STIs

Every year, nearly 20 million new STIs occur in the United States, half of which infect young people ages 15-24. Yes, half. There’s no need to be alarmed, but it is important to be aware. Understanding the following will make it a little easier to spot the early signs of STIs, and help you take control of your own sexual health, while simultaneously being considerate of existing or potential partners. Remember, the best way to avoid contracting/passing on an STI is to 1. use condoms/dental dams 2. get tested regularly if you are sexually active, especially with several partners, and 3. communicate honestly with your partner.

What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

An STI is an infection passed from one person to another via sexual contact with genital, anal and oral areas. Because many people who have STIs don’t have obvious symptoms, it’s important to always have safe sex.

How are STIs caused?

STIs are caused by the spread of bacteria, viruses or parasites. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are caused by bacteria. AIDS, genital herpes, hepatitis, genital warts, and cervical cancer are caused by viruses. Trichomoniasis and pubic lice are caused by parasites.

Do STIs have symptoms?

Not always. That’s why STIs can only be diagnosed through testing. However, common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • pain during sex
  • unusual bleeding from the vagina after sex or between periods
  • unexplained fatigue, night sweats, and weight loss
  • sore throat, swollen glands groin or neck area, fever, and body aches
  • unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
  • itchiness around the genital area
  • rashes, sores, or small lumps on or around the penis, vagina, or anus
Avoiding STIs

Other than abstaining from sex entirely, internal and external condoms offer the best protection against STIs. A dental dam, which is a thin square of latex, can be used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections during oral sex. Dams should be placed on the vulva or anus when the mouth, lips, or tongue are used for sexual stimulation. This barrier method keeps partners’ body fluids out of each other’s bodies and prevents skin-to-skin contact. The Sheer Glyde dam has been approved by the FDA for safer sex. They are even available in a variety of “fun and fruity” colors and flavors. You can also create your own dental dam using non-microwavable (nonporous to prevent bacteria and viruses from passing through) Saran Wrap, an internal or external condom that has been cut open, or a latex glove with the fingers cut off and one side cut down. Note: These methods are only effective when they cover the infected area. That’s why it is critical to swap sexual histories with your partner. It may feel awkward to ask your partner, but it’s totally a totally normal, healthy, and important conversation to have (#respect).

Can people who don’t have sex with multiple partners still get STIs?

Yes. Even if you’re currently in a monogamous relationship, you or your partner might have been previously infected without knowing it. Since STI symptoms may not show for months or even years or not at all, the only way to be sure you’re STI-free is to get tested.

I’m in a long-term relationship. Do I still need to use a condom?

The choice is yours. If you’re in a long-term relationship and prefer to have sex without condoms, we suggest that you and your partner(s) get tested first. If you’re nervous, go together! It could be a fun little date, and takes the pressure off each individual. Keep in mind that condoms not only help prevent the transmission of STIs, but protect against a potential pregnancy if a female-bodied partner is involved. Of course, there are other birth control options to explore, but only condoms prevent STIs.

Here are the most common STIs, explained:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common STI that can easily be cured. Unfortunately, many people don’t develop symptoms, but they can still infect others via sexual contact. Symptoms may include genital pain and discharge from the vagina or penis. Diagnosing chlamydia is done by taking a swab of the affected area or with a urine test. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, but left untreated can lead to serious long-term health complications, including infertility and chronic pain.

Genital warts

Caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), genital warts are bumps or skin changes that occur on or around your genital or anal area. The warts are normally painless, but you may experience redness or itching. Occasionally, genital warts bleed. Because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, you can skill pass the infection by rubbing without having penetrative sex. Treatments available for genital warts include creams and cryotherapy.

Cervical dysplasia (abnormal pap smear)

Cervical dysplasia is found by a Pap test. It’s most often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and may lead to cervical cancer if not treated. Most of the time, this condition causes no symptoms. It either can be treated or help prevent cervical HPV infections by getting an HPV vaccine.

Genital herpes

A common STI marked by genital pain and sores, genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is a type of the same virus that causes cold sores. Some people develop small, painful blisters or sores only a few days after coming into contact with the virus. However, months to years after you’ve been infected, certain triggers can reactivate the virus, causing the blisters to develop again. Currently, there’s no cure for genital herpes, but outbreaks can be controlled using daily antiviral medications.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a bacterial STI, in which at least half of females and many males experience no symptoms. When present, symptoms include painful urination and abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis. Diagnosed by a swab or urine test, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility and pain in the pelvic area.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial. It is simple to cure when treated immediately, but is infection that can have extremely serious complications when left untreated. Syphilis develops in stages, and symptoms progress with each stage. The first stage involves a painless sore on the genitals, rectum, or mouth. The second stage is characterized by a rash on the hands and feet. The final stage usually occurs many years later, and can result in heart problems, paralysis and blindness. When syphilis is treated properly (with antibiotics), the later stages can be prevented. Testing for syphilis usually requires a sample of blood or in rare instances spinal fluid.

HIV

Commonly transmitted by having unprotected sex or coming into contact with infected blood (for example, sharing needles to inject drugs). HIV virus attacks and weakens the immune system, our body’s natural defense against illness. Even though there’s no cure for HIV, there are daily treatments that allow most people to live an otherwise healthy life. People with an initial HIV infection may feel healthy or experience a flu-like illness. Blood and saliva tests are normally used to test for HIV. The CDC estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States, with 1 in 8 remaining unaware of their infection. All the more reason to go get tested!

Trichomoniasis

Caused by a small parasite, trichomoniasis causes foul-smelling vaginal discharge, genital itching, and painful urination in women. Males generally have little or no symptoms. For pregnant individuals, complications include a risk of premature delivery. Treatment involves both partners taking antibiotics.

Pubic lice

Pubic lice (often called “crabs” because they look like crabs under a microscope) are six-legged creatures that typically infest hair in the pubic area, although they also can attach themselves to other body hair. Pubic lice are easily passed through close genital contact. It may take weeks before experiencing itching. Pubic lice can usually be successfully treated with over-the-counter creams or shampoos.

How often should I get tested?

Under 25, if you have sex, you should get tested every year. 25 and up, if you have sex (oral, anal, or vaginal sex), and have any of these apply to you, get tested if you have…

  • a new sex partner
  • more than one sex partner
  • a sex partner with multiple sex partners
  • a partner with a sexually transmitted infection

If you test positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea, you should be retested 3 months after having treatment to ensure that you are no longer infected.

The Center for Disease Control recommends testing for HIV at least once between the ages of 13-64. You should get more frequent testing if you…

  • are a male who has had sex with another male
  • had sex—anal or vaginal—with an HIV-positive partner
  • had more than one sex partner since your last HIV test
  • have injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others
  • have exchanged sex for drugs or money
  • have been diagnosed with or sought treatment for another sexually transmitted disease
  • have been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)
  • have had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know

If any of these criteria apply, you should get tested at least once a year for HIV.

How do I tell my partner(s) I have an STI?

First of all, relax. Knowing your diagnosis means you can seek treatment. As we like to often say, knowledge is power. It is important to tell your present and past partner(s) if a test comes back positive, as their health is at risk, and they need to be informed to maintain their well-being. If the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want to know? (#goldenrule) If you contract something that is incurable, it is important to tell all future partners as well. Note: Not telling a partner about a confirmed diagnosis is a criminal offense in some states.

You may be fearful of rejection or embarrassment. What if they blame me, or think I’m weird? Fortunately, most STIs are easy to cure, and all are manageable to treat. Also, remember that 20 million number at the beginning? While we hope this statistic starts going down soon, STIs are hella common! The best option to approach the conversation is to be direct, honest, and open to (respectful) questions and concerns. If you don’t know the answer, look it up together, or give them the space they may need. It is also helpful to provide suggestions for where to get tested.

If you need more information on sexually transmitted infections, STI testing, or how to handle common excuses for not wearing condoms, talk to your doctor or visit your local health clinic. For more information you can look at the CDC website.

tabú tip:

Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Be safe, stay smart, get tested, and talk to your partner(s)! And remember, life with an STI is manageable. Don’t be scared by social stigmas and go get tested!

Sex Toys

In partnership with The Pleasure Chest

Shopping for your first sex toy can be an overwhelming experience: there are so many different shapes, sizes, and kinds to choose from! And once you’ve found a toy you like, how do you use it and who do you use it with? Sex toys can be a great tool for exploring your own sexuality, experiencing your first orgasm, or getting closer to your partner. We’re here to walk you through the basics of sex toy types, tips and toy care!

What are the different kinds of sex toys?

Sexuality is wide and varied, with the sex toy industry adapting to every preference and fantasy out there. Here’s a rundown of the usual suspects you’ll encounter when shopping for sex toys:

Vibrators:

Buying your first vibrator can be an overwhelming experience: there are literally thousands of different kinds of vibes to choose from. At the Pleasure Chest, we try to simplify this search with a few basic questions.

First, do you prefer internal or external stimulation?

For first-time toy users, we recommend that you start slow and work your way up: maybe try a low cost vibrating bullet with variable speeds to get a sense of the sensation you like.  While some folks love the pinpointed pressure of a bullet, others enjoy a larger toy that covers more surface area (like a wand).  If you enjoy penetration, then an internal vibe with some curvature is a great option with versatility, since they can double as an external vibe. If you discover that you don’t enjoy internal stimulation, you can still use these toys externally.

Are you looking to use something with a partner increase sensation for both of you?

Stretchy vibrating cockrings are great for all kinds of play; they can be worn on a penis, dildo or on you or your partner’s fingers during penetrative play to create “hands-free” vibration.

Dildos:

Do you enjoy penetration or the full feeling of internal stimulation?

If so, dildos can be a great vibrating or non-vibrating option.  You can use dildos on your own or with a partner, and you can even strap them into a harness for strap-on play.  Finding the right size is key with internal toys.  Think about what has comfortably been inserted before and do some measurements before making a purchase.  For instance, if you know that you like the feel of two fingers fully inserted, measure around your two fingers for the diameter and find a length similar to the length of your fingers, or a little longer if you will be using it in a harness, as the harness eats up some of the length.

Are you trying to stimulate your G-spot or prostate?  

Find a dildo with some curvature or a bulbous head to help you access these pleasure centers on the body.

Butt Stuff:

In recent years, anal sex has gained more acceptance and attention.  While it is fantastic that the genderless sex organ is getting the attention it deserves, it is also very important to know how to engage in anal play safely.  One fact everyone should know is – the ass does not self-lubricate.  If you’re interested in anal play a good, thick, long-lasting lubricant is the key to a safe and pleasurable experience.  Silicone lube is great because it lasts a long time, but it can be expensive and can also stain the sheets. Water-based lube is the most versatile and works with all toys; just make sure you get a thicker formula or be prepared to re-apply. And don’t forget the golden rule of anal toys: without a base, without a trace! Never put anything up your butt without a base or a flange to keep it from getting pulled into your body by the contractions of your sphincter muscles, or you could find yourself in the emergency room! We would also recommend a nonporous toy for easy cleaning and sterilization.  Something like the Fun Factory Bootie butt plug is a great first-time toy: it’s small, comfortable, and easy to insert.

Masturbation Sleeves:

Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of great toys designed for penises! Masturbation sleeves, range in shape and function from the classic hyper-realistic Fleshlight to the vibrating Hot Octopuss Pulse, which can even be used without an erection.  Simple and versatile open-ended sleeves, like our favorite the Sidekick 2, are made of super soft materials that combine tightness with texture for an enhanced erotic experience, and can also be incorporated into partner play.

Lube:

At the Pleasure Chest, we believe you can never have too much lube. Contrary to what you may have heard, lube isn’t just for older folks, or people going through menopause, it’s actually great for enhancing sensations and reducing friction for all kinds of play. It keeps things slick, comfortable, and slippery while helping to prevent chafing and microabrasions that can make you susceptible to infection. Some lubes come in fun fruity flavors or create a heating, cooling, or tingling sensation, for added stimulation.

We highly recommend water-based lubes because they can be used in any part of the body and with any toy material. Always make sure you check the ingredients of your lube before you buy it. Keep an eye out for glycerine, which is a sugar derivative and can feed yeast and lead to infection, and parabens, which are chemical preservatives that can absorb into the skin.

Silicone lube tends to be a little more slick and last a lot longer than water based lube, so it doesn’t need to be reapplied as often. It’s also water resistant, so you can use it in the shower. However, it can stain the sheets, and it’s not compatible with silicone as well as some other more sensitive toy materials.

Oil-based lubes are usually recommended for external use only, though for some folks, coconut oil lubricant in particular is safe for internal use. There are two key things to remember about oil-based lube. First, oil is not compatible with latex. If you’re using latex condoms or gloves, avoid using oil because it will cause latex barriers to break. Second, oil is difficult for our bodies to breakdown, so if used vaginally, oil can coat the mucus membranes and create a welcoming environment for bacteria, which can lead to infection.

For more on lube, check out the lubricant basic!

Condoms, Dams, & Gloves:

Choosing the right supplies for safer sex doesn’t have to be daunting. Condoms can help prevent STIs and pregnancy, and they are available in a broad range of sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Latex condoms are the most commonly available, but some people are allergic to latex. Non-latex condoms made from polyurethane or polyisoprene are a great alternative for people with latex sensitivities, and are just as effective as latex condoms. Dental dams, which are thin sheets of latex or polyurethane are great barriers to use for oral sex and anal rimming. Latex or nitrile gloves are also helpful if you’re using your hands for penetration. Besides preventing fluid exchange, they also make for quick cleanup, and many people especially like to use gloves if they’re exploring the backdoor with their fingers.

How do I choose the right sex toy?

Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to sex toys. Everyone has different tastes and different needs.  Find a local sex-positive retailer, where you can touch the toys and get advice from knowledgeable staff.  Also, think about the sensations your body responds well to (internal versus external stimulation, firm pressure rubbing versus rapid motion rubbing, etc.)  If you have an idea about what you like you know what to ask for or to look for in online reviews.  If you don’t know what kinds of sensation you like try to find a toy with some versatility such as variable speed vibrations, the option to use the toy in different ways, like a vibrating dildo, and start with something simple and low cost so the toy can help you can learn what sensations your body responds well to.  Pro tips: warming a toy to body temperature by holding it in your hands or between your legs and using lubricant with your sex toys will enhance the experience you have with the toy.

What makes a toy “body-safe”?

Body-safe simply means that the materials or ingredients are not harmful.  There’s two main factors to think about in sex toy materials – porosity and chemical softeners.  If something is going inside you, you want to consider if the material of the toy can harbor bacteria.  Nonporous toys (like silicone, metal, and glass) do not trap bacteria.  You can clean them completely with toy cleaner, gentle soap and water or by boiling them if there are no electrical components, while porous toys (like plastic, cyberskin, TPE, elastomer and jelly rubber) can trap bacteria into the pores of the material and are not safe to share with partners or to use both anally and vaginally unless you put a condom over them.  Phthalates in soft plastic toys are also something to be aware of as these chemical softeners can leach from the toy into your body.  An easy way tell whether a toy contains phthalates is to smell the toy. If it smells like a new shower curtain, it contains phthalates. Confirm a product is Phthalate-free or nonporous to ensure you are purchasing a body-safe toy.

Do I need to/how do I clean my sex toys?

In short, yes! You should always wash your toy right out of the box with warm water and soap, and after every subsequent use. If your toy is non-porous and doesn’t have a motor, clean up is easy you can boiling it for 3-5 minutes or wash it in the top rack of your dishwasher (without soap). You can also use anti-bacterial toy cleaners and wipes on any non-porous toys, which are available online and in any sex-positive retail store.  Porous toys can also be cleaned with toy cleaner, or warm water and soap, but know that you cannot fully clean these toys as the pores in the material can trap microscopic bacteria, so the safest bet is to only use them externally or to put a condom on them for internal use. If you’re sharing a sex toy, make sure it is sanitized between users. If it can’t be sanitized, the safest way to share a toy is to put a condom or latex glove on it, so any areas that are touching or entering the body are fully covered.

Can I use a sex toy with a partner?

Using a toy with your partner for the first time can be intimidating, that’s for sure.  If you think about toys as a way to enhance sensations and make sex better, they can become your sidekick in pleasing your partner.  Since toys do not have the same biofeedback as skin on skin introducing a toy into partner play requires more communication both before sex to find the right fit for you and your partner and during sex so you know how your partner is responding to the toy.   A surprising number of people are unfamiliar with the idea of using vibrators during partner sex, and also the fact that most folks with vulvas do need some form of clitoral stimulation to orgasm. Using a toy together, like a vibrating cock ring or a butt plug can be a great way for you both to get off, have stronger orgasms, and explore something new together.  And no, a sex toy won’t replace your partner. Until they invent toys that cuddle, talk to you, and drive you to airport, your partner has nothing to worry about!

Will my sex toy desensitize me/stretch me out/ruin partnered sex for me?

The short answer is no: your sex toy will not damage your bits or ruin analog sex for you! While you can’t get addicted to your sex toy, you might become dependent on it for quick and easy orgasms or if you exclusively orgasm in the same way repeatedly. If you find yourself in a toy rut, it’s okay to take a break, change up how you are using the toy, or kick it old school by using your hands.

If you’re worried about a toy stretching you out, as long as you are using your internal toys safely, meaning using lubricant staying in a sober and aware state of mind and not numbing your body in any way so that you are fully aware of what your body is telling you, you will not harm yourself with a sex toy.

Resources: 

For more information visit our website, www.pleasurechest.com, where you can browse our wide variety of products and curated categories, read toy reviews, and explore our PleasurEd blog for free tips, tricks and educational videos.

tabú tip:

No matter what toy you’re interested in, you can increase sensation and comfort by adding lube! Try a water-based lube without glycerin, like Sliquid or Good Clean Love to amp up a self pleasure session or partner play.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which helps us sustain our business and bring you great content! The Pleasure Chest is an inclusive company that actively promotes quality sex education and sex positivity, and we only promote organizations we trust and support!

Sexual Identity

Written by Grace Manger from Everyone Is Gay and My Kid Is Gay

A person’s sexual identity describes the gender (or genders) that they are attracted to in a sexual or romantic way. Everyone has some kind of sexual identity, and we’ll define some of them below. There are a lot of different sexual identities to choose from, but the most important thing to remember is that you get to choose what sexual identity word is the best fit for you.

Overview and Breakdown:

There are a lot of different sexual identity terms, but here are some of the more common ones. 

Straight (or heterosexual)

People who are attracted to people who are not their same gender. For example, a woman who is only attracted to men might identify as straight.

Gay

People who are attracted to people of the same gender. For example, a man who is only attracted to other men might identify as gay. Similarly, a lesbian specifically refers to a gay woman, so a woman who is only attracted to other women.

Bisexual

People who are attracted to those of their same gender and to those of different genders. Similarly, pansexual is a sexual identity for those who are attracted to all genders.

Asexual (or “ace” for short)

People who don’t experience sexual attraction to any gender. Asexuality also exists on a spectrum, so some people may identify as ace and still experience some amount of sexual attraction.

Queer

This is a tough term to define, and that’s exactly how it’s meant to be! Identifying as queer generally means that they aren’t straight, but could mean a myriad of other things. Queer used to be a slur used to attack and harm those in the gay and bisexual communities, but has since been reclaimed and used to celebrate the amazing diversity in human sexuality.

Questioning

Someone who identifies as questioning may be in a period of figuring out their sexuality, and exploring what other sexual identity term might feel like the best fit.

Now for some myth busting and important question answering!

Being straight is the best, though, right?

Nope! Not even a little bit. In our society, we tend to think that everyone is straight until they say, “Actually, I’m not straight! I am [insert sexual identity].” This is called “coming out” and can happen at any age, with any sexual or gender identity. But just because we assume everyone is straight until further notice does not make all of the other sexual identities secondary or less than. Being gay, queer, or bisexual is a wonderful thing to be, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being straight.

What if I don’t know what my sexual identity is? 

That’s ok! That’s great, even, because it means that you get to embark on a magical journey full of unicorns and confetti. Ok, there may or may not be unicorns and confetti involved, but it can be an exciting opportunity to think about who you are, who you like to spend time with, who you picture standing next to you in 20 years, and who you might like to go on a date with. You might know right away, like a light bulb going off in your head screaming, “I’m bisexual!” Or, it might take some more patience, some more journaling about your feelings, and some more time to let yourself try out new things until you find something that feels good.

Why do you keep saying “might identify”? 

Ultimately, a sexual identity term is for everyone to decide for themselves, and we should never assume someone’s sexual identity based on who they happen to be dating at any given time, or how they dress or what kind of music they like. Human sexuality is so complex, and we should never think we know someone better than they know themselves.

If straight, gay, and queer are all sexual identities, why do people make such a fuss about being LGBTQ? 

This is a great question! Remember how we talked about how being straight is the “default” in our society? For a long time (and still now, to some extent) people who identified as something other than straight were harassed, oppressed, and denied basic human rights. As a result, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community has had to come together and fight for equality and respect.

For a deeper dive, check out Defining: GayDefining: BisexualDefining: AsexualDefining: Queer, and Defining: Questioning!

tabú tip:

Your sexual identity is for you to explore and understand in your own way, in your own time. No one can decide your sexual identity for you, but there are resources and books and people available to help you along the way!

Sexual Assault

In partnership with The Equality Institute

What is Sexual Assault?

So what exactly is sexual assault? According to the Department of Justice sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Sexual assault can include a wide range of acts including:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Unwanted touching
  • Coerced or forced sexual activities
  • Flashing
  • Stalking
  • Posting sexual images online without consent
  • Being forced or coerced to watch pornography

The most important factor is that sexual assault happens when consent is not present. Consent is an agreement between people to engage in sexual activity. Consent is not implied, not coerced, and not set in stone. Consent is voluntary, specific, informed, enthusiastic, positive and reversible (i.e. you can change your mind at any time). It is all about open, ongoing communication.

Lack of consent can happen in a lot of ways, including ‘forced sex’ and ‘coerced sex.’ Sometimes people could be verbally or physically forced into sexual activity against their will. People could also be coerced or convinced into sexual activity that they don’t want to do. Force and coercion can happen in a variety of ways. For instance, being forced to watch pornography is another form of sexual assault where consent isn’t given. There are many different forms of sexual assault, and it may not always feel obvious or comfortable to label something ‘assault.’ Pressure and guilt often play a major role in sexual assault; the bottom line is, if an experience was non-consensual, it was not okay. If you’re not sure about something, check out the resource list toward the end.

Sexual assault is one of the many forms of sexual violence, which is an umbrella term meaning any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. Sexual violence is a form of power-based violence and includes a range of crimes such as sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse. Here are some helpful terms related to sexual violence and assault:

Rape: often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent.

Intimate partner violence: behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm.

Sexual harassment: an unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favors or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

Stalking: a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

Stealthing: the act of removing a condom during sex without consent of the partner.

Revenge porn: often nude or sexual photography or video that is distributed without a person’s consent via any medium.

Many of these terms are defined specifically according to state. To find out your state’s definitions, visit RAINN’s State Law Database.

Rape Culture

Rape culture is a term, coined by feminists in the 1970s, to refer to the normalization or trivialization of sexual violence against women in society. Rape culture manifests in many different ways. It is victim blaming, slut shaming and sexual objectification. It is how the threat of sexual violence affects women’s daily movements. It’s the fact that survivors of rape are often asked, “What were you wearing? What did you say? How much did you drink?” It encourages male sexual aggression and condones physical and emotional violence against women as the norm. Rape culture is when people make jokes about sexual violence that validate the actions of perpetrators. Or when perpetrators of sexual violence are defended because they are athletes, actors or musicians. It is a culture that exists across the world and condones sexual assault.

College Campuses

Recently, the media has turned its attention to college and university campuses as the sites of widespread rape culture and sexual assault. While college can be an overwhelmingly positive and eye-opening experience, it is important to understand that it is also a setting for risk. A 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics funded study of 9 U.S. colleges and universities found that over a quarter of senior females (25.1%) reported experiencing an unwanted/nonconsensual sexual encounter since entering college. Students who experience sexual assault tend to face subsequent trouble with schoolwork, relationships, and thoughts of transferring or dropping out of school. Being educated and knowledgeable about sexual health, consent, your rights and resources can go a long way in making the college experience all the more amazing.

Title IX

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. Any college or university that receives federal funding (most of them) can be held legally responsible if they ignore sexual harassment or assault. Under Title IX, students can take actions against their assailants through their college and hold them responsible for their actions. Get to know Title IX, and your rights under it as a college student.

But I’ve heard…(myth busting):

Myth #1: If they’re drunk or wearing provocative clothing, they’re partly responsible.

Fact #1: Sexual assault survivors are never, under any circumstances, responsible for somebody assaulting them. Neither behavior nor dress is an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity.

Myth #2: Sexual assault is perpetrated mostly by strangers.

Fact #2: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows – this may be a friend, a relative, a person in a position of authority, or a partner. The most common form of violence against women across the world is violence that occurs in an intimate relationship.

Myth #3: Sexual assault can be avoided if people avoid “dangerous” places where strangers might be lurking.

Fact #3: Sexual assault can happen in many places at many times of the day. According to FBI data, nearly 70% of reported sexual assaults happened in the residence of the survivor, the perpetrator or another person.

Myth #4: He’s a man – men can’t be sexually assaulted.

Fact # 4: People of any gender can be sexually assaulted, including men. Sometimes, men and boys who have been sexually assaulted face different challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.

Myth #5: Victims often lie about being sexually assaulted to get attention.

Fact #5: In America, estimates of false reporting for sexual assault fall between 2% and 7% (which is about the same for other crimes, eg. Grand Theft Auto). This means that most sexual assault reports are genuine. Many survivors don’t report their experiences for fear of not being believed.

I think I have been sexually violated. What do I do now?

Sexual assault is never your fault. Ever. After your assault, you may experience a range of emotions, from shock and confusion to sadness and anger. You may lose your appetite, have trouble sleeping, and/or feel detached from your body at times. You may feel shame, blame yourself, or question your recollection of the experience. All of these responses are completely normal, and there is no single correct or ‘normal’ response. Sexual assault is a type of trauma, and it takes time to for your mind and body to process your experience and heal. This time period varies for each individual. Acknowledge your experience and feelings as real and legitimate.

You may wonder why this happened to you, but rest assured, sexual assault is never the consequence of your actions or behaviors. The sole responsibility lies on the perpetrator. Know that you are not alone, and that there are resources available to help you cope.

If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, call 911. Your safety is important. Are you in a safe place? If you’re not feeling safe, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Reporting

It isn’t always easy for survivors to speak up or report sexual assault. Reasons for this include:

  • They may not want anyone to know.
  • They may believe that it is a personal matter.
  • They may believe that it was not important enough to report or they weren’t sure if what they experienced was sexual assault or rape.
  • They may believe that the police would not believe them or do anything.
  • They may fear retaliation from the perpetrator.
  • They may not want to get the perpetrator in trouble (especially if the perpetrator is someone they know or are in a relationship with).

You have complete control over your decision to report. If you choose to do so, learn your state laws, and familiarize yourself with the process.

How to Support a Friend or Relative

It can be difficult to accept that a loved one has been sexually assaulted or abused. Their choice to confide in you represents a level of trust you should feel proud of, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy conversation or journey through coping. Here are a few steps you can take to be supportive.

  1. Listen to and validate their experience. Recognize their experience and feelings as valid. Listen more than you speak. Let them open up to you in a way that is natural for them; do not push the conversation or their comfort zone. Thank them for opening up to you, and emphasize that you can be trusted, and you respect their privacy (and mean it!). Don’t ask for details, and never ever victim-blame. Sexual violence is never the fault of the survivor. Do not label their experience for them. Allow them to come to terms with their experience in their own way.
  2. Don’t tell them what to do. You may have opinions about what your friend should do next (go to the hospital, report to the police, tell a parent, etc.), but what matters most is how they want to handle the situation. Their choices are entirely up to them. You can point your friend to available resources, and encourage them to confide in a mental health professional, but never pressure them. Respect their privacy, and right to make their own decisions.
  3. Take care of your own mental health. Learning about someone’s sexual assault can be painful, as you care about that individual and may feel sad or angry they have been hurt. It can also be triggering if you have had your own experience(s) with sexual trauma. However, remember that you are not a therapist or licensed professional equipped to counsel your friend/relative. Establish necessary boundaries for yourself, and be realistic about what you can, and cannot handle.

Overall, be sensitive and patient, but continue to be yourself. Sexual violence is a traumatic experience, and everyone handles it differently. At the end of the day, survivors want to feel validated, respected, and normal. Treat them as such.

How, or should I step in if I see something sketchy taking place?

A bystander is a person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. They may be present when sexual assault occurs, or may witness the circumstances that lead up to the crime. Being an active bystander means that by stepping in, you could change a potentially dangerous outcome. Whether you’re taking home a friend who has had too much to drink or explaining that a rape joke isn’t funny, choosing to step in can affect the way those around you think about and respond to sexual violence.

Support and Resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE): 

When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, a staff member will walk you through the process of getting help at your own pace. You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you. The hotline is free, confidential and available 24/7.

RAINN:

RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It provides a wealth of information and resources on a huge variety of topics such as safety, receiving medical attention, recovery, reporting options, the criminal justice system and many more. You can also chat online at RAINN anonymously and confidentially.

End Rape on Campus: 

You can also contact End Rape on Campus. As stated on their website, the violence prevention advocacy and awareness organization provides free, direct assistance to all survivors of gender-based and sexual violence, including, but not limited to, in the following ways:

  • connecting survivors, parents and friends with support networks
  • filing federal complaints
  • mentoring student activists
  • connecting survivors with mental health professionals
  • connecting survivors with legal counsel

Local Services:

There are many services available to people who have experienced sexual assault such as the 24-hour crisis line, follow-up services, legal services, medical and mental health services, support and peer groups. Survivors and loved ones can also find support in their communities by reaching out to a local sexual assault service provider.

Other resources include:

Victim Rights Law Center

Know Your IX

Culture of Respect

LemonAid

tabú tip:

Educate and empower yourself! Having knowledge and information about sexual assault goes a long way in protecting yourself and those around you. Sexual assault doesn’t look like one thing, nor does recovery. Know your rights and the resources available, and be an active part in reducing sexual assault by being informed and supporting others!

Relationship Health

In partnership with The One Love Foundation

If your idea of #RelationshipGoals is based on 50 Shades of Grey, you’re not alone. TBH most people assume that the relationships we see in movies, on TV shows, or on social media are the ideal, but that’s most likely not the case. With pop culture romanticizing unhealthy, possessive behavior, it can be hard to tell the difference between a relationship that’s toxic and one that’s good for you.

The One Love Foundation works to educate young people about these differences so that anyone in a bad relationship can recognize the warning signs and get help before things escalate to abuse. When it comes to relationships there are a few key differences that distinguish the good from the bad, and we’re here to tell you about them!

5 key differences between healthy + unhealthy relationships:

1. In a healthy relationship, both partners set the pace of the relationship together. In an unhealthy relationship, one partner will move more quickly than the other is comfortable with and the relationship will feel very intense.

In a healthy relationship, both people set the pace together and feel equally satisfied with how quickly the relationship is progressing. You feel like you and your partner are on the same page about things and you don’t feel like you’re rushing into something serious or moving too quickly. The relationship feels mutually passionate, respectful, and uplifting. That’s because healthy passionate people balance their strong emotions with strong respect for what the other person is feeling, too.

Unhealthy passion in a relationship, or intensity, feels chaotic and overwhelming. If a relationship starts out really strong or feels like too much too soon, that’s a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. Your partner should be respectful and thoughtful about how you feel and should never pressure you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Requests for exclusivity early on, lavish gifts or extravagant displays of affection could also be warning signs. Basically, if they’re going from zero to 100 real quick – it might be time to reconsider.

2. In a healthy relationship, you and your partner will trust one another completely. In an unhealthy relationship, your partner might do certain things like demand to know where you are or get upset with you for texting other people.  

Trusting your partner means knowing that they are reliable, having confidence in their loyalty, and feeling safe with them physically and emotionally. All healthy relationships require mutual and unguarded trust between partners.

A partner who is easily jealous or possessive of you is not acting that way because they care – it is because they are trying to control you. Your partner should never try to control you or limit your freedom, like telling you not to hang out with certain people or requiring you to share passwords. If your partner is controlling or possessive of you, it’s time to rethink that relationship!

Also, if your partner is using their lack of trust or past experiences as an excuse to control you, question you or otherwise make you feel as though you need to go out of your way earn their trust, that is not a good relationship. Regardless of what either partner has experienced in the past, like a cheating ex or divorced parents, in a healthy relationship your partner will trust you completely and vice versa.

3. Healthy relationships allow for open, honest communication between partners. If you feel like you can’t talk to your partner about how you’re feeling or something that is bothering you, that’s a big red flag that your relationship may be unhealthy.

You’ve definitely heard the very cliché “communication is key.” But here’s the thing – it’s a cliché for a reason. Good communication is one of the most important aspects to having a healthy relationship. It’s important to be able to talk about what you both want and expect. Sometimes this means being honest and having uncomfortable conversations, but if you’re in a healthy relationship your partner will be receptive and listen (and you should do the same). Being on the same page as your partner goes a long way and opening-up to your partner about what’s bothering you, compromising over your disagreements and providing positive feedback are all just as important.

While communication is important, you and your partner should both be comfortable with how often you talk to one another. If your partner demands that you always answer right away and text them all day long, that’s a warning sign of relationship abuse. No one can make demands about how quickly you respond or require you to always be accessible (unless they’re your parents). On the flip side, if your partner is always ignoring your texts and it doesn’t make you feel good, that’s not healthy either. Finding a communication balance that you’re both comfortable with is super important. Also, if you’re worried that your partner will overreact or retaliate if you try to talk to them about something, that’s another sign that your relationship is not healthy.

4. In a healthy relationship, your partner will respect personal boundaries. If your partner is pressuring you to hang out with them over other people and activities, that’s a big red flag.

It’s important to find a balance between spending time with your partner and spending time with other people. In healthy relationships, your partner will try to get to know the important people in your life like friends and family. They’ll be supportive of your hobbies and interests and encourage you to have a life outside of your relationship. Supportive partners will always want what’s best for you and they won’t hold you back from achieving your dreams or pursuing your goals. In a healthy relationship, you’ll feel like yourself and not like you should change things about yourself or make huge sacrifices so that the relationship can thrive. Also, in a healthy relationship, you should feel 100% comfortable setting personal boundaries with your partner and know that they will be respected (and vice versa for your partner).

In an unhealthy relationship, one partner pressures another to cut ties with friends, family and other people. It crosses the line from “we’re excited to spend time together” to “I need you to spend all of your time with me.” An abusive partner will often use isolation as a tactic to separate a person from support networks like friends and family to gain power over that person. If you feel like your partner is making excuses to separate you from your friends and family, like saying that they don’t get along with certain people or that your relationship should be the priority, that’s a big red flag of relationship abuse!

5. Healthy relationships are built on respect. If your partner is violating that and criticizing you or making you feel not-so-great, that’s a sign of an abusive relationship!

Has anyone ever told you, “No one will ever love you more than I do.” Or maybe you’ve heard, “That food will make you fat.” Criticism is a major sign of an unhealthy relationship. Insulting your partner is never okay, not even during arguments or while under the influence. Making degrading remarks or sarcastic jokes at your expense can really affect a person’s self-esteem. This type of behavior is known as emotional abuse and it has serious consequences – not only because it breaks down a person’s confidence, but also because some people start to believe that the things being said about them are actually true.

In a healthy relationship, both partners will have respect for one another. Your partner won’t say things that make you feel bad about yourself or make you feel guilty. Also, just because you don’t always see eye to eye, it doesn’t mean that one person needs to change their mind for your relationship to work. A key way to establish respect in a relationship is to be considerate of your partner’s privacy and boundaries. Being respectful also means being mindful of your partner’s feelings and not doing things that might really hurt them, like keeping things that are supposed to be private just between you two.

Ultimately, an unhealthy relationship is based on power and control and a healthy one is based on love and respect. If you are experiencing any of these unhealthy behaviors in your relationship, or if you feel like your partner is using tactics to control you, that is a big red flag and you should talk to someone that can help. Your partner doesn’t have to physically harm you for your relationship to be abusive. If your relationship is great most of the time, but unhealthy sometimes, that’s not good enough. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy relationship and there is never an excuse for abuse. Even if there is a history of mental illness, cheating or other hardships either in or outside of your current relationship, those are not excuses for abusive behavior. It’s important to know that you can’t change your partner. If you are in an abusive relationship, you should seek help immediately — don’t wait for your partner to change!

For more examples of healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, check out One Love’s #ThatsNotLove campaign or visit their website.

tabú tip:

Communicate with your partner, and speak up if something doesn’t feel right. If you end up having to walk away, trust us, you’re better off single (and eventually with someone new) than you are with someone who doesn’t treat you with the love and respect you deserve!

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of great physical and emotional change for those who experience it. Whether you recently started menstruating or are beginning your third trimester, it is important to understand the ins and outs of the journey.

How do people get pregnant?

The most common way is via unprotected vaginal intercourse, when an ejaculated sperm enters the vagina. The sperm then travels up through the cervix, into the uterus, and fertilizes an egg. Although it’s less likely, people can also become pregnant through any kind of sexual act in which semen makes contact with the vulva.

Alternative insemination is another way for a person to become pregnant. During alternative insemination, sperm, which can come from a partner or donor, are inserted into a vagina with a syringe or other device.

Someone with fertility challenges can also become pregnant via vitro fertilization. In this procedure, eggs are removed from the body and combined with sperm. Then, one or more of the fertilized eggs are implanted into the uterus.

When does pregnancy begin?

In order for a person to become pregnant, they have to release an egg from their ovary (ovulation). Then, the egg and sperm must join to form a single cell (fertilization). Finally, pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to their uterus (implantation).

Menstruation

Menstruation is when the lining of the uterus flows out through the vagina. Usually, menstruation occurs each month, lasting from 3 to 7 days.

Ovulation

Ovulation occurs when the egg enters the fallopian tube and begins moving toward the uterus. This happens about two weeks before a person’s next period.

Fertilization

Several hundred sperm move up through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes after vaginal intercourse or alternative insemination. If a sperm fertilizes an egg, it’s called fertilization.

Implantation

As the fertilized egg moves down the fallopian tube, it divides into numerous cells, creating a ball. Pregnancy begins if this ball attaches to the uterus’s lining. This is called implantation.

Twins? 

Until the end of week four, it’s possible for the developing ball of cells to split. If it splits into two, identical twins can develop. At ovulation, it’s also possible for two eggs to be released. If both eggs become fertilized by sperm and implant in the uterus, fraternal twins can develop.

How can I plan my pregnancy?

Researching fertility and knowing when your fertile days are will help you plan your pregnancy. The first step is figuring out when you will ovulate. Knowing this will let you identify the fertile days that come before ovulation. Then you can begin tracking your fertility.

One way to do so is to chart your menstrual cycle. However, if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, predicting ovulation can be difficult. Other methods of determining your fertile days include tracking your temperature and charting the consistency of your cervical mucus.

Of course, growing aware of your fertility pattern is only one step in determining whether or not you want to become pregnant. Emotion readiness, financial status, and your health are also issues to think about when considering pregnancy.

How can I avoid pregnancy?

Birth control is the best way for a sexually active people to avoid pregnancy. If you’ve already had sex without birth control, and are within a 120 hour (5 day) window, you can take emergency contraception, colloquially known as the “morning-after pill,” to prevent pregnancy.

How do I know if I’m pregnant?

There are a few symptoms to look out for that might indicate pregnancy. They include the following:

  • Nausea or vomiting for seemingly no reason, especially in the morning
  • Peeing more frequently
  • Sensitive or painful breasts
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Missing period or having an atypically super light period

Many of these (aside from the last one) are also indicators of an upcoming period, and thus are often ignored. The only way to know for sure if you are pregnant is by taking a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests test your urine for the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is only found in the body of a pregnant person. There are many places to buy a home pregnancy test, such as a pharmacy, grocery store, or health clinic. They cost about $15. To note: There is no minimum age for purchasing a pregnancy test.

If you have recently engaged in unprotected sex and think you might be pregnant, we recommend taking a pregnancy test. The most accurate results are nearest to the date of your expected period, and most effective once you have already missed your period, at which point there are accurate 99 out of 100 times. If you receive a positive result, it is important to visit a health care provider to confirm your results.

Fun fact: Pregnant and craving pickles? People who crave pickles are really craving salt and may be sodium deficient. So go ahead, and drink the pickle juice, too!

tabú tip:

Creating another human being is quite a journey. Stay informed, and find an obstetrician you trust!

Porn

In partnership with Bellesa

Would you watch Talladega Nights or Cars to learn how to drive? We sure hope not (especially Cars because, well, those cars drive themselves)! We teamed up with Bellesa, a porn site geared toward women, to help you navigate the world of erotic cinema that is porn.

Porn Sex ≠ Real Life Sex

It’s hella important that the difference between fantasy and reality is well-understood (like, really well-understood).

Kind of like how romantic comedies are made for entertainment…well, so too is porn. So while it’s totally cool (and healthy!) to enjoy porn…we should watch it with a grain of salt (as we do “Love Actually” or “The Notebook”). We can’t allow the performance of paid actors to skew our expectations of reality!

If you want to learn more about sexual education, you’re already in the right place. Connecting users with experts in the fields, tabú answers questions that are “too taboo” for mom/dad. Taking control of your sexual health is empowering af.

3 reasons you should be (proudly) watching porn:
  1. Porn is damn healthy. While porn is not a replacement for actual sex, it often facilitates masturbation…which is a major plus. Masturbating is great for mental health – allowing for better sleeps and reduced stress. Also, a healthy masturbation schedule actually makes us better sex partners!
  2. Real talk: it’s sometimes better than the real thing. …sometimes! It does happen that some nights, we just can’t bring ourselves to get up off the couch – let alone get dressed and leave the house. The struggle is real. By watching porn, we can reap the benefits of having an orgasm without having facing any of the aforementioned obstacles. It also allows us to selfishly focus on ourselves and not worry about getting a second human off.
  3. It can srsly benefit your relationship. The best sex happens when both partners are on the same page. Watching porn with your boo creates a safe space for each partner to ask for what he/she wants. Watching porn with your partner can open both of your minds to new sexual possibilities and unexplored kinks.
But what if I don’t really like what’s out there?

Here are some awesome websites to watch porn that minimize the gap between traditional porn sex and real world sex (and do not focus exclusively on the male gaze!). These site cater to individuals across identities!

  1. Bellesa. Porn for women. Bellesa features female friendly sex videos and erotica tube. Hot guys. Storylines. Natural bodies. Free erotic stories. Real orgasms.
  2. LustCinema LustCinema is an online movie theater that gathers the best in new adult cinema, bringing you fresh aesthetic, innovative and modern productions.
  3. LucieMakesPorn. LucieMakesPorn showcases ethical films that depict fun, authentic and passionate sex that respects all genders, bodies and sexualities. The site is curated by Lucie Blush, a porn filmmaker, actress, writer.
  4. CrashPadSeries. CrashPad is the Bay Area hotbed of queer sexuality. Pink and White Productions creates adult entertainment that exposes the complexities of queer sexual desire. Taking inspiration from many different sources, Pink and White is dedicated to producing sexy and exciting images that reflect today’s blurred gender lines and fluid sexualities.
tabú tip:

The best part of all? The more you watch porn…the more you masturbate…the more you will learn about your body and about what you like! This is so important to take with you into any sexual encounter that Future You will have. We cannot expect our partners to know what we like if we don’t even know ourselves. Explore your sexuality and get to know your bodies, people!

If you’re a parent and want to know how to talk to your kids about porn, check out The Porn Conversation!

Period Problems

Periods aren’t exactly the most fun time of the month for those who get them. Everyone’s period is different – super light, heavy af, 3 days, maybe 8. Pain is not uncommon, but extreme pain could reveal a condition. We approached some questions about debilitating periods, and what you can do to alleviate your misery.

What if my period is really, like unbearably painful or hella irregular?

Painful menstruation is also known as dysmenorrhoea. It can be characterized by painful symptoms, usually in the pelvis or lower abdomen area, and accompanied by back pain, diarrhea, or nausea.

If you are experiencing extreme, persistent pelvic pain, especially during your period, you might suffer from endometriosis.

Endometriosis

is a painful, chronic disorder that affects over 6 million women and girls in the U.S., and millions more worldwide. It occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside your uterus. This tissue breaks down and bleeds during your period, causing painful scar tissue. If you have signs or symptoms that may indicate endometriosis, see your doctor for treatment.

Symptoms may also include:

  • heavy bleeding during and between periods
  • pain during sex
  • infertility
  • painful urination/bowel movements during menstruation

[Mayo Clinic]

Uterine fibroids

are another condition associated with painful periods. Fibroids are noncancerous growths of muscle tissue of the uterus that range in number and size. As many as 70-80% of all women have fibroids by age 50.

In addition to cramping and pain during your period, symptoms for fibroids may also include: 

  • heavier bleeding, sometimes with blood clots
  • longer or more frequent menstruation
  • spotting between periods
  • pressure on the bladder or rectum
  • frequent urination
  • constipation and/or rectal pain
  • lower back and/or abdominal pain

[womenshealth.gov]

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

is a condition characterized by an imbalance of hormones, including androgens, insulin, and progesterone. It affects about 10 million women worldwide. It is a leading cause of female infertility. Contrary to what the name suggests, not all people with PCOS have cysts on their ovaries. Early diagnosis and treatment can help control symptoms and prevent long-term issues.

Symptoms include:

  • irregular/missed periods due to not ovulating
  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • unwanted hair growth (generally on the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, and abdomen)
  • thinning hair on the scalp
  • infertility
  • acne and/or darkened patches of skin
  • mood changes
  • pelvic pain
  • headaches
  • poor sleep and/or insomnia

[PCOS Awareness Association]

For more information, check out our Pain & Dysfunction basic. If you are experiencing symptoms, please see your doctor to discuss treatment options.

tabú tip:

If you find that your period is debilitating and affecting your quality of life, be your own advocate, and see your doctor for treatment.

Periods

What is a period?
Menstruation, or having your period, is when the lining of the uterus flows out through your vagina in the form of blood and tissue (menses). Usually, menstruation begins between the ages of 11 and 14, and occurs each month for 3 to 7 days. Fun times! Essentially, periods are the body’s monthly notification that you’re not pregnant.
What period product is best for me?
Given that the average menstruator spends over 6.25 years having their period, let’s first explore the different types of products out there you can use. Bear in mind, you can switch it up throughout your period, based on your unique flow and preferences.
Pads
Pads are one of the oldest forms of menstrual products still widely used today. A pad is a piece of soft material that adheres to your underwear to absorb period blood. Some pads have “wings” that fold over the sides of your underwear to stay in place. They can be made with disposable material, or from fabric that can be washed and worn again. Pads also come in various lengths and absorbency levels for lighter vs. heavier flows. For light-flow days or spotting between periods, some people prefer to use pantyliners (really thin pads), or to wear a pantyliner with a tampon/cup for added protection. Unfortunately, some people find that pads aren’t suitable for certain types of physical activity, like intense physical activity.
Tampons
Like sanitary pads, tampons also come in different levels of absorbency to soak up menstrual blood. Some tampons include an applicator to help ease insertion. The string attached at the end makes them easy to remove. Menstruators often turn to tampons for greater physical freedom during menstruation. However, individuals with vaginismus or other pelvic pain issues may find it impossible to insert a tampon, as the contraction of their vaginal muscles prevents penetration. It’s important to change tampons at least every four to eight hours in order to prevent toxic shock syndrome (TSS). If you have not had sex, using a tampon does not cause you to “lose your virginity.”
Menstrual cups
Menstrual cups are flexible bell-shaped collection bowls for your period blood. One of the most popular brands is DivaCups. To use a cup, first it is folded, then inserted into the vagina, where it unfolds against the walls of the vagina to collect blood. Cups come in different sizes and levels of firmness, and generally last up to 12 hours. Most are reusable (after washing, of course), and some are disposable. Reusable menstrual cups are an eco-friendly and cost-effective option. Menstrual cups might be challenging for people with vaginismus, or that have a tilted uterus or low cervix. It is recommended that you consult with your doctor first about using a menstrual cup if you have an IUD.
#menstruationinnovation
There are many great new product alternatives on the market worth considering, such as period-resistant underwear (check out Thinx and Dear Kate). Flex (a flexible, disposable, disc-shaped product that collects menses) is another option that provides up to 12 hours of period protection, and can be worn comfortably during sex! Score.
What about ingredients?
What (and who) you put inside your body is important. We recommend looking for products without chemicals, synthetics, fragrances, toxins, or dyes. Organic cotton pads, tampons, and liners will keep your vagina healthy and safe. Some of our favorite brands are Aunt Flow, L., Sustain, LOLA, and Cora.
What is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) occurs the week or two before menstruation and refers to the physical and emotional changes you might feel.
Symptoms include:
  • acne
  • bloating
  • breast tenderness
  • crying
  • depression
  • feeling tired
  • food cravings
  • headaches
  • joint or muscle pain
  • mood swings
  • trouble falling asleep
  • upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea
What can I do to relieve menstrual cramps?
During menstruation, your uterus contracts (thus, the cramps) to help the lining separate and leave the body. Here’s what you can do to lessen the pain:
  • orgasm
  • masturbate
  • exercise
  • rest
  • take an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • soak in a hot bath
  • use a heating pad
  • yoga
If your period keeps you from doing what you normally do, talk to your doctor about strategies to manage or treat your symptoms.
What if I skip a period or my menstrual cycle is irregular?
When a menstruator experiences a late or missed period, the most common concern is pregnancy. If this occurs, taking a pregnancy test is the only way to know for sure. However, many menstruators occasionally have irregular periods. Maybe you miss a period, or it comes earlier or later. Or maybe it’s notably heavier or lighter than usual.
Reasons your menstrual cycle might alter:
  • illness
  • medication
  • menopause
  • birth control
  • hormonal imbalance
  • stress
  • travel
  • poor nutrition
  • over exercising
  • sudden weight gain or loss
If you suspect you’re pregnant or are worried about changes in your period, talk to your doctor.
Is it normal to have an unbearably painful or consistently irregular period?
If you suffer from a period that is extremely irregular, painful, or heavy, check out our period problems basic to learn more and take action!
tabú tip:
Periods are a fact of life, so there is no need to feel shame or embarrassment! Find the product that is right for you, and #ownit!

Pain & Dysfunction

Written by Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT

If you have ever experienced discomfort between your ribcage and knees, you might suffer from pelvic pain due to pelvic floor dysfunction. This could mean pain during or after sex, pain with arousal, severe pain during your period, or just pain in your genitals or rectum. Pelvic pain is rarely caused by just one issue. More often than not, it’s caused by a combination of factors, including impairments of the pelvic floor muscles, the central and peripheral nervous systems, and even behavioral issues, like poor posture or urinating “just in case.” If you have experienced pelvic pain, you are certainly not alone. It is estimated that 20% of women* and 8% to 10% of men* experience pelvic pain at some point in their lives. Your pelvic health is important because the pelvis helps support all of your pelvic organs which includes the bladder, colon and prostate for men or uterus for women. The muscles in the pelvis help provide stability and postural support, so it’s not all about the abs when it comes to your core!

What is “pelvic pain?”

Common Symptoms of pelvic pain often include one or a combination of the following:

  • provoked or unprovoked vulvar, vaginal, clitoral, perineal or anal pain
  • pain during or after sex
  • interlabial, vulvar or genital itching
  • painful urination, urinary hesitancy, urgency, and/or frequency
  • abdominal and groin pain
  • sacroiliac joint/low back pain/instability
  • constipation
  • painful periods
  • difficulty wearing jeans, pants, or underwear
  • pain with sitting
  • difficulty exercising
  • penoscrotal/perineal or anal pain
  • post-ejaculatory pain
  • erectile dysfunction
  • tailbone pain/coccydynia
  • decreased force of urinary stream
  • constipation
  • groin pain
Is it all in my head?

No. Your pain is very real. However, it is important to recognize that pain does come from the pain center which is located in your brain. Typically, your brain sends out a pain signal to warn you that something “bad” is happening in your body. For instance, if you step on a nail, the nerves in your foot send a signal to the brain that damage has occurred, so your brain sends out a pain signal to let you know. Once you pull the nail out, the pain should decrease as your body realizes the threat is gone, and your brain realizes it no longer needs to tell you there is a problem. Sometimes, your brain sends out a pain signal when there isn’t a threat or damage occurring. Does this sound familiar: You think you have a UTI, so you go to the doctor, get a urine test, and the results return positive for bacteria. You are prescribed antibiotics and you take them, but you still feel like you have a UTI! You go back to the doctor, they repeat the urine test, and it’s negative. So there is no longer an infection, but you still have symptoms?! The phenomenon occurring is that although there is no longer an actual threat, your pelvic floor muscles may still be tightening to protect your bladder, but your brain only knows what the muscles tell it, so the brain sends out a pain signal.

That was a very long winded way of saying, yes, your pain is real, but it does not necessarily mean there is active damage occurring. While you are not making up what you are feeling, it is important to recognize that the brain is in charge of the pain that your feel.

Common diagnoses:

Dyspareunia

Pain during or after sex or penetrative intercourse. There are many things that can cause or contribute to pain with sex. Some examples include: lack of lubrication, an infection or congenital abnormalities, such as an intact hymen or pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. Patients with other medical conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, irritable bowel syndrome, or people with cancer or undergoing cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy may also experience painful sex. Medications such as birth control, environmental factors, and even stress can lead to dyspareunia.

Vulvodynia

Pain in the vulva. In 2014, the Executive Council of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD), the Boards of Directors of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH), and the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) met to develop new terminology for vulvar pain and vulvodynia [1]. They determine vulvar pain could be divided into two categories: pain with a specific disorder and/or vulvodynia which is pain in the vulva with unknown origin that has persisted for at least three months. Some of the same comorbidities that lead to dyspareunia, can also cause vulvodynia. Vulvodynia is further broken down by multiple descriptors that you can find in this article here.

Vaginismus

Characterized by involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles, particularly the muscles surrounding the vaginal opening. These muscle spasms can cause unexplained sexual pain and difficulty with penetration. Vaginismus is often revealed during penetration attempts, such as those made by inserting a finger, a tampon, a penis, or a speculum during a gynecological exam. The individual may report a feeling of having a “wall” at their vaginal opening, and that they/their partner/physician is unable to get past the “wall.”

Endometriosis

Painful, chronic disorder that affects over 6 million women and girls in the U.S., and millions more worldwide. It occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside your uterus. This tissue breaks down and bleeds during your period, causing painful scar tissue. If you have signs or symptoms that may indicate endometriosis, see your doctor for treatment. Symptoms may include:

  • heavy bleeding during and between periods
  • pain during sex
  • infertility
  • painful urination/bowel movements during menstruation

Uterine fibroids

Another condition associated with painful periods. Fibroids are noncancerous growths of muscle tissue of the uterus that range in number and size. As many as 70-80% of all women have fibroids by age 50. In addition to cramping and pain during your period, the symptoms for fibroids may also include:

  • heavier bleeding, sometimes with blood clots
  • longer or more frequent menstruation
  • spotting between periods
  • pressure on the bladder or rectum
  • frequent urination
  • constipation and/or rectal pain
  • lower back and/or abdominal pain
What about male pelvic pain? 

Male pelvic pain is pretty similar to female pelvic pain. All of the internal anatomy is the same after all, the only differences being that male bodies have a prostate and different external anatomy. So, people with penises can experience pain with erections, ejaculation/orgasm and sex. Just like female pelvic pain, male pelvic pain can be due to an infection or another medical condition: cancer, IBS or a hernia to name a few. Male bodied individuals can also develop pelvic floor muscle dysfunction that can contribute or cause pelvic pain. This dysfunction can also cause erectile dysfunction!

How? 

In order for someone to have an erection several things need to happen. First, blood flow rushes into the penis and then the pelvic floor muscles contract to keep the penis engorged or hard. The pelvic floor muscles must stay in this contracted position to maintain the erection. Then these muscles contract and relax to allow an orgasm or ejaculation to occur. Therefore, if these muscles are dysfunctional and unable to do their job correctly you can see how the individual may develop pain with sexual function or have difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection. This is why pelvic floor physical therapy can help people with penises who have erectile dysfunction and/or pelvic pain.

* reference to cisgender women and men

tabú tip:

Your pain is valid. If you experience chronic discomfort, seek the treatment you deserve!

Orgasm

Written by Laurie Mintz, Ph.D.

Orgasm. Peak. Climax. Cum. Despite all the talk about orgasms, there is a lot of false information about them. Below we clear this up with facts about this fun, although sometimes elusive, experience.*
Orgasms Explained!
No matter your gender, your genitals have erectile tissue. When you’re not aroused, the blood flows freely in and out of this tissue, but when you are aroused, the blood goes in but not out. All that blood filling your erectile tissue creates tension that builds up to a very high point. An orgasm is when powerful, rhythmic muscle contractions release that tension. Stating the obvious, having an orgasm feels good! Here is a real life description, as quoted in a widely used human sexuality textbook: It feels like all the tension that has been building and building is released with an explosion. It is the most pleasurable thing in the whole world.
Male Versus Female Orgasms**
Perhaps you’re wondering why we didn’t specify if the description above was written by a male or female. It’s because research finds that when males and females write descriptions of their orgasms, expert judges can’t guess the sex of the writer. Both talk about tension building up to a point of intensity, followed by a very pleasurable release of that tension (e.g., “A great release of tensions that have built up that is extremely pleasant and exciting.”). Still, four important things that differ between male and female orgasms are:
  1. Ejaculation. In males, orgasm is almost always accompanied by ejaculation, or semen spurting out of the penis. Some females experience ejaculation as well, although estimates of just how many vary widely. Female ejaculation is when fluid (which can be as little as a teaspoon or more of a gush/squirt) is expelled from the urethra.
  2. Refractory Period. After people with penises ejaculate, they have a refractory period, or a period of time during which they cannot have another ejaculation. The refractory period is shorter for younger males (e.g., as short as 15 minutes) than older males (e.g., more than a day). Female bodied individuals don’t have a refractory period. In other words, they can have more than one orgasm during the same sexual act. This is called having “multiple” or “sequential” orgasms.
  3. The Orgasm Gap: During heterosexual sexual encounters, males orgasm more than females. In one study, 64% of females versus 91% of males said they’d had an orgasm at their most recent sexual encounter. In one survey of college students, 55% of males versus 4% of females said they usually orgasm during first-time hookup sex. There are many reasons for the orgasm gap, but the primary one is that females are not getting enough or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation during heterosexual penetrative sex. That’s why females are more likely to orgasm when pleasuring themselves or when having sex with another female; the focus is on clitoral stimulation, with penetration only included if it enhances one’s arousal. Only about 15% of females can orgasm from penetration alone and the rest need some form of clitoral stimulation. Some females prefer to have their orgasm separate from penetration (e.g., oral sex or manual stimulation before or after intercourse) and some prefer to pair clitoral stimulation and penetration (e.g., with their own or a partner’s hand or a vibrator).
  4. Time to Orgasm: When pleasuring themselves, both males and females take an average of four minutes to orgasm. Among males, the average amount of time from putting their penis inside a vagina to orgasm is anywhere from 2 – 6 minutes. For females, when having a sexual encounter with a partner, it takes anywhere from 10 – 45 minutes of stimulation to orgasm, with the average being about 20 minutes. In fact, if a partner spends 20 minutes stimulating a partner’s clitoris, 92% will orgasm.
**By male, we mean a person with a penis and by female, we mean a person with a vulva. For more information, check out our bodies and gender basics!
Orgasm Concerns
Both males and females have a variety of concern about orgasm. The most common female concern is not being able to orgasm during intercourse. This problem can be solved easily—that is, by knowing that the majority of females do not orgasm from penetration alone and instead need clitoral stimulation. Also, really important, the type of stimulation that females need varies greatly and so the best way to know what you need to orgasm is to pleasure yourself. Then, make sure to get this same type of stimulation during partnered sex, by telling your partner what you need (or touching yourself during partnered sex). Another common female concern is pain during penetration. This is often caused by not being aroused enough before intercourse. The key, then, is to make sure you are highly aroused before penetration. Many females also benefit from using lubricant during intercourse. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s important to see a physician about your sexual pain. The most common male concerns are ejaculating too fast and losing their erection. Sometimes males think they are coming too quickly due to unrealistic porn images. Remember: the average is about 2 – 6 minutes! For men who come in less than a minute or who feel they have no control over their orgasm, check out the resource list below. It’s rare for a male to go through his whole life and not lose an erection. Here’s the advice sex therapists give for lost erections: stay calm and continue the sexual stimulation (e.g., have your partner touch you some more). If you do this, your erection will likely come back. Therapists also advise that if you can’t get your erection back, don’t let it ruin a sexual encounter; ask your partner if he or she would like more stimulation or maybe just a long back rub instead. If you constantly lose erections, check out the resource list below.
Mindfulness & Orgasms
It is impossible to have an orgasm when your mind is focused elsewhere. In fact, orgasm requires a total immersion in your bodily sensations. Still, most of us do end up distracted by worries during sex—with common worries being about how we look or if we are “doing it right.” The key is to be able to let go of these thoughts and bring yourself back to your bodily sensations. And, the best way to do this is with mindfulness, which is simply putting your mind and body in the same place, rather than having your body in one place (e.g., receiving oral sex) and your mind in another (e.g., wondering if you smell o.k.). Mindfulness during sex has been associated with greater pleasure and arousal and more orgasms. 
Additional Resources:
Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—And How to Get It I Love Female Orgasm: An Extraordinary Orgasm Guide Coping with Premature Ejaculation Coping with Erectile Dysfunction
tabú tip:
While we’ve been focused on orgasms, here’s an important irony. That is, focusing on having an orgasm is a sure-fire way to not have one! Orgasms aren’t something that can be forced and they won’t happen if you’re hell-bent on having one. So, instead, relax, get into a mindful flow, and HAVE FUN! Also take note, faking orgasm teaches your partner to do exactly what doesn’t work for you. Orgasms are an experience, not a goal to strive for. Successful sex is a journey, not a destination.
Notes:
*Significant portions were excerpted with permission from Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It (HarperCollins, 2017), by Dr. Laurie Mintz.

Masturbation

There are many slang terms used to describe the act of masturbation, such as “touching yourself,” “self pleasure,” “jerking off” — the list goes on and on. Regardless of what you call it, masturbation is 100% natural, normal and healthy.

There is no right or wrong way to go about this amazing process; what feels good differs for everyone. You can touch many different pleasure spots on your body, such as the inside of your legs, breasts, neck and genitals. Masturbation techniques may vary based on your body and your unique preferences. A person with a penis might stroke it, or play with their testicles whereas a person with a vulva may touch their labia minora and circle the clitoris. Getting to know your own body in an intimate way can open up different feelings and pleasures that are exciting to explore.

How long should I masturbate?

Up to you! Teasing and playing can last anywhere from a second to as long as it takes for your hand to get tired, or you’re no longer turned on. Usually, masturbation ends when you orgasm — but you may not always cum; you can also continue after climaxing if you prefer! Most importantly, do what feels good to you, and enjoy the journey of pleasuring your body.

How do I prepare?

You can start getting to know your body using your just your hands. Touching yourself will give you insight on how you feel directly with your own stimulation. If you aren’t comfortable getting too intimate with yourself just yet, you can always masturbate through your clothing. Again, this activity is all about YOUR self-pleasure, so stick to what feels good and makes you feel comfortable.

Environment is key to an enjoyable masturbation sesh. Try turning down the lights, playing some slow jamz, or watching porn. Just remember, what you see in porn is not real. Porn represents fantasy; and it should be viewed as such.

A little lubricant also goes a long way in adding pleasure to your masturbation experience (and sex with a partner!). Of course, as you become more “advanced” in your self-pleasure game, you can also involve sex toys such as dildos, vibrators, flesh lights — whatever gets you going.

Remember, masturbation is all about self-pleasure, getting to know your body, and understanding what helps you reach your climax. These are all great things to learn and communicate with a partner for maximized mutual enjoyment (and proof that you definitely don’t need a partner to have a great time). That being said, you can also try masturbating with a partner. This can be a lot of fun, and a great way to get to know what your partner enjoys.

For people with a vagina, here are a few techniques to try:
  • Place your index and middle fingers around the clitoris. While gently gripping your clitoris with your fingers, use the fingers of your other hand to stroke the clitoris while varying the pressure and speed. You can also slide your two fingers up and down around the clit. The main point is to stimulate your clitoris in a way that feels comfortable for you since it’s primary purpose in the body is pleasure!
  • Lay on your bed, back down with your legs spread, knees up and feet flat on the bed. Use your middle finger (or your toy of preference) to penetrate your vagina. As your finger enters, softly contract your leg muscles such that your pelvis gently pulses in a rhythm similar to when having sex with a partner.
  • If you are uncomfortable with penetration, you can try lying on your stomach and grinding against the bed (or couch, or wherever you are lying down) with your legs together, while your hips move up and down. You can also simply rub your vulva with your hand or a sex toy (with, or without, clothes on).
  • Don’t forget your other erogenous zones, such as your thighs, breasts, and nipples, to really get your body going.
For people with a penis, here are a few techniques to try:
  • Grab your penis with your stronger hand placing your fingers underneath and thumb on top. As you move your hand up and down the shaft, experiment with pressure, speed, and finger position to determine what feels best. You can also try lightly rubbing the head of the penis. If you need extra lubricant, you can use your saliva (just make sure you don’t have an active mouth infection, such as inflamed gums, a sore throat, or an oral herpes lesion because it may spread).
  • Give your balls some love! You can caress, stroke, or tickle your testicles to heighten your orgasms. You can also try pulling them slightly downwards while masturbating. This is also great because the better you get to know your testicles, the quicker you will notice any unusual lumps to screen for testicular cancer.
  • Try stimulating other sensitive parts of your body as well. For example, your perineum (the area between your anus and scrotum), your nipples, the inside of your thighs, or anything else that feels good!
Are there any side effects? What about benefits?

Masturbation doesn’t cause any physical or mental harm, even if you do it often, but your genitals may feel sore if you masturbate a lot in a short span of time.

The benefits of masturbation are endless, including better sleep, enhanced mood, feelings of happiness, and best of all, the knowledge of what you enjoy. Oh wait, there’s more? A major upside of masturbation is that there is zero risk of pregnancy or STIs, and you still get a whole lot of pleasure.

While there are many myths around masturbation, most are simply not true. You won’t go blind, stunt your growth, go to hell, get freckles or whatever other crazy story you have been told rooted in shame! You will, however, be able to feel really good pretty much whenever you want to (in private, of course), and maybe even resist texting your ex for that late-night hookup. Ain’t nothing better than that! Masturbation does not make you a “slut” or a weirdo; it is perfectly normal, and a way to feel pleasure, either alone or with a partner. If you have any remaining questions, don’t be shy! Submit a question for one of our sexperts to answer.

tabú tip:

Masturbation not only feels good, but it provides a wonderful, healthy opportunity to learn what feelings/touches you like and dislike. Knowing your own body before trying to add in another person is a great approach to navigating sexual pleasure. Once you know how to pleasure yourself, you can better communicate with your partner what turns you on, as well as what you don’t enjoy, leading to significantly more pleasurable sexual experiences for everyone. 🤗

Lube

In partnership with Good Clean Love

Lubricant can make good sex great by reducing friction and facilitating penetration of all kinds. Healthy lubrication makes vaginal penetration more comfortable and effortless, oral sex a more luscious experience for both partners, and its application is crucial for safe anal sex. Lubricant can even be an aid when it comes to contraceptives – condoms are proven more effective when used with lubrication (as long as it’s not oil-based!). Whether shared or solo, lubricants are a sensual (and functional) tool for exploring sexuality.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Before you get slippery, there are some important things to know about lube. Get ready for a crash course on compatibility, composition, and a couple pro tips.

What are the differences between water-based lube, silicone-based lube, flavored lubes, and oil-based lubes? Can they all be used with condoms, sex toys?

There are four different bases for lubricants: Oil, Silicone, Water, and Hybrid (otherwise known as combination lubricants). Any of these lubricants could be flavored or unflavored, those are just additives. Each lubricant base has pros and cons.

Oil-based lubricants:

  • Pro: Long lasting
  • Pro: Dual use as a sensual massage oil
  • ConDegrade latex and polyisoprene and thus are not considered condom compatible
  • Con: Difficult to clean up, may stain sheets

Silicone-based lubricants:

  • Pro: Condom compatible
  • Pro: Long lasting
  • Con: Not compatible with silicone sex toys (though this can be avoided by using a condom on the toy!)
  • Con: Silicone does not wash off with soap and water, rather is sloughs off slowly which can impede natural vaginal immunity

Water-based lubricants:

  • Pro: Safe with latex & toys
  • Pro: Iso osmotic products are physician recommended as most compatible with healthy vaginal eco-system
  • Pro: Does not make a mess although may need more than a single application
  • Con: Commonly available heavily concentrated petrochemical lubes (ie. Propylene glycol) can create toxic vaginal conditions

Hybrid lubricants (water based with added silicone): 

  • Pro: Slick and long lasting like silicone based lubricants
  • Pro: Condom and toy compatible like water based lubricants
  • Con: Depending on the brand, added silicone content may vary — check label to be sure the lubricant is actually toy/condom compatible before use
  • Con: New in the industry, there is less readily available information on them at this time
How do I choose the right lube?

Ok, so you know what kind of base you want. Now how do you pick the right brand? As it turns out, a lot of well known commercial lubricants are made in a base of heavily concentrated petrochemicals which can be toxic to a healthy vaginal ecosystem. So how can you know if the lubricant is safe? 

Recent studies have shown that one of the most important factors in lubricant safety is iso-osmolar.

Remember osmosis from biology? Osmolality is about the salt balance or in other words, the flow of water between the cells. When the chemicals in the lube are too dense compared to the cells of vaginal lining, the water inside the cells is sucked out to balance the pressure. So hyperosmolar lubricants made with a lot of petrochemicals will draw the water out of cells in the mucous membranes of your cells,  causing the top layers of the epithelium to slough off.  This can create a toxic environment for the protective lactobacilli which is keeping bad bacteria at bay. This can cause a serious imbalance which pushes up your normally low pH and increases your risk of bacterial vaginosis. And also increases your risk for contracting STDs and STIs.

According to the World Health Organization, the osmolarity of lubricants should not exceed 380 mOsm/kg, and yet most commercial lubricants ring in at 2000-6000 mOsm/kg! That’s way denser than bodily fluids.

So, how do you pick a safe lube? 

Look at the labels on the lubricants you purchase and seek out products made with natural ingredients instead of petrochemicals. Also most lubricants with any kind of “warming” sensation are generally hyper osmolar. Avoid lubricants with glycerin as the primary ingredient because it is associated with yeast infections. Try to find something that is organic and natural for the most sensitive tissue in your body.

Source: Smitten Kitten
But I’ve heard… (lubricant myth busting):

“Vaginal dryness just means you’re not turned on enough”

Vaginal dryness is one of the most common reasons women have pain with sex – many factors can cause dryness, such as stress, alcohol, many types of medications, and common hormonal changes (like during or after menstruation!). Also, the idea that arousal can be measured by “wetness” makes some people uncomfortable with using lube. While foreplay can often ease this situation, there are many times when “natural lubrication” isn’t always enough. Knowing that a good lubricant will prevent painful sex is a great reason to start experimenting to see how lovemaking can be more both longer and more pleasurable for both partners. Don’t let any stigma keep you back from experiencing pleasurable sex!

“Lube isn’t necessary” 

Lube makes penetration better for everyone. It allows you to try more positions and extend the comfort of the sensitive tissue for less friction and more glide. And that extra glide can actually make it easier to orgasm. For anal sex it’s a must have, because there is no natural moisture there and tearing rectal tissue is super painful for a long while.

“Just use coconut oil”

Coconut Oil makes a decent lubricant because it is cheap and accessible, however, because it is oil-based it is not compatible with latex condoms and it can be a struggle to clean up. Additionally, it is more dense than say, aloe, and can clog pores as well as disrupt the delicate pH balance of vaginas.

“Saliva is the only lubricant I need”

Let’s be real, the most commonly used lubricant is spit. Aside from being readily available and free, there are not a lot of good reasons to keep using saliva during sex. For one, it dries up incredibly fast, can cause yeast infections in vaginas, may pass sexually transmitted infections, and last but not least, could be a turn off for some people. Check with your partner and see if they’re comfortable before using spit.

tabú tip:

The right lube can solves problems you might not even know you have. Everyone’s body and needs are different, so experiment and find the lube that works best for you! Try to prioritize healthy ingredients in your wellness products because your body deserves the best! Lastly, when it comes to great sex – more is better. Use your preferred lubricant liberally!

Gender

Did you know?

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably—incorrectly might we add! Luckily, we’re here to help explain the difference.

Biological sex

Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is determined by several indicators, including sex chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs. Biological sex is often categorized as male, female, or intersex.

Male

A person with XY chromosomes and male sex and reproductive organs

Female

A person with XX chromosomes and female sex and reproductive organs

Intersex

A person with atypical combinations of chromosomes and ambiguous sex and reproductive organs

Gender:

Unlike a person’s sex, gender is not biologically determined. Sex really refers to one’s sexual anatomy and chromosomes. Gender, on the other hand, is a socially constructed characteristic. Boiled down, gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors a particular culture associates with a specific biological sex. For example, the concepts of femininity and masculinity are two aspects of gender many societies often connect to the female and male sexes respectively. Gender roles are the sets of expectations and characteristics assigned to each specific gender within a society. Behaviors that are viewed as compatible with these cultural exceptions are referred to as gender-normative, while behaviors that are regarded as incompatible with these expectations are referred to as gender nonconformity/ gender variance.

Gender binary:

The gender binary is a popular social system that classifies people into two groups based on sexual anatomy. In the gender binary model, one’s anatomical features completely determine their gender. Individuals are often discouraged from crossing or mixing gender roles. This model does not encompass those who are born with non-binary reproductive organs or do not identify on this scale (intersex people). Consequently, the gender binary has begun to be considered out-of-date by sexual health experts in favor of a more nuanced gender spectrum.

Gender identity:

Gender identity refers to one’s sense of self in terms of gender. This can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Research shows that individuals are aware of this between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. While there are many terms to express one’s gender, we will start with a few of the most common to get you started.

Transgender

identifying as the opposite gender as their birth-assigned biological sex. For example, a transgender man is a man who assigned female at birth. Conversely, a transgender woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth.

Nonbinary/ genderqueer

as the definition implies, this identity describes a person who is neither a man nor woman. They might fall somewhere in between, or outside of these traditionally defined genders.

Genderfluid

gender identity that changes over time

Agender

a lack of identification with any gender identity

Gender expression:

Gender expression is the way in which an individual communicates gender within a given culture. Clothing, behavior, voice, and hairstyle are just some of the ways we communicate our gender identity. As we mentioned, gender and gender roles are often socially prescribed. A person’s gender expression may or may not be consistent with these set roles. Other times, an individual’s gender expression may not reflect his, her, or their gender identity. It is important to not assign someone’s gender based on any characteristics, and instead respect their preferred identity. It is also important not to conflate gender expression with sexual orientation.

For more information, please check out the Gender Spectrum.

tabú tip: 

Gender is a spectrum, and should be viewed as such. Reflect on your own gender identity and the ways in which you do and do not match with socially constructed gender roles. We’re all different, with a range of preferences, experiences, and interests. Respect everyone for who they are and how they identify, and always follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you)! If you don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun, just ask (respectfully, of course).

First Time

When is the right time to become sexually active?

Sure, everyone talks about sex. Your friends, magazines, and even your family. That’s why it’s hard to know when to become sexually active and what to expect.

Being sexually active can include various activities with partners that are the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. Think tongue/mouth/hand/finger/penis/dildo/vibrator/vulva to vagina/vulva/penis/anus, and many combos in between! Because sex means different things to different people, it’s important to recognize that sex is about exchanging pleasure in ways that are comfortable for both parties.

Just remember, it’s normal to feel anxious when talking about becoming sexually active, and there’s no right or wrong time to have sex for the first time. Take the time you need to decide what’s right for you.

Am I ready for sex?

There are countless reasons to decide to have or not have sex. Only you can decide what is right for you! Think about how having sex aligns with your health and values. It is important to make sure that the decision to have sex is coming from you, not your partner (or your friends). Just so you know, only about half of high school students have ever had sex, and the average age people have their “first time” is 17. If you feel pressured, you have the right to wait. A worthy partner will be understanding and not coerce you into anything you don’t want to do. If you don’t feel comfortable, exercise your right to abstain from sex. Even if you have had sex before, you get to decide if/when you have sex again. P.S. Sex with a partner isn’t the only way to experience pleasure!

Here are some facts and myths about your first time:

MYTH: Virginity.

FACT: “Virginity” is a construct created largely to suppress and control (primarily female) sexuality. Different people define sex differently, and having (or not having) sex doesn’t change anything about who you are.

MYTH: Since it’s the first time, you can’t get pregnant or contract STIs.

FACT: Oh, you definitely can. That’s why before becoming sexually active, you should learn about practicing safe sex. Using protection (like condoms and dental dams) doesn’t make sex less less enjoyable; in fact, the peace of mind can make you feel even more comfortable. It’s also wise to look into birth control options that best suit your lifestyle and needs!

MYTH: First-time vaginal or anal sex will hurt like a motherf****r (Sorry, Mom and Dad!).

FACT: For some people, the first time having vaginal or anal sex (finger/penis/toy in vagina/anus) can be pleasurable, but for others, it can hurt. Pain during sex might mean you don’t have enough lubrication (the wetter the better!), need to try a different position, or are simply nervous. If first-time penetrative sex does hurt, stop and talk to your partner, and work out ways to make sex more enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with slowing down, or stopping entirely. Communication is key! During the first time having penetrative sex, people with vaginas might experience some bleeding, but it shouldn’t last long, and it’s nothing to be concerned about. If bleeding or pain ensues, it’s important to talk to your doctor, and learn more about pain and dysfunction.

MYTH: The first time will be just like the movies.

FACT: Let’s face it. TV and Movies generally glamorize the first time, and EVERY time thereafter! This gross misrepresentation of real-world sex creates unrealistic expectations about what sex is really like. It’s OK, and perfectly normal, if your first time isn’t “perfect.” What is perfect, anyway? Sex can get weird, it can get awkward, and it can be funny (#bodyfarts). If you’re uncomfortable at any point, communicate with your partner, and explore in a way that is safe and pleasurable for you.

Okay, so you’ve decided to have sex. Now what?

Now what indeed. The most important component to positive, safe sex, is communication. That begins with consent. Consent involves clear and active communication and respect between partners to make sure all parties are comfortable every step of the way. It is important to discuss and respect each other’s boundaries consistently. Expression of consent at one point does not imply future consent. A person can decide at any time to stop an activity. Continuous communication is key! It’s important to never let someone pressure you into having sex if you’re not interested. The decision to have sex for the first time (and every time after) is yours, and yours alone! Remember, it’s totally appropriate to wait to have sex, too.

What happens after I have sex?

You may or may not turn into a unicorn. 🦄🦄 Kidding, obvi (or am I?). After you have sex for the first time, you might experience a lot of emotions and thoughts. For instance, you might wonder if partner enjoyed it, or you might be elated that sex enhanced your affection toward your partner. Perhaps you’re wondering why that wasn’t as great as you expected it to be, or how you’ve gone this long without experiencing that form of pleasure. Or maybe, you aren’t feeling anything different at all. Everyone is different, and no one thought, feeling, or emotion is “normal.” Regardless of what you’re thinking or feeling, don’t be afraid to talk to the person you had sex with, friends, family members, or even a mental health professional, if you are compelled to do so! You can also, of course, ask a question in the tabú community! We’ve got your back.

tabú tip:

The key to pleasurable sex, whether you’re a beginner, or you’ve had it a million times, is communication. If you’re curious to learn more about what turns you on sans-partner, try masturbating first! Don’t forget… condoms and dental dams will protect you from STIs!

Digital Abuse

In partnership with That’s Not Cool

Can you remember the last time you went a day without being on your phone or your computer? Yeah, neither can I. Technology; social networking; instant communication. These are all things that have become integral to our daily lives. We want it. We expect it. We love it. But while so much about technology is awesome, as with many things, there are also some downsides. One of them is the potential for digital abuse.

What is digital abuse?

Glad you asked! Digital abuse is any abuse that occurs over technology (computer, phone, social media, text, calling, email, etc.). Before we go much further though, we need to understand what abuse is.

Abuse is harmful and/or coercive (making you do something you don’t want to do; often by force) behavior that is repeated over time in order to establish and maintain power and controlover another person.

Now, while the definition of digital abuse is simple and straightforward, there can be a lot of different ways it can happen. These forms fall into three big buckets: pressure, privacy, and harassment/threats. Let’s check ‘em out:

  1. Pressure Pressure is trying to make you do something you don’t want to do (the fancy word for this is coercion). While someone could pressure you to do a lot of different things over technology (e.g. hang out with them, sext with them, engage in harmful behavior, etc.) perhaps the most harmful is when someone pressures someone else into sending them nude, or otherwise compromising, photos.
  2. Privacy Privacy is a big one and covers a lot of ground. Essentially, it is when someone violates your privacy online, or uses technology to violate your privacy. Here are (some) examples:
    • Demanding/pressuring/coercing you for your passwords to your online accounts, phone, or computer.
    • Accessing your accounts, phone, or computer and posting/communicating as you without your permission.
    • Taking embarrassing and/or compromising pictures/videos of you and sending them to others or posting them online without your permission (we aren’t talking about your run of the mill sharing of photos or videos here that social media is designed for).
    • Using information through social media or otherwise to stalk you.
    • Using information about you online to pressure or harass you.
    • Spreading rumors about you through technology.
  3. Harassment/threats This is exactly what you think it is: when people are mean, threatening, or just generally make you uncomfortable online. Some examples:
    • Sending unwanted sexually explicit pictures and/or messages.
    • Sending an inappropriate amount of messages or ignoring your requests for them to stop, or reduce, the amount of messages they send you.
    • Threats sent over text, social media, etc. Threats can be about anything, from threatening to embarrass you to others, threatening to hurt themselves if you don’t do what they want, to threatening you physically, and everything in between.
    • Using posts/pictures or other material sent through text or on your social media to embarrass you or make fun of you.
    • Writing mean or embarrassing things about you online or over text/email.
Why is this a big deal?

For a number of reasons. First and foremost — digital abuse is a huge RED FLAG. What that means is that when someone is abusive over technology it often means that they will be abusive in “real life” too. 96% (!) of teens who experience digital abuse will experience other forms of abuse from their partner like emotional abuse (insults, yelling, etc.), physical abuse (hitting, punching, etc.), and sexual abuse (sexual assault/rape).

It also has its own effects, too: digital abuse takes its toll and causes people to feel scared, anxious, depressed, and more about going online, looking at their phone, or interacting with others in “real life” when the digital abuse spills over in the form of rumors or embarrassment.

These effects can have serious consequences. We have all heard the stories about cyberbullying that has resulted in the suicides of teens and others. It is never in “good fun,” “just a joke,” or some other excuse that deflects from the seriousness of this issue.

So, what can I do?

Lots of things! But first, it is important to know that it is NEVER your fault if someone is abusing, harassing, or threatening you. In the end, they are one that really needs to change their behavior. However, with that said, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and combat digital abuse:

  1. Set boundaries and say no. Know your boundaries and tell people when they cross them. If they don’t listen, end it. People should always respect your boundaries and listen to you when when you tell them to stop.
  2. Never share your passwords. Related to boundaries, but someone’s “love” should never be based on whether or not you share your passwords or other private information with someone.
  3. Block; document; report. If someone is bothering you, block ‘em! You can block phone numbers, email address, and users on social media. Document what they are doing (take screenshots). If you feel comfortable, report them: to your school, to the police, etc. Many schools and states have policies and laws against digital abuse. Learn them too!
  4. Tell someone. It’s never wise to keep things bottled up – especially when someone is hurting you. Tell someone you trust: a parent, a teacher, a school counselor, a friend, or even someone at a local domestic violence/dating abuse agency, so that someone else knows, can support you, and help you if that is what you want.
  5. Don’t participate; call it out! Don’t EVER join in on abusive behavior online (helping to spread rumors, LOLing, “liking” mean comments, etc.). If you see someone being abused online (over social media) and you feel comfortable, call it out and let the target know you are there for them (either online or in person). Report things you see online to a trusted adult, your school, or even the police if it is serious enough.
  6. Help out! If someone tells you that they are being abused online, always listen and believe them first. Give them options (see the suggestions above!), and always have their back. That means, even if they don’t want to report it when you think they should, respect their decision. You are there for them, not to tell them what to do.
tabú tip:

Digital abuse, and abuse of all forms, is never your fault. Take some time to think through your boundaries, online and in real life. When you know your boundaries, it’s easier for you to enforce them and protect yourself. But if it does happen, don’t keep it to yourself; tell someone you trust and get some help.

Consent

In partnership with Project Consent

What is consent?

Consent is simple – if it’s not yes, it’s no. Consent is about the free, willing, and open agreement to participate in any aspect of romance or sex. Having consent is the one sure way to know that someone wants to have sex with you, and that all involved parties are aware of and truly happy about what is going on. This means no guilt, pressure, or coercion. We partnered with Project Consent to bring you a little Consent 101, so you can better navigate respect ad communication with your partner(s).

Consent is about communication and it is not a one-time thing. It should happen every time you engage in a sexual activity. Giving consent for one sexual activity does not mean that you give consent for another or for multiple sexual encounters. You have the right to turn down sexual activity at any time, even if it is with someone you have had sex with before. No one has the right to have sex with you without your consent, no matter the circumstance. It is important to discuss and respect your partner’s boundaries throughout a sexual encounter, and every encounter thereafter. So, let’s break it down. Planned Parenthood defines consent as…

  • Clear
  • Freely given (which also means you are free to say no!)
  • Informed
  • Changeable
  • Enthusiastic
What should I ask consent for?

Everything! It can be from the act of sex itself to asking if your partner would feel more comfortable if you wore a condom or dental dam during oral intercourse, to whether they like dirty talk during sex. Consent doesn’t just mean sex itself. People can also consent to one form of sexual activity and not another!

How do I know if my partner consents?

Well that’s easy. Just ask! It may feel awkward to ask your partner if they want to have sex but it is necessary. No gender is responsible for initiating, and both partners should actively communicate their feelings and desires throughout any given situation.

What are non-awkward ways to ask for consent?

Guiding your partner during sex can be super hot. Who doesn’t want to know what the other person wants? Communication leads to better sex, and ensures that everyone is on the same page. Here are some helpful questions to guide the conversation:

  • “What turns you on?”
  • “What do you want to do/where do you want me to go next?”
  • “Are you okay with this?”
  • “May I…?”
  • “We can stop or pause anytime you want. Just let me know.”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “I was thinking we could try X. Would you like that?”
  • “Does this feel good?”
  • “What are your favorite positions?”
  • “We don’t have to have sex. I’m enjoying just being with you.”
  • “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”

The main point is to create a safe space with your partner(s) to let them know it is okay to stop, and to open up a dialogue about what they find pleasurable and comfortable. You can still have a good time without having sex; there is no need to pressure someone to go further than they want to. Always be respectful, and look out for both explicit verbal consent and body language.

What if I change my mind and don’t want to do something after I’ve already consented to sex?

Consent is ongoing and it is okay to change your mind at any time! If you have concerns, talk to your partner about what you’re nervous about and what your boundaries are. If your partner does something that you are uncomfortable with, you can say no. Consenting to sex initially does not mean you have to consent to everything that happens after. Even if it’s something you’ve done with your partner before, feelings can change and you can say no.

What if the situation seems iffy?
  • If either partner is pressuring or guilting the other partner…
  • If a partner reacts angrily or with resentment when the other partner says “no”…
  • If a partner seem uncomfortable …
  • If one partner (or both) are severely incapacitated (intoxicated, high, unconscious, or asleep)…
  • One partner is in pain…

…STOP!

Consent is the most necessary part of sex. Without consent, a sexual act with another person isn’t sex – it is sexual assault. A person cannot consent if they are:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • unconscious (passed out or asleep)
  • under threat or coercion
  • a minor (16-18 depending on the state)
  • impaired in a way (physically or mentally) that inhibits them from giving clear and active consent

If you aren’t sure, don’t do it. It’s not worth it for anyone. The effects of sexual assault can last a lifetime, and it is never okay to violate someone (in fact, it’s illegal). If you are going to engage with someone intimately, you need their explicit permission first. Being respectful of boundaries is the key to safe, consensual, and enjoyable sex.

tabú tip:

Incidents of sexual assault can be easily avoided by ensuring that all parties enthusiastically consent. Consent is what makes sex enjoyable between you and your partner(s)! You should always feel safe communicating before, during, and after a sexual encounter. Consent is necessary on a very basic, human level – it is always an established right, not a removable luxury.

Body Image

Written by Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed.

Body image is exactly what it sounds like – the image that you hold of your body, as well as the bodies of others. It encompasses both how you feel about your body (its level of attractiveness, for example) and how you feel in your body (what it’s like to move through space). Body image can be positive (“I’m hot af”), negative (“I feel ugly”), or neutral (“My body is my body – nothing more, nothing less”). Most people experience all of these categories, depending on the moment or day.

Our culture makes body image really complicated. In a world that constantly bombards you with narrow definitions of beauty, it can be difficult to cultivate a healthy sense of self. We might find ourselves comparing our bodies to the ones that we see on TV, in pornography, or on Instagram. We might start to think that dieting and exercising are easy routes to changing our bodies and gaining self-esteem. And when we’re first starting to explore our sexuality – with ourselves and with others – we can feel a lot of pressure to look as “perfect” as possible, knowing that our partners are consuming the same messages we are! And that’s really confusing.

But here’s the thing: A positive attitude toward sex starts with a positive attitude toward yourself, and that includes your body. When our body image is positive, we’re more likely to engage in sexual behaviors in ways that feel good for us. When our body image is negative, we might be less likely to try new things because we don’t feel confident. We need to remember that our bodies IRL aren’t Photoshopped or filtered. We have stretch marks and cellulite and flab and hair and scars and acne. Some breasts are lopsided. Some penises curve. Some labia minora are longer than labia majora. We jiggle. All of this is normal – and we need to extend appreciation for these “flaws” in both ourselves and our partners. Understanding that bodies come in different shapes and sizes – and that all of them are awesome – is a great first step in sex positivity.

Remember: It’s common to struggle with body image, regardless of gender, size, race, disability, or any other characteristic. However, if negative body thoughts begin to consume your mind and prevent you from leading a happy, fulfilling life, it’s important to talk to someone you trust (like a parent, doctor, teacher, or counselor) because it’s possible for you to get help with that.

How can I have a positive relationship with my body?
  • Treat your body with kindness and respect.
  • Keep a list of your positive attributes that have nothing to do with your looks.
  • Compliment yourself!
  • Realize that health and appearance are two different things – and that you don’t owe either to anyone.
  • Cherish your genes. You probably inherited a lot of qualities from family members, so accept and value them.
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Be careful who you follow on social media. If you feel sad when you look at pictures of someone, it might be a good idea to unfollow.
  • Find super cool body-positive activists to follow online to give you a daily boost of confidence.
How can I make myself feel better on a bad body image day?
  • Sit with your feelings. Know that it’s okay to feel how you feel – and that this day will pass.
  • If fitness is your jam, do something active to remember how cool your body is. Even if you’re not Olympic athlete material, going for a walk or having a nice stretch can feel good.
  • Take and post a selfie that you feel cute in. Or post an old one that you love to remind yourself that you have positive body image days, too!
  • Journal about how you feel – or maybe call or text a friend to talk it out.
For more information and support, please visit:

National Eating Disorders Association

Binge Eating Disorders Association

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation

The Trevor Project

tabú tip:

You deserve to have a relationship with your body that feels like a friendship. After all, it’s the only body that you have (barring reincarnation, of course), and it does so many amazing things for you day in and day out. We all have insecurities, but it’s important to focus on your positive qualities that make you who you are, and to recognize that your body is just one small part of the whole that makes you you.

Bodies

It’s hard to learn how to pleasure your body without knowing your body in the first place! Let’s demystify your reproductive anatomy, so you can get to exploring in a positive, healthy, and informed way.

It is important to note that not everyone is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that fits the typical classification of male or female, as described below. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe people who fall into this category, and have a variation of internal and/or external sexual anatomy. For more information, check out interACT Youth!

The Female Reproductive System

Vulva

The vulva (often mistakenly referred to as the vagina) includes all of the following woman’s external sex organs.

Mons pubis (mons, pubic mound)

Fatty area of tissue beneath your belly button where pubic hair grows. While pubic pair predominantly grows on the mons, it also often grows in smaller amounts on the outside of the labia majora

Outer lips (labia majora)

Also called the labia majora, or outer labia, the outer lips are fleshy, covered by pubic hair, and connect to the thighs

Inner lips (labia minora)

Also called the labia minora, or inner labia, the inner lips are only visible when the outer labia are pulled apart. Inner lips come in all shapes, sizes, and textures, and can change color as women mature. They cover the urethra and vaginal opening and swell during sexual arousal

Urethra

The urethra is the duct that conveys urine out of the body via the bladder. Its opening is located below the clitoris.

Anus

The anus is the opening from the rectum to the outside of the body. Anal stimulation can be pleasurable, and generally involves the insertion of an erect penis into the anus. Other stimuli such as fingers, sex toys (butt plugs, dildos, anal beads, etc.), and tongues can also be involved in anal play. It is important to use protection when engaging in anal sex, and STIs can still be transmitted. The lining of the rectum is thin and can tear easily, thus increasing the risk of contracting an STI. Lubrication is also very important as the anus doesn’t lubricate on its own, and is more prone to tearing than the vagina!

Clitoris

Spongy and sensitive to touch, the clitoris is the pea-sized principal organ of female pleasure that becomes engorged with blood during sexual excitement. It’s located at the top of the vulva, where the inner lips meet, and includes a shaft and two crura of erectile tissue that extend five inches into the body.  Fun fact: The clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings – double the nerve endings in the glans of a penis, and is the only organ in the human body whose sole purpose is sexual pleasure. Nice!

Clitoral hood

The clitoral hood is the skin that covers the external tip of the clitoris.

Bartholin’s glands

Located to the left and right of the vaginal opening, the Bartholin’s glands are two pea-sized glands that release mucus to lubricate the vagina during sexual arousal.

Hymen

The hymen is the thin fleshy membrane that stretches across part of the external vaginal opening. In many cultures, an “intact” hymen represents “virginity.” The phrase “popping your cherry” actually refers to the tearing of the hymen during one’s first experience of sexual intercourse, resulting in a bit of bleeding. However, the tissue can be stretched or torn during other activities that involve pressure on the vaginal area, such as biking, horseback riding, doing gymnastics, masturbating, or inserting a tampon. Some females are born very little tissue, or without hymenal tissue entirely. So don’t worry about the myths!

G-spot

The G-spot, or Gräfenberg spot (for German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg), is located 1-2 inches inside the vagina on the wall that’s closest to the stomach. Similar to the clitoris, the G-spot is very sensitive and swells during sexual excitement.

Skene’s glands

Also called paraurethral glands or female prostate glands, the Skene’s Glands are located on the anterior wall of the vagina, around the lower end of the urethra, and can be indirectly felt through the upper vaginal wall, 2 – 3 inches from the entrance of the vagina. They release fluid during female ejaculation.

Vagina

Located below the urethral opening, the vagina is the tubular part of the female genital tract that connects the external sex organs with the cervix and uterus. The walls open just enough to allow menstrual flow to leave the body, sexual penetration to occur, and fetuses to pass through during vaginal delivery. Notably, the vagina is 2–4 inches long when its owner isn’t sexually aroused and 4–8 inches long when they are.

Vaginal discharge

Ever notice white/clear fluid in your underwear at the end of the day and wonder what it was? Well, it’s your body’s natural way of keeping your vagina healthy and clean! Vaginal discharge is entirely normal and a regular occurrence. It is also normal for discharge to increase with exercise, sexual arousal, ovulation, birth control pill use, and emotional stress, so don’t be alarmed. However, if you experience unusual discharge (discharge that is yellow/green, of a thick consistency, or that has a foul odor), especially if it is accompanied by any vaginal itching or burning, you might have a yeast or bacterial infection, and should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Cervix

The cervix is a cylinder-shaped neck of tissue that attaches the vagina to the uterus. During the menstrual cycle, the cervix produces mucus that changes in consistency to prevent or promote pregnancy. During menstruation, the cervix widens to allow the passage of menstrual flow. During vaginal childbirth, the cervix flattens then dilates to make way for the fetus to move along the birth canal.

Uterus

Located between the bladder and the rectum, in the pelvic area, the uterus (womb) is a hollow muscular organ that’s responsible for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy. In a non-pregnant person, the uterus is normally the size of her fist. During pregnancy, the uterus stretches to become large enough to hold a full term baby.

Fallopian tubes

The fallopian tubes are two tubes that transport eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Conception occurs when male contractions propel the sperm upward into the fallopian tubes to fertilize the egg.

Fimbriae

The fimbriae are like tons of tiny fingers at the end of each fallopian tube that sweep the egg from the ovary into the tube. Interestingly, of all fimbriae, only one fimbria is long enough to reach the ovary. It’s called fimbria ovarica.

Ovaries

The ovaries are two organs that produce hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) in the female reproductive system. They also store eggs. During puberty, the ovaries begin to release eggs each month until menopause. Usually, one ovary releases an egg each month.

If you’re feeling at all confused about your body, talk to a trusted adult or your doctor.

tabú tip:

There’s definitely a lot going on down there. One way to explore, and better understand your body is to use a mirror! As you get to know your body, remember to always respect yourself and others!

The Male Reproductive System

Penis

Consisting of three columns of spongy material (the corpus spongiosum and two corpora cavernosa), the penis is the male’s reproductive and sex organ that fills with blood during sexual excitement and becomes erect. Also enclosed in the penis is the urethra, which carries urine, pre-ejaculate, and semen out of his body.

Shaft

When soft (flaccid), the shaft of the penis is generally 1-3 inches long. When hard (erect), the shaft expands to 4-6 inches.

Glans

Located at the penis’s tip, the glans is soft and highly sensitive.

Foreskin

The foreskin is a tube of skin that covers the glans. Some men choose to have their foreskin removed by circumcision.

Frenulum

This is where the foreskin attaches to the penis, just under the glans. Typically, a portion of the frenulum remains after circumcision.

Scrotum

This sac of skin is separated between two parts, enclosing the testicles.

Testicles

Located inside the scrotum, the testicles are two ball-like glands that produce hormones and sperm.

Epididymis

The epididymis is the tube where sperm mature before ejaculation, along which sperm travel to the vas deferens.

Cremaster

The cremaster is the muscle that automatically moves the testicles closer to the body when the thigh is stimulated.

Vas deferens

Connected to the epididymis, the vas deferens are two tubes that transport sperm from the epididymis to the seminal vesicles during ejaculation.

Prostate gland

About the size of a golf ball, the prostate gland creates fluid that helps sperm travel though a male’s reproductive tract.

Cowper’s glands

Located beneath the prostate and attached to the urethra, the Cowper’s glands produce pre-ejaculate that prepares the urethra for ejaculation.

Seminal vesicles

Located below the bladder, these two small organs produce seminal fluid.

Urethra

This tube empties the bladder and carries pre-ejaculate, semen, and urine to the urethral opening, where pre-ejaculate, semen, and urine then leave the body.

Anus

The anus is the opening from the rectum to the outside of the body. Anal stimulation can be pleasurable, and generally involves the insertion of an erect penis into the anus. Other stimuli such as fingers, sex toys (butt plugs, dildos, anal beads, etc.), and tongues can also be involved in anal play. It is important to use protection when engaging in anal sex, and STIs can still be transmitted. The lining of the rectum is thin and can tear easily, thus increasing the risk of contracting an STI. Lubrication is also very important as the anus doesn’t lubricate on its own, and is more prone to tearing than the vagina!

If you’re feeling at all confused about your body, talk to a trusted adult or your doctor.

tabú tip:

As you get to know your body, remember to always respect yourself and others!

Birth Control

There are a lot of options when it comes to birth control. We get it; it can be a lot of work to figure out what works best for you. Your preferred option for birth control can be based on a variety of factors that impact your lifestyle (Do I want to think about it every day? Am I comfortable inserting something inside of my body? Am I allergic to latex? etc.). Please bear in mind that regardless of your gender, if you are sexually active, you should be thinking about what birth control option works well for both you and your partner(s). Also take note that although many contraceptive methods do a great job of preventing pregnancy, only condoms protect against STIs. Remember, your preferences may change over time and not everything may work for you/your body. As long as you are knowledgeable about your choices, you can always change your mind. That’s what options are for! For a quick overview, you can check out our summary cards at the bottom!

Let’s start with hormonal birth control options. What are they?

Today, there are numerous hormonal methods, including the Pill, Nexplanon, NuvaRing, the Patch (Ortho Evra), Depo-Provera, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). They work by preventing an egg from being released every month and thickening cervical mucus and thinning lining of uterus, thus inhibiting pregnancy by preventing sperm from entering your uterus. However, hormonal methods don’t protect against STIs. Also, if you’re taking progestin-only pills, it’s important to take the pill every day at the same time to maximize and ensure effectiveness!

Are there any non-hormonal methods of birth control?
If you like the benefits of the IUD, but are not comfortable with hormones, the non-hormonal (Copper) IUD might be the right option for you. The copper filament wrapped around the T prevents pregnancy by interfering with the sperm’s ability to reach the egg. Bear in mind, most people who use the Copper IUD tend to have heavier periods, especially for the first few months. You can also consider barrier methods a non-hormonal birth control alternative.
What are barrier methods?

“Barrier method” options include a cervical cap, diaphragm, sponge, and internal or external condom. Out of all the types of contraceptives, the external condom is the most commonly used, as it offers protection against both STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Internal condoms offer protection against STIs as well. For safety reasons, make sure you use a new condom each time you have sex — and be sure to check the expiration date!

“But condoms don’t feel as good.”

STIs don’t feel too great either. The greatest pleasure comes from peace of mind. If your partner is reluctant to use condoms, have a conversation, and be clear about your concerns. It’s your sex life, meaning you get to choose when, where, and how you want to have sex. If you are the partner that prefers not to wear condoms due to a feeling of decreased pleasure or comfort, consider trying out different kinds of condoms for fit and feel. Condoms come in a variety of sizes; if it feels too tight or loose, you might just need a different size! You can also add a drop of lube in the tip of the condom before rolling it on to increase sensation (but not oil-based lube, as it degrades latex). Last tip: practicing masturbation with a condom on can help you get used to the feeling!

What about sterilization?

Sterilization methods prevent pregnancy by blocking the reproductive function in men or women. They’re grouped into two categories: tubal ligation and vasectomy. Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are clamped or severed, preventing eggs from reaching the uterus for implantation. A vasectomy consists of tying off and cutting the tubes that transport sperm. Both types are permanent and offer more than 99% protection against pregnancy (but none against STIs).

Is natural family planning a real thing?

Although not a pill or device, natural family planning is still a contraceptive method. Natural family planning is based on knowing the female partner’s menstrual cycle so couples can avoid having sex during times of fertility. There are different ways to determine one’s most fertile time, including the calendar, basal body temperature, and cervical mucus methods- keep in mind that higher protection rates occur when all three methods are used in combination. The effectiveness of this type of contraception varies because most people with a period don’t have a perfectly regular menstrual cycle. Natural family planning also does not protect against STIs (sensing a theme here?).

Does the pull out method actually work? 

“Don’t worry; I’ll just pull out.” The withdrawal/pull out/coitus interruptus method is when a male partner withdraws their penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation. Fun fact: about 35 million couples around the world rely on the withdrawal method. Wow! So, is it effective? If always done correctly, of every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, 4 will become pregnant each year. Conversely, if not always done correctly (we are human after all), of every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, 27 will become pregnant each year. While a convenient option, the withdrawal method requires a lot of experience, self-control, and trust. The partner with a penis must really know their sexual cycle, and be able to exhibit maximized control. The withdrawal method is not recommended for individuals who experience premature ejaculation. It is also important to note that pregnancy can still occur if semen or pre-ejaculate/pre-cum is spilled on the vulva. The science on whether pre-cum can cause pregnancy is inconclusive, but studies suggest that it might, so it is at least worth acknowledging. Did we mention this method also doesn’t protect against STIs? (condoms for the win).

How does emergency contraception work?

Soooooo you’ve already had sex without birth control, or perhaps the condom broke. First of all, relax! Now is not the time to panic. If you are still within a 120 hour (5 day) window, you can take emergency contraception, colloquially known as the “morning-after pill,” to prevent pregnancy. Plan B is One-Step is the most well-known form of emergency contraception; you can get it at most drugstores or online. It is 95% effective within the first 24 hours, or about an 88% effective rate, on average, within 72 hours. Ella, also a pill, is 93-95% effective within 5 days. Ella requires a prescription from a doctor because it contains something called ulipristal acetate, which suppresses your body from producing progesterone, thereby delaying ovulation for up to 5 days (allowing sperm enough time to die before an egg is released). You can also get the copper (or non-hormonal) IUD inserted, which lowers your chances of getting pregnant by more than 99.9% if done within 5 days of unprotected sex. The copper IUD is the most effective form of emergency contraception, and can be left in for up to 12 years to help prevent future unwanted pregnancies. It is free under most insurance plans and Medicaid. Please read this Planned Parenthood article for more information on emergency contraception. If you have had unprotected sex, it is also wise to get tested for STIs, but not right away (different STIs can be detected in tests after different time periods after exposure to an infected partner). P.S. Emergency contraception is not the same thing as abortion, as it works before pregnancy begins. This is common misconception to be aware of.

What if I don’t want to use contraception?

Abstinence, the practice of voluntarily refraining from sexual activity, is the only way to enjoy 100% protection from both STIs and pregnancy. Abstinence, by the way, is a completely fair choice (whether you have been sexually active before or not)! Remember, there are other ways to enjoy physical pleasure, including masturbation (with or without a partner), kissing, massages, etc.! Never let anyone pressure you into something you don’t want to do.

Knowledge, confidence, and communication are the key ingredients to delicious, safe sex. If you’re going to engage in sexual activity, take control of your sexual health and future by using birth control to prevent unintended pregnancies and STIs. With the peace of mind, you will enjoy sex a whole lot more!

tabú tip:

Finding the right birth control option for you can take time. What works for your friend might not work the same for you; that’s okay! Discuss your options with your doctor, and use these handy summary cards to help you think about what might work best for you. And don’t forget, condoms are the best (and only, besides abstinence) method to protect against STIs!