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Our Post-Abortion Sex Life

Hi Yana,

I got pregnant this past summer after my birth control failed — I got to be part of that lucky 0.04 percent of IUD users who this happens to. I got the pregnancy terminated and all is well. Or, I guess mostly well. The issue is my partner and I have both been having some anxiety about having sex after what happened. Having an abortion was 10,000-percent the right decision, but, of course, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy was a super intense, stressful, hard situation that we don’t want to repeat any time soon.

I went right back on birth control after the procedure and we’ve both mostly accepted that what happened was just an unfortunate, rare fluke, but we still can’t shake the nervousness about it happening again.

We’ve been having sex much less often than we did before because of this, and we both agree that we want to get back to our original frequency. Any advice on working through our feelings/fears so we can get there?

— Getting Back to Business

Dear GBB,

Even when an abortion is the right decision for you, it can be a harrowing experience physically, emotionally, and of course, sexually. First, know that having anxiety about after-abortion sex is entirely normal as sex is precisely what led to this stressful situation to begin with (well, the highly statistically improbable birth control failure certainly didn’t help things, did it?).

Rather than punching the gas pedal, trying to zoom forward into “normal” again, try to explore gradually letting up the brakes (see Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book Come As You Are for more on her sexual accelerator/brakes analogy). If a major brake on your sex drives is the fear of your IUD failing you again, beef up the backups by using condoms for a while, take an extra precaution with the pull-out method and/or track your ovulation cycle.

Rather than rushing ahead, remind yourselves of all the pleasure that can be found outside of penis-in-vagina penetrative sex like using mouths, hands, toys, or masturbation to enjoy mutual orgasms without the procreative chances.

I spoke about your predicament to an acquaintance of mine who had an abortion. She reports taking a few months to reclaim her sex life and says you can expect a stop-and-start sex life for a while and advises to always speak up about how your body is feeling. “I’d think I was okay to be physically intimate because I was in the mood,” she said, “but sometimes my body would just kind of shut down and that’s okay. Let your partner know what you’re feeling in the moment because it can sneak up on you. But you don’t have to feel like there needs to be a logical answer to it.”…continue reading…

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My Man’s Got Herpes; Now What?

Hi Yana,

I’ve recently begun a relationship with a man who has herpes. It’s unclear if it’s HSV-1 or -2 or both. He has scheduled an appointment with his doctor. I’ve been tested and am negative for that, hepatitis, and all other STDs.

It’s important for me to know all the types of physical and sexual contact that do and don’t have a high herpes transmission possibility. His hands, feet, chest? Interested in ideas and where they fall on a scale from very safe, to very risky.

— Risky Business

Dear Risky –

Ella Dawson has herpes so good that she’s been dubbed the “Queen of Herpes” by the internet. Eight out of 10 people have oral herpes and 1 out of 6 have genital herpes, according to Planned Parenthood. So, to be the queen of all of those people is pretty damn impressive.

Dawson was crowned herpes royalty in May 2016 when she gave an incredible TEDxTalk about living as a millennial with this highly stigmatized sexual health status. One article she’s written since is, “Why Should I Date Someone with Herpes.”

In it she writes, “To me [this question] feels like you’re asking me to justify my value. The facts on herpes are actually quite clear when you do research online: herpes transmission is not that easy, particularly when both parties make an effort to use condoms, antivirals, dental dams, and so forth.“ I know couples who have gone years without transmitting by being honest with each other about when they are having outbreaks. The person most likely to give you herpes is the person who doesn’t know they have it in the first place. On the other hand, herpes itself honestly isn’t that big of a deal for most of us.”

In your question, Risky, I hear a lot of fear, which may be more harmful than helpful — to you and to your partner. If I had to worry, for example, about when and how my body grazes against my lover’s chest when we have sex, the Delightful Dirty would become a long, perilous experience of paranoia and micromanagement.

Meaning, your first step to becoming sexually active with this man is to reduce the fear and stigma you may be holding about herpes. Digging into Dawson’s work is a great place to start…continue reading…

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How Do I Tell My Partners I’ve Got Herpes?

Hi Yana,

I’m 21 years young, genderqueer, very sexual, and polyamorous! I have a penis; I also have genital herpes. Is there a best time to tell a partner?

If I have symptoms or have had them recently it’s not much of a conundrum because there’s no choice to be made [besides abstaining]. If I’m totally symptom-free for a period of time, I’ve been told having P-in-V [penis in vagina] while wearing a condom puts the risk of transmission at less than 1 percent. I tell partners this and let them decide what to do. There have been times when I’ve felt I dropped this too early and it was a mood-killer, but I’ve also dropped it when we’re already naked and it felt like maybe the partner could be too deeply aroused to make a well-thought-out decision. Your thoughts?

— On a  No-Transmission Mission

Dear ONTM,

Kill “The Mood” dead! This idea that there’s a sexual mood that must be protected at all costs gets in the way of sexual realness. Fear of killing The Mood is cited as the reason why people don’t want to practice consent; why people don’t want to speak up when they’re feeling uncomfortable; and why many avoid safer-sex talks. We’ve been spoon-fed The Mood myth by movies, music, and media — and we’ve swallowed it down along with our humanness, authenticity, and safer-sex practices!

Once The Mood is kissed goodbye, we’ve got a lot more freedom to negotiate your sexual interactions with genital herpes. Herpes is an incurable STI/STD that is spread via contact between the contagious area — mouth or genitals — or broken skin of someone with the virus and someone’s mucous membrane tissue — mouth/genitals. Herpes is always present and transferrable even if the person with the virus isn’t showing any signs of an outbreak. Most people with herpes don’t show symptoms and/or don’t know they have the virus.

It sounds like you already know that herpes is most contagious during an active outbreak. But let’s go over the three main ways to prevent spreading genital herpes anyway:

1.) During an outbreak, don’t have vaginal, anal, or oral sex — even with a condom/barrier. Wait until seven days after sores heals.

2.) Risk of transmission can be greatly reduced by taking prescription anti-herpes medication.

3.) Use condoms/dental dams/gloves between outbreaks to reduce the risk of transmission.

I couldn’t find a source citing the 1 percent factoid you mention, but condoms can cut the risk of transmitting herpes in half. Eight out of 10 people have oral herpes and 4 out of 10 have genital herpes. Herpes is common, incurable, manageable, and, most importantly, part of many people’s sex lives…continue reading…

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Gimme the Lowdown on Going Down

I’ve been exploring a bit and I’ve realized I’m realllly into oral sex with partners of whatever gender. This is exciting but I’m kind of afraid to do it as I’m new to this. I’m not sure if it’s safe without protection and I don’t know the right way to ask about a partner’s sexual history, especially if we’ve only recently met. This sort of makes me afraid to use things like Grindr though I’d like to. Your insight would be appreciated. P.S. I think your work on consent is rad!

It’s great to hear that you’re into my consent work, because my answer is intimately tied to practicing consent with your sexual partners — from your LTRs to your one-night Grindr dates — and for all sexual activities from making out to oral sex to hot-n-sweaty bangin’.

Whether you’re eating tacos or hot dogs, being aware of your pornolicious picnic partner’s condiment preferences and current health status is important. Talking about your current STI/STD status is crucial but can also be part of a larger discussion about sexual preferences, triggers, and enthusiastic “Yes”s — all components of practicing consent!

Mass media creates an image of sex as devoid of clear communication, showing us seamless sex scenes of take-me-now, instantly-orgasmic encounters occurring in some parallel universe where people can psychically perfect their partner’s pleasures, wordlessly get consent, and where everyone is magically immune to STIs/STDs.

Here in the off-screen real world, we know better. Or, at least we should, except we live in a society that would rather we get our sex education through these confusing mass media messages than from trained sex educators (but that’s another column). The first thing we need to do is let go of The Movie Sex Scene as the ideal because it’s neither attainable nor ideal…continue reading…

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I’ve Got a High Sex Drive & HPV – Now What?

I’m a 26-year-old female with HPV and a high sex drive. Ever since my diagnosis I haven’t been able to have a lasting romantic or sexual relationship because I’m too scared to open up about this.

I’ve told my closest friends because I want them to know that they should take care of themselves, but when it comes to opening up to someone that I like, I get too self conscious and don’t let anything physical happen because I don’t want to risk it.

I’m a very affectionate person and I feel like I’m holding back on so much. I don’t want to end up pushing away all the love that I truly deserve just because I’m too scared to be honest. Truth is I do feel ashamed. How do I make peace with this?

Sexual shame does damage. It prevents many from getting sexual health care, from talking openly with our partners about sexual health, and promotes STI/STD transmission because rarely does Shame go anywhere without her bestie, Silence.

You’re not alone in your struggle with HPV (human papillomavirus). Half of all college-aged women contract HPV. HPV is so common, Free Me, that sexual healthcare providers have called it “a symptom of sexual activity itself” as 75 percent of sexually active people will experience an active HPV infection. You’re one of 20 million people with HPV right now, Free Me and, statistically speaking, your lovers may already be in the same boat with you…continue reading…

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Freaked about Fellatio

My friend seriously freaked me out when she told me that I should always use condoms for oral sex when I’m not in a longterm, monogamous relationship. Have I been sleeping on this or is she being dramatic? What are the transmission rates of STDs through oral sex?

We take risks every day. We take risks when we drive a car, we take risks when we fall in love — I took a risk today when I waded across a deep swimming river with my dog in one arm and my precious smartphone in the other.

We assess for and manage both minor and major physical and emotional risks everyday, in many ways that are unique to us. And sex is no different. Sex is a risky activity, both physically (pregnancy! STDs!) and emotionally (heartbreak! jealousy!). However, sex’s risks are often highlighted in a pleasure-negative, slut-shamey way with lots of focus on STDs/STIs as being “dirty,” “slutty,” and “unforgiveable.”

Some STDs/STIs are fatal and serious. Others are just as common and curable as other non-sex-induced illnesses. We wouldn’t call someone a whore because she caught a cold from a doorknob. We wouldn’t yell, “What were you doing touching doorknobs anyway!?”

Just as “wash your hands” is suggested risk management for colds, “use a condom during non-monogamous oral” is a suggested risk-management tool for safer sex…continue reading…

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Your College Sexual Orientation

Welcome back students!

As you organize your hipster-ironic Lisa Frank folders, and passively aggressively stake your dormroom territory, I’ve got just one more checklist for you to check off before you start checking out all your new, hot campusmates.

First lesson of the semester: being good at The Sex involves much more than practicing some Buzzfeed brand of Kama Sutra. College-aged students boast the highest rate of new STI/STD transmissions and are plagued by horrifying statistics when it comes to non-consensual sex and assault. Become a catalyst for change and follow this checklist to becoming an ethical sex partner.

∎ No shame in your game.

No one is a “slut” because she enjoys sex. No one is a loser because he chooses not to have sex. No one deserves your gossip trash because they’ve chosen non-monogamy or have come out with a different sexuality or gender identity than you’re used to. Don’t stir drama. Share about your awesome sexual adventures with the consent of your partners to do so and in a respectful manner.

∎ Get to know your sexual self and set and respect your boundaries. College is also a great place to find books and classes and workshops about sex! Explore what it is you want to explore, what you don’t want to explore, and what you’re curious about via self-education and masturbation. Then clearly set and communicate these boundaries and desires to your partners…continue reading…