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!
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
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
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
Can I have sex on my period? It’s a question that many people with vaginas have every month, and the answer is yes, you can! For the majority of people, having sex on your period is perfectly normal and healthy. It may seem “dirty” or dangerous to some, because period sex has been viewed as taboo for centuries. But, if you are comfortable, period sex can be mentally and physically beneficial.
Benefits of Period Sex
There are actually more added advantages of having sex while menstruating than you might think. If you’re willing to deal with the mess, you might experience some, or all, of the following benefits:
- Period cramp relief: menstrual cramps result from contractions of the uterus, and after an orgasm, those muscles relax to relieve the pain.
- Headache and migraine relief: during an orgasm, feel-good chemicals called endorphins rush through your brain, reducing your perception of pain. One orgasm could provide faster relief than an IV of morphine!
- Natural lube: the blood from your menstrual cycle can act as a natural lubricant during vaginal intercourse.
- Shorter periods: the intense uterine contraction that happens during an orgasm actually pushes out the uterine contents, possibly resulting in a shorter period.
- Increased sex drive: due to fluctuating hormones, your libido and desire can increase dramatically with the increase of estrogen in your system.
In the mood, but worried about the mess?
When it comes to period sex, there’s not really any way to keep things totally clean. To make cleaning up as easy as possible, have plenty of tissues and towels on hand. Things are going to get messy, so try placing a towel underneath you and your partner to save your sheets and mattress. Tissues are also nice to help with cleaning up after the deed is done. Also, you could try having sex on a “lighter” day of your period to reduce the mess.
Here are some other tips to help you have better period sex:
- Communication is key! Having an open and clear communication with your partner(s) regarding what you are comfortable doing is really important. Everyone should be on board.
- For anyone who has tested positive for HIV, hepatitis, or any other sexually transmitted infection, the likelihood of transmitting a bloodborne illness may be increased due to the presence of period blood. Using a barrier method of contraception is an effective way to prevent the spread of any STI.
- While it is less likely, getting pregnant is still a possibility during your period. As always, if you are trying to prevent pregnancy, barrier methods and birth control are suggested.
- If you use tampons or menstrual cups during your periods, it is strongly advised that you remove them before penetrative sex to prevent any injury or displacement of the items in the vagina.
For some people, having sex on your period can be such a liberating experience and a way to express your own body positivity in a fun way with your partner(s). But sometimes, you don’t want to deal with a mess, or maybe you are simply uncomfortable with it. No matter the reason, not wanting to have period sex is totally valid as well. 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!
By: Camryn Lane and Sonal Subhash Mandale, WIT Peer Educators
Part of our Sex-Ed Series
Implants and patches and pills, OH MY! Oh, the wondrous world of birth control. With all the misconceptions, expectations, and varieties, getting the DL on birth control can be difficult on your own. Sadly, you can’t click your heels three times and magically have the perfect birth control method appear- trust me I’ve tried. But, with a little research, an idea of what you want, and an important chat with a healthcare provider, navigating the yellow brick road of birth control can be easy!
Types of Birth Control Methods
Birth control is any method, medicine or device, used to prevent pregnancy, regulate the menstrual cycle, and balance hormones. Birth control methods vary greatly, including 12 different types in total. With so much variety, there is a type for every person and every lifestyle. In this blog, we will go over the most common types of birth control. Whether you’re seriously looking into birth control or are just curious, this post is for you.
- Perfect use: 99% effective
- Typical use: 91% effective
Oral birth control, or the pill, is a contraceptive pill that contains hormones that stop ovulation. Since the hormones stop the ovulation, there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize. There are many different brands of birth control, each one affecting the body a bit differently. In order to do its job successfully, the pill is prescribed to be taken once a day. This can be a pretty big lifestyle change for some people, but there are tips and tricks to help you remember to take your pill: Download a birth control reminder app/set an alarm on your phone, keep your BC pills in a place you see them often (like next to your toothbrush, keys, or in your bag/backpack), or ask friends/partners/family to help keep you on track with taking your pill. Keeping an open conversation with your healthcare provider will make sure your birth control needs are being met.
- Perfect and typical use: 99% effective
The implant is a rod inserted into the upper arm (by a healthcare provider) to prevent pregnancy. The rod releases progestin, which is a hormone that stops the ovaries from releasing eggs. The most common side effect of the implant is irregular bleeding, especially during the first 6-12 months after the implant is inserted. This form of birth control lasts up to four years, which is super convenient and perfect for someone with a busier lifestyle!
- Perfect use: 99.7% effective
- Typical use: 93% effective
The Patch is basically what it sounds like, a patch, similar to a bandaid or sticker material. The patch has hormones on it that enter the bloodstream from the skin. Similarly to the implant and pill, the hormones in the patch stop the ovaries from releasing the egg, as well as strengthen the cervical mucus (which helps block sperm even more). It is important to note that there is a higher likelihood of blood clots while using the patch, so make sure to consider this when talking with a healthcare provider. The patch is applied weekly to the skin anywhere you want, except for the breasts. Similarly to the pill, you wear the patch for 3 weeks on, 1 week off “your period.” (Read more about how withdrawal bleeding on hormonal birth control is different than on a regular menstrual period.) You can also wear the patch four weeks a month, which skips your “period” for that month. Before doing this, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider.
- Perfect use: 99.4-99.9% effective
- Typical use: 99.2-99.9% effective
An IUD is a little T shaped device, about the size of a quarter, that is inserted into the uterus (by a healthcare provider). The IUD is available in two different forms: hormonal and non-hormonal. The hormonal IUD keeps the ovaries from releasing the egg, while the non-hormonal IUD (made of copper) changes the way sperm cells swim, so they cannot reach the egg; sperm and copper do not like each other! The hormonal IUD commonly treats severe cramps during your period and lightens your period significantly, which is always a plus! Depending on your choice of IUD, it can last from 3-10 years.
The Vaginal Ring
- Perfect use: 99.7% effective
- Typical use: 93% effective
The vaginal ring is a malleable, latex free, plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month for 3 weeks at a time. The ring contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone that keep the ovaries from releasing the egg. Similarly to other hormonal methods, it also thickens the cervical mucus to further protect the uterus from sperm. The vaginal ring also can ease menstrual cramps and lighten your period. Since the vaginal ring has less hormones than other hormonal options (like the pill and patch), side effects tend to be lower.
- Perfect use: 99.8% effective
- Typical use: 96% effective
The birth control shot is basically an injection of the hormone progestin by a doctor or healthcare professional. It can be given in the arm or the hip, whatever is more comfortable for you. The hormones in the shot keep the ovaries from releasing the egg, but also have positive impacts on the menstrual cycle. The shot can help lessen cramps and lead to lighter periods.
- Perfect use: 98% effective
- Typical use: 87% effective
Condoms (external and internal) are the only form of birth control that can prevent STDs! Which is VERY important! For all things condoms, visit our Sex Ed Series post on them!
- Perfect use: 96% effective
- Typical use: 80% effective
The withdrawal or “pull out” method is basically how it sounds; the person with the penis pulls out of the vagina before they ejaculate. This is the oldest trick in the book. It’s free, but it's not the most effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy. (This method does not prevent STDs, so getting tested regularly is important.) You or your partner(s) would have to be a pulling out pro, since this method involves total body awareness, which can be pretty hard to accomplish.
- Perfect use: 85% effective
- Typical use: 75% effective
An emergency contraceptive is a form of birth control used after unprotected sex. This form of BC is commonly found in an oral pill, well known as “the morning after pill.” It can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex, but this form of contraceotive works best the sooner you take it. It is important to note, if you weigh more than 195 pounds, the pill may not work as well. It is great to have this option as an emergency, but using birth control before engaging in sex (like an oral birth control) or during sexual activity (by using condoms) is the best way to prevent pregnancy.
How to Find What’s Best For You
Before you take the BC journey, it is important to ask yourself a few questions. Knowing yourself, your lifestyle, and your BC goals will guide you when searching for the best birth control method. If you can, grab a pen/pencil and paper!
- What is your lifestyle? Do you have time for an everyday form of birth control? Would a less frequent method be best for you? Grab a pen and paper and write down your everyday schedule. What birth control method fits it best?
- What are you looking for? Pregnancy prevention, less painful period cramps, hormonal balance, lighter menstrual flow, reduced acne, non-hormonal method? Write which ones you are looking for down.
- Does your birth control choice affect your partner(s)? It can. It is important to keep an open communication with your partner(s) if you are planning on adding birth control or changing yours up. Many people have latex allergies, reactions to hormones like estrogen and progestin, or ingredients like dyes inside oral contraceptives. Remember, it is your body! Do what is best for you, but if your birth control needs include a partner, make sure to talk with them!
- Blood clots are more common (particularly for those over 35, or people who smoke) when taking birth control, due to the higher level of estrogen in hormonal contraceptives. It is very important to acknowledge this when deciding on a method. Do you smoke? Are you over 35 years old? Do you have a family history of blood clots? If you can, talk to family and/or do some quick research on clotting. Make sure you write down any questions or concerns you can bring up to a healthcare professional.
- For more info about birth control effects on cisgender and trans men take a look at this article.
Now, you've got all your birth control goals! This piece of paper is a great way to open communication with your doctor/healthcare provider if you don’t know where to start, since all your wants, needs, questions, and concerns are written down.
Now it is time to talk to a healthcare provider. This can be pretty daunting; we aren’t in Kansas anymore… But do not fret! Healthcare professionals are here to support you and should have your best interest. When you go in for a birth control consultation, make sure to voice your birth control goals: wants, needs, questions, and concerns. From there, you and the healthcare provider will work together to get you the best birth control for you.
Now, how do you pay for birth control? With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most health insurance companies have been required to cover birth control at no copay in their plans. If you are on your parent’s insurance, you can call the insurance company and ask them about what happens after you make an appointment (ie. do they send an explanation of benefits that will show the service?). You can also ask your healthcare provider about billing for health insurance. They have lots of experience with this exact thing! You can also choose to not use your health insurance, it will likely cost between $15 and $50 a month.
Birth Control Break-Down
Whew! The wondrous world of birth control can be a lot. Thankfully, by breaking it down, finding your birth control goals, and having open conversations with your partner(s) and healthcare providers, it can be much more simple. In any journey, there will always be bumps in the road. Whether it was flying monkeys, giant ditches, a roaring river, or a deadly poppy field, Dorothy had her friends to get her through it. The GVSU Wellness Information Team (WIT) is here for you too! We are not known for our poppy field maintenance or flying monkey wrangling, but if you have any questions, comments, or concerns please reach out to us using Ask WIT. For common questions on birth control, visit our website.
By: Annie Seeber, WIT Peer Educator
Part of our Sex Ed Series
Communication is the basic foundation on which healthy sexual relationships are built upon. So what does communication and consent look like?
What is Consent?
Consent in a sexual relationship means actively agreeing to be sexual (whatever that means to you) with someone, and it goes both ways. It is an agreement that is willfully given without any external pressure or factors, and should be communicated freely, clearly and coherently. An absence of a ‘no’ is not a ‘yes’. It’s important to note that consent is not just found in sexual relationships, either. Getting consent can happen in lots of areas of your life, like not sharing other people’s personal information without their permission, not touching people without asking, and not stepping over people’s boundaries.
Importance of Consent in Sexual Relationships
According to the CDC, “any type of sexual activity without consent is sexual assault/rape, and is punishable by law”. A sexual activity is called sexual violence when consent is not obtained/freely given. According to the surveillance data by the CDC, more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime
For a sexual activity to be called as consensual, all parties must agree to sex willingly, every single time. If you want to get sexual with someone, it is important for you to know if the other person wants that too. Consent helps to set your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner(s), and making sure that everyone is on the same page for any sexual activities that may occur. Consent is an ongoing process – you might agree to sex or trying something new earlier on and then change your mind – everyone has the right to do this.
The American Sexual Health Association describes that consent does not always have to be verbal, but discussing boundaries, expectations, and consent between participants at each sexual encounter is the best way to avoid confusion and respect boundaries.
Age and Consent
The minimum age at which a person can give consent for sexual activity legally is known as the age of consent. According to the Michigan State law, the legal age at which a person can consent to sexual activity is 16 years of age. It’s important to know the legal age to consent, because the consensual age and laws vary in different parts of the United States and different countries. Having sex with someone who is underage (younger than the legal age) is punishable by law.
Planned Parenthood uses FRIES to explain CONSENT!
- Freely given - Giving or getting sexual consent should be a choice which is made without pressure, manipulation, and influence (drugs, alcohol, person). Asking for consent over and over until they give the answer you want is not considered as freely given.
- Reversible - Anyone can take back their given consent at any time.
- Informed - In order for someone to consent to sex, each participant must be informed and say yes to each sexual act that is performed. Sharing your STD status with your partner(s) is also a part of informed consent.
- Enthusiastic - Consent is given not only because a person wants to participate in the sexual activity, but is also excited to participate.
- Specific - Saying yes to a particular sexual activity gives you the consent for only that specific sexual act. Indulging in any other sexual activity will require consent again. For example, consent for kissing is not consent for sex.
Check out the GVSU Center for Women and Gender Equity’s FRIES video for more!
According to the Office of Women’s Health, sexual coercion “is an unwanted sexual activity that occurs when someone is pressured, threatened, tricked or forced in a non-physical way to participate in a sexual-activity.” It can be verbal or/and emotional in the form of a statement that makes one feel pressured, guilty, shameful, or forced through subtle actions.
Examples of Sexual Coercion include:
- “If you really loved me, you’d do it.”
- “Come on; it’s my birthday.
- “Everyone thinks we already have, so you might as well.”
- “Here, have another drink. It will loosen you up.”
- “You know I have a lot of connections.”
Check out the federal Office of Women's Health's Sexual Coercion page to learn more about it.
Communication and Sex
Communication is the key to many problems, and so it is for a healthy, consensual, and pleasurable sex. Communication is the basic foundation to having a good sexual experience for yourself and your partner(s). It’s important to not only communicate with your partner(s) about your sexual needs, but also about your limitations.
Moreover, if you or a partner is reluctant about intensifying sexual encounters, then one should have a conversation and communicate about your comfort levels before advancing. It is important to remember the significance of checking in with your partner(s) during sexual experiences to make sure they are still okay with everything.
Here are some ways you can ask for consent:
- “Is doing ____ okay?
- “Does this feel okay?”
- “Is it okay if I do ___?”
Embrace Your Awkwards
Giving consent and getting consent may feel a bit awkward for some people, but even then it is important to communicate clearly in order to have healthy and consensual sexual relationships, and hence we say: embrace your awkwards!
Some of the examples of awkward sexual conversations are as follows,
- Want to try something new in bed? Try: Hey, I have been thinking, there’s this new thing I want to try. Do you want me to explain more? Would you be interested in trying something new? I can show you what I mean if you want. If you don’t want to that’s ok, too. Is there anything you want to try?
- Want your partner(s) to get STI tested? Try making it an experience for both of you instead of just asking your partner to do it: Hey, I have heard that many STIs don’t have any symptoms and that 1 in 2 sexually active young people get an STI before the age of 25. I was thinking that maybe we could get an STI test together.
- Finding sexual activity uncomfortable and want to try lube? Try: I love what we’re doing but I think that lube might make it even better. Would you mind if we use lubrication? I have some here.
Consent and conversations may be awkward and uncomfortable to some, but ultimately, sex should be a positive and pleasurable experience for everyone and communication can help make that happen!
By: Sonal Subhash Mandale, WIT Peer Educator
Part of our Sex Ed Series
Dyspareunia: Painful Intercourse
Have you ever experienced pain while having sex? Experiencing cramping or pain during arousal, sex or orgasm is not uncommon, especially for folks with vulvas. About 75% of women have painful intercourse at some point in their lives, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The vulva and vagina are part of the binary female, or XX-chromosome anatomy. The penis is part of the binary male, or XY-chromosome anatomy. It is important to keep in mind that people can identify differently than their physical genitalia and a person’s body may not necessarily match their gender identity.
Having painful intercourse is called dyspareunia, and it is much more common than you might think. Although the amount of research on the topic might lead one to believe otherwise, experiencing discomfort or pain can be quite common during sexual activities and is often very easily identified and resolved.
Pain for vulva owners
For vulva owners pain with sex can be experienced in the pelvic floor, which is the group of muscles surrounding and cupping the bladder, uterus, bowels, and rectum. These muscles are located in the pelvis and run from the tailbone to the pubic bone, as well as stretching from side to side of the hips. They play a large role in sexual function and sensation, as one of the main jobs of these muscles is to control abdominal pressure when the vagina and pelvis are straining downwards, a common occurrence during sex and masturbation. During orgasm or heightened arousal, the pelvic floor muscles contract. Pain or cramping can be caused due to these muscles cramping, similar to their reaction during the menstrual cycle. Tense muscles can lead to pain regardless of the size or location of those muscles. If you tighten or strain a group of muscles for an extended period of time, there is always a chance for those muscles to react (Pelvic Pain).
Other causes of dyspareunia include vaginal dryness, a yeast infection or UTI (urinary tract infection), STIs, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Vaginal dryness can stem from stress, fear, or a naturally lower level of produced vagainal fluids. To combat this, remember to use plenty of lubricant and communicate with yourself and your partner(s) before engaging in sex. Yeast infections and UTIs can be common in vulva owners as they result from hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, stress, and buildup of bacteria. These can be quickly taken care of with antibiotics or over-the-counter medicine. IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive/intestinal condition whose cause is unknown and whose treatments range from diets to home remedies to various medications. However in relation to pain with sexual activities, the act of penetrative sex can jostle the intestines within the pelvis and cause irritation or discomfort.
STIs can also be the source of pain or irritation during sex as they can cause lower abdominal pain, burning sensations, pain or bleeding during penetration, itching, and genital sores or warts. However the most common symptom of an STI is no symptom, which is why regular testing is important. To protect yourself and your partner(s) from STIs, use barrier methods like external or internal condoms, or dental dams.
Pain for penis owners
There are many different reasons why someone with a penis may experience pain or discomfort during sexual activities (Penis Pain?). The most common reasons include excessive friction, prostatitis, an STI, or a UTI (urinary tract infection). Excessive friction is usually caused by particularly rough sex and/or sex without enough lubrication, as this can cause chafing. This usually makes the penis feel sore afterwards, and can also cause discoloration. Prostatitis is the inflammation of the prostate, which can cause pain in the penis particularly after ejaculation. This can be caused by bacterial infection, pelvic nerve damage, or a previous UTI and is usually checked by a prostate exam. An uncomfortable or painful sexual experience could also indicate a possible STI, so it is always best to get yourself regularly checked for STIs if you are sexually active. Finally, UTIs could also be the the cause for pain during sex. UTIs occur when bacteria from the digestive system infects the urinary tract, which in penis owners is the same tract that semen flows through during ejaculation. UTIs can also cause irritation or inflammation of the penis, so pain during sexual activities can also be an indicator of a separate urinary problem.
It should be noted that causes of pain for penis owners tend to be less chronic than causes of pain for vulva owners. However this doesn’t mean that penis owners should worry, or care, less about their bodies, or that if they experience pain during sex they should assume it’s less of a problem and it it will go away on its own. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and it is your responsibility to listen to your body’s signals and take care of it.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If the pain you experience is ongoing and a frequent occurrence during sex or masturbation, most healthcare professionals recommend making an appointment with a doctor or gynecologist (for vulva owners). Otherwise, a one-time event of pain or discomfort is said to not be indicative of any larger problem and is most likely related more to circumstantial factors. If you do make an appointment with your doctor and they recommend treatment, treatments often include: pelvic floor therapy, kegels exercises, and medication for vulva owners, and antibiotics, topical medication, or temporary abstinence for penis owners. Working with a sex therapist is sometimes utilized for people whose pain is thought to be psychosomatic. Internalized shame can often lead to people experiencing dyspareunia due to being raised in a sex-negative household or societal pressures and stigma around masturbation, premarital sex, or sexual orientation (Recovering From Sexual Shame).
Don’t Be Afraid
This is not to say that you should be afraid of engaging in sex or masturbation if you want to do so. Every person’s body is different and some people may never experience pain or discomfort with sex or arousal. However, for those that do, there are lots of ways to lessen and overcome that pain. For those with vulvas, the pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened through exercises known as kegels, where one learns how to locate and then relax specific muscles in their pelvis. For people with penises, ensure that generous lubrication is being used and the penis is not being thrusted or bent at uncomfortable angles or speeds. Alternatively, an STI test and gynecological or prostate exam may be conducted to rule out any diseases, bacteria or infection.
While experiencing pain during sex can cause a person to become nervous and fearful of sex and masturbation, know that it is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about and that for most people it is not a lifelong concern or barrier (Demystifying Painful Intercourse). However, we still need to be mindful of others’ mental health and understand how deeply an inability to be intimate with yourself or others can relate to a person’s sense of self. It can lead a person to believe that they are not normal, possibly causing sadness, grief, distress, and shame. Be mindful of those around you and remember that everybody has different boundaries, abilities, and struggles.
By: Beck Lukins, WIT Peer Educator