Q&A: Sexual Debut + Conservative Background = Help!

I’m a 20-something penis-owner who hasn’t yet made his sexual debut. I grew up in an environment that was pretty conservative and repressive, so issues around sexuality were taboo. I’ve since made a conscious effort to fight this conditioning, but I still feel somewhat uncomfortable around sex. Do you have any resources you would suggest to someone who wants to learn more – how to do it, how to reach orgasm, how to help partners reach orgasm, how to do sex in context of healthy relationships?

Hey Anon! Thanks for reaching out!

I made my sexual debut with a partner at 19, so my first comment would be don’t stress about the age bit (if that was even a concern in the first place). Before my first partner, though, I had fulfilling sexual experiences with myself, so I’d like to highlight the positives that solo-play can bring about. Knowing more about one’s own body—how it feels, how it responds, what things are good/bad—can help immensely when it comes to reaching orgasm with a partner, or even just having a discussion about it. (The second piece is all about communication, but I’ll get to that later). I also think that as a society, we should start acknowledging that solo sexuality can still be gratifying for those who practice it, and it’s not like a person’s “sex-life” begins once another person pops into the picture…but anyway.

As someone who grew up under the Jehova’s Witnesses practice (read: a SUPER conservative Christian denomination), I was educated in the ways of “sex before marriage is wrong,” “homosexuality is a sin,” and all that came with that. I even overheard a conversation where it was said that “masturbation is just like losing your virginity—you are no longer pure after that.” (Oops. I was already touching myself by then, so that was awkward.) Somehow, though, I didn’t end up completely shame- and guilt-ridden the rest of my life. I also know a lot of folks who were raised in very conservative families and came out the other end feeling various degrees of sexual empowerment, so I’m sure you can achieve that as well. Hopefully the following resources can help!

The first place I’d like to point you toward would be the website for one of the places where I work: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. That is just CHOCK full of information (check out the Pleasure tab, too, which has info about positive porn, lubricants, toys, and more). Within that site/organization, specifically, I’d say check out the Q&A section here. It’s all questions people have submitted, and I think some of them might be helpful in your situation. Here are the main ones:

  1. Climaxing is not always the goal in sexual interactions, but when it is, you want to make sure it happens! So what to do when you have difficulty? This Q&A answers just that for penis-owners.
  2. On that note, not all people with penises masturbate in the same ways or want their penises touched in the same styles! Here are some tips/tricks for solo stimulation that can also be employed in various ways during sex with partners.
  3. A big question (pardon the pun) that many penis-owners have is around penis size and its impact on sex/relationships. That gets addressed here!
  4. In terms of sexual debut and just general sex-having, anal sex might be on the menu at some point, so it’s important to learn about that and prepare beforehand before just soldiering on, especially if you don’t have lube on hand.
  5. Something that might also help is reading about sex-positive spaces and being around sex-positive people, whose perspective on sex (ideally) could balance/counterpoint your conditioning. However, for someone from a conservative background, entering such a space could be weird or even super uncomfortable, so here are some tips on being more comfortable in sex-positive spaces, and even how to FIND those spaces in the first place.
  6. How do I get my partner to be more sexually adventurous? – This one could help you “talk to yourself” or even articulate things to a partner if you discover you have wishes that might be a bit outside of the mainstream.
  7. If you’re interested in vibrators and toys, this is a good intro for when you’re considering/picking something out.
  8. Someone wrote us because they had strong feelings to their partner’s past experiences, and felt insecure when comparing themselves to their partners’ past lovers. We gave some advice about how to deal with that and communicate those feelings. As someone who might make a sexual debut with another person who has already had partners before, this could be helpful to you.
  9. Sometimes penis-owners lose their erections and wonder why that happened. There are many reasons, and though this Q&A was directed at a person whose partner was the penis-owner, I think it’s important for everyone to read.

My second big resource would be Charlie Glickman’s work, and specifically, the “shame” tag on his prolific blog. He writes a lot about shame and the related situations/feelings, as well as how to recognize, deal with, and overcome them. He has many years in the sexuality education field, and his dissertation was all about sexuality and shame, so he knows what he’s talking about ten times over.

The healthy relationship part of your question I could write about forever and still have things to say, so I’m going to write a separate entry about it in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Reverse Racism DOES NOT EXIST

REASON 1: 
If you ascribe to the simplest and broadest definition of racism, which means “discrimination on the basis of race,” THERE IS NO WAY FOR IT TO GO IN “REVERSE.” Racism doesn’t mean “hating on minorities”–it means “hating on ANYONE because of their race.” Thus, “reverse racism” is a ridiculous concept/idea because any instance of racial discrimination would just be racism.

REASON 2: 
If you ascribe to the definition of racism as institutionalized discrimination/oppression, “reverse racism” (which again, is a term that does NOT MAKE SENSE ANYWAY, AHHHH) doesn’t exist. Discriminatory actions can be perpetrated by anyone, but racism needs the institutional backing. Racism is not a one-off moment of discrimination; it is a cycle, a web of power and structures that affirm one group’s dominance over another. Racism has deep roots and a wide reach.

At the end of the day, a discriminatory action can stay encased in that moment where it happened, or it can reverberate throughout a person’s life and be repeated over and over.

Of course, racism and discrimination don’t play out in the same ways in every person’s life because their other circumstances and identities affect their experiences. Still, the point is that if you can leave your moment of experiencing racialized discrimination relatively unscathed and without having great odds that it will be repeated, it was PROBABLY NOT RACISM. If you leave that moment and go back to a place where you are inherently valued more because of your race, where systems in place privilege you, IT WAS NOT RACISM because you live in a society that has the scales tipped in your favor on the axis of race.

Getting Into BDSM: Questions from a Closeted Kinkster

Header image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid — Post last updated on 7/8/15

hi there, i saw you on twitter and noticed yr going to geeky kink! i’m a closeted young(ish) kinkster who would love to be the type that goes to cons, has play partners, etc, but doesn’t know anyone or have any connections. do you have any resources or tips? what was yr first bdsm con like? were you intimidated? do you have a kink coming out story? feel free to neglect any of my questions if they’re too prying.

The Resource Questions

Online Community and Building Networks:

Check out Fetlife—which is like a kinky Facebook, sort of. On there, be active on discussion boards for things that call your attention [though you should be aware that Fetlife can also be a hot mess, and that its founder is not a commendable dude]. This is a great place to find kink-related event listings, too! More on that later.

On Twitter, find folks that are awesome and engage with them. You can start by following people’s curated lists, like these and these, and by searching relevant hashtags.

Tumblr, as a platform, is also fantastic. Find BDSM bloggers, follow kink-related tags, reblog some things you find hot and start making connections with other people that share those tastes/interests! I’m especially fond of Happy BDSM and Perverts of Color, two Tumblrs that defy the stereotypical images of kink. Those online friendships can sometimes translate into in-person friendships or even relationships, too. Speaking for myself, my primary partner and I started talking through OKCupid. Many of the people I smooch and/or am GOOD friends with right now, I met online first through various means.

Joining pre-existing networks of kinksters makes your circles grow exponentially. If you’re in college/that demographic, there are some colleges with BDSM groups, most notably Columbia with Conversio Virium, and locally to Rhode Island, College Hill Kink. Beyond the college setting, though, there are “munches” where kinksters gather to chat and eat at places like food courts in a low-pressure environment. These are usually organized by a group, like BTNG—Boston’s Young and Kinky. [Pro-Tip: If you’re under 35, specifically looking for “TNG” groups—The Next Generation—can be fabulous so you’re not awkwardly the only 19 year-old in a sea of 40-somethings.]

Events And Dungeons:

Go to events, definitely, if you feel comfortable (or ok) doing so. The Internet is awesome, but in-person interactions can also be very important, especially if you want to engage in play and, say, need specialized gear or other humans to help. There are a wide variety of cons (some that allow play, some that don’t) for different demographics (trans folks, queer women, youngsters, yada yada) and different proclivities (e.g. rope cons, high-protocol cons, etc.). You can search for them, and here’s where Fetlife also comes in handy.  A safe way of dipping your toes in might be to go to conferences that don’t allow play (e.g. Fetish Fair Fleamarket, which is also pretty cheap) or going to conferences with curious friends and sticking together. Generally, though, here are some names of cons/events you could check out [including them here doesn’t mean I’ve attended or personally endorse them]:

take Classes / Learn Some Things:

The best book for newbies that I’ve found so far? Playing Well With Others  by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams. It’s a primer on everything you need to know as a new kinkster, or just someone curious about breaking into “The Scene.”

Beyond official conferences, different organizations host parties and/or do classes too, and some of them are free and open to the public (e.g. New England Leather Alliance, New England Dungeon Society, The Society in CT, MOB New England, and those that tackle sexuality though not limited to BDSM/kink, like the San Francisco Center for Sex and Culture).

My ultimate favorite resource, though, is KinkAcademy.com: a treasure trove of information from a variety of different perspectives. Awesome multi-media education on-demand (by subscription). Totally worth it, and they have been very supportive of their educators and workers, so from an ethical standpoint, I love recommending them.

Final Words of Wisdom:

Don’t feel pressured to have 69 play partners and hundreds of toys. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s about satisfaction, not numbers. Similarly, it’s not about being on ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS EVARRRR, but being happy with the stuff you’re on and making the best use of them for your needs.

The Personal Questions

My First Con:

was the Fetish Fair Fleamarket in Providence back in 2009. Fun classes, cool fashion show, lots of people, vendors, the whole thing—but no public play, no dungeon. It was a “safe” con in that respect; no need to put myself out there (even though I would have done so if I’d had the chance). Didn’t feel intimidated,  but instead thought “holy shit, these are my people” when I walked in. Super happy to see so many kinksters in one place. It was joyous. Not everyone feels that way, though; some people are overwhelmed, intimidated, scared, nervous, and the list goes on. It’s about seeing what ways make you interact, but also feel comfortable. As of last year or so, the conference has moved venues and I haven’t attended for a while.

Coming Out:

I’m always coming out to new people! My favorite stories usually stem from trips in airports or on mass transit. Hilarious conversations usually ensue. One involved 2 drunk guys talking to my boss/colleague and I when we were in Florida for an adult novelties convention, and us showing them male chastity devices because they wanted to see toys and those were at the top of our bag. Perfect coincidence. On a more family-related level, I came out to my mother indirectly when she read my chat logs and some stuff in my journals when I was a teenager. I’ve come out to her again since, both directly (saying I’m into a variety of kink stuff) and indirectly (hello, bruising!). I’ve come out to friends, but usually without making a big kerfuffle about it because sexuality is such a huge part of my life in general, that it’s not super surprising or unheard of in the circles that I travel.

My Kinky Root:

The first big inklings came when I was 14 and I had this kind of random role-play via chat with a guy (he was 18) from an art-site I frequented (deviantART). It started out pretty mellow, and then it turned into this sexualized, chatty but violent thing. I don’t even know. It was bizarre. I was confused and turned on and mildly horrified…and that began my first online dating situation. Looking back on it, that was such a strange time in my life…? Anyway. The other big milestone was watching Secretary. Classic. I have SO many fond memories of that movie (and making my MSN nickname—back when MSN Messenger was  A Thing—basically “Aida loves tree trunks” due to a scene in the film). It’s kind of become code for kinky. If someone tells me they like that movie, it’s usually a sign that they’re not the most vanilla of people. NOT always, but often. For some people, it’s like flagging—the hanky code, but with movie choices.

Get To Know Your Body: Part II (How to be a Better Patient)

As a follow-up from my last article, discussing the importance of knowing one’s body and being more educated regarding health, here I bring you a list of tips and advice regarding how to interact with the medical establishment as it relates to one’s own body/health:

Follow doctor’s orders, but if you choose to disregard/modify them, make sure you’re taking informed risks. It’s foolish to assume all patients follow all directions ALL THE TIME. Assess your risks if you’re going to disregard a rule so you can make a truly informed opinion. Don’t believe everything you read online, though the ‘net can be a terrific resource. Trust articles in peer-reviewed journals more than random websites. To be a better consumer of information, you’ll need to up your media literacy skills (but that’s another post entirely). Regardless, as much as you can manage, follow your doctor’s orders!

Be honest with your practitioners. Don’t hide things from them because you’re ashamed or think they might judge you. Whatever the awkwardness, it’s more important to tell them the truth because that information is what will help them take care of you.

If you don’t like your doctor, get a new one. However, don’t confuse “don’t like because they’re incompetent or they make me uncomfortable” for “they sometimes tell me things I don’t want to hear and might be more strict than I want them to be.” Feel free, though, to shop around for a doctor that resonates with you, your personality, and your particular budget/insurance.

Don’t assume “no news is good news.” Doctor’s offices are often swamped, and it’s your responsibility to remember when to get (or at least ask for) your test results.

Before going in for a procedure, look online and talk to your doctor to learn what to expect. This is especially helpful when dealing with first time exams, particularly pelvic and prostate exams. It will help you know the timeline and what will happen, so it might help assuage stress. It can also help you catch if something’s missing! Did the doctor forget to give you something or do a certain procedure? Politely ask them about it, and why they chose not to do it. If you approach it tactfully and not in a condescending or impatient manner, it can be a way to show you’re invested in your health and have done your homework.

Give more information, rather than less. This doesn’t mean bore your doctor with the minutiae of your life, certainly, but that doctors sometimes need more information than we give them. If you think it MIGHT be related to your health, mention it just in case (for example, if you’re taking up a new intense sport, a friend passed away, you’re starting a new diet, etc.). You should also try to be concise, but not at the expense of important details. This is a process of trial and error, and the more you learn about how your body relates to your health and daily activities, the better equipped you’ll be to make these decisions about what’s relevant in the future.

Inspect your body and get in touch with it (literally and figuratively). I’m not saying you need massage oils, Celtic music, and a warm bath (though those can be lovely); I’m just saying pay attention to your body, feel it out, and look for changes. You can only tell when something is deviating from its normal state if you KNOW that normal state is in the first place. Don’t be afraid to touch yourself (again, literally and figuratively); consider it an investment in your health and future.

If you feel strange or develop a lump, a body of symptoms, pains, etc., WRITE IT DOWN. Keep a log of what you’re feeling and when it started, so when (and if) you have to talk to your doctor, you can give them a better picture of what’s going on and how long it has been a certain way.

Be potentially willing to educate your doctor. Though doctors receive a LOT of schooling, there’s a lot of information they still need. Especially when it comes to “alternative lifestyles” or structurally-oppressed groups/minorities, many doctors don’t have the skills and knowledge to treat them in sensitive, aware ways. Not everyone has the privilege/luxury to pick whatever doctor they want or see a doctor that fits their particular needs, so they’ll be in a position in which they need to deal with the hand they’re dealt and educate their practitioner. There are many online and print resources that you can make available to them, so you don’t have to harness all this knowledge on your own! It’s an unfortunate situation, especially for those who are usually placed in a position where they have to educate people around them regarding their identities/lifestyles, but until the structures that build these conditions are addressed and changed, it’s either a choice between educating a doctor or receiving sub-par and potentially inadequate care.

Be aware of language differences and particularly loaded terms. If a doctor asks if you’ve engaged in “risky behavior,” ask what they mean. If a doctor asks if you’ve “used protection during sex,” ask what they mean. These are vague questions loaded with assumptions and, not only is that problematic in itself, it can lead to misinterpreting the question and answering in a way that might sound/feel truthful, but doesn’t get at the meat of the discussion. Know that words you use might not be interpreted in the same way by doctors (especially when it comes to sexual health and sexual activities!).

Check on your family medical history. This is especially helpful when assessing risk factors and patterns of disease! If you are in touch with your biological parents or biological relatives, ask them for their medical history (or records, if they have them). If you’re not in touch with your biological family, start keeping records of your own; these can benefit potential future generations.

Voice your concerns and ask questions. Doctors aren’t mind-readers. If there’s something making you uncomfortable, tell your doctor. If you need to think about it and organize your thoughts beforehand, that’s fine, but make sure to let them know at SOME point. Like any other relationship, a doctor/patient one needs communication, especially because your health depends on it!

Remember what you discussed during the visit. Either ask them to write it down for you or bring a little notepad (or whatever writing device is useful for you). If you have issue with your sight or just prefer things that are audible, bring a small tape-recorder or something like it.

Educate yourself regarding STI-testing. Again, many doctors generally have a limited background in sexual health, so make sure to educate yourself, especially regarding new technologies, tests, and research. “Recommended” tests are based on statistics and population analyses regarding infection rates, but you should ask for tests based on your own sexual history and level of risk/concern, so look up information about those before going into the office. This is crucial for those who are non-monogamous (whether openly or clandestinely) and those who are LGBTQ, since doctors sometimes operate under a model that assumes heterosexuality and monogamy. As I mentioned earlier, language is also important, so make sure you and your provider are very clear about what you’re discussing (e.g. “sex” might mean “penis-in-vagina intercourse” to some people, while it may be a broader category for others).

More specifically, related to certain practices/tests:

  • Don’t go to the OBGYN while you’re menstruating. It makes it much harder and messier to do proper check-ups.
  • If you’re going to get a pap-smear, refrain from intercourse for at least 24 hours.
  • If you’re getting a physical, try to schedule it during NON-winter months, since by then, doctor’s offices are full of flu-ridden people. Read: they’re busier and you’re more likely to get sick, too.

Get To Know Your Body: Part I

No, really. Get to know it.

I feel everyone should be in touch with their body. Many individuals hand over their health to a practitioner and don’t really check to see what they’re being given and/or told (which can be a problem if the doctor filled out the wrong prescription or didn’t know something integral about the patient’s health that could affect their care). I find it terribly unfortunate that so many people don’t know what’s going on inside them and lay their lives fully in health-care providers’ hands. Not to say we shouldn’t trust doctors, but to trust them blindly is a mistake. Healthcare is a two-way street and I think patients definitely have responsibilities to ensure that they’re getting the best care possible, partially because they have insider knowledge about their bodies/ailments AND because doctors aren’t perfect (did you know many of them receive less than one week of sex-ed as part of their professional training regimen?).

Patients need to know their bodies to better assist clinicians in collecting data to inform decisions about how to proceed in a medical setting AND they also need to educate themselves about the medical processes that are affecting them or COULD affect them (due to risk level, heredity, etc.). However, while I feel it’s somewhat irresponsible to just go to a doctor without knowing anything about one’s body or the medical care one is receiving (or hopes to potentially receive), I must acknowledge that not everyone has access to this sort of information. Heck, not everyone has access to the conversations that would even bring up the need for this type of preparation, never mind the actual information that would aid in it! For that reason, we need to not only urge people to get to know their bodies, but help provide systems that encourage it. We need an approach that deals with the individual, but also the structural issues that create (or help) body shame/fear/ignorance flourish.

With that said, it’s my hope that by personally promoting body-knowledge in certain circles and classes, it will become a more normalized practice and thus spread. Furthermore, there are many different levels of knowledge and awareness about these issues, so while not everyone has to have a PhD, we should all strive to cover as many bases as we can with the backgrounds and life situations in which we are enmeshed.

But back to the point: know your body.

Why? If a patient is unaware of what standard procedures are, what to look for in a provider, how to recognize warning signs for specific illnesses, how could they advocate for themselves and ask for what they need? How could they tell if their doctor forgot something, or if their doctor is incompetent (or, vice-versa, amazing)?

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve gone through some interesting patient/doctor interactions and I’ve reaped the benefits of my preparation. For example, I went to the OB-GYN a few years back and she was very impressed by my knowledge concerning HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), Gardasil (an FDA-approved vaccine that protects against certain strains of HPV), blood-work, and urinalyses. She repeatedly said how amazed she was that I understood all these terms and knew what was going on. I explained that I like knowing what I put in my body and understanding the things I’m told, so whenever I get a lab result, vaccination, or prescription, I look up information about it. For example, when we did my check-up, I talked about how I’d had my Gardasil shots and so I felt I wasn’t super at risk for genital warts, but that I knew the vaccine only protected against certain strains–16, 18, 6, 11–though not all of them, BUT that 2 of those it covered were the ones that caused 90% of genital warts and the other 2 were the ones that caused 70% of cervical cancer. I also discussed that I was skeptical about having a UTI (which parts of my urinalysis seemed to point to) and we both concurred that it was probably just a contaminated sample, citing the number of bacteria and squamous epithelial cells as proof.

Because of this research and knowledge, I was able to ask things and explain some of my concerns while simultaneously pulling in facts to substantiate my questions and comments. I think this was the biggest thing for me, honestly; being informed helped me articulate better what I needed, thought, and was afraid of in a language that was meaningful and appropriate for the setting. Furthermore, it helped me realize when I was later dealing with an incompetent doctor!

Next: how to prepare to be a better-educated patient!

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part II

If you’ve read Part I, you’re already familiar with the idea that humans receive and express love and care through 5 main avenues: physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time. Once you’ve learned what those 5 “languages” are, you can figure out which languages YOU use to express and/or receive love. Then, when you know what your needs are, as well as your partner’s, you can begin to express your love in a fruitful way, and that’s what this article will cover. Remember: to show love, you must do it in a way to which your partner will be receptive! Showing love is not about doing what’s most comfortable for you, but what is most effective and loving for your partner!

Finally, maintaining a healthy & helpful cycle of check-ins to make sure all is running smoothly will guarantee that the love-train keeps chugging along during your relationship. At the end of the article, I’ll also address this.

Note: Though this article will center on romantic pairings, much of this advice can be tailored to ALL sorts of relationships (yes, even the platonic one you may have with your TA!).

Some Tips for Showing Love in All the Languages

Physical Touch

While I could talk about big bedroom moves, touch is oftentimes a much more subtle art; there can be lots of variety depending on what you want to express and to whom. For romantic partner, or even close friends: is there a specific body part that they’re self-conscious about? Sometimes expressing your appreciation for it through touch can work wonders (but be careful: sometimes self-consciousness runs too deep and a lot of attention can actually be harmful). Does your partner walk a lot? Offer them a foot-rub! If you’re in public and don’t want to get too affectionate, try placing a hand on the small of their back, locking pinkies, or brushing their shoulders as you pass them by. Holding hands can also be very powerful, especially as a means to show a variety of emotions, including concern and deep care. Experiment with a slew of affectionate gestures to keep your partner feeling loved in a lot of different situations! For non-romantic partners, pats on the back, firm handshakes, hugs, and other forms of contact can keep them feeling appreciated.

Quality Time

First of all, turn off your phone (or at LEAST set it on vibrate), step away from your computer/TV/electronic device, and focus on your partner. Give them your undivided attention. This is crucial for folks who need quality time. To ensure that this happens, planning weekly “date-nights” that you commit to can be helpful. These can range from all-day Saturday outings to Thursday-night home-cooked dinners, or even 1-hour lunch-breaks a few times a week; it’s up to you & your partner to decide how often and how long these blocks of quality time have to be. Lock these into your calendar and honor them; don’t just reschedule on a whim. Do activities that you both enjoy and allow you to spend time truly being present with each other (read: watching a movie probably rates lower on the scale than walking in the park and talking).

Gifts

Pay close attention to this person, and give them something based on your observations. Do they collect anything? Are they missing a vital rubber-ducky from their huge rubber-ducky collection? Are you on a trip and can you get them something cute from that location (bonus points if you can send it while you’re still on that trip!) that shows more thought than a mere t-shirt or shot-glass? Is there something from their childhood that you could base a gift on? (For example, I had a torrid love affair with a character from an obscure Disney movie and my partner got me a figurine of the character for my birthday, as well as the DVD of the flick for the holidays). Sometimes practical gifts can also be helpful, and they can conveniently straddle the line between gifts & acts of service!

Acts of Service

The magic words are usually “Let me do that for you.” Sneak a peek at your partner’s to-do list for house-chores and surprise them by completing one or more of them. Vacuuming the carpet? Check! Doing the dishes? Check! Watering the plants? Check! The best things are those that will ease their burden, so don’t waste time in helping them out with something that’s completely irrelevant (e.g. perhaps color-coordinating their closet, while cute, is not a huge priority). For college students, it can be something like going to get their mail, printing out their big final paper and delivering it to their professor’s campus box, getting them rolls of quarters for their laundry, taking out their trash, or printing their class readings for the week. With all of these things, though, make sure that your partner is okay with you doing them; while some folks appreciate service, there are certain tasks they want no one else to complete but them! If you don’t want to ask right before doing something, have a conversation about what TYPES of things they’re okay with you doing, so you have a general idea and can make calls based on that.

Words of Affirmation

Words don’t always have to be spoken! Doing the clichéd, but still adorable, post-it note message system can work wonders. You can put a spin on it by leaving them in unexpected places (inside sock drawers, on ceilings, in the fridge, in closets, in shoes) or by giving unexpected compliments (mentioning that you noticed how the freckles on their arm align perfectly to mimic the Big Dipper can show your attention to detail!). This also works well with folks with whom you don’t have a romantic relationship; sending a thank-you card in the mail in this digital age can give some folks the warm n’ fuzzies. Another cool (and potentially anonymous) way of showing you care could be by creating an “event” in this person’s calendar (be it paper-based or digital) to the effect of “National Celebrate How Awesome [Insert their name here] Is Day.” There’s also the tried & true method of simply verbalizing “I like/love/appreciate you!”

Keeping It All In Check

Dr. Chapman recommends doing regular “tank checks” throughout the week. By conceptualizing one’s feelings of being loved as liquid filling an imaginary tank, one can develop a vocabulary to describe feelings in a very concrete way. If one’s “love-tank” level is low, there’s a need to fill it up! Through this metaphor and through the practice of checking the “tanks” regularly, partners can develop a habit of communicating about how they’re feeling and what they need without resorting to passive-aggressive complaints or awkwardly worded pleas for attention.

A possible way to do this is to ask your partner “How is your love tank tonight?” If, on a scale from zero to ten (or whatever you devise), it is less than the maximum, ask them “What can I do to help fill it?” Then, follow through as best you can!

If yours is the tank that is feeling low and your partner hasn’t asked you about it, take initiative and bring it up. Let them know how you feel, and have some concrete ideas that they can grab onto so they can help make you feel better. You could say something like “Hey, my love tank is feeling a little empty right now. I think some cuddling would make it feel fuller. Could we snuggle and watch a movie after dinner or something?” Remember to be realistic, and always try to come up with a few options just in case one or more of them aren’t viable at the moment. Partners aren’t mind-readers, and holding them up to unrealistic and unexplained expectations will only be a disappointment for everyone involved.

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part I

Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel you’re giving someone gallons of affection…and they don’t seem to realize or appreciate it? Or worse: they complain that you’re not showing them enough love? Before cursing your communication stars or complaining that your partner just doesn’t “get it” and you couldn’t be MORE loving, consider the following: maybe you’re just not speaking the same language (love-language, that is).

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” there are five main “languages” in which people can receive and express care. When people’s languages for showing love are not compatible with the languages in which their partners receive love, all parties involved can feel at a loss. So how can you avoid having this happen? The first step is to learn what the love languages are! Then, you’ll be ready to analyze and figure out which ones are yours and which ones are your partner’s. (Stay tuned for part II where I’ll talk about how to show your love in fruitful ways and how to keep a relationship love-steady.)

The Five Love Languages

Physical Touch

This is perhaps one of the most well-known languages, one of the “oh, that’s obvious!” ones. It’s that attitude of “it’s obvious,” though, that can lead to miscommunication with partners; not everyone enjoys touch to the same degree! Touch can encompass a wide range of expressions, too, from sexual contact to a totally platonic holding of hands while walking down the street to grab dinner; it’s not just about the hot n’ heavy. Touch can also embody a wide range of emotions: concern, care, love, comfort, excitement, happiness, the list goes on. For people whose primary love language is touch, feeling physically/spatially distant from their partner can be torturous, as their connections thrive with proximity.

Quality Time

For folks who are into quality time, that usually means turning off all electronic devices and having their partner’s undivided attention. Chores, the day’s stresses, kids, friends, ringing telephones, dirty dishes–all of these should take a backseat for a while. Showing someone love in this fashion means making them feel special and taken care of, so make sure you eliminate all distractions and keep your attention focused on them. For that same reason, try your best to minimize the number of postponed dates or cancelled engagements with them, since those can be extra hurtful. Also, when having a conversation, no matter how trivial, it can feel distancing to have a partner constantly checking their email or texting, so please pocket your phone!

Gifts

This is not about being materialistic, money-hungry, or obsessed with accumulating things! For folks who are into receiving gifts as a love language, the important thing is the thought behind the gift–the effort and attention to detail, rather than the fact that they’re getting an object. Perfect gifts show their receiver that the giver knows them, is listening, and cares for them. For these folks, hastily-thought-up gifts, missed anniversary presents, and things of that nature can feel pretty terrible.

Acts of Service

Easing the burden on someone can be a truly meaningful act of love, and for those whose primary love language is “acts of service,” it’s one of the most meaningful of all. For those folks, something as seemingly “trivial” as having their laundry taken care of, or their dishes cleaned, can mean the world. Like with the language of receiving gifts, it’s less about the actual object or thing being done/given, but the emotion behind it. While the burden being eased is a big draw, the fact that someone is taking the time to do them a favor is what really sets this person’s heart aflutter. For that same reason, being flaky, lazy, unpredictable, and irresponsible when it comes to fulfilling obligations or doing tasks can really hurt and irritate your partner.

Words of Affirmation

For folks who are into words of affirmation, compliments can be everything. Kind words that show you appreciate them, that you’re listening, that you validate their feelings…all of these can work wonders. For that same reason, be very mindful when critiquing your partner; watch your language carefully so you don’t unintentionally hurt their feelings. This should be a general rule, of course, but for people who know their partners are particularly sensitive to words, this should be an even higher priority.

Figuring Out Your Love Languages

For how you express love, start off by asking yourself a few questions:

How do I usually express my love to others? When I want to show someone how much I value them, what do I immediately try to do? Does it vary depending on the person? What factors go into how I express my love? Does it vary when I’m in public versus when I’m in private?

For how you receive love, ask yourself the following:

When I feel unloved, what do I feel is missing? When I’ve been feeling unappreciated in the past, what have people done to cheer me up? In bad relationships, what do I usually complain about? What things have people done for me that have made me feel really good and appreciated?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how you usually express love and prefer to have love shown to you. Remember: they don’t have to be the same language (and they usually aren’t!).

Talking About The Taboo – Conference 10/10

Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health to hold its 2nd Annual Conference,
“Talking about the Taboo”.
Pawtucket, RI September 20th, 2010 –
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) will be holding its second annual conference titled “Talking about the Taboo: Discussing Difficult Issues in Human Sexuality” on October 10th at 1:00 pm at its location in the historic Grant building in downtown Pawtucket, RI. The CSPH is the first sexuality resource and information center on the East Coast.
What: This conference represents the outcome of a battle to open the CSPH dating back to September of 2009. The CSPH was originally denied permission to open after a controversial zoning decision made by the Pawtucket City council, stating that the Grant building was not zoned to allow businesses of and educational nature. After a media frenzy and intervention from the ACLU, the city reversed their decision and allowed the CSPH to open in February of the following year. The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will be the first legal event the CSPH will hold in Pawtucket.
Through this conference the CSPH will provide sexuality education to adults in a safe and open environment. By bringing together sexuality and the pleasure, education, advocacy and medical worlds, the CSPH will take subjects that are traditionally “taboo” and illuminate them, showing that exploring taboo topics is necessary for providing basic education, and can be discussed in thought-provoking ways.
When: October 10th, from 1:00pm-5:00pm.
Where: 250 Main Street, The Grant Building, Pawtucket, RI 02860
Who: The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will include panels with sexuality specialists such as Dr. Charlie Glickman and Dr. Logan Levkoff, alongside nationally known authors and bloggers such as Sinclair Sexsmith and Audacia Ray. There will also be vendors and local- and national-level community organizations exhibiting 100% safer sex products to conference attendees.
Why: The CSPH is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Beginning with this conference the CSPH will offer educational discussion groups, conduct sexuality studies, and hold classes both for professionals and for the general public.

For more information, please visit the CSPH’s website at http://thecsph.org or contact Ms. Andelloux by phone at 401-345-8685 or email at thecsph@gmail.com

Know Your Body Pt. I

No, really. Get to know it.

I feel everyone should be in touch with their body. Many individuals hand over their health to a practitioner and don’t really check to see what they’re being given and/or told (which can be a problem if the doctor filled out the wrong prescription or didn’t know something integral about the patient’s health that could affect their care). I find it terribly unfortunate that so many people don’t know what’s going on inside them and lay their lives fully in health-care providers’ hands. Not to say we shouldn’t trust doctors, but to trust them blindly is a mistake. Healthcare is a two-way street and I think patients definitely have responsibilities to ensure that they’re getting the best care possible, partially because they have insider knowledge about their bodies/ailments AND because doctors aren’t perfect (did you know many of them receive less than one week of sex-ed as part of their professional training regimen?).

Patients need to know their bodies to better assist clinicians in collecting data to inform decisions about how to proceed in a medical setting AND they also need to educate themselves about the medical processes that are affecting them or COULD affect them (due to risk level, heredity, etc.). However, while I feel it’s somewhat irresponsible to just go to a doctor without knowing anything about one’s body or the medical care one is receiving (or hopes to potentially receive), I must acknowledge that not everyone has access to this sort of information. Heck, not everyone has access to the conversations that would even bring up the need for this type of preparation, never mind the actual information that would aid in it! With that said, it’s my hope that by promoting body-knowledge in certain circles and classes, it will become a more normalized practice and thus spread. Furthermore, there are many different levels of knowledge and awareness about these issues, so while not everyone has to have a PhD, we should all strive to cover as many bases as we can with the backgrounds and life situations in which we are enmeshed.

But back to the point: know your body.

Why? If a patient is unaware of what standard procedures are, what to look for in a provider, how to recognize warning signs for specific illnesses, how could they advocate for themselves and ask for what they need? How could they tell if their doctor forgot something, or if their doctor is incompetent (or, vice-versa, amazing)?

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve gone through some interesting patient/doctor interactions and I’ve reaped the benefits of my preparation. For example, I went to the OB-GYN a few years back and she was very impressed by my knowledge concerning HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), Gardasil (an FDA-approved vaccine that protects against certain strains of HPV), blood-work, and urinalyses. She repeatedly said how amazed she was that I understood all these terms and knew what was going on. I explained that I like knowing what I put in my body and understanding the things I’m told, so whenever I get a lab result, vaccination, or prescription, I look up information about it. For example, I talked about how I’d had my Gardasil shots and so I felt I wasn’t super at risk for genital warts, but that I knew the vaccine only protected against certain strains–16, 18, 6, 11–though not all of them, BUT that 2 of those it covered were the ones that caused 90% of genital warts and the other 2 were the ones that caused 70% of cervical cancer. I also discussed that I was skeptical about having a UTI (which parts of my urinalysis seemed to point to) and we both concurred that it was probably just a contaminated sample, citing the number of bacteria and squamous epithelial cells as proof.

Because of this research and knowledge, I was able to ask things and explain some of my concerns while simultaneously pulling in facts to substantiate my questions and comments. I think this was the biggest thing for me, honestly; being informed helped me articulate better what I needed, thought, and was afraid of in a language that was meaningful and appropriate for the setting. Furthermore, it helped me realize when I was later dealing with an incompetent doctor!

Next article: how to prepare to be a better-educated patient!