how to be a nicer friend (and partner)

One thing I have put a lot of work into is making sure I don’t talk too poorly about people – even people I don’t like very much. Even people I think aren’t good people. Talking negatively about others says a lot about you, and what you are spending your time thinking about. Who wants to be distracted by negative soul-gunking thoughts? It can be hard to avoid saying negative things about people you don’t like. Sometimes you may find yourself saying or thinking negative things about people you don’t even know.

For some, a mutual dislike can be an easy way to build a bond. It makes me distraught to know that some of my friendships may have been forged in the mutual distaste for someone I would have been better off not thinking about at all. It is better to build relationships and friendships with positivity, or mutual liking. To focus your conversation around things or people that you like.

If you’re someone that finds themselves starting most sentences with “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” consider slowing your roll and figuring out what is triggering your negativity. If you don’t like someone, can you distance yourself from them, and find distraction elsewhere? If you find yourself having a reoccurring conversation about someone you dislike, is there possibly a more difficult but much more positive conversation you could have that would help build up a stronger bond? I learned this the hard way: people actually like to talk about good, nice things. They like to be complimented. They like to share interests. It’s just way easier to be a douche.

The goal is this: don’t let the negative feelings you have for others control how you feel about yourself. Don’t hang on to the negative feelings you have for others. Replace every person you feel negatively about with one person you feel positively about. Do this progressively over time and don’t expect sunflowers out of your ass all at once. It’s perfectly normal to feel a distaste for those who you don’t get along with (and it’s perfectly normal not to get along with everyone) but following some zigzag path to mental happiness can help you (and your friends, and your partner) experience a happier and less soul-gunking life.

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question: dating with herpes?

A few years ago, I was unfortunate enough to catch genital herpes the first time I had sex. Yes, I even used a condom, but I just got very unlucky. As you can imagine, this has made my sex life rather difficult since then. I have the infection under control through medication, but it is not curable. I am very reluctant to date anyone or approach anyone that I am interested in about sex because I know that I will have to tell them about my condition before we have sex. On the other hand, I still obviously have a desire for physical intimacy that I want to explore. Do you have any advice on how to handle this problem? In particular, when should I tell someone that I have an STI, and what is the best way to bring it up? Is casual or non-committal sex no longer an option for me at all anymore?

Some say you are less likely to catch an STD from someone who knows they have one. I believe there is some truth to this. Many STDs are spread by those who don’t know how STDs are spread, thought they were safe, didn’t know they had an STD, or their partner didn’t know they had an STD. Knowing you have an STD allows you to take certain precautions to prevent symptoms and transmission between yourself and your partner.

The stigma of sexually transmitted diseases/infections can make having conversations like this scary to have. Fortunately, a lot of it is stigma. I believe that you can have a perfectly lovely sexual life (casual or otherwise) despite your diagnoses.

First, a little breakdown on herpes for the clueless.

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the basics

Herpes is a common condition caused by a virus. It breaks down into two categories, HSV-1 and HSV-2.

HSV-1 is commonly referred to as cold sores, and more than half of American adults have this form of herpes. [1] HSV-2 is the one that scares people, the type of herpes we typically see on genitals. About one in six people between the ages of 14-49 have HSV-2. They may not know that they have herpes, and may not experience symptoms, which is why regular STD tests are so important. You can still pass along HSV without symptoms.

If you are experiencing symptoms of genital herpes, you may notice the tell tale sores or blisters around your genitals. You might experience peeing with urination, itching, or general pain near the infected area. You might also feel a little sickly, like you’re coming down with a cold. [2]

It’s important to note that cold sores can be transmitted to the genitals. If you have visible cold sores, do not perform oral sex until those cold sores have been treated. 

You can greatly reduce transmission of herpes by treating to reduce outbreaks, not having sex when you have signs of an outbreak, and using protection with your partner. Staying healthy and de-stressed can also be a good way to help avoid outbreaks.

telling your partners

I would not insist that herpes needs to be a conversation starter. In fact, I wouldn’t feel pressured to discuss your sexual health until you knew your relationship was going to become sexual. That point of time varies depending on your relationship.

If you’re interested in a casual relationship you may want to point it out up front. If you’re looking to date a little before having sex, I don’t see any issue in getting to know someone a little bit first. Prior to sex express that you have herpes and explain how you control the infection. You could then offer to provide them with more information about what it is via the internet or some other resource you have on hand. There is no way to know how different people will react. I may be a dreamer, but I think many people are able to differentiate between personal safety and responsibility and the big scary stigma of the word herpes.

At a certain point, if someone isn’t interested, you’ll just have to accept that choice and move on. Dating pretty much sucks no matter how you swing it.

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Another method which I have seen some people use is finding other people who have herpes to connect with. You state from the start that you have herpes and are looking for other people who have herpes. I’ve seen this method used on sites like OkCupid or Craigslist.

the summary 

Be open and honest early on, once you know your relationship is going to become sexual. Be knowledgeable in transmission and treatment and be able to express to your potential partner how you take care of yourself and the possibility of their catching something. Consider their concerns and respect that they might not want to take that risk. And, infection or not, keep fighting the good fight, because dating is worth it, and finding someone who you click with is totally worth it.

Do you have herpes or another sexually transmitted infection? How have you handled dating in the past or present? If you’re comfortable, leave some feedback in the comments! 

Have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog. 

ethical non-monogamy: my partner does, I don’t

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It’s been some time since I have regularly written about ethical non-monogamy and I have been having interesting discussions with friends about the subject. Last night, a friend of mine reignited my interest with her discussion about wants and needs in relationships.

What do you do if your partner wants to have an open relationship and you’re not interested? In many cases, this is how the conversation begins. If you are in a long term monogamous relationship, one partner may begin to realize that they are looking for a more open relationship. There are a lot of different reasons for this realization, some positive, some not so positive.

Perhaps the partner is in love with his significant other but he realizes that he has needs that can’t be met within the relationship. Perhaps she is in love with her significant other but is finding that she has so much love to give and just wants to love more and harder. It could be that one partner is actually unhappy in the relationship and is looking to explore but isn’t necessarily aware of this, they just know that they are interested in having a new experience without hurting their partner. Perhaps one partner is looking to explore sexually and they want to do this in a safe context with the support of their significant other.

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In this particular scenario lets ignore why one partner wants to open their monogamous relationship, and just assume that the other partner is uncomfortable with the idea. They are happily monogamous, and their initial reaction is fear. Why do they want to see someone else? Am I not good enough? Is our relationship over? Now that they’ve told me they want to explore, can we ever be happy together? There is a lot of fear, envy, jealousy, sadness, anger, a lot of negative emotions that can come when one partner expresses their interest in opening a relationship, and another partner is taken off guard.

If you are interested in ethical non-monogamy (swinging, polyamory, open relationships, monogamish) its important to acknowledge that your partner may not be initially open or warm to the idea. Approach your partner openly and honestly about your interests and come with patience. Your partners gut reaction may be one that you find closed or frustrating. Instead or responding similarly, accept and acknowledge how your partner feels. Have conversations about it and provide your partner with literature you think might be helpful. (I have a short list in my resources page at the top.)

 

Remember that a lot of models we have for non-monogamy are either unethical, or based in polygamy. Even in cases where television or film attempts to give an open and honest viewpoint of ethical non-monogamy, they are often only giving one flat perspective of what it means for those people.

If your partner approaches you with an interest to open the relationship, try to listen with an open heart and mind. It likely took some amount of courage to ask you this question and how you react may influence how open they are with discussing how they feel in that moment. Whether or not you are interested in open relationships, take the time to read about them, and learn to understand how and why people choose to open their relationship. Ethical non-monogamy or opening ones relationship is about defining your own boundaries. Setting your own limits. Finding rules that work for the both of you.

If and when two partners find common ground, there are many ways to proceed.

However, sometimes one partner is committed to opening the relationship (again, for a variety of reasons) and the other partner is committed to not opening the relationship. If one partner is satisfied and happy with monogamy and the other is not, you may find yourselves reaching an impasse.

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What then? 

1. Never open a relationship for your partner if you genuinely do not want an open relationship. Ethical non-monogamy doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is getting the same things out of the open relationship, but it does mean everyone is consenting of it. If you don’t want to open the relationship, don’t open the relationship.

2. If your partner is wanting a particular experience and you feel uncomfortable with that scenario, take some time alone to think about yourself. In the world where you can create the own boundaries to your relationship, are there any current boundaries that you would change? Any experiences you would give yourself permission to have? Sometimes a partner may approach you with an idea but you may work together to find a compromise that suits both of you.

3. Talk openly and honestly with one another about the open relationship but make sure you do so when you are both feeling calm and safe. Keep conversations to a length that you feel is productive. Sometimes it may feel like you should keep talking until you find something that works for both of you, but sometimes its better to take time apart and think separately. Writing things down on a notepad (fears, desires, wants, needs, boundaries) can help you form coherent thoughts to your significant other.

Have questions about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog.

QOTD: Writing Bad Characters

As a writer and a person who has struggle with likability — being likable, wanting to be liked, wanting to belong — I have spent a great deal of time thinking about likability in the stories I read and those I write. I am often drawn to unlikable characters, to those who behave in socially unacceptable ways, say whatever is on their mind, and do what they want with varying levels of regard for the consequences. I want characters to do bad things and get away with their misdeeds. I want characters to think ugly thoughts and make ugly decisions. I want characters to make mistakes and put themselves first without apologizing for it.

Bad Feminist // Roxane Gay

I’ve been deeply enjoying this book by Roxane Gay. The idea of being a bad feminist is one that resonates with me. At the beginning of the book she explores the idea of feminism and how we put feminist women on pedestals, often to later be knocked down when they do something not feminist. Who defines what is feminist and what isn’t feminist? The idea of a bad feminist reminds me of the both/and concept. You can be both a feminist and something that others consider “not feminist” because you are human. Being a feminist does not mean being a perfect idealized femi-bot. This excerpt reminds me a lot of how I feel when I am writing. I want to say things that are dark or rude simply because as a writer you often have to feed these things out in order to maintain some level of likability. Whatever I say on my blog, or on my twitter, becomes an impacted part of my persona. My words are not me, but they become me. And that in itself is a both powerful and terrifying sentiment that, I suppose, drives some mad women to fiction.

schools back, forever

This is my last year – really – I promise. I have been stuck in the labyrinth of college and, I have to say, I’m obsessed. Addicted. I am hung up. I am stuck. I am lots of things. Being in school rejuvenates my desire to write and to learn and to read. Some might argue that it never really goes away. But there is something inside of me that clicks on when I am in the classroom. How you have to take notes. How new and unusual concepts build on top of old ones.

If my education were one famous structure, it would be the pyramids. Built slowly over time, fun to look at, not necessarily of any remaining usefulness.

When one double majors in Psychology and Women’s studies they are presented with an interesting combination of knowledge. This is how the mind works and this is how people work, and then, separately, this is how oppression plays into that. I’ve learned about the neuron, I’ve learned about mental disorder, I’ve learned about counseling, I’ve learned about relationships, I’ve learned about sexual kinks, I’ve learned about sexual assault, I’ve learned about empowerment. My scale of knowledge zooms in and out, woman, human, man, people, groups, physiology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy. How anyone can think anything has a simple answer is beyond me.

This term I am somewhat disillusioned by my schedule. I am taking two feminist classes that essentially sound the same. Like, feminist analysis, and feminist empowerment. Something to that effect. Social change. The women’s movement. Theory and progress. I’m just making stuff up now.

Then, tossed in there like a lost dog, is introduction to poetry. A friend of mine told me I ought to start carrying a notebook around and jot down the things around me from time to time whenever I remember. I fell in love with that idea because it implies that I ought to buy another notebook.

I expect that poetry will slip in among the other courses, a diversion from analysis. A place to take out all the theories from my mind and decorate the page with them. Make them look pretty.

The last two terms will be a complete cluster fuck. All the things I never did, all at once, a great reflection of how my college years were as a whole. Practicum work, volunteering, general ass-kissery. I’ll want to find people who can verify that I am a capable and worthy human being and I can think of nothing more disgusting than asking for someone to write a letter of my worth. Oh the humanity. Where’s my book on adulting, because these last few steps are quicksand.

And there it was, there it is, there it shall be. I’m in a car without breaks and the rest of my life is right in front of me like a brick wall.

the not-quite-orgasm-orgasm?

Imagine that your partner is less sexually experienced than you, and they are having difficulty orgasming. In this particular example, a man and a woman are having sex together, her vagina is being stimulated, and she starts to feel as though she’s having an orgasm. That usual build up, the sensitivity, the increased heart rate. Things feel really good and then at the height of that sensitivity things start to hurt and she realizes she would like to stop.

The other day I had someone describe it to me as this: I am orgasming, I think, but then I become too sensitive to continue and it is physically painful.

I wanted to talk a little bit about that because I feel like this strange scenario could have two potential catalysts and each mean something different.

You think  you’re orgasming but you’re not really

I’ve always been of the mind that an orgasm is not something you can mistake for something else. Given what happens to the mind and body when you orgasm, even the shortest or least-powerful or my own orgasms (as the only thing I feel comfortable judging this on) are still very clearly defined as orgasms. There is the peak, certainly, but there is also the release. And the release is not necessarily a feeling that you have throughout the session. (Unless you have experience with multiples, or edging.)

So lets take a girl who thinks she is orgasming and then becomes too sensitive to touch. I would question first, whether or not she is orgasming at all. If the release is not there or if she believes she may not be orgasming, it may be that she is getting very close to an orgasm, and then stopping. Without knowledge of how the various stages of sexual arousal feel, it can be difficult to judge which is which. Masturbation and self-exploration can help with this. The sensitivity could be caused by how aroused the body is, the pain could be a result of not orgasming (vasocongestion) or being stimulated too roughly or in areas that are too sensitive to be touched directly.

If that was a mouthful, here it is more simply: before you’re about to orgasm you feel really good, but orgasms are distinct, and have a release to them. If you’re questioning whether or not you have had an orgasm it is more likely than not that you haven’t had one. Pain and sensitivity during sex if you haven’t orgasmed can be a result of lots of other things unrelated to the sensitivity of actually orgasming.

On the other hand, women do have refractory periods kind of like men. While some women can continue going over and over again, others require some chill down time before continuing. If your partner is orgasming and then you are continuing to have sex with her, its likely that this experience could be painful or overstimulating.

If your female partner orgasms and you haven’t, give it a rest for a few minutes to let her body sort of go through the process of relaxing and restoring its balance. Again, this process takes different amounts of time for different women. Even if the body is ready, the mind might not be, and if you are not mentally aroused this can make it much more difficult to be physically aroused.

Without physical arousal you may find sex to be more straining and less enjoyable. In women, this is most obviously noted in how the vagina expands and lubricates prior to penetration.

If you’re looking to have longer sessions or more sessions in a row, you’re not going to want to experience pain, or sensitivity that you find uncomfortable. Figuring out if you’re actually orgasming (first and foremost) is going to help you figure out if your sensitivity is related to the body needing a cool down or you and your partner needing to switch up your stimulation technique.

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit to the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog. 

Things I Learned About Sex and Gender At My First Football Game

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When I was little my parents used to take me to football games with them. I would sit between the bleachers on a pile of blankets and play with my dolls, read comics, or take naps. It was a bore – loud, long, and completely over my head. All I knew about football as a kid was that my dad would say “just ten more minutes” and that ten minutes would miraculously last an hour and I’d miss my cartoons.

I was excited this past weekend to go to my first football game as an adult. My first real football game. No High School level shenanigans here. Inevitably I ended up taking notes on my phone off and on, like the shameful blogger that I am, still somehow watching the entire game with complete and utter fascination.

 

See, I tend to surround myself with people who think and feel the way I do about most things in life. It’s a good way to keep ones blood pressure down. To make up for it, I read blogs, and news, and books of people who think differently than me. I have found that even this keeps me far removed from the true reality of misogyny and general anti-femininity. And good lord, is there a lot of it at a football game.

I learned a lot about sex and love between the hours of 3pm and 8pm last weekend. Here are the highlights.

1. Cheer your accomplishments, not the failure of others

Some masochist to place the fans of two different teams in the same stadium. At one point, when the team we were rooting for was behind, a small group of people behind us said something to the effect of their fans are pretty quiet now! I wanted to turn around and wag my finger in their face and say that they weren’t being very nice thank you very much and if they were trying to put themselves up for the douchbag awards those were being held out back. (Their team lost, presumably at least in part due to the bad karma of their shit talking. I am convinced.)

This advice can be used in all kinds of ways though. Cheer your accomplishments. Not the failure of others. If you are good enough, your good-enoughness should be self-evident. Talking down someone else isn’t going to make you appear better or more wonderful. It’s just going to make you sound like a douchebag. Granted, I think I may have missed the memo (in football, it’s okay to shit talk) but I’d prefer to do it quietly and not in a way that is going to enrage the nice people behind me.

2. Gender and Masculinity

Oh, the poor guys girlfriend standing in front of us. This girl was furious as her boyfriend continued to high five, jump up and down and butt-slap the man to his right, instead of engaging with her. She left early, mumbling something about waiting in the car, as he looked off in the opposite direction. Every time the opposing team did something good, he would stretch out his pelvis and thrust wildly at the field, telling them with some aggression to suck it. I also heard: eat a dick, thats gay, no homo.

Dicks, dicks everywhere.

In general, if you want to see a real mans man, a man who knows for sure 100% that he is not a woman, go to a football game. For the entire duration you will be convinced at all times that the men around you are MEN.

I learned in my men and masculinities course a few terms ago that a lot of homophobia is based in anti-feminitiy. In other words, we associate being gay in some ways with being less of a man. Men who are insecure about their masculinity or sexual orientation may use anti-gay or anti-women remarks to secure their identity.

Despite the dick jokes and the general thrusting, I was pleased to see a plethora of examples where men did it right. Hugging, high-fiving, general friendliness, smiling, sitting in close proximity to one another and showing a wide range of emotions that went beyond some of the douchebaggary I saw.

For a brief moment, here and there, everything really was quite gay.

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3. Peacocking and Room to Spare

That leads me to peacocking. Peacocking is when one presents themselves in a flashy way in order to attract the opposite sex. And good lord was there a lot of peacocking. Bring colors, flashing lights, head ornaments, necklaces, hats, shoes, shoelaces, face paint. You name it. This peacocking in particular wasn’t necessarily to attract other women, but to show that he or she had the most spirit for all of those sweaty men on the field. Remember in High School when you gave your class pin or your jacket to your sweetheart? These days, you buy a t-shirt or a jersey with another mans number on it and you wear it around while you dizzily scream their name. I can support this gesture.

What I learn here is, football is a safe space to get out a lot of energy. A lot of expression. And for men who often don’t feel comfortable or don’t have a space to let that kind of energy out, this is a cool way to do it. As a generally muted and calm person, I found it pretty alarming to be in such a loud and busy place. A few more trips and I might learn how to scream a little myself. (And if that screaming releases some tension and brings a laugh or two, whats the harm?)

Anyways, 

I laugh at this because it is such a strange, unusual atmosphere. While men did appear to feel more comfortable with their general anti-gayness, anti-womanness, and pro-he-man-ness, it was awesome to see dudes more comfortable with other dudes.

I also laugh at this because, somehow, I’m starting to get it. From sitting on the base of the bleachers and reading my comics to now, the more I participate in football culture, the more it starts to make sense. It’s wonderful to feel a part of something. To feel connected to the players, and to a fan base. To watch a game and so passionately feel hope. That your team will win. That all the right fantastically athletic and seemingly impossible moves will be made.

This is like Wizards Chess on acid.

Aside from the game being heart-pumpingly exciting, there is the community. To come together with friends or family once a week or so and cheer for something you all have in common. The snacks, the drinks, the television. Tossing a football in the parking lot or making bets on something that is mostly unpredictable but easy to judge just the same.

Despite a lot of the negativity of football culture (see: how men who are involved in sports are treated after abusing women) I think I have found some calm midrange. Where even if these things conflict, I can be both a woman, and a sports fan.

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