Sickness and Sex

Sex positivity is a learned behavior in our sex negative culture. Letting people other than men learn to own their bodies and seek pleasure is a radical attitude that deserves to permeate our culture. Decoupling pleasure from the taboo and from the ‘dirty’/’clean’ dynamic is…frankly a struggle. And it’s something that I’ve come up against recently.

Two weeks ago, I went in to see my GYN for some routine testing and to talk about my menstrual depression. I was seen and heard by this woman who valued my concerns, who thoughtfully made some suggestions about coping with my anhedonia. When I left, I had a bandaid on my arm and a prescription in my hand that I cautiously hoped would ease me back into being the vibrant human being that I am. I was ready to contribute to the posts advocating getting tested and voice my support for tearing down the idea that STIs made everyone dirty.

Of course, until my syphilis test came back with an abnormality. According to the doctor,  my test had come back with something amiss and I would need secondary results. I felt like I’d run into a brick wall. I felt…blind sided and sideswiped and…I loathed myself. I felt dirty and disgusting. A chill of fear that twisted my guts as I told my partner that he might need to go in for treatment. I stumbled over my words as I told him that I couldn’t explain how it could possibly have happened and that it must’ve been a false positive. He held me and told me that even if I were positive that this was an easy fix. I shuddered in his arms as he reassured me that he didn’t think I was dirty or nasty and that he still loved me. For the next two weeks, he would repeat over and over again that he still loved me and he wanted to be with me even if he did have to get a shot. The support from him was vital, and it made the days easier knowing he was on my side.

Those two weeks I was in a deep funk. I was adjusting to new medication which messed with my libido in addition to battling my own internalized shame. I didn’t masturbate or have an orgasm for two weeks. I didn’t touch my toys for fear of getting them ‘dirty’. I felt ashamed to take food from the delivery person, wondering whether or not I was able to spread it to other people from just casual contact. The intellectual side of me knew that I wasn’t ‘contagious’ and that a simple shot was all that would be required if I were positive…but my emotional side said ‘he’s gonna leave you, you crazy dirty bitch’.

Just this Friday, the 22nd of February I received notice that my result was a false positive. Relief flooded through me as I showed my partner the results. If I’d slipped the hangman’s noose I don’t think I could’ve been more giddy. But even as I celebrated, something tickled my mind. Understanding. Having a sex positive attitude is work. These are ingrained attitudes in us and it takes time to unlearn the toxic crap our culture inundates us with. And it takes effort to confront how these attitudes manifest in your own mind. I came up against my own attitudes in these two weeks and learned how fucking valuable it is that there are bloggers and sexuality educators fighting the stigma and trying advocate for sexual health. To anyone fighting the good fight and to make sex healthier and more normalized, I see you. When I was angsting out of my fucking mind, I looked frantically for resources and I fucking found them thanks to y’all. Scarleteen, Planned Parenthood and many more provide resources and sex education. But more than that, the blog squad is there, with people like Kelvin Sparks and Suz Ellis providing information and positivity with regards to sexual health.

If you’re struggling with depression and sexual health, there’s people who understand. I’ve learned that I deserve love no matter my diagnosis. And you do too.

How to manage your anxiety and have better sex

I know I might not look it, but I am an anxious person. I worry constantly about my status as a non-employed person being supported and about several other existential worries. And yes, for a long while I worried about sex. But over the years, I’ve slowly learned ways to manage the nagging fears and worries in the sexual arena, and it’s made all the difference. This is intended to be a comprehensive guide to conquering all of your insecurities, but are some tips to get you started. And so without further ado: how to manage your anxiety and have better sex.

  1. Get on a reliable birth control method. If you’ve got a vagina and ovaries, there’s a lot of fantastic options out there. Personally, I would advocate for the IUD if your insurance covers it and you can tolerate slightly more painful menstrual cramps that the procedure feels like. But if that’s not your style, other options include the pill, the ring, the implant, and the Depo-shot. If you’ve got a penis, sadly there are far fewer options for controlling your fertility. The best I can offer you is condoms unless you’d like to get a vasectomy.
  2. Get an STI test. Most health clinics will offer one and most insurance covers it. This is basic sexual health and I understand that it may be incredibly nerve wracking to go into a clinic, but you shouldn’t encounter anything other than routine tests. They may take blood, do a vaginal swab, and may take a urine sample. It’s a little inconvenient, but having test results to look at will alleviate a lot of gnawing fears. And being tested in advance makes it easy to ask your partner or partners to get tested as well since you’ve gone ahead.
  3. Have pregnancy tests on hand/emergency contraception on hand. If there’s a possibility you or your partners could get pregnant, having a test handily available will make it much easier for the pair of you to learn your results and then make decisions from there. Emergency contraception (the pill kind) is also extremely valuable, as having it handily available will kneecap a lot of pregnancy anxiety. It’s no substitute for regular birth control, but if your regular methods should fail, then this is vital. Plan B has a four year shelf life, so you don’t have to use it right away for it to be effective. It can be ordered online now, so make sure you’ve got something on hand before you have sex to prevent these sorts of fears.
  4. Negotiate in advance what you want to do. This can be as simple as you like. But honestly telling your partner what you’re into and what acts are on or off the table is a good way to start.

These are the beginner tips. Once you’ve got these settled, here are a few more specific ones to make your sex life that much better:

  1. Light the room. Having a softly lit room can do wonders for the ambience and will cast you in your best light. If you overhead light leaves something to be desired, consider some fairy lights or a standing lamp to cast your room in a warm glow.
  2. Wear your good luck accessories. Not everyone has access to perfectly tailored lingerie or fetishwear. But a pair of bondage rope earrings? Rocking that accessory is not only cute but gives your partner a sorta subtle clue about what you’re into. If that seems too daring, pick anything that makes you feel sensual and beautiful.
  3. Fish for a compliment or two. Listen, we all want to feel attractive and appreciated. While you shouldn’t pester your potential partner with questions about your own attractiveness, asking for a little feedback is normal and will boost your self esteem.
  4. Journal about your worst fear. Once you’ve got your fear on the page, you can properly address it. Maybe you’ll see it’s something irrational, like your partner being a murderous serial killer. Or maybe it’s more rational, like you’re worried about a particular scar. Either way, now that you’ve got it on paper, you can address it and formulate a way to communicate it to your partner.
  5. Take a deep breath and think about your best feature. If you’re plagued by anxiety with how your body looks, consider that this person likely wouldn’t have accepted your invitation to sleep with you if they didn’t find you attractive. And also? Mostly, people have what you expect under their clothes. There will be genitals, shaved or hairy or some stage in between. There will be cellulite, scars, freckles and birthmarks. They have all these things, just like you. And they probably don’t care about yours.
  6. Exercise. Now I don’t mean in the lose weight sense. I mean in the ‘get your blood flowing and your endorphins going sense’. Exercise often makes people feel more positive and upbeat. Whatever this looks like for you is excellent. Maybe you go up and down some stairs or walk around the block a few times. Maybe you bust out a couple squats. Whatever it is, a little light exercise will help you feel more confident.
  7. Know that you’re valuable and worthy even if the encounter isn’t magical. This one is hard. If something goes wrong, it’s very easy to get very down on yourself. Please don’t. Not being able to make someone come or having a a lackluster experience in bed is normal and not something you need to beat yourself about. If you listened to your partner, respected their boundaries, and had consensual sex then you did your best. Encounters can go wrong for all kinds of reasons, and some may not have anything to do with you.

As I said, this isn’t a comprehensive guide. But as someone who used to agonize over sex and what could happen, following these kinds of guidelines has helped me to have much more pleasurable encounters that don’t have anxiety buzzing in the back of my head. So go forth and have fun!

How Doxycycline Saved My Sex Life

Earlier this year I wrote a post about UTIs and how to avoid them. In it, I repeated much of the standard stuff about wiping front to back and drinking plenty of water. I should have also mentioned wearing cotton underwear and not putting yogurt on your vagina if you’re prone to such infections, but I digress. What I want to talk about in this post is my experience I had with chronic UTIs. And I mean chronic in the sense that almost every time after PiV I would pee straight after intercourse and still get a UTI. Had it not been for my NP, I might’ve just thought I was condemned to a life of filling this or that prescription for different courses of Macrobid or Bactrim. But my NP wanted to get to the bottom of my burning problems, so she had me tested for something I’ve never heard of: ureaplasma.

BEDSIDE BUDDIES 100918
These were my constant bedside buddies. They saw heavy use while I was thrown from UTI to UTI.

What is ureaplasma? According to my doctor, they’re part of a group of organisms called mycoplasmas, which are bacteria without cell walls. The ureaplasma in particular usually inhabit the vagina, cervix, and occasionally the urethra of the penis. This bacteria generally doesn’t cause problems, but on some rare incidences, the presence of ureaplasma in the urethra of a vulva can cause chronic UTIs. But how does this happen? The ureaplasma is not the bacteria of the infection, instead, it makes the colonization of infectious bacteria much easier. Ureaplasma is passed sexually, though it isn’t commonly listed as an STI because of its presence in healthy individuals who don’t experience any symptoms. This means that if one partner has an issue with the bacteria, both partners need to be treated to avoid passing the infection back and forth.

Testing for the ureaplasma was a bit difficult for me. I’m more than used to providing samples for urinalysis, but one of the tests for ureaplasma is the ‘clean catch’ test. This test involves collecting the urine sample mid-stream so that you can get a good look at the sample without any interference from the vaginal flora. To further this aim, the doctor provided me with some antibacterial wipes so that there would be as little interference from my vaginal flora as possible. Well, this kind of test required me to have impeccable timing and sadly I did botch it. Luckily, after I washed my hands, the second test was a vaginal swab and I was able to do that no problem. After I turned in my samples, I was given a stop gap prescription of Macrobid in the event that it wasn’t ureaplasma.

About four days later, the doctor confirmed that I did indeed have ureaplasma and was told to discontinue use of the Macrobid. I was prescribed a two week course of doxycycline, which some people know from using it as an anti-malarial. This medication had to be taken twice a day and I was barred from sexual intercourse, which wasn’t an issue since my partner was away for the summer.The medication was rough on my body, and there was one instance of it making me so ill that I vomited and had to call in sick from work. But I persevered and completed the medication course. But because of the nature of the bacteria, my partner also needed to take a round of medication or else he’d risk re-infecting me when we had sex. I cannot tell you what a blessing my partner is. When I was anxious about asking him to go in for this testing, he reassured me that he was more than happy to do this since he had been worried about hurting me and was glad there was a solution.

After the summer, he was finally able to convince the doctor to give him a swab test and a prescription. The swab test indeed confirmed he had the ureaplasma and he was given the go ahead to start his medication. He took doxycycline twice a day, though the nausea that I had experienced was notably absent. During this time, we refrained from what we termed ‘a touching reunion’ for a full month, waiting for the medication. It felt like an eternity waiting for him to finish the medication. But once we had both completed the medication, the satisfaction of being able to be sexually intimate with my partner again sans the persistent fear of infection was absolutely worth it.

Now that we’re nearly a month out from the medication, I’ve been pain and infection free despite having several PiV encounters with my partner. I’m keeping up with my prevention techniques by making sure I’m adequately hydrated and I’ve ditched all my thongs, but I feel noticeably improved. I’m sharing this story in the hopes that it reaches the people who are in a similar chronic UTI situation. While this may not be the case for everyone who has chronic UTIs, it’s something I’ve not seen talked about very often as a possible cause behind chronic infection. I believe that this lack of conversation around it has people buying every cranberry pill, taking lots of unnecessary medication which is contributing to antibiotic resistance and generally feeling broken because of their constant infection.  If you’re suffering from chronic UTIs, I would urge you to ask your doctor to test you for this. Insist if you have to, because sometimes getting your best healthcare requires self-advocating. Doxycycline quite literally saved my sex life and it might save yours too.

 

An Approaching Anniversary: One Year With Paragard

CN: Mentions of pregnancy and abortion are within this piece

There is a certain agony in deciding how to start this story. It would be easy to begin it as a jaunty, peppy little informational story about my birth control. I could clean it up and avoid showing you the rough edges of how I got to where I am. My article could spare you the story of a girl in a panic as she considers a future with an unwanted pregnancy. You don’t have that the author called her best friend, sobbing and terrified that she might have to have an abortion. I could tell you a pretty, sanitized story about why I love my IUD with none of the dark parts about why I really got it.

But I won’t. Instead, I have decided to tell you that my choice to get Paragard was prompted by the severe pregnancy anxiety I had while I was on the pill. As an already anxious person with ADHD; combined with the fact that the pill needs to be taken consistently to be effective, my birth control became more of a source of stress than comfort for me. Constantly I worried whether or not I had taken the pill. Often, I took it irregularly, a few hours early or late.  When I was away traveling for collegiate tournaments, the start times would interfere with my pill and I agonized that I just couldn’t set a regular schedule and stick to it. And so the fear of pregnancy came at the tail end of every sexual encounter, a lingering doubt that somehow I would have to make an impossible choice. For some, the choice to end a pregnancy is, while not exactly easy, easier than it might be for me. They’re financially stable and in an area where it’s a more tolerable procedure. But I live in the South. I have conservative parents on whom I depend for financial security. Abortion, while it was something I could have accessed, would have wiped me out financially and would have caused a rift between my parents and myself, perhaps even to them cutting me off. It is a future that I wished desperately to avoid. It was unbearable living in this much fear; living while managing my money so that I would have the necessary funds in the event I needed an abortion or emergency contraception.

And so, I had one more anxiety filled night before I made my move. Earlier that night I called a nurse helpline to ascertain my chances of getting pregnant after my then fuck-buddy and now boyfriend had left my dorm room for the night. After I made that call, I pulled up more articles from Planned Parenthood and carefully researched my options. There were several long-term options available to me, but I knew which one I wanted. I wanted the copper IUD, Paragard. Paragard is the most effective emergency birth control, hands down. Paragard has an effectiveness of over 99% when inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex. Furthermore, Paragard is the longest lasting IUD, clocking in a lifespan of over 12 years. After I re-read these comforting articles, I made some calls and sent some emails. Originally, my plan was to go to Planned Parenthood to get my IUD inserted. However, the only availability they had was on a Friday that week, at the tail end of the IUD emergency effectiveness window. So when I called my campus OBGYN and found out they could accept me that afternoon, I canceled my appointment, letting the Planned Parenthood representative know I would be seen by another provider.

That afternoon, I went in for the procedure. Though it was a fairly simple procedure, I remember being so anxious that I felt emotionally numb. As I filled out the paperwork, I could barely think about what I was doing.

When I got back to the assigned room, the provider asked a few questions about my birth control status. I said I wanted to keep taking the pill and have the Paragard as backup. The male nurse looked at me oddly but didn’t refuse to do my procedure. Instead, he made sure that I wanted the Paragard IUD, asked me to take a urine pregnancy test, and asked if I wanted to be tested for STIs while I was there. I figured it was as good a time as any to get tested and headed to the bathroom with cup he provided me. After the pregnancy test confirmed that I wasn’t currently pregnant, I was asked to undress below the waist and to get into the stirrups. The procedure was not particularly memorable. Some people report that their IUD insertion was one of the most painful procedures of their life. For me, it felt like moderately bad cramps, and was nothing compared to the debilitating cramps I’d experienced last year. For reference, those cramps were so bad that I was impaired in my ability to walk. In trying to get from class to my dorm room, I was forced to sit down several times on the sidewalk and recover myself. The IUD insertion was nothing compared to that.

After the procedure, I did feel a bit woozy so I was asked to sit down and chill out for a while. I was also provided with the thickest menstrual pad I had ever seen. I tucked it into my underwear and waited for a few minutes before I headed out, where after had my blood drawn for STI. Once I had supplied the samples for the STI tests, I was discharged. When I approached the front desk, I owed nothing on leaving, though later I was charged about $300 for the procedure. Money well spent in my opinion.

The recovery period after I had my IUD inserted was about a week. During the week, I bled profusely. It was like an extremely heavy period, though the nurse I spoke to assured me there was nothing to worried about and that heavy bleeding was unfortunately normal. There was some discomfort as the IUD settled in, but it wasn’t overly painful, mainly it felt like being poked in the uterus, a sensation I’d never felt before. During the time the IUD settled in I developed a new anxiety; I was afraid of the IUD slipping out. While intellectually I knew that IUDs only fall out . 05-8% of the time, I still worried over it. I comforted myself by feeling the strings almost everyday for about a month and a half. After constantly checking for weeks, my anxiety slowly abated. I began to get comfortable with my birth control and I learned to enjoy the benefits it provides. Among the other excellent qualities, such as an effectiveness rate of 99% or more and effectives of 12 years, the Paragard also requires no maintenance. I check the strings once a month to make sure that everything is in place, and otherwise, I mostly forget it’s there. After that rough month, my period returned to normal. Or normalish. Paragard can make periods heavier, and I’m one of those people that happened for. In addition to this, I’ve been able to stop taking the hormonal birth control, which freed up my finances. While the pill wasn’t expensive per se, $15 a month every month did add up, and it’s extremely nice that I don’t have to budget for it anymore.

Since getting my IUD inserted, these past months have been absolutely serene. My boyfriend and I haven’t had any pregnancy scares, and therefore have had a pretty good sex life. Without the pair of us worrying about whether I’ll get pregnant and what would happen from that, we spend that energy doing things infinitely more wonderful. Like splitting a bottle of wine, watching lawyer shows, making dinner, having sex or spending an evening doing all of that. My IUD has made me feel confident and secure and has lifted the burden of anxiety of my shoulders.

I’ll be celebrating my one-year anniversary on September 12th, having spent the last year worrying hardly at all about pregnancy thanks to my IUD. And in case any of you were still wondering about how I feel about this device, I 100% recommend it to anyone who’s at risk for pregnancy. This device is damn near fool proof and has given your’s truly peace of mind that is as of yet unparalleled from any other device. Now, excuse me while I shop for celebratory champagne.