Sex On SSRIs

“Are you gonna cum?” my partner asks, pausing the throes of passion to show concern. Already tired and sweaty from attempting to do the nasty, I say to him, “Just a little longer. I’m right on the edge!”


This continues for what feels like forever before I resign and let my partner cum. I roll off of him, feeling a bit despondent. Sure, the act of sex itself was still a lot of fun, but the connection that flows between a couple when both parties orgasm was one of my favorite parts.

During my time on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, commonly used to treat depression), every time my partner and I had sex, I would be trying to reach climax practically the entire time. I was wet, I was in the mood, and I’d always feel like I was on the brink of something — but no matter how close I thought I was, I could never get there.

I had to accept the fact that this would be my reality while on Paxil.

Paxil seemed to be a worthwhile antidepressant, but the sexual side effect started to drag me down over time. I spent forever reading drug reviews on forums to determine if this was a side effect that would pass with time. The results varied. Ultimately, I knew that my sex life was extremely important to my partner and me. So, I switched to a different medication.

Later, I had mood stabilizers added to my medication regimen. As far as I could tell, they didn’t seem to affect me sexually. I could still get in the mood and cum. Nice, I thought, things are finally back to normal. Not long after that, my partner called to check on me one evening when I was on my way home. During the conversation, he asked me a question. “Do you think the mood stabilizers have affected your sex drive? It seems like you haven’t been in the mood as often.” Dammit! That lowered libido snuck the hell up on me!

Unfortunately, these aren’t uncommon occurrences. According to the CDC, as of 2014, about one in every eight Americans over the age of 12 reported recent antidepressant use. While females more commonly take antidepressants than males, the sexual dysfunction for each sex is just as devastating. Women tend to experience blocked or delayed orgasms, a delay in or lack of natural lubrication, or decreased libido. In men, sexual side effects present themselves through erectile dysfunction (difficulty obtaining an erection), decreased libido, and delayed or blocked orgasms.

The reasons antidepressants tend to cause sexual dysfunction haven’t quite been figured out yet, but doctors have compiled a list of antidepressants that tend to be the worst culprits, including Paxil, Lexapro, and Prozac. We should keep in mind that our bodies are all different, so these medicines may not specifically give you sexual dysfunction.

For those who aren’t sexually active, don’t plan to be sexually active, or aren’t interested in sexual activities, these side effects won’t be a hindrance in life. However, for those who enjoy sexual activities or are in a sexually active relationship, an entire portion of their lives can become negatively impacted. Evidently, these medications can inspire sexual stress within both partners.  

In spite of that distress, I’ve seen articles about women resigning to it. They feel that they have to choose between their mental health and their sex lives. It breaks my heart, but I understand it because I was once in a similar position. They go through the process of trying to find the right medication, and — trust me — it can be a long, exasperating process. When they find one that makes them feel like they can function well again, they don’t want to let it go. At that point, they’re so exhausted from the struggles with their mental health that they’re willing to try anything.

However, there are also people who are struggling with their mental health who refuse to begin or continue taking antidepressants that may help them because of the rampant reports of sexual dysfunction. Antidepressants could potentially be an important aspect of their recovery process, but they choose to abstain.

In my opinion, a medication that doesn’t enhance all of the parts in your life that are most important to you is still not worth taking. A huge part of the recovery and coping process with mental illness is doing what you can personally to live healthily — not trade one demon for another. There shouldn’t be a point in your individual process where you find yourself saying, “I experience this shit now, but at least I’m not depressed.” It’s worth fighting for a sex life that satisfies you. 

If you take SSRIs and  are experiencing negative sexual symptoms, talk to your doctor. I know it can feel embarrassing, but it’s there job to make sure you’re as healthy as possible — and for most of us, that includes a fulfilling sex life. Also, keep an open dialogue with your sexual partner(s). Try not to let anyone make you feel guilty for struggling. You can also try different new things on your own or in the bedroom that may work past sexual dysfunction as you get your medications straightened out. It may just be a matter of switching positions or intensity at times.
Be patient and forgiving with yourself.

Above all, do what you feel will benefit you most in the long run, no matter the opinions of others. That’s what I’m learning to do.


 

For more information on how SSRIs can impact your sex life, click here.

 

First photo by Brianna Saenz, and the following two by Isabelle Abbott

 

I Talked To My Mom About Coming Out

No two coming out stories are exactly alike.

It was a hot August day when I told my mom I was queer. I sat in the front seat of the car with tears welling up in my eyes. I was 19 years old and home from college for the summer. I had just returned from a party with my high school friends where, upon coming out to them, I was sexually harassed by my ex boyfriend who had been drinking heavily. This is not about that night, but the events that led to the front seat of my mom’s car will unfortunately always be a part of my story.

Three years later, I decided to interview my mother to gain her perspective on my coming out story. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion. 

 

When did I come out to you and how did I do it?

Mom: Well, you did it in a way that you didn’t intend to. It was in the context of telling me about something else, and you couldn’t avoid telling me about your sexuality — that you identify as queer — without telling me about this really bad experience that you had. We’ve talked about it since then, and I think you wouldn’t have done it that way if you had been able to choose the time and place, but that’s the way it happened.

 

Are you disappointed it happened that way?

I wish it had been more of a positive experience for both of us because I think it could’ve been.

I couldn’t fully process it at that time. In retrospect, [Nora’s ex]’s actions were even more harmful than he intended because he robbed us of the opportunity to have a positive conversation about it. I think your queerness could’ve been the focus, and we could’ve concentrated on the positive feelings around it rather than the negative feelings. I wanted to protect you and shelter you from the hurt that that person caused you. It could’ve been more celebratory but it wasn’t.

 

Do you consider coming out a cause for celebration?

I think it is because it’s you. It’s not something like, “Here’s my new hair color” for example — it’s not a choice like that. It’s just you revealing more of yourself, and that feels like a cause for celebration.

 

I like that sentiment. I think being yourself should be a celebratory thing.

Yes, exactly.

 

How would you have liked me to come out to you? Should I have done it in song?

*Laughs* I would’ve liked it if you had said to dad and me, “Hey guys, here’s what I’ve discovered about myself.” Then your parents, as a partnership, could’ve said, “Great! We’re so glad that you found that out and you’re sharing it with us.”

 

I’ve been thinking about why I was so hesitant to tell dad, and I’ve realized it actually has a lot to do with the way I had to tell you. That was such an unpleasant experience that I came to associate talking openly about my sexuality with [that] bad experience. It never had anything to do with dad as a person, and I knew that the whole time, but I really struggled with the “why” of it all. I love dad and I never have problems telling him anything but I remembered the way I felt coming out to you, and I just didn’t want to feel that way again.

That makes sense. I think he would love to hear that. He gets it.

 

I wonder what Nana would’ve thought if I’d had the chance to come out to her.

Well, when one of your cousins came out she said something like, “It doesn’t matter, I love you anyway.” Like my dad, she was very devout, but her love for her family came first, so it didn’t matter to her. There were other times when other people’s children needed support and she and Grandpa gave it to them despite the teachings of the Catholic faith.

 

As a millennial, it’s really easy to make assumptions about the opinions of older generations. I’ve certainly made assumptions like that. I always just assumed that if Nana and Grandpa were alive now they wouldn’t approve of my sexuality, but it’s surprising and wonderful to know that that wouldn’t be the case. It’s a weight off my chest.

People can surprise you.

 

What do you wish for other parents of young queer people?

What do I wish?

 

Yeah, I’m big on wishes in 2019.

Okay. I wish for them a close, loving relationship with their child so that whatever happens for their child and for their relationship, they have that foundation. If you love your child, you celebrate what they discover about themselves. You celebrate it all. So I wish that… and the strength to help their children be strong.

 

Good wishes.

*  *  *

 

After my mom and I talked, I thought it was only fitting for me to make a wish too, a wish for the kids like me, the queer kids (and yes, at 22 years old I still feel like a kid).

My wish for you is to come out whenever you want, as often as you want, to as many people as you want. There’s no one way to do it. If you want to tell the whole world or just one close friend or family member, you can. For you, I wish authorship of your own story. It’s your coming out story, so write it however you damn well please.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Sofia AmburgeyJess Farran, and  Olivia Renouf

 

 

Always On

Who would have imagined that we would take it this far — and how much further can it go?

This is a question I often ask myself as I flip back and forth between social media platforms, rapidly clicking my thumbs as I scroll through different timelines. My gaze resides firmly between being simultaneously transfixed and entirely apathetic. In the scenario I’m describing, the most likely thing to happen next is that I will click the button on the side of my phone, which will plunge my screen into darkness and force me to find something else to occupy my time.

Within minutes, sometimes seconds, I’ll be back refreshing the same sites I was on previously. I hope to see new content that will satisfy what feels like an insatiable need to be stimulated, plugged in, and present in the digital environment. Sometimes I don’t like what illuminates my phone screen, but I’m often deeply immersed. I fall into the age-bracket where I’m young enough to be a product of the information age, but old enough to remember what it was like before the internet. 

On this subject, I tend to err on the side of caution but do not assume a position of holistic rejection. This mindset is driven by witnessing what I think is the best and worst of what these platforms have to offer. It’s easy to simply view sites like Instagram and Twitter as incredible tools that have allowed individuals from across the globe to connect and converse all while carving out beautiful and unique spaces for various communities. We presume that this allows them to explore themselves and become more confident (myself included), build relationships, start careers, and self-express on a scale that they otherwise may not have been able to.

Aspiring photographers can post images on their accounts and receive positive reinforcement that they should keep shooting, even if they’ve never been told before that their work was worth anything. Even one compliment could be the pivotal difference that makes someone quit or keep on keeping on. A person who dreams of being a musician can upload their music directly to a platform like SoundCloud and expose their creation to the world, sometimes leading to fame. It seems that now more than ever, the gradual establishment of a tangible base of supporters can spawn online.

All of these observations are certainly true. But, it is difficult to appreciate those outcomes without acknowledging the more sinister alternatives. There are those who, rather than use the internet as a force for beneficial and healthy connectivity, have chosen to use it to make known the darkest parts of their being. Back when the website Formspring was closer to its height of relevance, I remember receiving anonymous questions that would range anywhere from arbitrarily insulting my appearance to criticizing me for “talking white” to making judgmental assumptions about my sexuality. Not only was it harmful for me to be inundated with these sentiments in general, but the fact that I had no idea who was saying it added a layer of discomfort. I frequently found myself obsessing over commentary by people who were only empowered when concealing their identity.

Another heinous example often seen online is when people become disgruntled with a public figure and, in their minds, justify the act of leaving mean-spirited comments on Instagram photos, hitting “send” on tweets containing words they would never utter offline, and even sending threats of violence in direct messages. I imagine these acts could be incredibly destructive to a person’s mind-state, especially over time.

There are countless examples of users weaponizing the anonymity offered by the internet to bully and harass others. Some have theorized that rather than social media corrupting the individuals who engage with it, the various platforms simply reveal their true character. Without the threat of legitimate, “real life” consequences when someone steps out of line with societal expectations of decency, people feel free to be as venomous or as sweet as they please online.

There are countless things I love about social media and what it offers, and for the most part, I use it daily. However, there are also days where I have to reduce my consumption, as I can feel it wearing me down mentally and emotionally. It is for this reason that I am empathetic to anyone who chooses to always be on, or always be off. We must be mindful of the tight grasp that social media platforms have on us to ensure that we use it in a positive manner and don’t let it fully consume us.

Is it all worth it? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

 

Photos by Sophie Kubinyi. 

 

Why You Can’t Get Over Your Ex, According To Science

 

Ava Answers is a column exploring the science of sex by Ava Mainieri, a PhD student studying women’s health at Harvard University.

 

We all know that crazy ex-girlfriend. She’s the one used as a punchline at a party because she sent a string of twenty unanswered texts. She’s the one who showed up at his house, a mess of tears, and forced him to rehash the whole breakup. She’s one who proclaims on all social media platforms how happy she is and then two days later calls him to re-profess her love. I don’t need more examples to demonstrate that we live in a society that affirms “bitches be cray.”

If you have ever found yourself obsessing over a breakup, take note: scientists have evidence that your ex-boyfriend can remain part of you long after you toss his toothbrush from your bathroom. This is not some love metaphor, but a biological fact.

During pregnancy, cells from the embryo push their way through the placenta and travel to the mother’s uterus, breast, and brain. As the majority of pregnancies are silent and spontaneous miscarriages, women may have multiple men taking residence in their bodies. Don’t beat yourself up for obsessing over your ex long after the breakup — he’s literally in your brain.

Most women don’t even originally know they’re pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists speculates that approximately 60% of miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy, and that the majority of women don’t even know it is happening. They might experience a single missed period or a heavier than usual blood flow. These embryos overwhelmingly have an abnormal amount of chromosomes (the instruction manual needed to form a baby) — a problem that happens just by chance, not because of anything the mother did. But even within those first few weeks, tiny parts from the growing ball of cells (a fetus) can escape the uterus and spread through the mother’s body. Scientists call the phenomenon fetal microchimerism, after the Greek mythological animal made up of the head of a goat, body of a lion, and tail of a snake.

These tiny invaders don’t just passively enter the mother’s body. A recent experiment found that fetal cells can be identified in a woman’s body as early four to five weeks into pregnancy. Then, the majority actively migrates to the uterus, breasts, and brain. Though many disappear after a few years, some can stick around in the body up to 27 years after pregnancy. A 2012 study dissected brains of around 60 deceased older women and found Y chromosomes (meaning they came from a male pregnancy) in 63% of them. However, these cells were rare — only making up around 1 in every 1000 cells. But fetal cells that had trekked to the brain, developed into healthy brain tissue and the few that traveled to the heart also became heart tissue.

But it is still unclear if these cells act as a mother’s tiny helper. Fetal cells have been documented to migrate to damaged organs in a woman where they transform into other tissue cells; hinting that their goal may be to mend and repair. Some of these cells are stem cells, which can turn into many types of different tissues. They have been found in wounds, like caesarian scars and thyroid tumors, which hint at their active assistance in healing. Despite that, other researchers argue these foreign bodies are causing more harm than good. They may contribute to autoimmune disorders and inflammatory responses like Graves’ disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Fetal cells may be the culprit to blame in part for higher rates of autoimmunity in women. For example, we have three times higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis than men.

From an evolutionary perspective, it is in the interest of the father to try and manipulate the mother. Because the embryo contains genetic material from both parents, the fetal cells that sneak into the mother’s body get half of their instructions from their father. Each baby’s chance of surviving is directly tied to the amount of resources like blood, sugar, and milk it takes from its mother. Because the man does not know if this will be his only child with a woman, he wants his offspring to receive as much nutrition as possible. Therfore, it’s possible fetal cells could be manipulating their mother to drive up blood flow, milk production, and attention.

Work in my own lab raises the possibility of an even more alluring prospect: fetal cells in the brain may be influencing a woman’s emotions and behavior. Because they are primarily found in the hippocampus of a woman’s brain, we speculate that they might not only influence bonding between a mother and her child, but possibly between a woman and her mate. You shouldn’t really fault yourself for monitoring your ex’s activity on Instagram — it could be his genetic material behind your obsession.

Whether or not the greater scientific community agrees with this hypothesis is moot. What is important is that scientists are finally giving heartbreak and women’s health the attention it deserves. As late as the 1980s, whenever someone did not want to deal with a woman’s emotions or was generally alarmed with her behavior, she was taken to a doctor and diagnosed with hysteria. This “syndrome” acted as a sweeping label for all who felt enraged, depressed, too aroused, not aroused enough, and a slew of other ailments thought to be caused by just being a woman. The word hysteria comes from the Greek ‘hystera’ which means uterus, so the condition of hysteria literally meant the misfortune of being a woman.

The peril with feeling crazy is that it discredits us — when we are in an argument, vying for a promotion, or protesting a Supreme Court Justice nomination. It causes us to explain away our emotions instead of scrutinizing them. In scenarios where our voice needs to be heard, it can put the blame on us rather than someone else’s arguable behavior.

Not only is pathologizing women’s emotions demeaning, but it is also scientifically incorrect.

 

 

Second photo by Antonia Adomako

 

Japan’s Sex Crisis

Having grown up on an island off of Seattle, then moving to Japan to study, I have experienced major culture shock in my life. When thinking of Japan, you probably conjure up images based on its other-worldly and eccentric nature. My mom is Japanese, so from an early age, I had spent plenty of time in the country. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the food, the polite people, and their culture in general.

However, it wasn’t until I moved there that I uncovered some of the negatives of Japanese society.

While I still have a lot of fondness for Japan, some of the things I discovered are simply inexcusable and necessary to talk about. It was a slap in the face to realize that the country I had come to love was not as safe as I had once thought it was. The moment I realized this was when I was walking back home and in broad daylight, and was followed by a man who was masturbating. I was shocked, and left to process the whole encounter for hours and hours later.

One thought this encounter provoked in me was the need to discover the nuances and less spoken about realities of the Japanese sexual culture. When people talk about Japan, they always ask me if it’s true that there are love hotels. It’s true, they are scattered throughout. They are used solely for sex (referred to as “rest”). Customers pay by the hour, renting out a room for a few hours, or even the day. There are girl and boy bars — places that you can pay for drinks and the comfort of talking to a cute person of either sex and be made to feel important. Then there are Red Light Districts in Tokyo, where you can pay for oral sex (sometimes even penetrative sex), and oftentimes there are porn magazines in convenient stores. It is commonly said that whatever your sexual desire is, Japan can fulfill it.

The irony lies in the fact that, despite what many would consider an oversaturation of sex in Japan, the citizens are underexposed to the negative impacts of such an environment. The age of consent in Japan is 13, there are train carriages specifically designated for women, and the shutter sound on Japanese phone cameras cannot be muted — a governmental effort to deter perpetrators from taking creepy up-skirt photos. It is not uncommon for women to get groped on the train (hence the need for women-only carriages). My friends have experienced this firsthand and have even had indecent photos airdropped to them on trains.

In a country as overexposed to sex as Japan, one would hope that people would freely speak out about sexual harassment and assault, but unfortunately, the opposite is true. Japan is incredibly hush-hush about sex. In 2013, The Guardian reported that people under 40 have been losing interest in having relationships and sex in general. In 2017, the BBC found that 43% of the population aged 18-34 claims to be virgins. An aging society is growing in Japan, as birth rates are decreasing. Sexism in Japan — and how it culminates into sexual violence — plays a significant role in this decline.

Japanese laws on rape were not changed for 110 years until 2017. This led to rapists serving shorter prison sentences than those convicted of theft. Does Japanese society think of an object as having more importance than a woman’s body? During police investigations, police have been known to make victims reenact the incident with a sex doll. Imagine the trauma and re-traumatization that victims must endure throughout this process.

A brave woman, Shiori Ito, recently came out publicly after having been raped by renowned journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi. She came forward in a society where topics such as rape are taboo to talk about. In the face of police reluctance to even take her case at all, Shiori showed the police footage of her unable to walk through a hotel, propped up by Yamaguchi who had drugged her just shortly before. He claims that she got too drunk. Finally, after officials started to take the case seriously and were close to making an arrest, the case was called off — theories include the involvement of the Prime Minister to aid the perpetrator. Shiori received wide scale backlash and threats, leaving her unable to go back to her house for three months.

Solely looking at the statistics, Japan seems to be a safe country. In 2017, The Japan Times reported that, “In fiscal 2015, 1,167 rapes and 6,755 cases of indecent assault were reported to the police across Japan.” The article goes on to take into account what police figures do not: widespread unreported rapes. Working with figures from the Japanese government, 95% of rapes go unreported. That is to say, “the real figure for rapes in the country could be more than 27,000.” In 2018, The Japan Times again reported on a similar issue, demonstrating that “1,750 cases of groping or molestation were reported in 2017, of which 30 percent occurred between 7 and 9 a.m.” Just as with rapes, a high percentage probably go unreported.

I share this knowledge to spread awareness of the current social climate in what seems to be a relatively safe place from the outside. It’s hard to live in a society that is so hush-hush and has such evident double standards regarding sex and its consenting participants and non-consenting victims. I did not discover what was occurring beneath the surface until I lived in Japan myself.

The #MeToo movement is not that big in Japan, but after Shiori Ito spoke out about her assault, some changes are starting to occur. Despite the oppressive taboos that still surround discussion of this dire issue, I hope that women can continue to find their voices. Stories of girls and women being groped on packed trains can no longer be a norm — and a norm that gets brushed aside, at that.

 

(To learn more about Japan’s cultural attitude towards sex, I’d recommend watching the BBC documentary, Japan’s Secret Shame.)

 

Photos (first two) by Jairo Granados, and third by Sofia Amburgey

 

 

Tips For Coping With PCOS

“What’s that?”

My mind raced when my OBGYN uttered the words, “Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).” Being the hypochondriac I am, I knew I had encountered this disease before through frantic searches on Google, but like everyone else, I never had sufficient information on it, and I also didn’t think it would actually apply to me.

So, what is it?

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance of reproductive hormones. How I like to think about it: excess luteinizing hormones (LH) and a low level of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) contributes to too many androgens, or male hormones (testosterone). It is fairly common, there are over 200,00 diagnosed cases in the U.S. each year. 

The excess of testosterone manifests in indicators such as my dark, coarse hairy belly and chest also known as or hirsutism one of the main symptoms of PCOS.

Another principal symptom is the development of ovarian cysts. I found out that I had PCOS due to cysts on both ovaries. My OBGYN explained that the average ovary appears smooth on an ultrasound. However, what my ultrasound revealed was that the surface of my right ovary had more than twelve, one-centimeter wide cysts. Each cyst has a potential egg that’s trying to develop so that it can be released from the ovary. However, the hormonal imbalance prevents this stage from occurring, ultimately leaving me with a bunch of cysts.

Let’s backtrack a little. Firstly, how is PCOS diagnosed?

During your visit, your doctor will conduct various tests such as blood tests and urinalysis. For me, I had a transvaginal pelvic ultrasound and a pelvic exam, where she found multiple cysts on my right ovary.

Being the cautious Sagittarius I am, I went home and immediately began researching how to live with my disorder. So what’s the practical way to deal with PCOS?

1. Birth control.

Birth control is key to control pain and hormonal imbalance. Like most birth control methods, I like to use the famous Reddit term ‘Your Mileage May Vary’ (YMMV). How does YMMV apply to this? A method that’s worked for me may not work for you. My OBGYN put me on a combination pill. The pill has been helpful for me so far, although I get severe pelvic pain at night. Since I get pelvic pain, I just take Ibuprofen (you may know this anti-inflammatory drug as Advil) and use a hot compress. Eventually I want to switch to a hormonal IUD as the risk of developing blood clots remains an issue to me.

 

2. Food consciousness.

I cut out refined sugars. That’s right, no more midnight trips to the fridge for ice cream. It’s helped me prevent any painful flare-ups. At first, this was unbearable. I have a major sweet tooth and I can consume a whole bag of Reese’s Pieces in a sitting if I wish. However, cutting out refined sugars controls insulin rates and prevents weight gain. I’ve replaced refined sugar with fruits which have natural forms of sugar and fiber to control blood glucose.

Another way of eating I’ve adopted is the ketogenic (keto) diet. The keto diet consists of high-fat and low-carb meals.Why is this helpful? The body can function on fat for energy instead of glucose. A limited carb intake will switch your body to run on fat and stop depending on glucose. The keto diet, as well as other low-carb diets, have been linked to weight loss, reduced blood sugar levels, and reduced inflammation. My go-to keto meal? Chicken, black beans, egg, and avocado.

 

3. Exercise.

I started strength training. I used to hate any form of exercise, but every time I’m at the gym now, time seems to fly by. What are the benefits of strength training for people with PCOS? It lowers androgens, improves insulin resistance, and maintains metabolism rates. I’ve also been doing short, high intensity interval training (HIIT) on the treadmill. For a maximum of 21 minutes, I sprint for a minute and walk for another minute. HIIT improves insulin rates in those with PCOS.

 

4. Mental health.

Mental health is overlooked with PCOS. One of the main symptoms of PCOS is depression. For the past year, I’ve been dealing with depression, mood swings, and high stress. Those with PCOS are more susceptible to the stress hormone cortisol. Why is cortisol harmful? Cortisol can disrupt the menstrual cycle and increase appetite for refined sugars, which in turn, promotes weight gain. See the cycle? To regulate this, I’ve been taking up meditation. Before I go to bed I dedicate fifteen minutes to meditation, whether it’s prayer or Zen Buddhism (Zazen). This, in combination with weekly therapy sessions, has reduced my stress levels, and leaves me a bit happier. Therapy has especially helped me identify emotions from problems or stressors and ways to fix problems.

 

For more information on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), click here and speak to a medical professional.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Cassidy Lavender, Sofia Amburgey, and Nate Jerome

 

 

To The Toxic Men I Have Loved Before

Dear toxic men I have loved before,

It’s not me. It’s you.

I look back and wonder: Why couldn’t I go?

It’s hard to admit that I didn’t want to, but more so that I could never bring myself to do it — to leave you. I valued you far above myself; you were my metric, my tool for self-worth. I stayed and waited. I waited for you to get it, to understand, to finally apologize. I waited for a change. Everyone knew it wouldn’t come, including you and me, and yet I kept hoping. I stayed in the hopes that my beautiful fantasy of you, the one that I had worked so hard to construct, would not prove to be in vain. Doesn’t all that love have to go somewhere?  

From the beginning, your small mistakes and lack of consideration went mostly unaddressed. I didn’t want to seem crazy, I didn’t want to seem psycho. As I forced myself to play the Cool Girl™, my expectations of you plummeted while the fantasy grew. What could I do? Boys will be boys.

These signals soon turned into the first time you broke my heart. The second and third and fourth times were more of me breaking my own, unable to accept the truth of how you treated me. At some point it became normal. I started to think that these cycles and uncertainty were merely a byproduct of love or, at least, passion.

The hardest thing to accept was that I believed in a myth of you, not who you actually were. Time and time again you shattered my fantasy of you, time and time again I kept believing. Four years of an emotional roller coaster didn’t seem so bad because I was never taught that love should be a balance; an exchange or compromise based on the needs of two people. I was coming of age surrounded by reports of date-rape on college campuses. I shared the same adolescent development period as mandatory consent programming. The reality I saw not only within our relationship, but also in the world was far from the kind of love I had dreamed of. What I had believed in was Prince Charming — what I found was coerced sex on football bleachers and unsolicited dick pics. Where was the romance in that? I was sold a fantasy, but I got a fallacy.

I heard it all. Boys who tease you like you. He’s being mean because he has a crush on you. Where do we draw the line between flirtatious teasing and emotional manipulation?

It was these small details that helped to set the bar so low. Careless mistakes: always being late, flaking, forgetting — I get it. You missed my prom photos, didn’t bother to show up on time, or spend the night with me at all. You didn’t realize Valentine’s Day would imply a gift, or even a card. And I brushed it all off. What could I do? Boys will be boys. I let a few initial months of good behavior — basic decency, rather — excuse a downward spiral of gaslighting, hypocrisy, and, later, cold apathy. I would tell you how I felt and you would tell me I was being pushy, holding onto the past, guilt-tripping you. Why was it so hard to believe that I was simply telling you how you made me feel, that the things I shared with you were simply the consequences of your actions? Did how I feel really hold that little importance to you, or did you just habitually obfuscate your own blame?

Worst of all, if I left, I would have had to admit that I didn’t need you.

I couldn’t admit this because I didn’t believe it, and you loved it. You loved being needed — my savior, my hero, my landing pad. You thrived on always being the one to cut me down and build me back up. My pain, your toy, something you may never understand. These are our standards: Boys who tease you like you. He’s being mean because he has a crush on you. Boys will be boys. He’s never laid a hand on me. He’d never hit me. At least he’s never cheated. Why didn’t I go? The list goes on.

My first introduction to love revolved around a rationalizing of partnership as something healthy so long as there was an absence of bruises. A relationship that didn’t start with sending nudes on Snapchat seemed above average. Like those things could suffice. As long as it never got physical, as long as you weren’t predatory, you could be my Prince Charming.

Yet, you rarely, if ever, apologized for the emotional scars. You justified, rationalized, and explained — but so few “sorry”s. And, of course, the emotional abuse wasn’t abuse to you, it was logic. My reactions were some kind of variable to plug into your calculations of how to treat me. I adored you and you knew it. I knew it. I waited and waited for the feeling to leave, but it stayed, only fading, painfully slowly. It still oscillates between a strange feeling of indebtedness and a tragic sense of missing you, missing what I know I shouldn’t.

Now, I can see the absence of your empathy. I gave and gave and gave, showed you what I needed. I bent over backwards to try to love you in your language, when you never bothered to learn mine.

Now, I talk to friends and people around me who find themselves continuously loving the people that break them. I’ve begun to realize it’s much bigger than me or you. The way we are raised designates categories: those who will dominate and those who will compromise, those who will strategize and those who will empathize. I learned to equate someone, especially a man, gifting me attention or basic respect, to true love. But what about true partnership? Not just love or fantasy, but a partnership. As in a teammate, someone who is willing to have tough conversations, compromise, and collaborate.

I and so many others have had to pull ourselves out of broken, unhealthy love simply to say: I cannot stay. You are not my hero. I do not need you, and you do not deserve me. What hurts most is knowing that it will take so much emotional reflection, time, and help to actually believe that. It’s one thing to leave, it’s another to believe in my own worth. That’s the hardest part.

 

For the last time,

A

 

 

Photos by Alexia Garza Gomez. 

 

 

Blowjobs: A Guide To Sucking Less

Ah, blowjobs… we have had some crazy times together.

You’ve resulted in me spitting, swallowing, puking, getting a ‘facial,’ getting cum in my eye, and getting my hair put up into truly horrible ponytails. Honestly fellas… please practice putting hair into a ponytail for such dick-sucking occasions, because I’ve gotten some knots which have required scissors to untangle. Yet despite all the painfully embarrassing moments and ups and downs of our journey together, I can’t deny that I love you. I love blowjobbing and I always will. But sadly, my affection for performing oral sex on people with penises is not shared by a majority of other women. Countless surveys and polls have found that women do not like performing oral sex on their male partners, with one study finding that number to be as high as 17.8% of women. So I wanted to write this article with the hopes of swaying some minds in favor of sucking some dicks.

The first thing you need to know about blowjobs — or about oral sex in general — is that you don’t owe it to any partner. Whether they are a man, a woman, or any other gender identity, if performing oral sex makes you uncomfortable, it’s your right to decline and there’s nothing wrong with that.

At one point or another, most of us have felt uncomfortable with performing some sexual act. For me, it was undoubtedly oral sex. The first time my mom explained what it was, little 12-year-old me was horrified at the thought of people putting their mouths where another person peed from. I could not fathom how someone would want to be on either end of that situation. And I definitely couldn’t fathom myself being in that situation one day. Yet here I am, ten years later writing an article about my love of blowjobs. So the takeaway is to not get discouraged if a sexual act makes you uncomfortable, because odds are your stance/feelings will change over time.

My horror regarding blowjobs lasted through high school, but then in college, when sexual activity became apart of my reality, that horror revealed itself to be fear. I was terrified because I had no idea what to do. I knew oral sex involved mouths and genitals, but that was pretty much where my knowledge ended. I never asked details about the act itself, because I never wanted to; a whole lot of good that did me.

I remember actually Googling if a blowjob required blowing air onto a dude’s penis. (FYI, it doesn’t.) Speaking of blowing into genitals, for those of you who perform oral sex on people who have vaginas, please don’t blow into them. It can cause an air embolism, which can be fatal. As appealing as it sounds to die by way of oral sex, the reality is not something you want, so just say no to blow–ing air into vaginas.

The first time a penis was within proximity of my mouth, not long after the Googling incident, I tried a little cat lick: light and timid. That was all I could muster before making up an excuse and leaving to go back to my dorm to cry in the shower. I wasn’t crying because I was forced into doing it, but performing sexual acts for the first time can be scary and serve as a harsh reminder that you are no longer a kid. It’s a transitional moment — which can be difficult. Change is always hard at first, but remember, it’s transitional, not transactional. You don’t lose anything when you have sex or perform a sexual act for the first time. And the person you did those acts with didn’t take anything from you. They are a part of your journey to becoming a sexual being — but that’s it. They don’t own some part of you that you can never get back. You didn’t lose anything in the first place. OK, I just like to throw in a little reminder here and there that ‘losing your virginity’ isn’t a thing.

Now fast forward to today and I love giving blow jobs. It took me a while to get to this point, and like I mentioned earlier, that’s OK. Your own comfort level with sex and with various sexual acts will evolve with time and experience. If you loved munching cock from the very beginning, that’s OK. If you never get comfortable with performing or receiving oral sex, that’s OK, too. Sex is supposed to bring you joy and pleasure, and if it doesn’t, then don’t do it! It’s as simple as that. If any partners make you feel bad for wanting or not wanting to do something, they are not someone you want to be engaging in sexual acts with anyway!

OK, back to blowjobs. I love giving blowjobs for a variety of reasons. Partially because I enjoy giving people pleasure; it’s a turn on for me, and I’m certainly not alone in that. Many people find the most pleasurable aspect of sex to be the pleasure they give to their partner(s). I wouldn’t consider it to be the most pleasurable thing for me (my own pleasure takes rank, sorry not sorry), but I certainly like to hear them saying ‘fuck’ under their breath because I’m so good at sucking dick. Music to my ears.

And the other reason I love giving blowjobs is because I know I’m good at it. How do I know? Besides the under-the-breath ‘fucks,’ almost every dude I’ve given a blowjob to has told me that my job was either the best or one of the best he’s ever had. Now as much of a confidence booster as that is, it also leads me to believe that other blowjob-givers in the world either don’t know the best methods for optimizing their partner’s pleasure, or they are simply as afraid as I once was. So I figured I’d share what I know because I want people to feel confident in performing oral sex on people with penises, and more importantly I want them to enjoy it themselves. So here goes…

I typically start by giving light little licks down their chest to just above where their pelvic region begins. I then spend some time just licking and kissing and sucking the area surrounding their dick and balls, but careful to not actually touch either. It heightens their anticipation, excites their senses, and in all honesty, it’s fun to tease.*

*Of course, I don’t do this every time, there are occasions when it’s more fun to just push them onto the bed, take off their pants, and go to town. That can be super hot, too. It all depends on what you are most comfortable with, what your partner is most comfortable with, and what feels right in the moment.

Once I start on the actual dick sucking, I like to rotate between several different techniques. I have found — in my considerable experience as a self-described hoe — that the more variety the better. Below are some of my go-to techniques:

 

Sir Licks-A-Lot

Just pretend that shlong is a ice cream cone and lick it all the way up. Long, slow licks. Short, fast ones. Focus only on the tip. Focus only on the balls. Make designs on their shaft with your tongue. Use a lot of spit and get creative with it.

 

Make it a combo meal

Combine your hands with your mouth/tongue to cover more ground. Cup their balls while you’re licking and sucking. Use your hand to swirl their cock around in your mouth like a DQ Blizzard. Once their shaft is all lubed up via your spit, grab it with both hands and then alternate which direction your hands are moving for a whirlwind of sensations.

 

Bobbing for balls

For the classic BJ-bobblehead motion I find it easiest to have my partner lie down so I can control how deep and fast I’m bobbing. I would recommend this for beginners because other positions allow for your partner to control how deep and fast they’re smashing their dick down your throat and it can lead to involuntary chomping or puking. The aftermath of which is not pleasant to say the least. Or you can use one hand to swirl the base of their shaft while your mouth is bobbing on the remainder (this is good for partners with large penises because you don’t have to bob as far down every single time).

 

Lock it and pop it

Firmly grasp it (if you get this reference, I love you) in your hand. While you’re still holding their dick in your hand, put it in your mouth and use your hand to pop it back out again. I have found in my cock-munching travels that some partners really like the sensation from this technique, while others don’t experience a huge difference in sensation. But most partners like to watch this in action, so test the waters and see what works/doesn’t work for you and your partner(s).

 

Slap the base? Nah, try slap the face (with the dick)

Obviously don’t go nuts (lol) but try a few light salami slaps on the side of your cheek. I like to lock it and pop it (see above) and then follow that with a few slaps. Men usually like to do this, but I find it way more fun to do it myself… independent ass woman and all that.

 

Swallow it whole

When you feel they deserve an extra special treat, you can also try deep-throating. I wouldn’t recommend this for dick sucking beginners as it requires practice, the lack-of which can result in up-chucking. Not so much fun to clean up. However, to get to the point of being able to deep throat, test your limits. See how far you can go before you start gagging. Once you know where that point is, slowly push that boundary by keeping his dick in to that extent and just get your throat/gag reflex used to the presence of it being there. You can desensitize and even control your gag reflex over time so you can eventually deep throat a dick all the way down without any unfortunate results. Note: be prepared to either spit or swallow. And no, your status as a dick-sucking queen/king is not lessened if you spit.

 

Above all, have fun with it! There are no rules or regulations on how to give a stellar blowjob because all people, partners, and preferences are different. Just be sure to practice open communication, safe sex, and get freaky!

Happy sucking.

 

Photos by Lucy Welsh

 

 

How Instagram Made Me Feel Worse

In 2013, Brandy Melville showed us that mental illness was trendy. The company’s Instagram featured models in graphic tees with sayings like “cute but psycho” and “stressed, depressed, but well dressed,” thus cementing the romanticization of being mentally ill — if you were hot and skinny, that is.

Alongside mainstream brands’ efforts to blend mental illness and sex appeal, Tumblr was full of pro-anorexia and bulimia blogs with teenagers encouraging each other to perpetuate detrimental behaviors, all to fit the “Scarlet Leithold” definition of Instagram beauty. This beauty was preferably white, tall, and skinny with a cinched waist; extra points if you have blue eyes. I was the opposite with features that weren’t Eurocentric: brown skin, black hair, and 5 foot 3 inches. However, I was skinny so my thirteen year old self’s skewed perception was spared body dysmorphia —  for a while at least. But this merging of body dysmorphia and Eurocentric Instagram beauty standards gained a captivating hold on social media, one that is still continues today.

Since my Instagram account’s conception, I have continuously deleted every photo I’ve posted. I would zoom in and look for imperfections —  with my nose, my lips, my eyes, the way my hands were positioned, my hair, my legs —  literally anything that could become a focal point. If I detected even the tiniest flaw, I’d remove the picture. 

As the Instagram models and influencers on my explore page grew, so did my odd concern with my already tiny waist, in addition to everything else. I was always skinny, and even was dubbed “skinny legend” in high school, yet I couldn’t help staring at myself in the mirror and wondering what I could do to get that hourglass shape and become beautiful.

It was bizarre. Why had I become obsessed with my figure when I had no reason to be? I was healthy and that’s all that should have mattered. I also met the unrealistic societal norm. I never got dizzy spells until I started limiting myself in terms of how much or what I could eat. My weight started fluctuating. My mother threw away the scale, but I could tell when I had lost weight because I spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror. I even tried deleting Instagram for a bit, realizing that it was the core of this issue, but kept finding myself downloading it again. Not only did Instagram make me feel terrible about my body, but I couldn’t go a day without subjecting myself to endless comparisons to some girl online I didn’t even know.

In the midst of all of this, I failed to recognize the fact that social media profiles are all curated. We see what the person wants us to see. We don’t see the breakdowns, or the constant introspection that comes with being popular on a social media platform. We see models in their “cute but psycho” tees, but all we are granted is the cute; any signs of mental struggle are airbrushed away like stretch marks. We don’t see the FaceTune (if done well), and we don’t see the lives these influencers, models, and stars lead either.

The person I have deemed so perfect and want to look like may be struggling with something much more complex than I am. Therefore, it is unrealistic to hold myself to such expectations. I am not perfect, and what I think is perfect isn’t perfect at all.

I stopped comparing myself to people. I stopped zooming in and tapping delete and let myself be. I would be lying if I said I didn’t compare myself to anyone, given that we are such visual creatures, but my psyche no longer feels this incessant need to berate myself for not being a certain way.

Maybe it’s time for us to log off.

 

Photos by Dina Veloric. 

 

Navigating Faith And Sex

If only this site had existed when I was in my 20s. I’ll be 33 years old in March, and though I am a vastly different person than I was in grade school, the residue of theologically induced guilt has clung to my adult years in ways I hadn’t expected. As a bullied kid with glasses in junior high, my local Catholic church was a sanctuary where I could find companionship free of judgment, or so I thought. I took the congregation’s refrain of “all are welcome” deeply to heart, and our pastor was a man of true benevolence and uncommonly progressive values.

But when it came to the topic of sex, the sole message preached from the pulpit was to avoid it until marriage. I’ll never forget the homily delivered by a guest pastor, who had all the lights in the church dimmed as he recited a list of sins that would place us further and further from God’s light. When he arrived at “masturbation,” the room had become completely dark.

My faith remained intact until I agreed to return home and perform in a Passion Play during my freshman year in college. The guy assigned to pen the production that year clearly modeled himself after Mel Gibson, and the script he wrote was so monstrously offensive that it bordered on self-parody. During Jesus’ agony in the garden, a screen projected a montage of the alleged sins for which he would give his life. Amidst all the images of war and genocide, there were two men holding hands. Contraception and abortion were also decried as unforgivable. As soon as the first nail was driven into Jesus’ flesh, signaling the lights to be switched off, I threw my costume on the ground and fled the building, never to return.

Though I was no longer bound by the church’s puritanical culture, I still couldn’t make the first move when it came to exploring my sexuality, even after moving into a studio apartment prior to my junior year. I never considered the thought of masturbating until my girlfriend offered to give me a handjob in the shower. It was the first time I ejaculated while fully conscious, and the experience was life-altering, to say the least. Suddenly I had found a release for the tension that had been building up within me throughout my adolescence, and it didn’t feel at all shameful.

When my girlfriend and I allowed ourselves to be unclothed in front of another, there was a sense of mutual exhilaration and validation transpiring between us that felt unmistakably spiritual. The only time I felt any sort of divine presence in church was when I’d lock eyes with a fellow parishioner, and we’d wordlessly share a warmth and understanding not unlike the intimacy one experiences with a partner.

With my sex drive having literally been jump-started by my girlfriend, I would become aroused by her mere presence. Yet I never agreed to go all the way with her, and I’m certain that at least part of my decision was due to the nagging belief instilled in me by scripture, that intercourse had to be delayed until we were married. Her struggles with bipolar disorder also frightened me away from doing anything that could potentially bring new life into the world, considering how unequipped we were to care for it. Our break-up was inevitable long before it occurred the summer after our graduation, and it sent me spiraling into a deep depression.

Several months passed before I finally took my routine urges into my own hands, quite literally, and gave myself permission to masturbate. Whenever a film would portray a young man’s sexual awakening that was similar to my own, I found the scenes so erotic that I started to wonder whether I was, in fact, gay. Over the period of a few weeks, I dated a guy just long enough for me to realize that my sexuality does indeed exist on a spectrum, though it only affirmed my physical attraction to women.

The heartache and bewilderment of my early 20s would continue to haunt me until I fell head over heels for someone who quite nearly was the great love of my life.

Neither of us had been in a serious relationship for years — five, to be exact — and we found a degree of comfort with each other that was rare and rejuvenating. She loved learning about other cultures, knew multiple languages, and despite her father’s steady diet of Fox News, was a champion of immigrant rights, often volunteering to teach English to various people in her community. I could’ve easily seen myself spending the rest of my life with her, but there was a catch in the form of her evangelical Christianity.

All the brilliance and empathy she naturally possessed would become clouded as soon as religion dominated the conversation. It wasn’t enough to simply be a good person, one had to accept Jesus Christ as humanity’s sole Lord and Savior, or else be banished to the island of misfit heathens. How could I have possibly erected a wall around my own reasoning in order to give this sort of fanaticism a fair shot? Perhaps the simplicity of her worldview provided a refreshing escape from the complexities of our modern world, while enabling us to remain in an arrested state of not-quite-adulthood. She made no secret of her purity ring, though there still were nights when we’d caress each other’s clothed bodies, daring to explore terrain existing far beyond the godly region.

Without question, the most romantic moment of my life remains the one where I first said aloud that I loved her. We were lying together in bed, and I actually made the first move, leaning in to plant a kiss on her mouth. My lips were closed, but I felt her tongue, and what followed was a night of glorious, albeit PG-13-rated foreplay. The next morning, however, she was overcome with pangs of guilt, and asked me to join her in praying for forgiveness. This would occur every subsequent time we became physical during the year-and-a-half of our time together.

As we grew closer, she opened up to me about how her stepfather had sexually harassed her for years, often when they were in the same room as her seemingly oblivious mother. He’d fondle himself in front of her or whisper suggestive things to her, as if to demonstrate that he could get away with anything, even in the presence of his wife. Once my ex courageously began telling her family about the abuse, her mother did the unspeakable. Rather than file for divorce, she shamed her daughter into forgiving her husband, silencing the victim’s words through the guise of religious clemency. Now prioritizing evangelism above all else, my girlfriend broke up with me the instant I was able to admit to her — and to myself — that I could never be part of a belief system that chooses to cloak itself in denial while imposing its prejudices on others. We permanently parted ways, I tore my Bible to shreds and haven’t prayed since.

Memories of the trauma endured by my ex came flooding back to me last January, when over 260 survivors of the abuse administered by convicted child molester and former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar amplified their voices at his trial, many of them making on-camera testimonials. Among the youngest was Emily Morales, a profoundly eloquent 18-year-old who addressed Nassar directly, locking eyes with him in an attempt at achieving closure. “I want to forgive you, but I also want to hear you tell me that you regret all the hurting you’ve caused,” she replied, fighting back tears. Morales was one of numerous “sister survivors” who demonstrated during the trial how a person of faith can offer grace and forgiveness without burying truths or failing to hold abusers accountable.

If the #MeToo era has taught us anything, it’s that our stories matter more than we may ever have believed. Removing the stigma from our sexuality may be our greatest method for combating the flagrant misogyny and misinformation championed by our disgrace of a president. Only by embracing the full extent of ourselves can we become capable, at long last, of seeing the light.

 

Photos by Maddy Pease.