Trading One Infection for Another

This may be one of those tmi posts, so be warned. If you don’t want to hear about my vag, don’t read.

I went to the doctor recently because I noticed an “odor” down below. It wasn’t there all the time, just sometimes. However, being a responsible adult, I decided to go in and get checked for various infections and sti’s.

Turns out I had bacterial vaginosis.

So first thing: bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection a woman of my age can get. It is literally an imbalance of the bacterial flora in the vagina. It’s not contagious, and it’s hardly dangerous.

Why is that important?

Because I was fucking slut shamed at my appointment.

In seeking out more information about what I was experiencing, I asked some questions, one of which was inquiring whether my partner might also have an infection. I was told (no shitting), “It’s not exactly an sti, but women who don’t have sex don’t get it.”

In my own research, I found out that’s simply not true. But even if it was, what the hell? People don’t get colds if they don’t go outside. Do we blame them for going outside?!

More importantly, this infection wasn’t causing me pain.

Had I been more informed at the time that I went in to get checked out, I might have decided to treat it herbally. But I was concerned and ignorant and decided to follow the doctor’s advice.

She gave me an antibiotic.

Any vagina-toting person who has struggled with BV will probably know what happened next.

I took the medicine as instructed, stayed away from sex like an obedient girl, and wolfed down two to three yogurts a day to restore the “balance.”

Unfortunately, the antibiotics the doctor gave me were ridiculously strong. They killed off everything in my vagina, including the good bacteria, making for a hospitable place for yeast to grow.

Yeast infections.

Literally one of the most painful and gross things that can happen to a vagina.

I went from a painless, mild, bacterial infection to a raging, itching, burning yeast infection.

I looked it up, and yeast infections are so common following an antibacterial regimen that I have to wonder who is running women’s health?

And I’m sitting here thinking, “Why the fuck does the medicine make me feel worse than the problem?”

Bacterial vaginosis can rectify itself if the bacteria can get back in balance…so why kill off the whole population?! That’s like using a hydrogen bomb to get rid of house spiders. Perhaps a little more moderation would be in order.

At this point, I am feeling pretty disillusioned with modern medicine. I don’t understand the reasoning behind slut-shaming a woman for a mild, non-contagious infection…and I don’t understand the purpose of using a “treatment” that essentially guarantees a far more painful and difficult infection as a result.

Those of us who own vaginas have been cut off from knowing basic care for them. We’re told (rightly) to avoid messing with them when they’re healthy. The vagina is self-cleaning and doesn’t need to be douched when it’s healthy.

However, we’re not taught how to take care of our own minor imbalances. I wish I could go back and use a garlic suppository to treat the BV. I wish I hadn’t been so instilled with fear over my own body that I didn’t think to question my doctor at the time. I’m not making that same mistake again. After speaking with friends who have successfully self-treated yeast infections and doing considerable reading about herbal remedies, I am taking ownership over my vaginal health.

What’s the purpose of this post? Well, ranting feels good, but as with most things related to women’s issues, I feel like if we can’t talk about it, it will never get addressed. Stigma sucks. I’d rather people feel like they know things about my vagina that they never wanted to know than for me or anyone else to feel isolated in shame and silence.

Shame breeds ignorance. And ignorance, in my case, bred yeast.

Stop Throwing Trans People Under the Activism Bus!

I’m thrilled that people are taking a stand against North Carolina’s anti-trans law.

Really, I’m thrilled.

But I want to ask those who are supporting the rights of trans people, please stop throwing trans people under the bus in the process.

At least once a day, I see some sort of meme go by asking: “Do you want this person in the ladie’s/men’s restroom?”

I sort of get why it might seem appealing to use those memes. It’s the whole “get them with their own prejudice” idea…and it probably seems super ironic.

But please stop.

The memes that ask that question with pictures of attractive men and women are essentially saying, “Do you really want to risk this trans person stealing your partner?” It sexualizes and objectifies trans people even further, which is hugely problematic since trans people face tremendous risk of sexual violence, more risk than the ciswomen that conservatives are suddenly (and ironically) interested in protecting from sexual violence.

The memes that ask that question with pictures of burly dudes are even worse. They are essentially capitalizing on the fear of sexual violence, implicating that it’s not safe for a trans man whose birth certificate says “female” to be in the same bathroom as another woman. In other words, it’s implying that what the law is trying to prevent will happen by virtue of the law being in place.

Just…stop! That’s not helping!

But the biggest reason why those memes are more destructive than helpful is because they continue to support the binary myth that there are men and then there are women. End of story.

The most discriminated people in the trans community are erased as much by this pathetic excuse for activism as by the law itself because they are essentially told that they have to fit into one category or another, no exceptions.

The truth is, unless a security guard is checking birth certificates on the way in, if someone looks strictly feminine or strictly masculine, regardless of whether they’re trans or cis, they’re probably not going to be barred from using the bathroom that matches their gender.

That doesn’t mean the law is okay by any means. The intent to discriminate is abhorrent regardless of whether it’s easily enforced.

However, the ones at highest risk for this discriminatory law aren’t going to be the beefy guy or the sexy lady. They’re going to be the people who are still in transition, the ones who don’t fit into the binary (e.g. genderfluid, bigender, agender), the ones who are unable to adjust their appearance due to lack of access, safety, or money, or the ones who reject traditional masculinity and femininity for various reasons.

And the memes don’t even begin to help those people. The very opposite actually.

If activism perpetuates transphobia and prejudice or objectifies and erases vulnerable people, that’s terrible activism!

So if you want to show support for trans people and protest legalized bigotry, find another way.

EDIT: Someone pointed out that this post doesn’t offer any alternatives. I chose not to list my thoughts on how to be an ally because I didn’t feel it my place to define that for a community to which I do not belong. However, I am all for providing constructive alternatives when pointing out problematic areas. Therefore, I recommend GLAAD’s page on Tips for Allies of Trangender People.

 

F*ck Me Ethically: The Bad and (Invisible) Good of Porn

Porn is a problem, but it’s not the problem anti-porn activists would have you believe.

In a recent Washington Post article, Gail Dines writes about the “public health hazard” of pornography, citing some of research correlations that I myself found back in 2010 when I did my own literature review of the effects of pornography on adolescents.

However, the article, like my own review, was flawed.

It’s true that adolescents exposed to pornography are more likely to engage in aggressive sexual behavior (Brown & L’Engle, 2009); however, even in the study which found this correlation, the authors acknowledged the limitations of not being able to differentiate between violent and non-violent forms of pornography in the study.

And there’s the first major flaw. Not all pornography is equal. At the time of my literature review, I hadn’t ever seen porn. I was basing my judgments off of statistics about which I had no personal knowledge. And research either failed to describe precisely what was happening in pornography and why the researchers thought that content was particularly nefarious, or it focused on the violent components of certain types of sexually explicit material.

The Washington Post article does the same.

The truth is that pornography is as varied as any form of entertainment. Yes, there is the underbelly of unethical or illegal porn, violent porn, non-consensual porn, and misogynistic porn, which I am fully on board with fighting and dismantling because fuck that shit!

However there is also feminist porn, ethical porn, porn from a woman’s point of view, educational “porn” used by sex educators (I call it porn because you actually watch people perform the thing being taught and it is *ahem* very explicit), and porn that demonstrates consent, safer sex, and mutual pleasure (even when there is choking or bondage involved).

Concerns about pornography tend to include a belief that porn is teaching people to degrade women and desensitizing people to sexual assault. To some extent, that is true. In one study that still stands out in my memory, 17% of men exposed to a suggestive date-rape scenario after viewing degrading sexual material reported a higher likelihood to commit date-rapey activities (Milburn et al., 2000). Yikes! Others have found that exposure to porn for adolescent boys contributes to a higher likelihood of viewing women as sex objects (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007).

However, one must take into account the reciprocal relationship of influence. Media often mirrors pre-existing attitudes because…capitalism 101. Producers produce what sells.

Moreover, pre-existing beliefs often influence what types of media people seek out (Peter & Valkenburg, 2006; Peter & Valkenburg, 2010). And, I probably don’t need to mention (or maybe I do) that parents and other aspects of culture can heavily influence children’s pre-existing beliefs.

In turn, media teaches us what to believe.

(Side note: PG movies, I’ve often found, can be far more sexist and misogynistic than R-rate movies. Rape still gets a lower rating than same-sex, consensual activity. WTF?!)

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to this influence with regard to pornography because we, as a nation, don’t give them anything else to act as a reality check. Our sex ed is deplorable. Often, children learn about sex first through pornography exposure (Brown & L’Engle, 2009).

And yes, teaching kids what sex is through a form of fantasy and entertainment is bad. We don’t show General Hospital to med students expecting them to walk away knowing how to be doctors and surgeons.

However, the answer to me seems infinitely obvious. Children need better sex ed. They need to know that porn isn’t reality and to think about it critically, the way we are teaching them to critically think about advertising and other forms of media.

In fact, it is my hope that the reason that sex ed now begins at age four in the Netherlands is because of the very research I used in my literature review. They want to create a foundation of respect and consent before children get sucked into the Internet world where that barely exists in discussion itself.

In my review, I focused on adolescents because there were substantial sources indicating the adverse effects of early exposure to porn. At the time I was on an anti-porn rampage. I had planned to do the review on porn’s influence on adults, but I couldn’t find enough articles that actually found adverse effects for adults.

I thought it was because the research was biased. Now, after having learned more about pornography and realizing that seeing it doesn’t turn me into a raging, woman-hating, unthinking, sexually assaultive animal, I think it’s because there actually aren’t that many consistent adverse effects (as in aside from other factors such as pre-existing beliefs and wider culture)…if you’re not focusing on the type of porn that is violent and degrading.

I can never pretend that porn is benign. I’ve read too many studies showing that porn does indeed influence. Just as with other areas of entertainment, prejudice and stereotypes need to be addressed. Better representation of women and minorities is needed. Consent needs to be apparent as much in our sexually explicit material as in our daily lives.

And sex workers’ rights desperately need to be addressed so that vulnerable people aren’t exploited or forced into work they don’t want to do.

But the answer isn’t to continue to demonize all porn.

We need nuanced discussion about how different types of porn reflect and influence attitudes. Erika Lust gave a brilliant Ted Talk about the importance of feminists getting involved in making porn so that they can change porn. “Mainstream” shouldn’t refer to degrading, violent, and illegal porn. That should be the fringe, not the majority.

Feminist porn makers have the capacity to change the conversation.

One aspect of the reciprocal relationship of porn that doesn’t get mentioned is that people can’t consume what doesn’t exist. Erika Lust and other feminist porn producers and actors realize this and have worked hard to create sex-positive feminist porn.

Today, porn that respects women’s agency and pleasure and that emphasizes the importance of consensual encounters (and I would include BDSM porn that demonstrates consent) does exist, but where are the studies exploring how that kind of porn influences people?

It is just as oppressive for research to erase the efforts of sex-positive feminists in the porn industry as it would be to pretend that sexist and violent displays of women’s sexuality are okay.

Since writing my literature review on the negative effects of porn, I’ve actually exposed myself to porn in a conscious way and have experienced some of the positive influences that I think a more nuanced exploration of porn might find—such as feeling better about my body image by seeing realistic women, exploring my sexual orientation, learning to value my own sexual pleasure more in my sexual activities by seeing women enthusiastically participate, and learning about sexual empowerment through porn activists like Tristan Taormino, Erika Lust, and Nina Hartley.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that much of what I am refuting (and thus the literature I’m citing) focuses on heterosexual porn, failing to take into account the role of porn for LGBTQ individuals. I could probably write a whole other paper about the good and bad of non-straight porn, but suffice it to say that this is another area where representation is important and potentially empowering or degrading. I hate to make this the footnote on my piece because I have found porn just as important to my sexual identity as it has been to my feminist identity; unfortunately, I can’t pretend to have done nearly as much research on the importance of queer porn. For a recommended read on the topic of queer and feminist porn, check out Autostraddle’s post.

Non-linked References (Not all of the ones I used in my literature review, just the ones I cited today):

Brown, J. D., & L’Engle, K. L. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with U.S. early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research 36, 129-151.

Milburn, M. A., Mather, R. & Conrad, S. D. (2000). The effects of viewing r-rated movie scenes that objectify women on perceptions of date rape. Sex Roles 43(9/10), 645-664.

Peter. J. & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit material on the internet. Communication Research 33, 178-204.

Peter. J. & Valkenburg, P. M. (2007). Adolescents’ exposure to a sexualized media environment and their notions of women as sex objects. Sex Roles 56, 381-395.

Peter. J. & Valkenburg, P. M. (2010). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material, sexual uncertainty, and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration: Is there a link? Communication Research 35, 579-601.

 

Balancing Resistance: Yin and Yang

Yin Yang beer

I’ve been becoming more conscious of the fact that I organize much of my thinking along the lines of yin and yang and the concept of balancing duality. As I explore my own developing concept of counseling, human nature, etc., I find myself continuously walking the line “between.”

When I cringe at positive psychology, it’s not because I think it’s wrong or ineffective to focus on resiliency, what’s going well, strengths, etc.

People need positive goals towards which to work. Whether in personal growth, activism, or career development, if all one ever does is fight against what isn’t desired, burnout is inevitable. There will always be more to fight against, to change, to reject.

Merely pushing away from what isn’t wanted leaves a person directionless, often flying from one unwanted to another without direction or purpose.

Thus, defining where one wants to end up is essential. Have uplifting goals is necessary for renewing energy and fostering hope.

That being said, I find it equally unhealthy to eschew the negative. Resiliency doesn’t exist as a concept without its shadow side. Personal growth is more often the result of grappling with the shit life throws out.

And of course, ignoring the shadow doesn’t make them go away. More often than not, suppressing the shadow forces it to fester and grow stronger. Eventually it will demand attention one way or another.

So often, positive and negative seem to be pitted against each other, as though one has to win over the other, but such a dichotomy always leaves something lacking.

The yin needs the yang in order to be complete.

Of course, I’ve heard the yin yang symbol explained in terms of embattlement—that the dark and light are warring against each other, with the implication that one or the other wants to win. However, I find it far more intriguing to consider that the light and dark battle each other in an attempt to achieve balance.

Rather than the symbol being a representation of some cosmic arm-wrestling match, I think of it as a cosmic acrobatic performance. The resistance of each helps the other.

Creating an Emotional First Aid Box

It’s Easter weekend. Instead of creating an Easter basket with just chocolate, why not consider making a self-care kit that you can use all year?

I want to start off by saying that I did not create this idea. I have tried unsuccessfully to find the source of the idea, but it seems to be a kind of counselor self-care thing that has been floating around for so long that no one knows where it originated.

That being said, an emotional first aid box is such a valuable tool to keep around–whether you’re looking for something to ground you from a trigger, help manage panic attacks, counter the effects of stress, or just bring yourself joy throughout the day.

Emotional first-aid kits can be as simple or as creative as you want them to be. Start out by picking a container.

Since I like to craft, I tend to go for a plain wooden box that I can then decorate; however, if you’re not into that, consider a bag or a jewelry box.

The one pictured here is one I created for a previous job. I used calming ocean colors and a seashell to remind me of the treasures that come from adversity and the beauty of “going deep” with emotional work.

Once you have the container you want to use, you can choose to fill it with items.

Senses

In the original way I heard the emotional first-aid box explained, it was recommended that the box contain at least two things for every sense that is soothing or grounding. Hence, I started off putting in things like tea and chocolate, bells, worry stones, and pictures I liked.


Symbols

However, as my box has evolved more to fit my personality, I found myself seeking to add symbols as well as sensations—including something to remind me of spiritual truths that were important to me or quotes from books that were meaningful.


I find that the senses are great for basic grounding when you feel like  you’re about to jump out of your skin but the items with symbolic or sentimental meaning are better for the long haul. They were the things that I turned to when I felt burnt out and needed a reminder of what I was trying to accomplish in life. They kept my fire and passion burning.

Nurture

More recently with my internship, I’ve found myself adding items to the box that are more literally self-nourishing. Things like granola bars, aspirin, Arnica cream, or lip balm.


A rice pillow has become my favorite item lately. It’s easy to sew if you have a sewing machine…or even simpler is just taking a sock and filling it partially with rice. Throw in some lavender and tie it off—voila! There is probably nothing better than laying a warm rice pillow on your eyes or neck for fifteen minutes.

Toys

Although toys can be a sense item or a symbolic item that could be added in, I mention them separately because so many adults deny themselves the right to play with toys. Toys are fucking amazing, and it is a crying shame that we as a society think that people should stop playing with them after a certain age. When I’m telling someone about the self-care box, I practically order them to include toys.


Make it what you want

The best thing about this kit is that there is no end to the personalization of it. Make it what you want and what you need!

P.S. If anyone knows where this idea originated, please let me know because I am super interested in it!

The Magic of the Masked Raccoon

I’ve been exploring a relationship with a new spirit animal lately. Raccoon came to me shortly after my friend died, and it seemed to be the perfect expression of how I had grown as a result of her presence in my life.

Raccoon is known for being a curious creature with a lot of personality, but the aspect of it that has stood out to me has been its famous mask.

I’ve been obsessed with masks and all of their nuance.

On the surface, the most common association with a mask is hiding, perhaps deceit. I won’t deny that masks have their shadow side which can easily come to mind; however, masks carry so much more magic than that.

Masks create mystery. Some of the most dynamic roles I can think of in movies involve people whose faces can’t even be seen. As a result, their actions have to convey something mesmerizing–e.g. the phantom of the opera’s voice or V’s alliteration.

Similarly, masquerade balls are fun because of the excitement of the unknown—the sense of being attracted and drawn to people and having encounters with people in a capacity that leaves you guessing who they are at the end of the night. Masks deny us the basics of facial recognition and the non-verbal feedback of expressions, forcing us to pay attention to other clues.

But masks also create unity. In V for Vendetta, the mask of Guy Fawkes becomes a symbol of the power of a people who refuse to be controlled any longer. The anonymity of the masks removes the impediment of fear, allowing them to come together for their shared purpose.

Masks empower. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne makes a comment that Batman’s mask was meant to inspire the people of Gotham—it’s not about who is behind the mask because the point is that anyone could be behind the mask. Of course, we don’t often get to see the benefits of empowerment with a mask in real society, but it’s a present enough truth to make an appearance in most of our hero stories: From Zorro to Spider Man.

Masks also help to embody. Halloween is fun because it allows me to try on a character or archetype—to put on the energy of that person or creature for a bit, to feel it within myself. When I put on a costume, I connect with something deep within me that relates to the energy of that costume, bringing out that part of myself to which I may not otherwise have access.

Perhaps most importantly though, masks help to express. One of the greatest lessons I cherish in my grief is the idea that every day is a day for dress up and costume. Every day, we get up, look in our closets, and choose what mask to put on for that day.

Sometimes it’s the mask of professionalism.

Sometimes the mask of flirtation.

Or practicality.

But every day, we choose to portray or hide different aspects of ourselves.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we each have different faces in different situations or around different people. We are complex beings with many facets and layers to our personality.

The question raccoon asks is, “Are you doing it authentically?”

 

We Can’t Always Sparkle

I’m trying to get better about being transparent with others even when I’m feeling like I’ve lost my shine. I’ve been practicing in small ways:

  • Admitting I’m sad instead of pretending to be tired.
  • Revealing that my partner and I had a fight earlier instead of giving some vague reference to stress.
  • Disclosing a relevant but vulnerable detail in an interview instead of finding a way around the question.
  • Telling someone I’m not coming to something because of anxiety instead of pretending I have homework.

For the most part, it hasn’t gone badly, but it’s been hard. I have to actively fight against the habit of downplaying or evading what I’m really experiencing. There are so many stories I’ve learned around struggling.

About how you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in front of others.

About how showing you’re vulnerable is dangerous.

They’re bullshit, I know. But knowing they’re bullshit doesn’t make them easier to unlearn. I still can’t bring myself to be transparent in some of the situations that I probably need to most, but I try to view the little steps as victories leading towards bigger moments of transparency.

It’s a skill, not a switch.

It requires a strong sense of self and the ability to validate my own feelings even if others respond less than ideally.

Because others will eventually respond less than ideally. As a society, we’re not great with handling emotions. People get pretty damn uncomfortable—and in their discomfort, they can say some awful things.

But being transparent isn’t about getting the exact validation I hope to get (though that is nice), but about freeing myself of the burden of fake smiles. It’s exhausting keeping up an appearance for others.

Being transparent also requires a strong sense of it being comfortable with my own imperfection. Showing what I consider my weaknesses to others is a terrifying act. Even the simple phrase, “I’m struggling” can feel like an heroic feat to say.

The first time I told someone my partner and I had fought, I felt as though I might as well have admitted that we were getting a divorce. There was this sense that if I spoke about it, I was showing that our marriage was flawed and that we were flawed…which somehow meant that everything was destroyed.

I can’t quite tell how much of the backlash is tied into my upbringing vs. societal rules. Certainly in the cult it was unwise to reveal weakness, admit flaws, or be too open about what was going on in life, but I can’t exactly say mainstream society is free of that either.

The good news is that I’m learning that it’s possible to be strong in my sense of self and that I’m capable of showing my flaws to others without the world ending. It’s deepened friendships and increased my connection to others. For all the catastrophe I thought would happen with transparency, I’ve mostly only seen an increase in the mutuality of my relationships and the relief of being able to be authentic even when it feels like crap.