a night, but don’t let someone project these reasons onto your single status, and certainly don’t let them perceive these realities as inherently negative.

There are assumptions that being single for so long means you’re either a party animal or a recluse, hedonistic or anti-monogamy. The single life is filled with opportunity and autonomy, yet often, it’s met with sympathetic pats on the back, or these baffled remarks.

It wasn’t until very recently that for the first time ever, a guy I was hooking up with responded differently. Instead, when I told him I’d never been in a relationship, he said, “You seem like a strong, independent woman.” Sadly, it took me aback. This is the type of feedback that us singles miss out on, but need to hear more. The aghast reactions of my hookup partners at the “single for 9 years” sentiment is proof that being single is misunderstood in many ways. For some, it’s a choice and for others, it’s not. But either way, the single life deserves far more respect and critical thought for being the absolutely valid and acceptable lifestyle that it is.

Planned Parenthood 101

 “Do you have a minute?” They ask. “Ummm…” I mutter, trying to come up with an excuse. And the person starts talking anyways. “If you have a second, I would really appreciate your signature, it’s for a great cause, Planned Parenthood.” I signed the paper, jumped in my car and sped away. This was my first interaction with PP and wouldn’t be my last.

It’s funny to think back to this moment, I was probably sixteen, didn’t know anything about it but still was compelled to sign that paper before speeding off to the mall or something. Even though I didn’t feel at that moment Planned Parenthood had any role in my life, it’s overall role in the lives of those around me would grow or at least I would grow to become more aware of it.

Everyone I know has some relationship with the provider. Whether you wear a pin on your backpack, you got your first packet of birth control from them without telling your parents, them popping up on your Twitter feed, or those very people in pink shirts rallying through your neighborhood in a protest, Planned Parenthood will show face. And I know what you might be thinking, just as I did once, what did I sign that day and why is it important? 

What is Planned Parenthood?

Planned Parenthood is a healthcare provider. They deliver high quality, affordable health care for millions of people. They are also the nation’s largest provider of sex education. So basically, they’re made up of a bunch of clinics or health centers (more than 600 in the US) where you can go to get sexual and reproductive health care and info. This includes things like breast exams, cancer screenings, birth control, family planning, STI testing and treatment, and abortion services.

– Planned Parenthood helps prevent over 500,000 unintended pregnancies a year.
– They provide more than 295,000 Pap tests and more than 320,000 breast exams a year.
– They provide more than 4.2 million tests and treatments for STIs, including more than 650,000 HIV tests.

Why is it so controversial?

The main reason you’re seeing PP in the media so often is that our government wants to eliminate the group’s $555 million in federal funding as part of their recent bill to repeal Obamacare (It didn’t pass, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over). That is around 40% of the organization’s total revenue. The main argument from those trying to defund PP is on the basis that they provide abortion services. However, ZERO federal funding goes towards abortions. Instead, the organization uses private funding (private donors and foundations) for those services. Only 3% of Planned Parenthood services are abortion services.

What are the effects of budget cuts?
Planned Parenthood is very blunt about the consequences. “People will lose access and women will die,” said Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens. “Thousands of women have had their cancer and precancerous conditions discovered by Planned Parenthood. There are not enough places for women to go to get this care.”

It’s also important to mention that defunding Planned Parenthood will ruin hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives. It will leave these people without affordable healthcare. This is mostly an attack on poor women of color especially immigrant women who are dependent on PP because they are often excluded from Medicaid. This is not a war on Planned Parenthood, this is a war on women, people of color, transgendered persons, handicapped persons, and immigrants. This is a war on what is right vs wrong.

Here’s what could happen if we lost Planned Parenthood services
– Make it harder to prevent unintended pregnancy, harder to have a healthy pregnancy and harder to raise a family.
– Block millions of people from going to Planned Parenthood for care.
– Eliminate maternity coverage for millions of women, forcing them to pay large sums out of pocket.
– Fully take away health coverage for 22 million people.

How You Can Help:

Call Your Senators to Stand With Planned Parenthood
– Call: 202-224-3121 to be connected to your Senators and Representatives.
– Tell them that any bills introduced in the Senate and the House to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would result in millions of people their health insurance and care. And that access to affordable health care is a basic human right.
– Senators need to hear that we will not stand for this.

Write a letter to Congress.

Write a letter explaining above, there are many templates online already, print it out, stamp it and send.

Post and Hashtag.

While this might seem trivial or small–everyone on social media has the ability to reach another person and to lend support. When you post and #IStandwithPP, you are making a declaration that you in are in support of an organization that helps protect, save and cherish the lives of millions of people in this country a year. As you all know, your voice and platforms matters, we encourage you to speak up for those who can’t.

****Senators (and their staff) will notice when you tag them. And believe us, they’re listening.

 

Donations: You can make a donation to Planned Parenthood’s website.

Donate to support Health Centers: So that they can continue to deliver reproductive and sexual health care such as birth control, cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment.

Donate to the Action Fund: This helps fight political attacks and strengthen advocacy.

Volunteer: Check their volunteer opportunities page or call your local health center.
For political activism, go to PPaction.org/volunteer to get involved with the Action Fund.
If you’re in college, join their Generation Action and become a leader.

Sign up for Emails & Texts

Join Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s email network. They will email you alerts and ways to get involved.
– For texts: Text “Stand with PP” to 22422.
– Standard data and text rates may apply. You can text STOP to quit at any time.

 

This piece was taken from the monthly column Safer Sex 101 with Eileen Kelly which exists on NastyGal.

Roots Grow

2016

I don’t know if I believe in love. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word.

When I was 14, my entire life was turned upside down. On Christmas Eve morning, my mom came downstairs shouting, with a handful of paper: emails, between my dad and another woman, depicting the intimate emotional relationship they were having.

Now, almost five years later, I’m sitting on a bed in a house shared by my dad and that same woman.

The last five years have not been easy. It’s still not easy. I can’t say I have a healthy relationship with my dad, or with love, or with marriage. I had to see a therapist twice a week at the peak of the divorce in order to keep my sanity. As the oldest child, all I wanted to do was protect everyone. I wanted to keep the peace between my parents; I wanted my siblings to remain blissfully oblivious to the turmoil that became our everyday lives; I wanted to protect myself from becoming the ball of apathy that I watched my mom become. In the end, I think I ended up more hurt than anyone because my siblings inevitably learned what happened too, and soon they were also in the line of fire.

It’s hard to explain the intricacies of a divorce. I know there were other factors besides my dad’s affair contributed to it, but there are too many to list here. I can’t explain to you the ways each of my parents hurt me. But I can tell you that a divorce affects your day-to-day life more than most kids let on. For example, there was a time when I was afraid to come home from my dad’s because my mom would verbally attack us for even just seeing him. My siblings and I used to plan out exactly what we would say to one parent in the safety of my car, on the way to the other parent’s house. My vacation in Florida last summer was ruined by the crippling anxiety of telling my mom that my dad was going to move in with his girlfriend, the woman who my mom believed was the reason their marriage ended. I have seven different letters saved on my computer telling my dad that I didn’t want him in my life anymore. I never sent them. I lost a lot of friends because they told me I talked about the divorce too much. It weighed on my mind and heart every second of every day.

The biggest impact the divorce has had on me, however, lies in the concept of love. I used to want to get married and have children. I used to believe that I would find my “soulmate” and spend the rest of my life with them. I still believe in love, but I don’t know if two people are supposed to spend their entire lives together.

I think that we’re continuously changing and growing, and as we shed one skin and crawl into the next, the person we once loved isn’t always meant to follow.

I think we’re supposed to love several people, each a perfect fit for the current version of ourselves. Yes, there are plenty of love stories that end happily ever after – hell, my grandparents have been together for 50 years – but I often wonder if they really love the person they’re with, or if they’d be better off with someone else. I mean, my dad is definitely happy and in love with the woman he’s with now, but I also know he loved my mom at one point.

I guess I do believe in love. I believe that I’ll fall in love over and over again and learn from it each time. I don’t believe in forever, and that affects a lot of my relationships. Oftentimes, after a few years, people start to think in the long-term, but not me. And I need to find someone who is okay with that, and sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand. While many want to commit to a marriage and settle down, I have different plans. I dated my last boyfriend for almost three years, and sometimes he’d mention something about marriage and I’d start to panic. It’s hard to be in a long-term relationship when you both want different things.

When I’m older, and I inevitably fall in love with someone, I will be with them. We will live together, and we will share the joys of life together, but we won’t need a ring or a piece of paper to show that we love one another. We won’t need the trickiness of making it official by law. That relationship will end, I will appreciate what it gave me, I will find someone new, I will love them too.

2018

The words above are filled with anger. They were written by my 18 year old self, a self that is now difficult to recognize. I feel like this was a page ripped from my journal which I put out into the world in hopes someone would notice me, and validate my pain.

A lot happens in two years. Time uncovered a lot of truth that I couldn’t see then, and my perspective on the whole situation has changed drastically. Although honestly, things within my family haven’t gotten better.

My sister and I are both in college now, so we no longer have to follow the schedule laid out by the Martial Settlement Agreement. Our parents tell us that we have a “choice” now, and we are free to decide how much time to spend with each of them. Though, apparently there is always a wrong decision, for when we don’t do what one of them believes is “fair,” they tell us not to bother seeing them at all.

During winter break, there’s no time for friends – instead, we are guilted into staying home and watching a movie while our mom makes passive-aggressive remarks from the other side of the couch. We have to hang out with our friends at our dad’s house instead of going out. “It’s only fair.”

Our only saving grace around the holidays is that my brother is still 15 and has to follow the MSA. We stick together, in part because it’s easier when things are decided for us, when another party decides for our parents what is fair. But it’s also because it will always be us against them, and with my sister and me out of the house, my brother suffers enough alone. He told me during Christmas, he’s “always in the trenches.” He’s now the only one walking on eggshells, always waiting for a bomb to go off in the war-zone we call home.

My parents don’t talk to each other. They talk through us. We hear our dad say that my mom is crazy; we hear my mom call my dad’s girlfriend a cunt. We’ve learned to tell little white lies about what we’re doing or where we’ve been; to submit to emotional manipulation rather than get in a fight, to accept that we will probably always cry on Christmas Eve. But, despite all of this, this year was different.

For the first time ever, my siblings and I are all in happy, healthy relationships. I can’t speak for them, but I can say that I’ve changed my mind about love. I’ve met someone who looks at me with nothing but kindness, and suddenly the thought of waking up next to him every single day isn’t so bad. In fact, forever with him doesn’t seem long enough. I’ve learned my lessons. In talking to him, I’ve realized something very important: I am not my parents.

If one day you find that you no longer love the person you wake up next to, just leave. If you have children together, don’t yell at them for having your ex’s blood running through their veins. Sitting down and having a conversation is a lot more efficient than a screaming match. Don’t be selfish. Christmas is just a day. Be willing to reschedule. Maturity has nothing to do with age. Being the bigger person all the time can make you feel really fucking small. Money can, and will, ruin relationships. Don’t keep a joint checking account. There are two sides to every story: the canopy of a tree embraces the sunlight, while the web of roots grows in the darkness underground.

My parents have made so many mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I will. My first step toward healing was allowing myself to believe in love again. Yes, we will change. Reading what I wrote at 18 is proof of it. But more important than changing, we will grow. Love takes work, and as long as we’re both willing to endure the growing pains, we will grow together.