In 2019…

KAAST has first and foremost always been a platform for young people to share their experiences. In that spirit, we asked our readers to send us their sexual resolutions. We compiled some of our favorites below.

 

“To no longer have intoxicated casual sex that I later feel uncomfortable with.” – Kelsey, 22

 

“Only have sex with men who respect me.” – Annie, 25

 

“To embrace that my body is beautiful in a sexual context.” – Frankie. 18

 

“To think about myself during sex rather than always worrying about getting my partner off first.” – Brook, 20

 

“An all girl threesome.” – Margo, 23

 

“Not be shy ask for exactly what I want.” – Abby, 29

 

“To be more open with my OB/GYN when I have issues.” – Beth, 22

 

“Love and accept my body more.” – Cesar, 17

 

“Make my GF orgasm during sex more than once.” – Unknown

 

“Try reverse cowgirl — always been too self conscious.” – Kate, 19

 

“Learn more about tantra and stop having meaningless sex.” – Alana, 21

 

“Stop feeling slutty for getting with guys when I want.” – Louisa, 18

 

“To stop letting body dysmorphia keep me from enjoying my sexuality to the fullest extent.” Amanda, 23

 

“To use a strap-on!” – Kayla, 19

 

“To stop having sex with my ex.” – Emily, 20

 

“To reclaim [my] sex life and not have sex purely to please boys who make me feel like shit after.” – Lottie, 19

 

“I want to make sex more exciting role play, toys, dirty talk. The sex is good but I’m too easily bored.” – Ruby, age unknown

 

“To never fake another orgasm.” – D, 26

 

“Not sleep with guys on the first date.” – Mae, 20

 

“To explore my submissive side/fantasies more!” – Jacob, 19

 

“For both partners to put in the same amount of effort during sex so no one is stuck doing all the work.” – Je, age unknown

 

“To find my first love.” – Mandy, 17

 

“Gradually reduce porn induced masturbation and hit zero by year end.” – Anonymous

 

“Take better care of myself and my mental health!” -Brooke, 19

 

“Masturbate more.” – Leá, 27

 

“BE MORE EXPERIMENTAL!” – Katja, 20

 

“Try to help others realize sex shouldn’t be a hushed topic.” – Angelica, 18

 

“Learn how to orgasm from sex.” – April, 31

 

“Show/tell my boyfriend how he needs to eat me out!” – Maria, 18

 

“Let sex and love overlap again. And if they don’t — don’t force it. Let openness guide me more than desire.” – Jon, 30

 

“No! Fake! Orgasms!” – Abigail, 20

 

“Active celibacy for the next year.” – Mara, 20

 

“Orgasm everyday, at least once a day!” – Emily, 19

 

“Lose my virginity!” – Nadia, 18

 

“Telling my partner what I like/don’t like with no shame.” – Caitlin, 20

 

“Setting up my Tinder account and get a date per month… for scientific research only.” – Unknown

 

“More BDSM.” – Tilde, 18

 

“To master the art of a good and simple blowjob. Have loads more safe and consensual sex with both men and women.” – Chloé, 20

 

“To not accept less than what I deserve sexually or otherwise.” – Ryan, 17

 

“Use protection every time! No excuses.” – Anonymous, 19

 

“Have sex with less of a goal in mind. Trying to remember and enjoy every sensation in its own right.” – Jamie, 21

 

“Be pickier.” – Kristen, 19

 

“To stop being a fuckboy.” – Hayla, 20

 

“Stop comparing things to my ex!” – Cait, 30

 

“To have a discussion about getting tested with each new partner.” _ Lauren, 21

 

“To edge more, with myself and my partner!” – Shannon, 19

 

“To overcome sexual abuse and regain my sexual identity and to help others do so, too.” – Ria, 18

 

“To embrace and explore kinks more. Specifically DDLG [dom daddy / little girl] with my girl.” – A, 22

 

“Have sex for the first time and come out to my parents.” – Paulina -19

 

“Be naked more.” – Brenna, 18

 

“Establish a connection with partners for healthier sex, explore poly and open relationships.”  Maria, 21

 

“To be uninhibited.” – Esme, 23

*  *  *

Our team wishes you a happy new year, full of mind-blowing and fulfilling intimacy! We have a lot of exciting projects in store for you all in 2019.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Kate Dash, Damien Maloney, Andrew Lyman, and Harley Weir. 

 

 

Birth Control 101

It’s 2019 and there have never been more contraceptive options available for individuals looking to avoid pregnancy. Below is a list of the birth control options currently available and their respective efficiency.

CONDOMS

 

What are they?

Condoms are thin pouches made of latex (rubber), plastic (polyurethane, nitrile, or polyisoprene) or lambskin that cover the penis during sex and prevent semen from entering the vagina. Note: condoms made of lambskin do not prevent STIs, but they’re still effective for reducing the risk for pregnancy.

Internal condoms are pouches made out of nitrile (soft plastic) that you put inside of your vagina or anus to act as a barrier so sperm cannot enter. Internal condoms also prevent STIs.

Condoms are an accessible form of birth control that you can find in your local drug stores, college campus, Planned Parenthood health centers, doctor’s office, or supermarket. There is no age restriction to buy condoms, and no prescription is needed.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

Yes, condoms reduce your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection during oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

 

How often do I have to switch it?

You should use a new condom every time you have sex. Make sure to replace condoms if you’re switching between anal and vaginal sex to prevent bacterial infections.

 

How effective are condoms?

Condoms used for penises are 85% effective, while condoms for vaginas are 79% effective.

 

Benefits?

  • Inexpensive
  • Do not need a prescription
  • Protect against STIs
  • Can be used with other birth control methods
  • Disposable
  • Convenient

 

Considerations?

  • Condom size does matter, so make sure you are using a condom that fits securely and comfortably.
  • Condoms have an expiration date.
  • Do not use a male and female condom at the same time or two male condoms.
  • Play around with different brands and types of condoms to see which type fits and feels best.

 

“THE PILL”

 

What is it?

The birth control pill is an oral contraceptive that uses hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy. These hormones stop ovulation so the sperm and egg can’t fertilize, which stops pregnancy from happening. These hormones also thicken the mucus on the cervix, making it harder for sperm to reach an egg. The pill continues to work through the month, even when you are taking placebo pills so that additional forms of contraception aren’t needed.

A prescription is needed to get the pill. There are many different brands, so talk to your healthcare provider if you think it’s right for you.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

No, the pill does not prevent STIs. You should still use condoms while you’re on the pill to protect you and your partner from infections.

 

How often do I have to take it?

The pill is meant to be taken once every day. You should take it at the same time every day to make it as effective as possible. To remind yourself to take it, set an alarm and keep your pill pack in a convenient place.

 

How effective is the pill?

The pill is 91% effective when taken at the same time, every day.

Benefits?

  • A convenient form of contraception.
  • May lead to lighter or more regular periods.
  • Can decrease menstrual cramps.
  • The pill can help time your period.
  • Allows for sexual spontaneity.

Side effects? (Most will go away by the second or third month of use – as your body adjusts to the hormones)

  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.
  • Spotting between periods.
  • Decreasing libido.
  • Breast tenderness.

 

IUD (Intrauterine Device)

 

What is it?

An IUD is a small, T-shaped contraceptive that sits in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs: copper (ParaGard) and hormonal (Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla). The copper IUD has no hormones, and the copper itself is what prevents sperm from getting to an egg. The hormonal IUDs use a hormone called progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus to trap the sperm, and sometimes stops ovulation altogether.

 

How often do I have to switch it?

ParaGard can protect you for up to 12 years. Mirena and Liletta work for up to 7 years, Kyleena works for up to 5 years, and Skyla works for up to 3 years. If you prefer a birth control with little maintenance, IUDs may be a good choice.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

No, IUDs do not lower your risk of getting STIs.

 

How effective are they?

IUDs are 99% effective. Copper IUDs can also be used as emergency contraception, and if inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it’s more than 99.9% effective.

Benefits?

  • REALLY convenient (You barely have to think about it).
  • Discreet.
  • Does not require daily dosing.
  • You can get pregnant after you have it removed.
  • Can reduce cramps.
  • Can make your period lighter or no period at all.
  • The copper IUD has no hormones.

Side effects?

  • Spotting between periods.
  • Cramping.
  • Irregular periods.
  • Heavier periods and worse cramps (copper IUD).

IMPLANT

 

What is it?

The birth control implant, also known as Nexplanon, is a matchstick-size device that’s inserted with a gun into the upper arm by a nurse or doctor to prevent pregnancy. The insertion process is similar to getting your ears pierced and it is removed with topical numbing cream and a quick incision. The implant releases the hormone progestin that works the same way as a hormonal IUD.

 

How often do I have to switch it?

The birth control implant last up to 3 years.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

No, the implant does not lower your risk of getting STIs.

 

How effective are they?

The implant is 99% effective.

 

Benefits?

  • Discreet
  • Does not require daily dosing
  • Good option for those who can’t use estrogen contraceptive methods
  • Fewer hormonal ups and downs due to the steady flow of hormones

Side effects?

The most common side effect is irregular menstrual bleeding. This is the most common reason for removal of Nexplanon. Other side effects can include weight gain, headaches, acne, and abdominal pain. However, it is a safe form of birth control for most women.

 

BIRTH CONTROL SHOT  

 

What is it?

The birth control shot, also known as Depo-Provera, is an injection you get from a doctor or nurse that contains the hormone progestin. This hormone works the same way as a hormonal IUD or implant to prevent pregnancy.

 

How often to I have to get it?

In order to be effective, you must get the birth control shot every 12-13 weeks, or every 3 months. To make sure you don’t miss your appointments, add them to your calendar or have a friend or family member remind you.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

No, the shot does not lower your risk of getting STIs.

 

How effective is it?

The birth control shot is 94% effective when it’s injected every 12-13 weeks.

Benefits?

  • Convenient and private (You get the shot at a doctor’s office).
  • Does not require daily dosing.
  • Can lighten or stop your period.
  • It can help protect you from uterine cancer and ectopic pregnancy.
  • The shot is temporary, you can get pregnant after you stop using it.

Side effects?

  • You have to get the injection every 3 months.
  • Change in your period.
  • Weight gain.
  • Headaches.
  • Breast tenderness.
  • It can take up to 10 months after stopping the shot to get pregnant.

BIRTH CONTROL PATCH 

 

What is it?

The birth control patch is a transdermal [application of a medicine or drug through the skin] contraceptive that you can wear on your stomach, upper arm, butt, or back. The patch contains estrogen and progestin to help prevent pregnancy.

 

How often do I have to switch it?

Similar to the pill, you only wear the patch for three weeks, then you get a break for one week before putting on another.

 

Do they protect against STIs?

No, the patch does not lower your risk of contracting STIs.

 

How effective is it?

When used correctly, the birth control patch is 91% effective.

Benefits?

  • Convenient.
  • No daily dosing.
  • Can make your period lighter and less cramping.
  • Can regulate your period.
  • Can reduce acne.
  • You can get pregnant right away when you stop using it.Disadvantages?
  • You have to change it on time.
  • There can be negative side effects: bleeding between periods, nausea, headaches and more.
  • Some side effects can be serious: these include heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. Talk to your doctor to see if you are a good canidate for the patch.

 

BIRTH CONTROL RING

 

What is it?

The birth control ring, also known as the NuvaRing, is a contraceptive that sits inside of the vagina. The vaginal lining absorbs the hormones estrogen and progestin which help prevent pregnancy. You need a prescription to get the NuvaRing.

 

How often do I have to switch it?

In order to be effective, you must change the ring once a month.

 

Does it protect against STIs?

No, the NuvaRing does not lower your risk of getting STIs.

 

How effective is it?

When used correctly, the NuvaRing is 91% effective.

Benefits?

  • Convenient.
  • No daily dosing.
  • Makes your period regular.
  • Can lighten your period and reduce cramps.
  • Can reduce acne.
  • You can get pregnant after using it.Disadvantages?
  • Your partner can feel it during fingering, etc.
  • You need to change it on time
  • You can have spotting between periods.
  • Extra vaginal wetness.
  • Change in libido.
  • Some side effects can be serious. Talk to your doctor to see if you are a good candidate.

 

Every medication and type of birth control has side effects. It’s best that you do your own research before settling on an option and, if available, consult with a medical professional. 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by @retro_fucking, unknown, Oliver Hadlee Pearch, and Petra Collins. 

 

 

Summer Love

Save an Uber, Ride a Cowboy is a column exploring queer millennial sex culture. The stories presented here are based on true events. Identities have been changed to protect the privacy and reputation of those involved. 

 

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be 21 by the end of the summer,” admitted Lucas.

After chatting on Grindr and a few subsequent blow-and-go hookups, Scott and Lucas exchanged their real names. Both were careful to share safe details of their personal lives in between discussing wall art or sports memorabilia. Scott was 54 and lived by himself in the neighborhood Lucas grew up in; he never married but was once engaged to a woman.

Lucas was always attracted to the thought of being with an older man, even when first exploring his sexuality. He fantasized about freely walking through a house, perhaps with a joint perched in his hand, flaunting his youthful body under the gaze of an older admirer. With the warm summer air, Scott’s house afforded him space to indulge in these fantasies by drinking beer and chatting or getting down on all fours — in the bedroom, the living room, the shower, or the back porch.

For much of their time together, Lucas refused to let his guard down. This was the consequence of the age discrepancy — he didn’t want to be taken advantage of or feel out of control. Scott was very sensitive to this and made extra efforts to make Lucas feel comfortable and build trust.

“Do you mind if I move here…?”

“Can I touch/lick there…?”

“Would you want to experiment with…?”

“Hey, whatever you’re comfortable with. Remember, I am no drama.

Never overly pushy, Scott was always respectful, letting Lucas set the pace. For them, consent was not choppy; Scott modeled organic, honest, and sexy—albeit sometimes awkward — negotiation. It was refreshing, nothing was left to a tacit understanding, opening the door to an enriched and comfortable playtime. “No, I’m not ready to be tied up… but you mentioned a blindfold?”

Lucas was grappling with a hypersexual stage in his life. He was knowingly out of his depth; what was he doing and why did he keep going back? The weight of the secret bolstered his self-image, and of course, the orgasms brought him back. Not only was it sexually gratifying, but it was satisfying to put himself in a strange and uncomfortable situation and come out the other side unscathed. It was transgressive — a total fucking turn on.

Quickly, Lucas was arriving and getting naked almost immediately, an assertiveness and comfort that made Scott awkward in his own home. 

Conversations became more natural as they established more of a routine. Lucas began to share more about his day-to-day life: academic interests, summer travels, and weekend plans, but he also told Scott some of his more personal stories, such as his experience coming out in high school. Scott was attentive and supportive.

“You’re easy to talk and listen to. I just think you are a cool guy,” the elder would tell his younger lover.

It wasn’t much, Lucas’ desire for admiration and attention was easily placated. Being admired for his body and youth as much as his personality and passions encouraged Lucas’ ego. During their time together, Lucas perpetually performed that image: sultry and educated, youthful yet mature and sophisticated. It was a subtle power trip, a mediocre measure of Lucas’ sexual prowess and his audacity.

Eventually, Scott showed Lucas old photos of himself, first as a goofy college boy with a good smile, then a handsome man in the 1980s with pomp hair. He shared stories of his first sexual experiences with both girls and boys, his “coke days,” and his mid-life exploration of his sexuality. He grew up in a household that didn’t discuss or acknowledge things such as sexual fluidity or even bisexuality. He admitted that he had never dreamed of kissing a man until he was 40. Of course, now he was on Grindr and that brought new issues for him, too.

“Why would you ‘ghost’ anyone? It’s just rude, I think it’s really strange. People will stop responding as soon as I send a picture. I would never do that,” he’d confess. 

“Oh, it sucks but it happens all the time. It’s just the way it works. Grindr is so game-like and digital, don’t take it personally. I do that, sometimes often, it’s easy,” Lucas would assure him. 

Scott possessed so much more life experience than Lucas did and yet Lucas was light years ahead of him. Lucas would never be able to understand the stifling pressure of being in the closet into one’s 40s because he had proudly preferred dick since he was 15-years-old. Scott’s experience made him something of a mentor to Lucas, a reminder of his privilege to come of age in the Obama years and have his whole life ahead of him as an openly gay man.

Lucas was a selfish lover, while Scott was always very self-less. He loved to give pleasure orally while Lucas loved to receive it. Lucas came dozens of times, but Scott never did, not even once. He was adept with his hands and used lots of lube.

“Isn’t that angle just pure pleasure?” The alliteration “pure pleasure” becoming a sort of hedonistic mantra that echoed through their encounters.

Scott was more generous and patient as a lover than Lucas had ever been; his experience made Lucas feel green and regretful of his self-centered-ness in other sexual relationships. What role did he play in the demise of any number of past romances by selfishly terminating sex immediately after he came? In one instance, Lucas turned to Scott and said, “You’ve been patient with me,” but Scott shook his head, insisting that Lucas was the patient one. The conversation, the sex, the communication, and the relationship all bloomed in tandem.

By this point, Lucas would message Scott: “is your door open?” and simply walk in minutes later. But still, they never made the move towards anal sex, never seriously considered it. This was surprising, by comparison Lucas’ previous romantic relationships seemed stuck in a rut of impatient fucking — where was the intimate massage or creative outer-course? Why had he spent so much time racing to orgasm when the pleasure and tension of getting there were tenfold?

Scott was never his sugar daddy, but Lucas did mention the idea of a gift to him. Scott gave him his present a week before the end of the summer: a vintage leather Coach bag which contained two thongs, oil and water based lubes, two vibrators, a bottle of poppers, and a cock ring. He was literally giving Lucas the tools to explore and develop his sexuality.

Now, Lucas was prepared to be the generous partner, he could give a generous erotic massage while channeling the patience and playfulness that Scott had shown him. With a starter pack of sex toys, Lucas was overcome with unbridled excitement. Scott was proud, he knew he had done well.

Scott was an ideal summer lust. He was passionate, kind, and understanding. He showed Lucas new positions and perspectives surrounding sex. He demonstrated being a sensitive and non-judgmental partner beyond any of Lucas’ past experiences. Lucas’ time with Scott allowed him to bask in his youth, his libido, and his own kinkiness, but summer was ending and soon he would leave for school.

It wasn’t just one hook up, they were friends and both would come to miss the other. There were no strings attached; they would find new partners and go on with their separate lives. It was a clean break, an enlightening contrast to Lucas’ emotionally messy relationships, but still no less valuable or enduring.

Short-lived and real, they enjoyed their summer together.

 

Photos by Mikael Chukwuma Owunna and Nan Goldin. 

 

 

The Condom Conversation

“Do you have a condom?”

“No, but do we have to use one?”

“Yes.”

This conversation should always end here, but, unfortunately, there is often pressure or attempts at negotiation from one partner to forego condom use. I can’t finish with a condom on, don’t you want to cum?  But haven’t we already done it without a condom before? Aren’t you on birth control? are coercive questions asked with the intention of persuading a partner into having sex on terms they were not initially satisfied with. “I can’t have sex without a condom”, “That was a mistake and I want to use one now”, “Yes, but there are other benefits for using one” are examples of assertive responses to excuses to have unprotected sex. Clarity in communication leaves no room for compromise or debate.

You have the right to wake up in the morning with the peace of mind in knowing you enjoyed yourself and engaged in healthy sex. Just some things to remember…

They protect and benefit both partners and are not a burden.

Condoms aren’t solely a method of preventing pregnancy; they inhibit the spread of STIs and common infections like bacterial vaginosis. Discomfort with condoms can be avoided by using water or silicone based lubricants, correct sizing, or the right condom style.

 

There is no shame in being vocal about your limits and terms.

You should never have to abandon your own comfort and safety for your partner’s pleasure and convenience. No one wants to leave a sexual experience disappointed with that they let themselves be convinced to not use a condom.

 

A partner who prioritizes their desires at the expense of yours is a selfish one.

Being taken advantage of or caught off guard while in a vulnerable position is not your fault. If you suggest having unprotected sex and your partner’s answer is a firm yes — that doesn’t require persuasion. Sex must be had under agreed upon circumstances. If your proposal to have unprotected sex is denied, respect the wishes of your partner and either find a condom or don’t have sex.

 

It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where the only barrier to having sex is a partner opposed to using a condom or simply not having one. To prevent an awkward situation, it might be a good idea to have the condom conversation before anything happens. Having this discussion in the heat of the moment can be avoided if you and your partner are on the same page before anything happens.

Bring your own condoms! Communicate with your partner! Know your boundaries! Have fun!

 

You can find directions for how to put on a condom here

Photos by Ashley Armitage. 

 

 

Staying Where You Don’t Belong

One of the strongest feelings I had in my last relationship was uncertainty.

I remember scrolling through Google for hours, with the search engine spitting out nearly identical articles reading “Signs You Love Him More Than He Loves You” and “10 Signs He Is Losing Interest.” As I scrolled through these articles, I thought to myself: see, none of these reasons ring true for me. I mean… only a few of them do. I would click on another, desperately searching for an answer to how I felt inside. The truth was, I could look at articles from corny Kickstarter websites all day, but I was still refusing to acknowledge my intuition. He wasn’t right for me. The fact that I had to turn to Google is an answer in itself. 

So, why stay where I don’t belong? It’s a fact of life that we will grow out of people and places. But I had trouble accept that, and I was clinging to what I thought was love. I allowed the good to outshine the bad, telling myself that he was just going through a rough time. I didn’t have boundaries. I couldn’t recognize that I was being drained by someone who barely even thought about filling me up.

I’ve noticed that myself and many other women struggle with our boundaries when it comes to romantic relationships, especially with men. There are many facets to this problem, so I’m going to try to explain my experiences as best as I can. 

 

We value romantic love over all other types of love.

There’s no doubt our culture overvalues romantic love. We are fed ideas of finding the “one” or “soulmate” from novels, TV shows, movies, art, poetry, advertisements, and the list goes on. This media gives us a unified, pre-packaged, and often heteronormative version of romantic love, which we end up modeling our own romantic relationships after. Basically, this media we see almost every day of our lives shapes how we love, how we find love, and how we expect to be loved. It makes me wonder, would we even fall in love if it weren’t for these mediums telling us how to love, how to find the perfect person, and the best age to do it? Would we still freak out at being the only single friend in our 30s and beyond? Would we still stay in toxic relationships out of fear of being alone? Would we still feel like failures after every relationship that didn’t work out?

I question what our lives as women would look like if they weren’t centered around finding the “one.”

While many women have actually broken free of this cycle, it’s often met with sour looks and scrutiny. I saw this several times when I was watching Sex and the City. Although Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte were happily single, outsiders often questioned their happiness and assumed they were miserable for not being married or having children because, well, misogyny. Women are expected to want to settle down and have children because that’s how it’s always been, that’s their presumed role. And to be completely honest with you, my best friends have always felt more like my soulmates than any of the guys I’ve dated. They support my passions, they randomly check up on me, and they make me feel full.

 

Women are expected to heal men / “Ride or Die” culture. 

I’ve seen this idea pop up a lot lately, and it always rubs me the wrong way. I think that supporting your partner through tough times is important to any healthy relationship, but this burden is often so heavy it causes women to neglect our own mental health and lives.

A lot of men who depend on women to unpack and sort their problems actually need professional help from a licensed therapist. I encountered this problem in my last relationship, and I didn’t even realize it until I was out. I was constantly breaking my back to help my partner out because I loved him, but whenever I needed the same support — I rarely got it. I was always filling him up emotionally and worrying about him, but I never felt like he cared about my well-being. I never felt the same genuine love and care I gave him when he needed it most. Still, I didn’t feel like I could leave him because I wanted him to be okay, even though the relationship was draining me.

I was crying a lot. Every time I felt misunderstood or undervalued by him, I would cry. I wish I could look back and tell myself to snap out of it. None of my friends’ boyfriends made them feel this way. None of my friends would ever allow me to stay with him if they knew what was going on. Why was I so oblivious?

It’s so easy for me to spiral into anger at myself for staying somewhere I didn’t belong, but I learned something valuable from the experience that I wouldn’t have learned any other way: trust your intuition.

Despite what I’d been taught in the past, being in a romantic relationship does not mean you have it all. Most importantly, I learned that being single will always be better than being miserable with someone else. Whether we leave or stay with a person or place that isn’t meant for us, life will eventually push us in the direction we are meant to be in. There’s no point in beating ourselves up for staying where we don’t belong and not realizing it sooner.

The most important rule is to be compassionate with yourself and always, always take a lesson from every hardship, because most lessons cannot be learned in any other way besides through experience. Staying where we don’t fit teaches us how to recognize when future situations and people aren’t working. And that lesson that will take you far in life.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Lin Cheng-Sheng, Erika Bowes, Petra Collins, and Herbie Yamaguchi. 

RoleModel: Erika Lust

RoleModel is an interview series highlighting badass individuals.

 

When we think of game-changers, the name Erika Lust often comes to mind. Quite simply the most influential living female pornographer, her work has exploded the boundaries of the adult film industry. Tired of watching porn made for and by men, Lust took the camera into her own and began to create work guided by female viewpoints, feminism, and storytelling. Since entering the scene in 2004, her films (which she often conceives, writes, and directs) have won countless awards. She’s since launched her own production company which continues to make films that are as politically radical as they are sexy. Basically, she’s the Gloria Steinem of pornography.

I got the chance to pick the legend’s brain.

 

Do you remember the first time you saw porn?

Erika: The first time I saw porn I was at a friend’s house having a sleepover when we found an adult film that belonged to her dad. We were excited to watch it and to uncover the mysteries of sex, but we were so disappointed with what we saw. After that, I left [porn] alone for a long time until my college boyfriend suggested watching some together. I tried again… he liked it, I didn’t. I was bored of watching films where the woman’s role was to give pleasure to the man, yet her pleasure was completely ignored. I knew that there was so much more to sexuality than what was depicted in these films. Plus the cinephile in me couldn’t understand why all of the porn I saw lacked imagination, a story line, relatable characters and cinematic qualities. I understood that it was made with the sole purpose to arouse, but I didn’t understand why we had to forfeit the satisfaction of our other visual senses!

 

Can you tell us how you got started in the porn industry?

I first became interested in the adult industry when I was studying and read Linda Williams’ book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” It showed me that porn was its own genre, with its own history and it was a specific cinematic trend. Porn is part of a wider discourse on sexuality, Williams explains that porn always wants to be about sex, but on closer inspection — it’s always about gender.

This sparked my interest in porn, but it wasn’t until later that I acted upon it. My first film, The Good Girl, was a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope. I cringe a bit looking at it now, because it’s technically poor, but it was a start and it still somehow works! The film was really cute and completely different to what we were used to seeing in mainstream porn. I put it online and it ended up getting 2 million downloads!  

That’s when I realised there were other people out there looking for alternatives to mainstream pornography, and so I decided to start making adult films that reflected my own ideas and values on sex and gender. I went on to direct four more adult features before starting XConfessions [one of Lust’s better known film series] in 2013. XConfessions is an audiovisual project where users send me their sexual fantasies and I turn them into explicit short films. At the beginning it was just me making the films, but two years ago I started a worldwide open call for guest directors, so now we have filmmakers all over the world turning confessions into films and showing us their take on sexuality. It’s a really beautiful crowd-sourced project.

 

Did you always know you’d end up working in adult film?

No, not at all! It wasn’t something I really contemplated until I was living in Barcelona. I moved here after my degree and was initially looking to work in international development, but I was in need of some money and took a job as a runner on a tv set. I worked hard and made my way up to production assistant. Then I suddenly had this restless feeling of wanting to make my own movies. So I took a few night courses to study film direction, and once I had saved enough money to make my own project I made The Good Girl.

 


Did you receive pushback from anyone in the industry in regards to your woman-centric approach?

Yes, definitely. People are still more annoyed by me being a feminist, rather than a pornographer. Certainly at the beginning of my career men in the industry did not want my feminist perspective coming in to change “their porn.” They refused to acknowledge the problems in mainstream porn — the complete disregard for female pleasure, the harmful categorization and othering, gender role stereotyping, the relentless male gaze… the list goes on! Anyway, I was making something that prioritised the female experience, and they didn’t like it.

We each approach feminism in our own way, and the movement is constantly growing and expanding, but it seems that our feminism is suddenly under intense scrutiny. There is a legion of judgemental people looking to police and find faults in other women’s actions. It is undeniable that, because I’m a woman who is vocal about what I dislike in the industry and because I’m pushing to have an impact, I will attract a lot of criticism. There is still some backlash against feminist pornographers because we live in a society that is often sex negative —  especially towards women — and there is still a lot of confusion over exactly what “feminist porn” is. I don’t see half of the criticism I receive being given to male L.A. studio owners, who have done nothing to change the industry at all.

 

What upsets you most in the mainstream porn industry?

I am really concerned with the way certain fantasies are presented and categorized in mainstream porn and the “othering” involved using this criteria. There is a reduction of the performer to their primal feature (size, age, ethnicity, etc.). A lot of sites still put all people of color into exoticized genres, set apart from “regular” porn. Categorization is a really harmful issue for performers and racism in the porn industry is jaw-dropping. Not only are the films marketed with racialized language but the sexual content exclusively relies on racist stereotypes as a motive, which dehumanizes the performers. Interracial porn is not a thing for me for instance, it’s just people having sex.

Porn has never been known for its delicate treatment of marginalized groups — and that clearly includes older performers, too. When scenes are shot with MILFs, they don’t exactly set out to break down ageism so much as to exploit it. It’s also obviously not a true representation of older generation sex, some performers film their first MILF scenes in their early 20s. This is something I’ve wanted to address for a while, and I recently had the opportunity to make a film with a mature couple who wanted to showcase their sexuality and their version of slow, soulful sex. It’s a really beautiful, emotive sex documentary and it will be released on XConfessions next year, so stay tuned for more info!

 

How would you define feminist porn?

There is still a lot of confusion over exactly what “feminist porn” is. For me, it reclaims a genre that has traditionally been seen exclusively as the purview of men. It’s made by feminist directors who directly inject their feminist values into the films. Women have leading roles behind the camera as directors, producers, art directors, directors of photography, etc. making active decisions about how the film is produced and presented, and the stories are told through the female gaze.

Feminist porn creates a sex positive space for women to reclaim their sexuality, pleasure, and desires. Women are shown with sexual agency, owning their pleasure. Men and women are treated as sexual collaborators, not as objects or machines. The films promote role equality and there is no gender stereotyping, which is ultimately harmful for both men and women. In the films, the culture of consent is paramount. There is never any simulation of coercion, pedophilia, or abuse. There is no depiction of aggressive violent sex or rape scenes (not to be confused with BDSM practices). Diversity is key and the films push the representation of human sexuality and identity, showing the diverse ways of desiring and having sex. Marginalized groups are represented without being fetishized or categorized.

Feminist porn is so important because we need to show the world that female pleasure matters. Not because male pleasure doesn’t matter, but because we’ve been watching a type of porn that completely ignores women sexuality for too long. And it’s important to understand that porn has the power to liberate! It doesn’t have to be a negative part of our society. We can create porn where people can see themselves in those films, to see the sex they have, to be inspired, become educated, and receptive to the huge range of different sexualities out there. And most importantly they don’t need to be exposed to one version of porn that teaches them toxic values.

 

Does your work ever get pirated onto larger free sites such as PornHub?

Yes, all the time! Just recently I was in a battle with PornHub asking them to remove some of my XConfessions films but they were ignoring me. Until I called out their behavior on Twitter, they didn’t do anything — and the DMCA compliant notice forms my employee was sending were a waste of time. These sites are a huge problem for the industry, and they’ve put many filmmakers out of business.

Sites such as PornHub are not making their own material, they’re stealing it. They traditionally rely on “users” uploading content to the site who should declare that they have the rights to do so, but it’s clear that amid large quantities of fully licensed material, content exists on PornHub that is infringing copyright. But because they claim to be a completely user generated content site, they’re protected by the provision that they can’t monitor copyrights of every video uploaded.

When a filmmaker finds that their content has been illegally uploaded they can report it and the tube site is served with a DMCA takedown notice, upon which they remove the stolen content. However, the next day the same video is often re-uploaded by another (sometimes the same) user. Obviously small porn studios do not have the time to be trawling through tube sites looking for their content every day. Therefore content goes up faster than studios can issue demands for it to be taken down.

The pirating business model has completely decimated the industry and put many production studios and performers out of business. The industry is no longer as lucrative as it once was. When you shoot your own content as a performer or as a production company and the content is uploaded to the tube sites, it does not matter if it is watched one million times, you are not getting any money from those views. This has pushed many companies to closure and others have lost lots of money. For many of those that survived they’ve had to change how they work by making lower budget films.

Lower budget films can often means less money for the performers. When PornHub launched in the 2000s, performers’ wages dropped massively. Most of them now also do other forms of sex work to create further cash flow in order to create a brand around their name, gain fans, and become well known. This is the way for performers to gain financial security. When a performer has many different income revenues and treat their career as a business that has to be handled professionally and responsibly, then they can save for the future. It’s really hard work.

In my case, I have very loyal customers who know the importance of paying for porn, and they pay for the content I license and the short films I shoot. I’m not targeting the average porn consumer who is looking online for infinite amounts of free porn.

 

How do you think porn influences the young people who watch it — specifically, young men?

Porn can be particularly harmful towards young people when it teaches them to prioritize male pleasure, shows them harmful gender roles, ignores the importance of consent, shows particular body types as the norm, and presents hard-core sexual fantasies as the only way to have sex. For boys, they may learn that they’re supposed to “perform” a certain way — be very dominant, choke, and slap the female without asking for their consent, last for a certain length of time, cum all over her to signal the end of sex, etc. This can not only leave a lot of young men incredibly anxious about their performance, but also teach them very harmful behaviors for when they come to have sex.

The issue we have is that kids are curious and pretty much every time they type something sex related into a search engine, they’ll be greeted by something like PornHub where they’ll be bombarded with a lot of degrading, disrespectful sex which doesn’t always appear to be consensual. We can’t stop kids from finding these sites so instead of ignoring it or trying to ban it (which will never happen), let’s educate them. By acknowledging porn, it immediately becomes less shameful and opens up a dialogue, which leads to healthy, active learning!  Parents who don’t talk to their kids about what’s online are leaving the porn industry to step in as their children’s sex educator.

Good, up-to-date, useful sex education is lacking pretty much everywhere. We know that a huge percentage of schools are not providing adequate sex education. At no point in a child’s education does anyone teach them about consent, which seems like a pretty crucial lesson to me. Our kids aren’t oblivious to sex. Porn is always going to exist, so giving kids the tools to be critical and aware of what they’re watching is unbelievably important! They should be able to differentiate between the types of porn and understand what respectful, equal sex between consenting adults is. When they are old enough, they will see that certain porn can promote gender equality, intimacy, diversity, affirmative consent, safety, pleasure and sexual freedom and exploration.

These concerns are exactly why my partner and I started the non-profit website The Porn Conversation, which offers tools for parents to talk to their children at home. By having open and honest conversations, they will develop much healthier attitudes towards sex and relationships. They will be able discuss their feelings, communicate their sexual desires, and be happier people for it!

 

I’ve read that you work primarily in Barcelona — is there something about Spanish culture that influences or permits your work to thrive?

After I finished my graduate degree in Sweden, I moved to Barcelona and immediately felt that the city was much more receptive to my vision. My ideas and values on sex began to take shape growing up and studying in Sweden, but it was in Barcelona that I started working as an adult filmmaker and created Erika Lust Films. When I first moved here I felt so liberated, I felt like I could be or do whatever I wanted. I had no eyes on me and I was away from the high standards in Sweden that required me to be more polished. Barcelona gave me the creative freedom to start making adult films. My friends were of all different sexualities and genders, and on the whole the people here are very open minded and sex positive. Sexuality is something to embrace and celebrate, and the people are creative, inspiring, and sexy. I continue to work mainly in and around Barcelona, but thanks to my guest directors program, we now have XConfessions films shot all around the world!

 

What are you hoping to change in the porn industry?

My mission has always been to show that women’s pleasure matters. I want to show that women have their own sex drive and desires, and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. XConfessions is adult cinema that is smart, sex positive, and respectful to women. It offers a representation of women’s pleasure and sex on screen that challenges the unchecked misogynistic attitudes, racist categorizations, and degrading narratives of mass-produced porn. Gagging, slapping, and vomiting are presented as mainstream fantasies. Of course some women like these things, but they shouldn’t be presented as the alpha and omega of sex. With my films, I show women enjoying themselves while receiving and giving pleasure in relatable scenarios. Women have their own sexual agency and take ownership of their sexuality and their bodies. It doesn’t matter if the film is kinky, romantic or anything in between; what empowers women is to have a voice in the story and to seek their own desire. And in turn I can squash the belief that women aren’t as aroused by sex on screen as men!

When I first started out female pleasure was missing in a lot of the mainstream porn on the free tube sites. In recent years this has thankfully started to change, there are more female filmmakers in the industry with loud voices and who stand by their work. This includes brilliant filmmakers such as Shine Louise Houston, Jennifer Lyon Bell, Madison Young, Bree Mills, Jacky St. James, Jiz Lee and Holly Randall — to name a few! Plus, with my ongoing guest directors open call I also have that community of new filmmakers who want to show different sides of sexuality and other cinematic perspectives. It’s great to be able to get more voices, more depictions of sex and sexuality, and more people doing something different to a lot of the mass produced stereotypical porn on the free tube sites.

Another thing I really want to change in the industry is to show that adult films can have cinematic qualities. Most of the typical mainstream porn on the free tube sites is devoid of cinematic quality and beauty. We’ve lost the golden age when films were feature-length, released in theatres and reviewed by respected media. Now we have low costs, no filmmaking prowess and low-grade quality. On XConfessions, we invest around €17,000 in every short film. We pay a professional crew to work in styling, location, art direction, cinematography and we also invest in post-production, sound, color correction and take equal care of the arts and graphics that accompany the films.  

 

What is the process of finding your actors like? Are their certain traits, physical or emotional, that you look for during casting?

In terms of the performers, we look to work with performers who share our philosophy and want to do cinema to ensure the best experience for everyone involved. Our casting process is long and thorough. We always make sure our performers are 18+, have had their own sexual experiences, are sex-positive and 100% happy and enthusiastic to be involved. We get to know them long before we start filming, and the performers get to know each other too, so that it feels natural for them. The people I work with are fantastic well-rounded individuals who have made clear choices to reach the decision to perform in adult cinema. 


How do you ensure your cast and crew feel safe — can you walk us through what some of those conversations may look like? 

I think over time, from my position as a director, I have created a safe space on set and shown that an XConfessions film is a collaborative project, with both cast and crew. Everyone’s opinion is completely respected, heard and valid on my set. I also have an on-set talent manager who looks after the performers on the day of shooting to make sure they are taken care of and have everything they need. It is our responsibility to help performers feel comfortable speaking up and ensuring their boundaries are respected for their full comfort and consent.

From the start of Erika Lust Films, an ethical production process has been vital to me. This goes from small things such as feeding everyone on set, to performers being able to stop shooting anytime they feel uncomfortable. Of course, shooting an adult film is challenging and we do our best to make sure performers are looked after and feel comfortable throughout but sometimes mistakes happen. We are not perfect. Now that I have the guest directors program, there are more people than ever before making films for XConfessions, some of whom have never directed an adult film before. So, to ensure that my ethical production values are maintained across the board, we recently developed two documents; Performer’s Bill of Rights and Guidelines for Guest Directors to shoot with Erika Lust, which are a mandatory read for anyone making films for XConfessions.

How would you define a sexy porn scene?

The ingredients for a sexy film are creativity, cinematography, consent, realism, and equality. Sex should be shown as fun and full of passion — the performers should be able to laugh and have fun if they want to! Intimacy plays a huge role, the performers should be connected by the narrative in the story, through the direction and camera shots. If there is no intimacy it will feel cold and detached. The viewer should be able to answer the question, “Why are these people having sex?” to truly feel the eroticism and excitement of the film. And of course pleasure is important, obviously porn is fictional and I’m not saying the performers have to have a real orgasm in every film, but the viewer should be able to feel that they are having fun. I have a general rule that I don’t direct the sex at all, I let the performers do what feels natural and pleasurable to them. I think this is a good way to get good results on screen.

 

To keep up to date on Erika Lust’s latest projects, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram and Twitter

To read more about how parents can educate their children about online pornography, you can visit thepornconversation.org

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Erika Lust, Daniel Klaas, Vilgot Sjöman, and Erika Bowes.

 

 

I Kissed A Girl And I Loved It

PINK is a column that explores lesbian sexuality. This column is specifically about navigating the world as a girl who likes girls. It will celebrate the good, shed light on the bad, and revel in the sexy, lascivious, and laughable.

 

“I kissed a girl and literally felt nothing,” a friend once said to me.

“Yeah, same here,” I quickly responded. I was lying through my front two ffucking teeth. At the time, I was twelve or thirteen (or however old you are in the seventh grade), but I was nine when I saw two girls kiss on television for the first time and ten when I took my fifteenth “Am I a Lesbian?” quiz online. Often, middle school chats with my female friends during lunchtime closely mirrored this one, and the ending of these conversations always resulted in a conclusive, “Yeah, lesbians are weird” or “Boys are so hot!” or “I just could never date a girl” or “Ew, that is so gross.” My weekday conversations all marched to the beat of this homophobic drum and my weekends were not very different.

My mom, being the devout Christian that she was/is, made sure my Sundays were spent at Mt. Zion Baptist church in the rural town of Belton, South Carolina. Even though it says very explicitly in the bible that God loves everyone and we are all his children, I think it is safe to assume that the pastor of Mt. Zion forgot about this section, because those scriptures were never apart of his pulpit rhetoric. I spent Sunday after Sunday hearing my identity reduced to an unforgivable sin. This was one of the few sins that wasn’t socially acceptable. You could lie, fuck before marriage, gossip or even cheat on your spouse, but according to my pastor, being gay was one of those sins that would get you sent down to hell! Dancing with the devil was exactly what I was going to be doing if I kept watching “girls kissing” compilation videos on YouTube. Panic-stricken, I vowed to myself that I would be straight, no matter what. I’ve never been good at keeping promises, though. This promise to myself lasted roughly six hours before nightfall. My nightly ritual was back, soon I watching more girls kissing compilation videos and wondering when it was going to be my turn.

There were no out lesbians at my school or at my homophobic Baptist church. The only lesbians I ever saw were the lesbians on TV, so when I met my older cousin’s LESBIAN friend Stephanie*, I was obsessed! I remember this like it was yesterday. My older cousin was “babysitting” me while my mom went out with her sorority sisters for the day. We were watching music videos like we always did, and in walked Stephanie in all of her stem (term in the lesbian community for a woman who presents in both a masculine and feminine way) glory! I could hear the hallelujah chorus singing as she walked through the door and our eyes locked.

It felt like the floor beneath me had disappeared. I thought that lesbians only existed within TV and computer screens but here was one in the flesh. I had so many questions I was dying to ask her. She was dressed pretty masculine, and since she was the only lesbian I had ever seen in person, I thought that all lesbians were supposed to dress this way. I assumed that if I wanted to commit fully to my lesbian identity, I would also have to start playing around with androgyny. I had so many things I wanted to ask her, but somehow I couldn’t get close enough. My older cousin and aunt were in the room with us the entire time Stephanie was there, and they knew nothing about my lesbian identity — so I tried not to act too interested. I wasn’t until three years later that Stephanie and I would really get a chance to talk and she would end up being the first person I came out to.

My older cousin got married. I was in her wedding and so was Stephanie. This was an all weekend affair.

Thursday: the wedding party arrived in Belton.

Friday: the rehearsal dinner.

Saturday: the wedding.

Sunday: I told Stephanie I was a lesbian.

I told her the day after the wedding. She looked at me with gentle and reassuring eyes and even though she didn’t explicitly say it, I knew that she had been in my shoes before. She immediately responded, “How long have you felt this way?”

“My whole life.” I quickly told her not to say anything to anyone in my family, especially not my mom. I shared all of my feelings with her. I told her about the state of confusion I had spent the majority of my adolescent years in because all the things that my friends felt about boys — I felt about girls. It felt so nice to be heard without judgment. She had a calmness and serenity about her. When she hugged me at the end of our conversation, I was so grateful for Stephanie and am grateful for her to this day.

Three years after the wedding, I came out to my mom. I had just started dating a cute girl on the high school soccer team and I figured this was monumental enough for me to finally tell my mom about my sexuality. Her reaction was much different from Stephanie’s. There was no calm, no serenity, just tears. So many tears and anger and raised voices. “You’re going to hell,” she said before she slammed the door of her bedroom.

She wept the rest of the day, I could hear her from down the hall in my room. My parents were divorced and both my mom and I were always a united front, but that night I had dismantled the unit. She made that clear as I heard her screaming to my dad on the phone, “Come to get her! I don’t want her in this house, I don’t even want to look at her!” She couldn’t bear to look at her child anymore: the child she had created and brought into the world. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut and knocked the wind right out of me. My heart had been shattered. How could my mom be so cruel, I asked myself. It took two weeks for my mom to allow me to move back in, eight months to agree to let my high school girlfriend come over to our home, and finally, one year for her to apologize.

Five years later, I am now out to nearly everyone in my family. I no longer spend my time hiding my sexuality; these days, I live more authentically in Brooklyn with my amazing girlfriend. We have hosted both of my parents as guests in our home and my mom is fully loving and accepting of me and my identify. We are closer than ever. Last but not least, I have retired from watching “Girls Kissing Compilation” videos on Facebook, and have instead started kissing (and fucking) girls in real life.

 

*name changed to protect the identity of the real person

Photos (in order of appearance) by unknown artist, Matthew Tammaro, Matt Jackson, and Chloe Sheppard. 

 

The Politics Of My Body

I woke up relatively hungover in my hotel room and checked my phone to see more texts than I was expecting. Living halfway across the world, it’s not uncommon for people back home to check in on me during the hours when I’m usually asleep. Today was different though.

During the past two years since I started college and a certain racist, sexist pig took office, I have felt like every news alert, every oppressive tweet, and every disappointment has taken my body and thrown it against a building repeatedly. While it doesn’t show on the outside, my internal organs are bleeding and my heart is bruised. I was prepared for the news that a sexual assailant was joining the ranks of our oldest and whitest government court. I was prepared for the news, knowing full well that, despite hoping that the outcries of survivors would make an impact on the vote, the outcome would not change.

I received texts from friends, my older sister, former partners, people who love me from all walks of life offering their support. I have recently made myself more vulnerable by sharing the story of my assault on the internet and being more politically active on social media regarding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. In particular, discussing the nuances of women and survivors in a society where politics have rarely regarded anyone except white males with respect. It’s also worth noting that reading the work of Brittney Cooper, bell hooks, Cleo Wade, and other intersectional feminist writers who I admire has been cathartic for me. It’s also put things into perspective for me, expanding the ways that I go about processing difficult information. I’m curious how the public viewed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s believability differently than that of Anita Hill in 1991?

The week that Dr. Ford came forward, I joined the survivors who publicly shared their experiences with sexual assault.  

It has been two years and a few months, and I had previously just never found the right time to come forward. It also took quite a bit of learning and unlearning for me to understand the depth and weight of what happened to me. It took me a long time to realize that perhaps my assault could have been avoided if the survivors of my predator’s past indiscretions had come forward with their stories prior to that night. Maybe he wouldn’t have been invited. I don’t harbor any resentment, however, I do feel that it is my duty — as it was the duty of Dr. Ford — to out the individuals who have harmed us in an effort to make the world a safer place.

When I shared my experience, I don’t know what I expected. Learning that the process of due diligence meant that he needed to be notified about my assault accusations. This immediately made me panic. Part of me felt so heard and believed when I reported the incident, but I felt conflicted by the news that he would face consequences for his actions — or at least learn that he had this lasting impact on someone he’d probably forgotten about. While I figured this may be part of the process, I had discounted how much it would affect me that he would have my name spoken to him, my experience relayed to him.

I’m not pressing charges, so I’ll never have to sit in a courtroom opposite him and hear his voice, which will likely tell tales of assumed consent and blurred lines. But I was incapacitated and I blacked out during the event. I have felt unsafe for myself and others in sexual spaces ever since.

On that morning, I decided I was done carrying the invalidation I was placing on myself. I drafted an email to authorities. In sending that email I didn’t suddenly become free. I didn’t call for celebration and I didn’t even feel different on the inside at first. But what’s followed has been the daily reminder that I have survived and maybe even grown from my experience. An experience nobody should have to go through. Dr. Ford continues to be harassed daily, while I have been able to share my story in a much more quiet and discreet way.

For people who are struggling with whether or not to share their stories, and those who have been burdened by the social media streams of personal experiences of survivors and the reminder that so many people we know have been affected by sexual violence — I see you. I wish you peace. I know that even from my privileged position (I’m white with a liberal arts college education and had a upper-middle class upbringing), it still took me a very long time and lots of support to come to terms with my experience. I have been realizing more and more that the need for me to speak out came less from a place of personal redemption and more from the understanding that my experience, my sexual assault, was political in and of itself.

If we can’t hold men in our own communities accountable for their actions how can we expect justice to be reflected in politics? It’s complicated, but watching Dr. Ford come forward with bravery and conviction convinced me that I could do the same.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Camila Falcão, Sara Lorusso, Sharena Chindavong, Valentin Duciel, and Bungo Tsuchiya. 

 

Anxiety And Me

*The following content may be triggering to those who have experienced anxiety. 

 

Forty million individuals suffer from anxiety disorders in the United States. Before I suffered from anxiety, I interpreted anxiety as nervousness and when someone found it hard to meet new people. However, since suffering from anxiety I’ve learned that the symptoms include so much more.

I have suffered from anxiety for around ten years now, yet when I first developed symptoms, I had no idea that it was, in fact, anxiety. Doctors have prescribed me copious amounts of medication in efforts to reduce the pain and symptoms: Zoloft, Amitriptyline, Buscopan, Losec, Metoclopramide, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Codeine, Lactulose, and Tramadol. My parents and physicians had urged me to see a psychologist for years, but after a bad experience with one, I stubbornly declined. At this point in my life, I am genuinely open to trying anything that may possibly help. Today I am prescribed 60mg of Amitriptyline and take six Tramadol per day. While my anxiety is worse today than it was in the beginning, I will not let it control my life.

I remember the first time I experienced anxiety symptoms around the age of nine or ten, after a trip to Thailand. I caught an illness on the plane and I spent the entire week profusely vomiting which triggered my first encounter with anxiety: I was terrified of illness. I remember shaking with worry as I fell asleep as a child, afraid of getting sick again. 

I have always had a pretty bad digestive system, which made my stomach sore a lot when I was younger. It would get so bad that I would be vomiting from how much pain I was in. This created an endless cycle of anxiety: I’d get a sore stomach, I would get anxious about the pain and the risk of vomiting, then the worry and anxiety would make my stomach worse, repeat. It wasn’t great in high school either, but nothing that I couldn’t manage. However, when I finished high school, things got worse.

I enrolled in university and moved into a dorm. I quickly realized that my courses weren’t right for me and the relationship I had with my roommate was terrible. Having to deal with this was incredibly exhausting. I faced the dilemma of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life while having to deal with the stress of feeling uncomfortable and nervous in my living situation. But nothing could brace me for the emotions that would come when, shortly after, a friend of mine took his own life.

I started to mentally decline. I felt useless, like I couldn’t help him. Everything started to feel extremely pointless and I couldn’t stop wondering what anything was for. I felt very small in a very big world, as though nothing I did had any impact on anyone or anything. The stress and anxiety I was experiencing became extremely evident in my appearance. In the weeks to come, purple rings began to develop around my eyes and I developed chronic eczema all over my face which would crack and bleed. When I was young, the thought of illness made me restless, but now something much more somber invaded my thoughts: death. I started having nightmares where I was half awake and I’d sit up and see people hanging from the trees outside. Then one week, I dreamed each night that a different family member had died.

Even deeper stuff hit me a few weeks later when I started believing that it was my fault. I began creating situations in my head, thinking about all the things that I could’ve changed or done differently.

Thankfully, over time things seemed as though they were starting to settle — until I started getting a sore stomach more frequently. I went to doctors and they suggested that I try anti-anxiety medication to treat the cause of the issue rather than just the symptoms.

They put me on 50mg of Zoloft, which only made my sore stomachs ten times worse. I was in pain 24/7; I couldn’t leave the house for fear of getting a sore stomach in public. They took me off Zoloft, as one of the main side effect is stomach irritation. Instead, they put me on Amitriptyline, starting at 10mg and then gradually, they increased the dosage. 

I currently take 60mg of Amitriptyline, and am in utter fear of leaving the house. I think about things like what will happen if I get a sore stomach and there is no bathroom around, or if I get a sore stomach and I can’t get off the bus or train. Because of this I spend most of my money on Uber. I am currently taking six Tramadol a day, in efforts to break the link between my sore stomach, anxiety, and stress. I still experience chronic pain, and anything other than peanut butter toast and chocolate almond milk upsets my stomach.

As I said earlier, I used to think that anxiety was just meant someone was stressed or scared to meet new people, but honestly it is so much more. It’s often debilitating. Anxiety has caused me to drop out of university, lose relationships, and miss out on opportunities. To make matters worse, at times my condition is the source of other people’s worry and stress; they want to help but I don’t know how they can fix all these things. 

However, things could could be a lot worse: I could have an incurable illness. While anxiety (and all the forms that it comes in) sucks entirely, we can get better. Although anxiety is treatable, only 36.9% of people who experience anxiety in America receive treatment. So if you’re someone in a similar situation, please seek help.

There are options that are cheap, BetterHelp is an online counseling service that allows you to chat online, call, or video conference with a qualified counsellor — which I think is great, because I find talking face-to-face with someone about my issues very scary, alternative modes of chatting are really helpful. BetterHelp isn’t free, but it’s affordable and nowhere near as expensive as seeing a psychologist.

If like me, you also feel as though you have a poor quality of life due to anxiety, remember: it won’t always be like this. It might take a while and some hard work, but ultimately, your life is worth living and fighting for. 

 

 

For more information on anxiety, its symptoms, and how to treat them — click here

If you or a loved one is experiencing a debilitating anxiety attack, you can call 1-800-662-4357 for 24-hour assistance. 

You can learn more about BetterHelp’s services by visiting their website at www.BetterHelp.com

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Zachary Gray,  Narges (@lesnympheas), David Uzochukwu, and Petra Collins.