Part of our Sex-Ed Series
Happy summer GVSU! We can’t believe this semester is already at its end. This winter we have been so excited to bring you all weekly content for our first ever Sex Ed Series, because we think this information is so important for everyone to know. All of us on the WIT Peer Educator team are so passionate about sexual health, and we hope that these blog posts over the past 15 weeks have sparked interest in you all to learn more. Now that we’ve made it to the end of the Sex Ed Series, we want to leave you with a sex-positive and empowering recap of everything we’ve touched on this semester so you can have the safest and most fun summer possible!
It’s Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
Many people are uncomfortable talking about sex, but these conversations are so important for normalizing sexuality, as well as sexual autonomy. Shame and embarrassment are closely related and are both due to the lack of cultural acceptance and the taboo surrounding sex and masturbation. It is so important for kids, teens, and adults to receive proper sex education to prepare them for any and all future sexual encounters they may have. Overcoming the associated shame and stigma is the first step to owning your own sexuality and having a great sexual experience.
In the Mood
Next, is embracing your own desires. As you become more comfortable with your sexuality, you can learn to explore these desires. Whether you’re with a partner(s) or by yourself, sexual pleasure is about understanding your own sexual needs, and knowing the right ways to satisfy them. When it comes to sex, it’s not always about penetration, but it is always about what makes you feel good! Here are some ideas to get you in the mood:
- Foreplay: Foreplay helps warm up your bodies for the fun to come - physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is the time to build up the sexual tension and desire between you and your partner(s) to have the best, most pleasurable sexual experience possible.
- Masturbation: Touching yourself in the comfort of your own home is the best way to explore your body and find what you like (or don’t)! Masturbation is not only a fun way to pass the time, but it lets you take your sexual pleasure into your own hands--literally!
- Sex Toys: Whether you’re being intimate with your partner or having a solo sesh, sex toys are a great way to add some spice to life! Before buying toys, it's important to know what places and techniques you enjoy when masturbating so you know what kinds to get. Check out Planned Parenthood’s information on sex toys.
- Trying Out New Erogenous Zone: Erogenous zones are those places on your body that feel ~extra~ good when touched. Places like ears, neck, nipples, inner wrists, the vaginal or penile region, and inner thighs are some common ones that could be fun to explore!
- Porn: Watching porn can help some individuals feel more empowered and less stressed. It can also give ideas of some fun things to try in bed.
Some people believe that because they’re menstruating that they have to give up sex for a week, but that couldn’t be less true! There are SO many benefits of having sex on your period, like period cramp, headache and migraine relief, shorter periods, natural lube, and an increased sex drive. Period sex can be a fun way to make the most of your time of the month in the bedroom, so don’t be afraid to embrace your sexuality and add some spice to your sex life!
Pain During Sex
Feeling some sort of pain when engaging in sex? It’s called dyspareunia, and it's not uncommon, but it's important to know what’s going on down there:
- Pain For Vulva Owners: The muscles of the pelvic floor play a big role in sexual function and sensation. Sometimes these muscles can tense up during arousal, resulting in the same sort of pain as period cramps. Other causes of dyspareunia could be vaginal dryness, a yeast infection or urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome, or STI’s.
- Pain For Penis Owners: There are many possible reasons for pain during sexual activity, but most common are excessive friction, urinary tract infections, prostatitis, or STI’s.
A one-time pain during sex is not normally a cause for worry, but if pain during sexual activities is a common occurrence, then it is highly recommended that you see a health care provider. While it can be embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about your pain, for most people this is not a lifelong concern, and getting treated can have you feeling better in no time.
When engaging in sexual activity with someone besides yourself, it’s good practice to use some method of protection to prevent pregnancy (if that’s a goal of yours) and transmission of STIs.
- External Condoms: covers the shaft of the penis or toy (have some fun with different flavors or glow-in-the-dark condoms!)
- Internal Condoms: sits inside the vaginal canal
- Dental Dams: small sheets of latex or polyurethane plastic that cover the genitals to protect you during oral sex
- The Pill: an oral contraceptive containing hormones to prevent ovulation. This is 99% effective with perfect use and 91% with typical use.
- The Implant: a rod surgically inserted into the upper arm that releases progestin to prevent ovulation. This is 99% effective.
- The Patch: looks similar to a bandaid that sticks onto your skin and delivers hormones into your bloodstream to prevent ovulation. This is 99.7% effective with perfect use and 93% effective with typical use.
- The IUD: a tiny T-shaped device inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider to prevent ovulation. This is up to 99% effective.
- The Vaginal Ring: a flexible ring containing estrogen and progesterone that you insert into the vagina for 3 weeks at a time. This is 99.7% effective with perfect use and 93% effective with typical use.
- The Shot: an injection of hormones by a healthcare provider. This is 99.8% effective with perfect use and 87% effective with typical use.
- Emergency Contraception: a pill you can take after having unprotected sex, aka the “morning after” pill. This is between 75% and 85% effective.
If you’re looking to get started on birth control, do your research to see what fits you and your lifestyle best. Set up a meeting with your healthcare provider, and make sure to voice your birth control goals: wants, needs, questions, and concerns. From there, you will work together to find the best method for you.
It is important to remember that the birth control methods listed above do NOT protect against STIs, only pregnancy. If you don’t use barrier methods, consider participating in routine STI screenings. Getting tested is no big deal, and if you happen to test positive, it's important to know what next steps to take to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy.
COVID-19 has affected us and our sex lives for over a year now, but those who are dealing with the stress and trauma from COVID-19 after already having suffered from sexual or relationship violence are some of those individuals being impacted the most. To read more about the connection between COVID and sexual violence, check out the guest blog post from Ariana Deherder, Violence Prevention Student Assistant with the Center for Women and Gender Equity.
Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Sex education in America often excludes the teaching of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, leaving youths across the country uninformed. As a marginalized population, LGBTQIA+ people have an even greater need to know about themselves, their community, and how to safely and consensually participate in relationships (sexual or otherwise). When looking at the sexuality of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is best to use a holistic approach. This view intertwines sexual identity, gender identity, sensuality, sexual health, and more to have an encompassing perspective on the individual. We live in such a heteronormative society that sometimes we say things that negatively effect those around us unintentionally. Ways that people can be more inclusive and respectful towards the community are simple, like using “folks” instead of “ladies and gentlemen,” or using the term “partner” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” This is all just a surface level recap, so please read our “Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community” blog by WIT Peer Educator Beck Lukins (they/them) for an extremely comprehensive and informational post.
Sex and Disability
The World Health Organization lists three dimensions of disability: impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions. People with disabilities aren’t always thought of as beings with feelings outside of their disabilities, but they are not defined by their disability. There are so many myths surrounding sex and disability, such as people with disabilities can’t have sex, only have sex with each other, or that they don’t need comprehensive sexual education. But, people with disabilities are sexual and sexy people too! As an able-bodied woman I cannot speak on any experience, so here is a list of educators and influencers to follow on Instagram that have lived experiences with disability and sex:
Sexual Rights Are Human rights
Planned Parenthood uses FRIES to explain consent: Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific. When it comes to sexuality, it is a human right to decide freely on all matters related to your body, as well as freedom from coercion, violence, or intimidation in all sexual encounters. The definition of sexual autonomy is that you alone have complete control over when, with who, and under what circumstances you engage in any sexual activity. Recognition that all individuals have the right to determine what’s best for themselves is key to living a safe, sexually satisfying life. Even if you decide to never engage in sexual activity, it is important to stay educated in sexual health and the rights you have because there is SO much more than the physical acts of sex. No matter what you decide to do with your sex life, its entirely up to you! Of course, when with a partner, their consent is required too. When it comes to your sexual encounters, no one knows what's best for you better than you! Self-determination over your body leads to an empowered sexual experience.
With all of this being said, we hope you have learned some valuable information, and that you continue to stay informed about sexual education. Happy summer & see you in the fall!
By: Camryn Lane, WIT Peer Educator
Sex and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
More than 1 in 3 LGBTQIA+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, and this discrimination has moderately to significantly psychologically impacted 1 in 2 LGBTQIA+ folk. This discrimination can occur in any sector of a person’s life – at school, at work, or within their own personal relationships. Sex education in America often excludes or even prohibits the teaching of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships, leaving hundreds of youths across the country uninformed. As a marginalized population, LGBTQIA+ people have an even greater need to know about themselves, their community, and how to safely and consensually participate in relationships (sexual or otherwise).
A Holistic Approach to Sexuality
Holistic Sexuality refers to a multi-dimensional approach towards how one views their sexuality. It encompasses more than just a person’s sexual identity; it also includes a person’s gender identity, intimacy, sensuality, sexualization, and sexual health and reproduction. This is helpful because all of these aspects of a person’s body and soul are interconnected and fluid and can change throughout the course of life. This allows for you to have a better sense of yourself and be more confident in your desires.
This holistic approach is also very useful for some members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Asexuality, Demisexuality and Greysexuality are all sexual orientations on the ace spectrum and are often misunderstood or rejected. However, they are all very real and valid identities which may or may not include physical attraction or sex. Sexual attraction or desire is different from a sex drive, or libido. Everyone is unique; some people may have low or high libidos but will choose to act on them differently. Some people are very interested in sex and enjoy having it, while others may not be as interested or don’t enjoy having it. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and no right or wrong way to be.
Sometimes the words we use can have unintended effects on the people around us. American (and most other) societies have been raised and continue to function on The Binary, which is the concept of a gender structure consisting only of two genders: male and female. This means that almost everything in our world is constructed to fit into one of these two categories, regardless of what it is. Colors, music, jobs, clothes, toys – almost everything can be described as “girly” or “manly”, “pretty” or “handsome”. Everything comes with a predetermined label on it, forcing conformity. Unfortunately, this means that for folks who don’t fit into either of these categories, they are left with a hard decision: to allow themselves to be incorrectly categorized or speak up and inevitably face the challenge of no longer fitting in anywhere. For this reason, inclusive language and acknowledgement of the existence of more than one gender and of same-sex couples is massively important. It helps let LGBTQIA+ people know that they are seen, safe, and welcomed by a particular person or in a particular space.
Some examples of inclusive language include:
- Instead of “Ladies and Gentlemen”, say “Everyone” or “Folks”
- Try not to say ma’am or sir if you don’t know that that is how the person identifies
- Ask about someone’s partner or relationship instead of assuming boyfriend or girlfriend
- Use the terms “people with penises” or “vulva-owners” instead of saying men and women, since not all people who have a penis or vagina will identify as a man or woman
- Introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask other people for theirs
The Acronym: Labels and What They Means
What does LGBTQIA+ stand for? Here are the letters from the acronym and some of the most common labels used in the community.
- Lesbian: a woman who is attracted to other women. The label is also used by gender-nonconforming folks.
- Gay: someone who is attracted to those of their same gender. Can be used as an umbrella term but is also sometimes used to specifically refer to men who like men.
- Bisexual: someone who is attracted to those of their same gender as well as people of a second, different gender. Can be used as an umbrella term for anyone who is attracted to more than one gender.
- Transgender: Someone whose gender identity differs from the one that was assigned to them at birth. Many transgender people identify as either male or female, while others may see transgender as an umbrella term and identify as gender nonconforming or queer. This term is used as an adjective, avoid using it as a noun.
- Queer/Questioning: Queer is an umbrella term to refer to someone who is not straight or cisgender and is increasingly being used as reclamation due to its past use as a pejorative term. Questioning is exactly what it sounds like; anyone who is questioning their gender or sexual orientation and doesn’t yet have or want a label for themselves.
- Intersex: someone who is born with variations in anatomy, hormones or chromosomes that does not fit within the traditional definition of male or female bodies
- Asexual: someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction, or experiences attraction but doesn’t want or feel the need to act on that attraction sexually
: the plus here refers to any and all other labels
that exist in the community
- Non-binary: someone whose gender identity does not conform to the gender binary
- Pansexual: someone who is attracted to people of any and all genders.
- Cisgender: someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth
- Genderfluid: someone whose gender identity or gender expression varies over time
There are many more labels not listed, but you can find them on this glossary if you’re curious. A label is unique and deeply personal, so know that these definitions (while universally accepted) are not definitive and may mean something slightly different to each individual who uses them.
Increased Health Disparities
LGBTQIA+ youth are at a substantial risk for health disparities related to STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and intimate partner violence. Additionally LGBTQIA+ people are up to 30% more likely to be forced to have sex and up to 5 times more likely to consider or attempt suicide. And because the healthcare system is not designed to support those who do not fit conventional molds, queer people are more likely to avoid going to the doctor and therefore less likely to receive quality medical care. Overall, this means people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to need support and education but are less likely to receive it.
When sex and relationships are talked about in the media, they are often talked about in a way that is harmful to LGBTQIA+ people. In songs, movies, tv shows, and social media, the most common representation we see of sex is heteronormative and cisgendered. This means that what is most often shown or talked about is sex between a straight man and a straight woman. Reality is very different however, and we know that there are many people who don’t fit into that model. A lack of representation and visibility in media when it comes to sex and intimacy is especially dangerous regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. People are scared of what they don’t know or don’t understand, and if queer people are not shown to greater audiences than they can never be understood and accepted as normal.
Helpful Barrier Methods
While the traditional condom barrier method is still used by LGBTQIA+ individuals, there are other less common barrier methods which are specifically used by queer couples. These include the dental dam, latex gloves, and finger cots. These can all be used by anyone of any orientation or gender identity, but currently tend to be most utilized by the LGBTQIA+ community. All the common birth control and contraceptive methods are also still applicable to LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples if they are looking to prevent pregnancy and they are engaging in sexual activity involving a penis/sperm and vagina/ovaries. Safer sex is just as important in the queer community as it is for straight couples, and if you’re interested in how to have safer sex with yourself or with a partner, you can find out more at our other blog posts.
What is Dysphoria and How Can You Overcome It
Transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) individuals often experience something called dysphoria, a medical diagnosis for the significant psychological distress a person feels when their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. To help alleviate this distress, TGNC individuals may choose to pursue transitioning, which is the process of physically, socially, or medically changing their body to align with their gender. One way to do this is with the use of packers and/or breast padding. These prosthetics can also help in the bedroom, where dysphoria can be extremely hindering during a person’s attempt to be physically intimate with themselves or with another person or people. Packers are silicone penises and come in both soft or erect positions and can be worn during the day or during sexual activity. Breast padding are bra inserts or breast forms made of either fabric or silicone. They can come in any color or size (as can packers) and help enhance or create a person’s chest.
Sex Toys and Pleasure
Sex toys are also a safe and helpful way to learn what you like and experiment with your sexuality. They can help affirm gender identity and relieve gender dysphoria and are a great way to keep sex feeling new. Sex toys can also help take the pressure off performance anxieties and encourage new experiences. Keep in mind that sex toys are not federally regulated and manufacturers are not required to be honest in their labeling, so it is best to buy from well-known, trusted sources. The most common materials are silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Not all lubes will work on all materials so make sure you read the instructions before using. Toys should be cleaned before and after every use and should be stored in a cloth or plastic bag between uses to avoid bacteria. If a toy is being shared, change condoms before the toy touches someone else. Additionally, if you are using the toy in more than one location on your own body, you should also change condoms before you use the toy in a different orifice. For anal activities, all toys should have a flared base to ensure it is not lost inside the body - and as the anus is not a self-lubricating area, lube is your friend!
Many couples have their own definition of what sex is, and how they have it. This is particularly true for LGBTQIA+ couples who don’t fit into society’s definition of a traditional couple. Everyone gets to decide what counts as sex for them, and what sex means for them. Make sure you know what you want or what you’re open to before you start something. It’s only fair to yourself and anyone you may be with that you’re in the right headspace. Be open-minded and communicative. Talk with yourself or your partner(s) so you know what’s happening and if everyone is liking it. Lose all expectations; a certain act or position doesn’t have to mean anything, and liking or not liking something doesn’t make you more or less of who you are. And finally, sex is not necessarily all about achieving an orgasm. It’s about finding pleasure and having fun. Not everyone needs or even wants to achieve orgasm – sometimes, having sex is just about the experience of sharing intimacy, learning what you or your partner(s) like, and building a bond.
Know Your Rights
LGBTQIA+ people don’t have all the rights that their straight, cisgendered peers do. However, LGBTQIA+ people do currently have:
- The right to change healthcare providers at any time and for any reason
- The right to accurate and uncensored information
- The right to affordable healthcare
- The right to free speech and free press
- The right to autonomy
A Personal Note on Freedom and Expression
I would like to take a moment here to address something. During this article, I have talked about things that range from “vanilla” (by which I mean relatively accepted within the realm of the normal societal mainstream) to things more traditionally unconventional. Therefore, I want to end this blog with a short aside on the LGBTQIA+ community in relation to sex. Sometimes, when people think of gay people or trans people, they may think of sodomy or of how or who that person engages with in sexual activity. I want to note that when people make this association, they are perhaps unknowingly engaging in a homophobic implicit bias against queer people. They are not acknowledging the full humanity of the queer person - only their sexual nature and ways in which they find the queer person to be different or lesser than them. Alternatively, I would also like to note that perhaps part of the reason so many LGBTQIA+ people feel free to express themselves in ways that some people find deviant or “unnecessary” is that we as a people have had to fight simply to be ourselves. Some of us have come to a state of mind where we know who we are and love who we are, and refuse to hide or change any part of ourselves any longer - and no longer care what other people think.
By: Beck Lukins (they/them), WIT Peer Educator
A note from the author: If anyone has any questions, curiosities, or would like more information (even if it’s something I didn’t touch on), please feel free to reach out to me! I am a completely open book when it comes to my story and my identity, and I have spent several years now working to better educate myself and others. As a queer and trans student here at GVSU, I take great pride in being a source of information for people both in and outside the LGBTQIA+ community, and I am always happy to respond to folks. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org , or if you are not a GVSU member you can contact me through my Instagram @beck_lukins. Cheers!
You found the perfect trail, but you're not sure what to take? Packing the “essentials'' - plus a couple of other things - will ensure your trips go as planned, and more importantly, you are prepared for whatever the trail may throw at you - including getting lost, a storm, or even (but hopefully not!) an injury on the trail. Even though it may seem unnecessary in the moment, packing the correct items can potentially save your life if things go astray. When packing for hiking it's important to pack not much more than the essentials to avoid increasing weight in your backpack too much. The hardest part is finding the perfect balance between what's necessary and what would end up taking up space and weight. Much of what you bring is determined by the length and location of the hike. For example, a short hike (1-3 miles) may require little gear and can be done without a pack at all, and longer hikes (5-10 miles) may require much more.
There are an unlimited number of factors to consider before setting something into your pack. The crowdedness of the trail, for example, could determine whether or not you bring a source of fire and shelter -there could be fellow hikers there to help in case of an accident. A trail map or map of the area will be of enormous help if you find yourself lost. Most trails will have the map posted at the trailhead,snapping a quick picture with your phone can help you remember where to go. Ultimately it's up to you (the hiker) to decide what to bring, but there are some items that should be heavily considered.
Aside from food and water, the most important piece of gear to bring on the trail is a backpack. It will hold all your gear and keep your hands free when hiking on difficult terrain. Whether you are selecting an existing backpack to bring or if you’re in the market to purchase one, there are a couple things to consider.
- Size - Backpacks are usually measured in liters (how many liters
each pack can carry).
- 10 liters or less: Super lightweight and used for either running or quick fast hikes. Perfect for the shorter hikes (~2 hours). Less comfortable and don’t hold as much.
- 10-20 liters: Tends to be the most popular size for day hikes; a balance between weight and captivity. Can be comfortable depending on the brand and quality. A generic school bag is about this size.
- 20 liters through 80 liters: Built for long days on the trial with the ability to carry lots of gear. Usually used on backpacking trips of multiple days in a row on the trail. Usually pretty comfortable and can hold quite a bit, but are more expensive and heavier.
Now that you have the perfect pack selected for your hike, what do you put in it?
Food and Water
When packing food and water for the hike, it's important to bring enough. It’s better to have more than you need in case of an injury or a wrong turn leaves you out on the trail longer than expected.
Water is the most essential item to bring with you on the trail. Dehydration on the trail is very common and can be a deadly mistake if not taken seriously. For shorter day hikes, bringing around 32oz of water should be enough. Increase the amount of water you bring based on the distance and time you plan to spend on the trail. The temperature on the day you plan to hike will also influence how much water you take. As the temperature increases, so should the amount of water you bring. The amount of water you bring also depends on you, you know your body better than anyone else so pack as much water as you see fit.
Food with a high amount of calories will give you the most energy per gram of food, essentially more bang for your buck. Foods that do not to be refrigerated and are light weight are preferred. Items like beef jerky and granola bars are a staple trail food and for good reason, because they offer a good balance of protein and calories while being small and lightweight. It’s best to stay away from food that’s high in sweets, such as candy bars or bakery items. These simple carbohydrates have high amounts of sugar that will leave you feeling tired later on down the trail.
Clothing and Layers
Nothing is worse than being stuck out on the trail and either a rainstorm or cold front comes and not being prepared. When choosing what clothes to bring, it's important to first check the forecast to give you a general idea of the type of weather you may experience. Wearing layers or bringing clothing that can be layered is the best option for anything mother nature may throw at you. The basic layering system consists of a tighter thermal layer first with, an insulation layer in the middle. A raincoat or windshell is great for wearing on the outermost layer, as it will keep the weather out and the heat in. For warm temperature hikes, something lightweight such a tank top or t-shirt would be great. Packing a raincoat in your bag could be a lifesaver if the weather were to turn sour. A hike boot or hiking shoe offer superior traction compared to a regular tennis shoe on the trail. Wearing thick and supportive socks can help prevent blisters along with other foot pain. Speaking of socks,nothing is worse than walking in a wet cold pair of socks, so if you're going somewhere with water or with high heat, throwing an extra pair could prove to be useful.
Now that you have a basic idea of what to bring, you can start to adapt your own idea of what to bring. Deciding what to take and what to leave is often a difficult task. Countless factors can determine whether you leave something at home or put it in your bag, and ultimately it's up to you, the hiker to determine this. We hope we’ve helped you prepare, at least a little bit! You can also learn more through the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Happy hiking!
By: Owen Dingledine
Intramural (IM) Sports are a great way to get involved at Grand Valley, and it’s not only us who would tell you that! Students will testify to the great things happening in Recreation & Wellness, including their experiences with IM Sports. Three of the students we interviewed got involved with IM Sports their first year of college, but it’s never too late to join in on the fun.
Sophomore; played on 8 teams for a total of 17 games in 2020-21.
“Intramural Sports are one of my favorite things that I have done on campus lately”
When did you first get involved with IM Sports?
I got involved with IM Sports right away during my freshman year by making an IM soccer team with high school friends. I even met new friends through the IM Sports platform when we needed more players. I also joined my housing team’s beach volleyball team to connect with other students that lived with me.
What IM Sports do you participate in, which is your
So far I have participated in soccer, tennis, beach volleyball, badminton, indoor volleyball, spike ball, corn hole, and online fantasy sports league (football and basketball) that started this year. My favorite sport has to be soccer but volleyball is a close second. I played soccer for clubs and high school before coming to college and I always enjoy the chance to play soccer. I never played volleyball until my first beach volleyball game and I intensely loved the challenge of using my arms instead of just my feet.
What makes you excited to play your favorite sports?
My favorite thing about playing all these sports is getting my friends active and involved in the sports I love. I also get to make new friends along the way and have a fun break from homework and studying. I love being able to play games with other students here at GV that also like to be competitive and have fun.
Why is it important to play IM Sports right now?
IM sports are so important to be involved in (especially right now) because it is an opportunity to be active on campus and meet new people who have similar interests. Staying fit and being active can happen at the gym and on trails around campus, but these organized sports are a great way to add more sport specificity in one’s life and widen your skillset.
How do IM Sports help you reach your
IM sports have definitely helped me reach my step goals, but they also allow me to connect with friends which makes me happy. If we only meet once a week for a game, I am still very excited to play with them again. As many of my classes are by myself, I don’t get to see the same people every week. My sports allow me to have somewhat of a routine and make life seem more normal. I have found that IM sports are not only helping me reach my physical goals but my mental health goals are being achieved too by being outdoors and spending time with others.
Junior; played on 8 teams for a total of 23 games in 2020-21
“I have so much fun just spending time with my friends and competing in a friendly environment”
When did you first get involved with IM sports?
My freshman year
What IM Sports do you participate in, which is your
Out of all of them, I enjoy playing soccer the most, but the team plays better in sand volleyball so that’s a close second.
What makes you excited to play your favorite sports?
Spending time with my friends having fun and laughing. Also, the competitive nature of playoffs and some regular-season games are a lot of fun.
Why is it important to play IM Sports right now?
To stay active and enjoy time with friends and other students on campus.
How do IM Sports help you reach your
Soccer and football have made me get in better shape because of all the running. It feels great.
Junior; played on 8 teams for a total of 14 games in 2020-21
“I have definitely enjoyed IM sports and recommend it to everyone”
When did you first get involved with IM Sports?
I got involved in IM sports during the first semester of my freshman year. The very first team I joined was a random soccer team as a free agent. I was a little shy and intimidated for not knowing anyone, but I ended up becoming good friends with a majority of the team. I have been doing IM sports every semester since!
What IM Sports do you participate in, which is your
I try to participate in as many IM sports each semester as I can. This semester, I have been a part of sand volleyball, indoor soccer, indoor volleyball, and table tennis. In past years, I have also played spike ball, kickball, softball, ultimate frisbee, and futsal. I think my favorite would have to be sand volleyball because I love diving for a ball and landing in the soft sand. Sometimes I just wish it was a bit warmer!
What makes you excited to play your favorite sports?
The reason I enjoy IM sports so much is because of the people I play with. I enjoy meeting new people on my team and also reconnecting with old friends through the sport. I love the friendly competition that takes place, especially when I am playing against a friend. I also loved trying new sports because it was a great mix of trying new skills but also knowing my teammates had my back if I ever messed up.
Why is it important to play IM Sports right now?
I think playing IM sports right now is important because it gets you active, you are surrounded by new friendly faces. It is easy to be stuck at home with online classes so this is a great opportunity to get out and do something fun with a group of friends. It is also a great chance to meet new people and make some long-lasting friendships. It is also a great time to try something new and to branch out to new hobbies.
How do IM Sports help you reach your
All of the IM sports I have participated in have definitely made me stay on my feet. I feel like I am getting the exercise I want in a fun, competitive way, rather than working out by myself in the gym. It does not only help me physically but keeps my mind sharp as well as I have to react and communicate quickly.
THANK YOU to all of our participants and student employees. We hope you had fun, tried a new sport, and made some new friends! If sports do not interest you, we have many other areas for you to get involved with here at Recreation and Wellness.
By: Caleb Danielson
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
*Please note that the writer identifies as able-bodied, so she has included a list of influencers and educators to follow on Instagram that have lived experiences with disability and sex.
In the United States, 61 million adults live with a disability. According to the CDC, a disability is “any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.” According to the World Health Organization, disability has three dimensions:
- Impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning; examples of impairments include loss of a limb, loss of vision or memory loss.
- Activity limitation, such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking, or problem solving.
- Participation restrictions in normal daily activities, such as working, engaging in social and recreational activities, and obtaining health care and preventive services.
People living with disabilities are often grouped into a single population, even though there is a wide variety of experiences with disabilities. Socially, those with disabilities are seen as asexual beings without feelings, desires, and needs outside of their disability, all 61 million of them. But let’s set the record straight: a disability does not define an entire person. People with disabilities can be and are sexual beings!We want to debunk some myths about sex and disability.
Myth #1 - People with disabilities can’t have sex.
American society often tends to define sex in one way: penis-in-vagina intercourse. However, there is no such thing as real sex, right sex, or wrong sex. Sex is not exclusively penis-vaginal penetration; it is so many different things, because every body and everybody is different. Sex is for everyone and anyone who chooses to participate - as long as it’s consensual. Depending on a person’s disability, there may be some planning involved in making sure everyone is comfortable during sexual activity. For example, some people with physical disabilities choose to use devices like a liberator wedge to help with body support during sex. Or, as another example, there might need to be discussions about when or how to have sex if chronic pain or fatigue are a part of a person’s disability experience. Having open and honest conversations to make sure you are getting what you need is vital - whether you have a disability or not!
Myth #2 - People with disabilities only have sex with each other.
Nope! A person is not their disability, and it does not decide who they can and cannot have a sexual relationship with - as long as it’s consensual, safe, and enjoyable!
Myth #3 - People with disabilities aren't sexy.
It’s important to understand that attraction is based on a connection between people, not a beauty or “sexy” standard our society has set. (Westernized beauty standards could be another whole blog series!) What people find sexy differs and is usually more than strictly someone’s outward appearance. It could be their sense of humor, smell, intellect, touch, love of dogs, and so much more. Although, wearing something sexy can also make a person feel more confident and sexier too, so it’s okay to explore that too! For individuals with physical disabilities, finding certain clothing that makes you feel sexy and confident can be harder, but it’s possible! An online shop called Elba London creates bras for people with mobility or dexterity limitations, and Intimately has adaptive bra and lingerie options, too.
Myth #4 - People with disabilities do not crave sex.
There is a common misconception that individuals with disabilities are child-like and therefore do not desire sex or have sex; this is simply not true! Sexuality is a vital part of being human. It is physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and cultural. Every person experiences sexuality in their own way, but they experience it with or without disability. No matter who you are, the decision to have sex is a personal choice, and whether you crave sex differs from person to person.
Myth #5 - People with disabilities don’t need sex education.
Understanding sexual health is extremely important, whether you choose to have sex or not. Being aware of STIs, pregnancy, contraception, and overall safety is key. All people should have access to resources and tools that make sex safer, healthier, and enjoyable if they choose to engage. We know the U.S. has not done a good job of providing comprehensive sex education, and we’ve done even worse in providing specific age and ability appropriate resources to people with disabilities so that they can experience fulfilling sex lives. Also, it’s important to note that comprehensive sexual education can better equip individuals with disabilities to resist sexual violence, abuse and coercion in social spaces. Sex education is for everyone!
Learning from those with Lived Experiences
Let’s repeat this because it is so important: people with disabilities are sexual beings!
While, as an able-bodied person, I cannot understand having a disability and navigating sexuality and sex, I can learn from those with lived experiences. Here is a list of some amazing educators and influencers that speak directly to their experiences with sex and disability that you should follow if you want to learn more!
Follow these people on Instagram:
While I spoke a lot about physical disabilities, you could also take a peek at this Australian blog post on cognitive disability and sexuality if you’re interested in learning more.
By: Annie Seeber, WIT Peer Educator
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
As per 2018 National College Health Assessment statistics, 74% of GVSU students have engaged in sexual activity which means 26% have not. So in today's post we are going to discuss sexual abstinence and virginity.
Sexual-abstinence means refraining yourself from participating in sexual activities.
The interpretation of the word ‘abstinence’ may be different for different people. For some people, sexual abstinence may mean that there is no sexual activity of any kind. While for some other people, abstinence may mean not taking part in vaginal or anal sex but that practicing oral-sex, kissing or masturbation is ok. Communication is key in practicing abstinence: it is important to communicate with your partner(s) regarding if, when, and how you want to practice abstinence.
Anyone can practice sexual-abstinence if they want to, irrespective of their age, gender, or sexuality-orientation . You can practice sexual-abstinence even if you have participated in sexual activities before. Your partner(s) should respect your choice to be abstinent, and they shouldn’t try to pressure you into having sex or any other sexual activity you don’t want to do.
There are many reason why people practice abstinence, some of them are:
- To prevent pregnancy - or using it as a mode of contraception
- Because of any underlying medical conditions
- Waiting for the right partner
- Not feeling like have sex or lack of intimacy
- Practicing celibacy
- Personal or religious beliefs
Many people may also practice outercourse, which is participating in sex and other sexual activities except vaginal sex - or any sexual activity that can get any semen in the vagina.
Virginity is slightly different from abstinence in that virginity is often thought of as something a person who has not engaged in penis-vagina intercourse has or possesses. Many times virginity is associated with the presence of hymen in individuals with vaginas. An intact/unruptured hymen is believed to be a sign of virginity. (Note: there isn’t often an equivalent definition of virginity for a person with a penis).
But, much like abstinence, being a virgin can mean different things to different people. For some people, virginity means never had penetrative sex (vaginal, anal) before in their life. For some others, it may mean not engaging in penetrative vaginal sex anytime in their lifetime, but they have enagaged in other sexual activities such as oral sex, anal sex, etc. On the other side, some people also believe that masturbating or having other kinds of sex play- including fingering or touching a sex partner’s genitals with the hands can make people to lose their virginity. There are different beliefs and concepts regarding virginity in our society, and they vary from person to person.
Virginity does carry a lot of emotional weight for people and while we know many people believe in virginity as a concept it is important to share that virginity is a social construct - which means that it was an idea created by society. A few reasons we think that’s important to share this? Well, you can read this blog post from the School of Sex ed for more, but they tell us that: 1) the focus on penis-in-vagina sex as the “key” to virginity erases experiences, desires and preferences of others; 2) the association between purity and virginity serves to control female bodies; and 3) you can’t tell by looking at genitalia if someone has had sex (so the myth about an intact hymen is just wrong). Perhaps take some time to explore how you feel about virginity and if you agree or disagree with its basis.
Sexual Decision Making
If you are considering having sex for the first time (or any time) there are a bunch of things you and your partner(s) should know and evaluate. You should consider the emotional and physical needs and wants of everyone involved. You should also take note of your relationship and if you have safer sex supplies available. For more information regarding sexual decision making please checkout the ‘Ready or Not’ checklist from Scarleteen. It has so many different questions for you and your partner(s) to answer to determine if you are ready or not!
As we conclude, we want to remind you that any choice you make about sexual activity is ok if it is consensual! It is okay if you choose to be abstinent. It is ok if you choose to participate in sex or sexual activity. We believe there should be no stigma attached to either one of the choices.
By: Sonal Subhash Mandale and Beck Lukins, WIT Peer Educator
Climbing workouts for better performance
As with any sport or new hobby, there is a burning desire to push yourself to become the best you can be. As humans, we want to see how far we can go and how far we can push the limits of what we believe is possible. This may all seem very deep and philosophical, but if you take time to think about what drives you to be better, it will unlock new potential within yourself. For me, the pursuit of climbing hard grades and performance is what motivates me the most. But, the reason for training and climbing may be different for everyone. I encourage you to find the purpose of your training and remind yourself of this when you feel yourself falling into that inevitable rut. It is important to note that noticeable improvements don't happen overnight, and to our dismay, can take much longer than we would like. The ability to stay inspired and be encouraged is often what separates the good from the great. Not every workout or drill will work the same for everyone; one exercise might work for you but not for others. Trying each exercise and doing your own research through trial and error will help you dial in the workout routine that works the best for you.
The number one thing new climbers can do to get better is climb more often! I can't stress this enough; climb more. It may seem obvious, but getting in the climbing gym and on the wall is the best way to build a solid foundation. Climbing two to three times each week is a good balance for getting better each time you go to the gym, without the added risk of injury you get from overtraining . A common misconception is that strength is the magic key to unlocking new routes. However, it's not always a lack of strength holding you back. You might be able to do 50 pull ups in a row, but if you have no technique, it will be hard to be a successful climber. It is true that people with massive amounts of strength can likely climb hard grades, but it often looks clunky and ends up wasting significantly more energy than someone with good technique. Luckily, technique is one of easiest and most enjoyable aspects to train. The number one way to work your technique is to climb more, and with easy to do drills, it can be fun.
Climbing can be hard work but not every training session needs to be physically exhausting for you to get better. Compared to strength training, focusing on improving technique often results in bigger improvements in a shorter amount of time. Especially for newer climbers.
Some drills for building technique:
Silent Feet: This drill is pretty simple and requires almost no gear. All you will need is a relatively easy section of wall. Then:
- Climb while making little to no noise when your feet touch the holds. This will require you to move slowly and with precision.
- Climbing with controlled motions requires you to find and remain in balanced positions.
- The goal is to improve your footwork, which is essential to be an efficient climber. In the long run, it will help preserve energy on the wall.
- Progress this exercise by applying it to specific paths, or “routes” on the wall and/ or adding bells to your shoes.
Single Touch: This drill works footwork, as well as precision with your hands. Pick a section of wall or two to three routes you can comfortably climb. Then:
- Once you grab a hold with your hands or place a foot on a hold, you can not move it unless moving to the next hold. You must hold the rock in the way you initially grabbed it, no shuffling around to find the best way to hold it. Repeat the same way for feet on foot chips.
- The goal is to increase precision with your hands and feet. Grabbing the hold exactly where you want to on the first attempt will save energy and help you from falling because of poor hand or foot placement.
There are other drills out there that improve technique, but these are the two that I personally use and have found success with. These drills work great as warms ups while improving the “smoothness” in your climbing.
The biggest downfall almost all climbers have is the fight against the “pump” (or the build up of lactic acid in the forearms, which signals fatigue of the fingers and arms). Stamina is essential to climbing all types of routes and something I personally struggle with the most. The ability to complete multiple hard moves in succession is something that many climbers strive for. Training your endurance is challenging and can be physically exhausting. Fortunately, training for building climbing endurance is one of the most fun types of training because it’s all about spending more time climbing!
Some drills for building your endurance:
Laps: This drill is very simple but is definitely taxing on the upper body. It is preferably done on a taller roped climb (aka a “top rope”) route but doing it lower to the ground, without ropes (aka “bouldering”) would suffice. The only downside of this drill on the top rope is the responsibility of the belayer (person controlling the rope and keeping the climber safe) to belay you multiple times in a row.
- Pick an easy section of wall or route that you believe you can comfortably climb twice in a row, but would struggle on your third attempt. Picking the right one is important; find a balance between pushing yourself but not going too hard. If you have a particular style you’d like to focus on, picking a route of that style would be a good idea.
- Simply climb the selected route three times in a row, only taking a break to chalk up and to check with your belay before climbing again.
Traverse: Similar to the laps drill, this will require you to be on the wall for an extended amount of time. This drill is more accessible, as it does not require someone to belay for you. The biggest downside of this drill is that if the wall is busy, you won't be able to do it.
- The goal is to travel across the wall horizontally for as long as possible. Or for a predetermined amount of time or moves.
- Climb below the boulder line on a side of the wall, then start climbing across the wall horizontally, using any hand holds you want and using foot holds smaller than a fist.
Hang boarding: This is a great way to strengthen your fingers from the comfort and convenience of your own home. As far as pure finger strength building goes, it's unbeatable. However, if you hang board too hard, too soon, or too often, they do present the risk of injury. I wouldn't recommend getting into hangboard training at all until you have climbed for about a year. Your fingers are the most important body part in climbing, so it's essential to keep them healthy. If hang boarding is something you are looking to get into, I encourage you to do some research beforehand. There are a lot of great, yet vastly different, workouts available. Hang board at your own risk!
Ringing the Bell
Rock climbing has endless possibilities. From the many gyms to the thousands of established routes outside, there is something for everyone to climb. With each harder grade you can climb a whole new set of routes and areas open up for you to explore. For me training has been a way to stay dedicated to the sport and stay in shape for my own physical well-being. I learned the drills I discussed from those who are more experienced than me, along with help from the internet. Everyone has different ways to train so asking and discussing with others is a great way to expand your knowledge and make a few new friends.
By: Owen Dingledine
Many of us find ourselves in a revolving door of hustle and grind. School, work, life, repeat. There’s often little priority given to resting because rest can be seen as lazy and unproductive. But, research suggests that isn’t true. Just look to nature – even the trees and the plants and the soil and the animals take breaks to be the best that they can be. Yet, in the middle of an on-going pandemic, we continue to grind – but as the great Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey says – “You are not a machine. Stop grinding.”
What if instead we dilly-dally, daydream, rest, and play more?
Why the Grind Needs to Stop
Well, simply: We. Are. Burnt. Out.
85% of college students report being overwhelmed by everything they had to do at some point within the past year. 1 in 3 working adults feel burnout in the workplace. And for what? We lose $500 billion each year in lost productivity and 550 million working days due to stress on the job. It’s such a problem that the World Health Organization officially included burnout in its International Classification of Disease.
Our productivity doesn’t go up when we grind either. In fact - we are more productive when we rest. When we give ourselves a chance to slow down and take a break, our brains are sharper, we’re more creative, get more done in less time, make better decisions, prevent illness, and are able to review and reflect on our days. And, even if our productivity did go up when we were grinding - our pay hasn’t gone up, so why are we doing it if we haven't seen a return on investment?
How to Stop Grinding: Finding Balance to Avoid Burnout
One of the best ways we’ve found to avoid burnout and find balance in life? Set boundaries - with your friends, family and yourself. It can be hard, but with practice you will make time to: engage in self-care, find enjoyment, spend time on hobbies, connect with friends, get some exercise, sleep a little (or a lot) and so much more.
So, how do you set boundaries? Here are few tips:
- Seek help . Reach out to those that can help, including professors. They can give you tips for succeeding in their courses.
- Conduct a personal audit of situations, times, or people that cause you stress or anger. This helps you recognize these circumstances in the future so you can be prepared and have strategies already in place to help you cope.
- Choose and set clear limits for yourself. Many times the people that cross our boundaries the most are us. It’s vital that you determine what goals or activities are most important to you (like rest, exercise, family, cooking meals, getting good grades, etc) and keep them at the top of your priority list.
- You should communicate your boundaries with those around you, particularly those that are most likely to cross them. And, it’s important to let someone know when they’ve crossed one of your boundaries when they do it.
- Practice saying “no.” No’s tend to be super hard for people to say. So it’s important to practice saying no in low risk situations - like getting a coffee for example. When they ask if you want whipped cream with that…. no. Practice in front of the mirror - wherever, whenever so when you really want or need to say no you can.
- Use the 4 D system. When you make a to do list, determine if you are going to do it now, defer it to another time, delegate it to someone else (like if it’s a group project or if you’re in a student organization, etc), or drop it - and just decide it’s something you don’t have to do at all.
- Finally, prepare for pushback . People don’t often get told no or have people enforce boundaries (because we’re pretty bad at doing it as a society). So, know that others will likely react to you enforcing boundaries - this just means the boundaries were necessary. (Also, don’t forget, you are most likely to step over your own boundaries so be prepared to keep setting boundaries for yourself!)
Keep Pressing Pause
Our societal culture of hustle and grind is why Recreation & Wellness created the Press Pause campaign for Winter 2021 – a gentle reminder to give yourself a break. Remember, that it’s okay (and vital) to rest. Even a five minute pause in our days can lower our heart rate, loosen our muscles, increase immunity, improve sleep and digestion, and elevate our overall well-being. The semester is coming to an end and we know that stress and burnout will be even more pronounced. So, plan time to press pause and honor your boundaries. And - don’t forget to keep pressing pause into the spring and summer.
Wishing you a day (month, year, life) full of daydreaming, dilly-dallying, resting, playing, and contentment.
Want to learn even more? Request a WIT presentation about Finding Rest in the Grind.
By: Katie Jourdan, Student Health Promotions Coordinato
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
April is STD Awareness Month so we’re getting a head start and taking some time to share about STDs (though we’ll call them STIs throughout the blog because that’s the newest, most accurate description).
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), previously known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or venereal diseases (VD) are infections that are passed on from one person to another through sexual contact. This contact is usually oral, vaginal and/or anal sexual activity. However, sometimes STI can also spread through other intimate physical contact, like herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) which can spread through skin to skin contact as well. STI can spread through five fluids; namely, vaginal fluid, semen, breast milk, blood and rectal fluid. They spread through genital skin-to-skin contact, genital-to-mouth, genital-to-anus, mouth-to-anus, anything-to-sex toy and sharing things during a sexual activity.
If not diagnosed early or left untreated, STIs can cause serious health-complications, including, but not limited to Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases (PID), infertility, mother-to-child transmission (example HIV, neonatal-syphilis) and neurological manifestations.
The most common symptom of an STI is: no symptom at all. Other common symptoms present are unusual looking/smelling discharge, itching or burning sensation in the genitals, or pain during sexual-intercourse.
What does our data say about STI prevalence?
According to CDC’s Survey of 2018, one in five individuals in the United States has an existing STI. In 2018 alone, there were 26 million new cases of individuals who tested positive for an STI in the United States, and half of them were 15-24 years old. They are prevalent among individuals irrespective of their gender or sexual-orientation.
Exploring Some Sexually Transmitted Infections
We’ll share just a little about each infection below, but learn more comprehensive information about each through the CDC.
Viral Infections: Viral infections are caused by viruses. They are treatable but cannot be cured.
- Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus (HIV) infection weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. In its advanced stage or when left untreated it causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which results in failure of the immune system and can be fatal. AIDS is Stage 3 of HIV infection in which the number of T-cells present in our body decreases drastically compared to the normal count. However, most people in the U.S. do not develop AIDS anymore, and remain with a case of HIV, thanks to treatment options like antiretroviral therapy. Treatment options are so good now that a person can have undetectable amounts of HIV in their body and no longer transmit the virus. Legally if you have HIV/AIDS, you must disclose your positive status to all sexual partners before you have sex (any act that could spread the disease) and it is illegal to disclose anyone else’s HIV/AIDS status (positive or otherwise).
- Herpes - This common infection causes recurrent outbreaks of painful blisters (though most people don’t know they have it and may not have symptoms). There are 2 types of herpes viruses. The Herpes Simplex Virus-1 is oral herpes and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 causes genital herpes. Most people get infected with HSV-1, and it results in cold sores around the mouth. If this occurs, refrain from oral sex. HSV-2 results in blisters or sores around the genitals or rectum.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - HPV is a common virus that can lead to certain types of cancer later in life. We have vaccination for HPV/genital warts and a vaccine for this STI is given around 11/12-years-of-age in all genders. Men are less likely to show symptoms but they can still pass it on to their partner(s).
- Hepatitis B - Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).We have a vaccine for Hepatitis B STI at birth. Hepatitis B can actually be cured by prescription if treated immediately after exposure.
Bacterial Infections: Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria. They can be cured with antibiotic prescriptions. This is why it’s important to get tested and if you have an STI, to get treatment from your healthcare provider.
- Gonorrhea: A very common infection that can cause serious complications when not treated. Untreated gonorrhea may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV – the virus that causes AIDS.
- Chlamydia: A common STI that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. It is often known as the “silent infection” because most people do not have symptoms.
- Syphilis : The infection is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. If left untreated causes extensive damage to the nervous system.
Parasitic infections: Parasitic infections are caused by parasites or mites. They are curable by prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
- Trichomoniasis: Is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite and usually has no symptoms. It is curable by prescription medicine.
- Pubic Lice (crabs) : Pubic lice typically are found attached to hair in the pubic area but sometimes are found on coarse hair elsewhere on the body (for example, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, mustache, chest, armpits, etc.). Lise cause itching usually beginning after 5 days after contact, but they have no long term health effects. It is curable by over-the-counter medication or prescription.
- Scabies: The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common symptom is itching. It is curable by over-the-counter medication.
How to Prevent STIs
The good thing about STIs is that they are preventable, getting tested is no big deal, and most STI are easy to treat.STIs can prevented by:
- Using barrier methods during sexual-activities can prevent STIs. These include internal and external condoms and dental dams. GVSU Recreation & Wellness partners with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health to provide external condoms through Wear One. Condoms can be found in several offices all around campus for students to pick up - for free.
- Participate in regular STI screening and health check-ups when you are sexually active.
Not sure about which test you need, the CDC has some guidance.
- Vaccination is another way to prevent some STIs. Vaccinating for Hepatitis B and HPV have medically proven to prevent the respective infections.
As they say, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure, it is equally true and applicable for Sexually Transmitted Infections and hence: Take control, be aware and educate yourself about STI and participate in safe sex practices.
By: Sonal Subhash Mandale, WIT Peer Educator
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
As we’ve reached the one-year mark of COVID-19 in Michigan, it is important to take a moment to reflect on how we are all experiencing collective trauma and grief. This pandemic has impacted everyone in some way, whether big or small. Those who are dealing with the stress and trauma from COVID-19 after already having suffered from sexual or relationship violence are some of those individuals being impacted in a big way. Victim survivors are uniquely experiencing this pandemic and can be affected differently than others. Although it may not be clear at first how there is a connection between COVID-19 and sexual violence, the following sections will help to explain this strong and harmful connection.
When thinking about COVID-19 and victim survivors, the first thought that likely comes to mind is how those who are currently living with an abuser are being harmed by stay at home orders. It’s true that staying at home can be very unsafe for those living in violent situations. This can increase their risk for domestic and sexual violence, while simultaneously restricting access to outside resources and supports, like friends and family. Abusers take advantage of the pandemic by using it as an excuse to limit visitors and deliveries, errands, canceling appointments, not allowing survivors to work outside the home, and more. Given the context of the pandemic and orders to stay at home and socially distance, this can be interpreted as perfectly reasonable and can be much more difficult to resist by the victim survivor. These are typical victim-isolation tactics, but are now able to be excused as compliance with public health guidelines. Additionally, many people are feeling the economic burden of COVID-19. While this is harmful to anyone who is experiencing it, those in abusive situations may be suffering unique consequences. A loss of income could force victim survivors to stay with their abusers. Although they could have been saving up money for an exit strategy, they may have to now abandon this strategy due to loss of income.
COVID-19 Retriggering Trauma
Victim survivors do not have to be currently experiencing sexual or relationship violence to still be facing challenges and a retriggering of their trauma during this time. Although the conversation about COVID-19 and victim survivors typically stops at a discussion about domestic violence, there is much more to unpack.Those who have experienced sexual violence in the past are facing a retriggering of trauma during the pandemic. Triggers are defined as “memories stored in our physical and emotional selves”. Those memories can resurface when experiencing specific sounds, tastes, feelings, or events. Staying at home may be triggering for victim survivors who were assaulted in their homes, leading to anxiety, fear, or symptoms of PTSD. Even if home is considered a safe space, having to remain at home for prolonged periods of time can still bring up its own set of challenges as the mere isolation of being at home can be triggering. A feeling of isolation can be a long-term effect on victim survivors, and that feeling is being heightened during the pandemic. Coping mechanisms that victim survivors used previously to manage their triggers, such as connecting with others, may no longer be as effective given the current state of the world. Further, many of us are currently experiencing changes in our body’s systems. It is normal for people to be experiencing sleeping and eating changes, high levels of anxious energy coupled with total exhaustion, and more frequent dreaming and nightmares. While this may be the first time some people are experiencing this at such a heightened level, for victim survivors, this can be reminiscent of what their bodies and minds endured in the early stages of recovering from sexual violence.
Medical care for victim survivors
Medical care for victim survivors are being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis as well. Forensic exams are examinations provided to sexual assault victim survivors to gather evidene that is suitable for use in court. These exams typically need to be conducted within 72 hours of the assault, as physical evidence is typically gone after this time period. 85% of forensic nursing programs in the United States operate out of emergency departments, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). These emergency departments have noticed a significant decrease in the volume of patients seeking non-COVID related care. The IAFN conducted a survey that found that 4 out of 5 programs have noticed a decrease in the number of patients coming in, with almost all of them describing it as a “noticeable decrease”. This could largely be a result of victim survivors fearing infection if they enter an emergency department or hospital. Under normal circumstances, forensic exams can take 4 hours or longer to complete, so it is not surprising that a victim survivor may feel hesitant to be in a hospital for that long. They may also be impacted by the social messaging we are experiencing right now that encourages people to make sacrifices for the greater good, such as avoiding entering hospitals and burdening an already overwhelmed healthcare system. Even if a victim survivor does decide to enter a hospital, the experience is changed. For a while during the pandemic, trained victim advocates were not allowed to accompany the victim survivor to the exam, leaving them alone during possibly one of the most traumatic times in their lives.
As mentioned previously, prior coping skills that a victim survivor might have engaged previously may no longer be as effective. It is important to develop new coping skills and new routines given the circumstances of the pandemic. Here are some ideas:
- The first part of recovering after a traumatic event is to calm
the body and the activation of the nervous system. To accomplish
this, try some of the following techniques:
- Breathe mindfully: place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, and do 4 second inhales, a 4 second pause, and then a 4 second exhale. Set a timer for a minute or two and do nothing but mindfully breathe
- Low intensity exercise: high intensity workouts can exacerbate your nervous system while it is working hard to regulate itself. Therefore, workouts like yoga, swimming, pilates, or walking that won’t raise your heart rate too high are a great option for bringing your body some calm. Bonus points if you can be outside while doing this!
- Make sure you’ve eaten: It can be easy to forget to check in with your physical needs, so take a minute to check in with your body and assess whether you’ve eaten enough or drank enough water.
- Trauma informed yoga: This can be a great way to bring your body some calm without raising your heart rate. If you are interested, check out the trauma informed yoga CWGE is putting on in collaboration with RecWell for Sexual Assault Awareness Month!
- After calming down your body, victim survivors may still
experience racing thoughts or triggers. Here are some suggestions
for how to bring your mind some relief after you’ve done so for your
- Journal: in documenting your thoughts, you may want to acknowledge that you are reliving memories of the trauma. Try asking “when did I know I was safe after that happened?” Gently move your thoughts to when you knew you were safe, rather than the traumatic event itself. Continue asking yourself what or who has made you feel safe since then? Let the prompt take you where you need to go
- Reach out to a safe person: reach out to someone who you feel safe with and supported by. Send a text, have a video chat, phone call, or socially distanced meet up.
- Watch a comforting show: Watching a show, especially one you’ve seen before, can bring a sense of comfort and predictability to a time that feels very unstable and unpredictable. Cuddle up with a blanket, a furry friend if you have one, and indulge in some Netflix!
- Say affirmations aloud: affirmations can be a powerful and grounding tool for when you are struggling. Cassandra Corrado has some wonderful affirmations specifically tailored to victim survivors on their website.
If you are interested in hearing more about this topic and diving deeper into the connection between COVID-19 and victim survivors, join the Center for Women and Gender Equity on April 7th at 4:00pm. Register for the event using the following link. Check out the Center for Women and Gender Equity’s other events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month as well. See you there!
Take care of yourself, Lakers!
By: Ariana Deherder, Violence Prevention Student Assistant