The term "safe sex" is thrown around so much. We've heard it in class, from our parents, from friends, from TV. But it wasn't until I began doing sexual health education that I realized the question that is often left unaddressed is what does safe sex look like?
Now, we know that condoms are important and that we should be getting tested regularly (even though too many of us don't,) but what do we actually know about what safe sex means, and what our options are? Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to understand what safe sex could look like for you.
When talking about safe sex consent is often left out of the conversation. The first step to safe sex is ensuring that it is 100% consensual and involves open and honest communication and checking in with your partner.
This also speaks to something else that is often kept out of the safe sex conversation; pleasure. While remembering to take care of yourself, remember the importance of pleasure. Pleasure and consent go hand-in-hand, as so much of consent is about communication and respect...and if you ask me, that's pretty damn sexy.
The common messaging around safe sex is very heteronormative. This not only assumes that only straight cis people are having sex, but also fails to let queer (and all other) folks know what options there are for them in regards to protection. It is important to remember that condoms aren't only there to prevent pregnancy, but are the best way to protect yourself from contracting STI's and STD's. Here are a few options/tips for using condoms:
Birth control and emergency contraceptive
When it comes to contraceptive it is so important to know all of your options, and to take it seriously when you think about your decision. Many women go on birth control at very young ages, and don't have much of a conversation about it other than knowing it is meant to prevent pregnancy. However, it is something that differs for everyone and can even be quite harmful for some. Ask questions, do research, and figure out what works best for YOU.
Similarly, emergency contraceptive needs to be taken seriously. It is not as effective depending on when you take it, your weight, and other factors. Many deal with side effects such as cramping, puking, and headaches. Make sure you are completely aware of what you are putting into your body before doing it.
Yes, you do need lube
Every time I bring this up to the youth that I do sexual health workshops for, there is always that one young man who blurts out "I always get it wet enough, I don't need any help!" And I always quickly assure him that quite frankly, no he doesn't. But it isn't an attack on anyone's ego. The vagina needs to be incredibly lubricated for penetrative sex. And this is even more so for anal sex. Lack of lubrication can lead to ripping, tearing, and can worsen cuts that could already be there. This puts you at higher risk of spreading or contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Quite simply; keep them clean and do not share them. But if you do share them, make sure they are clean. Toy cleaner can be purchased at your local stag shops!
If you are living with an STD
You can still engage in sex while living with an STD. And you can still engage in safe sex while living with an STD. It is important to ensure you take your medication, stay on top of your health (however that might look based on what you are told by your doctor,) and if a sexual partner asks about your status before becoming intimate do not lie ( if you do not plan on becoming intimate, or haven't been intimate with them in the past, and it is unsafe for you to disclose, you do not need to.)
For sexual health resources contact myself, or any staff at Positive Living Niagara. If you live out of the region contact your local sexual health clinic.
We hear the jokes, see the shame, know the irrational fear. We've felt the anxiousness of waiting for test results. But what exactly, are we really worried about?
The first time I got tested I was overwhelmed by all of the posters in the clinic, I could feel their eyes on me, guilting me into all of the reasons why abstinence would have probably been an easier choice. Looking back on it now, though, I realize that I wasn't scared of what physical effects I could have gotten from sex, as much as I was terrified of the stigma that would come with it. Who would want to date me if I'm living with an STD? Should I consider myself "damaged goods" now? Would it be my fault? All of the irrational, and untrue thoughts I was having were born from years of being socialized into thinking about STI's and STD's in a very particular way, and believing that only certain types of people could ever get them. The reality is that anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting something, and some STI's/ STD's can be contracted in many other ways, that don't even have to do with a sexual encounter. So how can we work towards protecting ourselves from STI's/STD's, while eliminating stigma around this topic? Well, giving adequate information on how to maintain our sexual health is a good place to start.
Stigma is dangerous and creates false narratives about certain people and situations. So let's talk about it.
Sex- ed failed us
The problem with sexual education in North America is that it encourages an"ignorance is bliss" mentality; we are basically told that what we don't do, can't hurt us. And that's how sex has been treated in our school systems. This sets youth up for failure as it doesn't create a safe space to ask real questions or provide information on safe sex and receive resources. Rather than have honest conversations about sex and sexual health, we learned to treat it as a taboo topic that can never be discussed.
Spreading inaccurate information
Stigma is rooted in fear and ignorance. As someone who does sexual health education, I am always surprised by the lack of knowledge about STI's/ STD's, and how much of what people believe about sexual health is just simply untrue. This proves that there is nothing useful about stigmatizing STI's/ STD's, it actually puts folks at a higher risk of contracting them. Lack of education regarding sex and sexual health puts people - especially youth- in a position where they venture off to figure it out on their own since no one ever gave them the proper tools. This is even more complicated for queer youth who are taught under a heteronormative, poor sex - ed curriculum, as they don't ever see themselves being represented, which can further complicate their feelings towards their own identity, as well as leave them in the dark on how to practice safe sex or access information about sexual health. Destigmatizing STI's/ STD's means we need to challenge common social narratives about them by giving honest representation and adequate resources.
Puts people in danger
Being denied health services, experiencing violence, and even being disowned from family are just a few of the ways that people with STI's/STD's are treated. For many, even the mere act of going to the clinic to get tested is highly frowned upon and stigmatized. This, of course, is even more dangerous as folks are engaging in sexual activities without knowing what they could be carrying. Bacterial infections such as chlamydia are a great example of how something treatable can escalate into something much more damaging to the body if left uncared for. An infection like this is incredibly common and easily spread, but can be cured simply if taken care of early. However, untreated infections can lead to infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease. Considering the fact that most cases of chlamydia are asymptomatic, you could go a long time without ever knowing that it even exists within you. If you are living in a community where something as simple as even getting tested brings a lot of hate and judgement, then you will likely be less inclined to go and get checked.
Thought to be the result of personal irresponsibility
The words "sexually transmitted" lead people to believe that those who contract STI's/STD's are at fault. There is a notion that a lack of responsibility and undesirable character are to blame as a result. In a recent workshop, I gave an example, and it really put this into perspective for people: we don't ask folks what they did to get cancer or wonder why they didn't do more to try to prevent it. Or blame someone who sprains their ankle for being too clumsy. Instead, we focus on hoping that they are given the proper care in order to heal.
Sexual health is part of our overall health
I think it is often forgotten that sexual health needs to be taken care of and prioitized the same way other aspects of our health do. Getting tested regularly should not be something we look down on people for doing, it should be a normal part of maintaining our overall health.
Much of the information from this article is from Positive Living Niagara. To learn more about their work, click here: http://positivelivingniagara.com/
For other resources, or questions you might have, please feel free to contact me here.
Where to get tested in Niagara?
Brock University STI Testing
October 18 from 11am-7pm
Entrance to the Walker Complex
Free pizza & other giveaways!
No health card needed.
Sexual Health Clinic
277 Welland Ave
Mon: 8:30am – 6:30pm
Tues – Fri 8:30am – 4:30pm
Positive Living Niagara
120 Queenston Street
Call to see availability
Salvation Army Booth Centre
84 Church Street
Call to see availability
201 Glenridge Avenue
Call to see availability
Start Me Up Niagara
17 Gale Cresent
Call to see availability
Sexual Health Clinic
5710 Kitchener Street
Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri: 1 – 4:30pm
Thurs: 11am – 6:30pm
Sexual Health Clinic
200 Division St
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri: 1 – 4:30pm
Tues: 11am – 6:30pm
570 King Street
Call to see availability
1264 Garrison Rd, Unit 12
Mon – Fri: 9am – noon
Reach Out Food Centre
61 Nickel Street
Call to see availability
In a generation where many of us meet our sexual partners on apps or in clubs, the idea of consent is often drowned out by alcohol and the thought of sex at our earliest convenience.
I have talked to many friends and even colleagues, and have discussed the fact that while we are the generation with the most forms of communication, we are the worst at actually communicating. And I think that spills heavily into how we navigate dating spaces and our sex lives. No one wants to have these important conversations of "are you sure the condom/ dental dam is on properly?" or "have you been tested" or "are you on birth control?" Safe sex is more than finding ways to prevent pregnancy or STD transmission. It is ensuring that whatever you are doing, it is 100% consensual, and it's necessary to understand exactly what that means.
It took me some time to assure myself that I do not owe my body to anyone. Ever. In a society where our bodies can be so undervalued and oversexualized, I often remind myself that my body is mine. At all times. Under every circumstance. When I'm drunk. When I'm horny. When I'm engaging in consensual sex. I can take away your access to my body at any time, and if or when I choose to that's not a conversation or a negotiation or an opportunity for you to fuss. It is a decision that I have already made, for reasons that I may or may not choose to share with you, and quite frankly, you have no say.
And that goes for everyone. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ability or any other aspect of identity. Everyone should have complete agency over their own bodies at all times, and shouldn't be put into situations where they feel like they are no longer in control. Consent is something that can be examined and better understood far past one simple blog post, but this will hopefully give a better idea of what it means.
Intersectionality cannot be overlooked
When discussing consent it must be done through an intersectional lens. This topic cannot be properly addressed without taking into consideration different aspects of identity such as race, gender, ability, and sexuality. You can teach someone what consent is, and get them to understand that only yes means yes, but if they're racist, or sexist, or homophobic, and do not value folks who fit under those identity markers, then consent cannot be understood until they break through-or at the very least, acknowledge- their discrimination.
Body language is not enough
Despite what we hear in songs or see in movies, a simple look doesn't give you the green light to make any sexual advance. Especially if it's coming from someone you don't know very well. Consent has no blurred lines. It should always be a clearly communicated 'yes'.
Persuading someone into saying yes, is not an actual yes
If you had to ask them more than once, and by the end they finally give in because they're clearly uncomfortable, that is not a yes. That's someone sacrificing their body out of fear.
You must get consent for EVERY act
Many people think that once there is any access to someone's body, that it must mean full access. Someone might only consent to a kiss, but nothing else. I explained it to a friend once by saying "just because someone agrees to give you oral sex, doesn't automatically mean you should assume you can skip to anal without a conversation." Everybody is different, and every body is different. Not every person you have sexual encounters with will want or be okay with the same things. That's why it's necessary to discuss what you are willing and unwilling to do, and keep each other aware of what's going on.
Doing it once doesn't mean you always have access to their body
Even if you are in relationship, no one else's body belongs to you. Just because you might only be having sex with each other, doesn't mean you have access to it whenever and wherever you please. Doing anything with someone once, doesn't give you an unlimited free pass back to their body.
Consent can be taken away at any time
Believe it or not, but humans have a crazy way of having something called feelings, and the ability to change our minds. If someone says they wanted something at first, then last minute decided it wasn't what they wanted anymore, you need to respect that. Even if you are already engaging in sex, and your partner decides that they no longer want to continue, that is their absolute right as the ruler of their own body.
(Cis-hetero men, don't give me the bullshit excuse about blue balls. Rub it out in the bathroom and keep it moving.)
Consent can't be given in some circumstances, here's why
You cannot receive consent from someone who is not in a mental state to make informed decisions. If someone is unconsciousness, intoxicated, or underage, then consent cannot be valid due to unequal power dynamics and/or other influences. This can also be the case in situations where someone is under your authority or care (teacher/student, doctor/patient, etc).
No enthusiasm? No consent
'Yes' doesn't mean they nodded, or shrugged their shoulders. That person has to give a willing and enthusiastic YES! Makes sense, right? I want to know that my partner is excited to have sex with me, if I can see they aren't really feeling it, then I'll take that as a no.
No one owes you shit
Even if you travelled a long distance to see this person. Even if you know they like you. Even if you've been sexting for months. Even if you're married to them. No one owes you any part of their body. Ever. Don't ever get it fucked up.
Reacting negatively is a red flag
Your sexual partner ain't shit if they respond negatively when you choose to not give consent. If they begin to pout, or get angry, or show resentment to you for not engaging, that is not okay or normal. They can survive without it in that very moment. Adults usually know how to masturbate. This is not life or death. If they make you feel guilt or shame for not fulfilling their sexual needs at a particular time, that's not your problem or fault.
It started off so well. He’s handsome, smart, and absolutely hilarious. We talk about life, relationships, our academic backgrounds, our interests and goals. He looks me in the eyes as if ready to lean in for our first kiss. “You’re so pretty…for a Black girl”.
We’ve been dating for 3 months. He rubs his unwelcomed hands through my natural hair, and tells me about how he’s never dated within his race. White girls just don’t cut it for him. He prefers women like me. Exotic women.
He wonders if my dad is white. Or if my mom is biracial. Or if my grandparents are some kind of Asian. Or some kind of Indian. Or some kind of other, because it’s really all the same. He needs to- has to- demands to know what I really am. There’s no way I’m just Black. He needs to get to the bottom of this mystery. He refuses to be satisfied until he is certain that my Blackness isn’t this beautiful on its own.
I wake up to 13 Tinder messages. Five of which asking where I’m from. Five more professing their love for chocolate. The remaining three have not yet been opened.
When I was 15 it started to really make sense to me. I discovered that my skin would be a target for more reasons than I could previously understand. I learned that race and racism would inevitably spill into each and every aspect of my being. It would consume my classrooms, workplaces, friendships, and as I came to find out, romantic relationships. Trying to be in love and be Black at the same time has seemed to be tiresome. No love stories I’ve seen ever looked this difficult.
There is something so strange about knowing that "not being racist" is a requirement to keep in mind while dating. “I’m looking for tall, dark, handsome, respectful and kind, nothing too picky. Those are totally reasonable standards” my cis-hetero white friends say to me. “Yeah, me too. Tall, dark, handsome, respectful, kind, politically aware, likes me as more than a fetish, isn’t racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, doesn’t look at me funny when he sees my natural hair, isn’t an internalized racist, doesn’t refer to sex with me as gaining his “Black belt,” you know, nothing too picky. Totally reasonable standards.” And after that is usually when I’m told that I’m asking for too much, and it makes sense why I’m single.
They will keep telling me to be less picky. They say that there are ways around it. Ways for me to co-exist in spaces that were made by me, but not for me. Spaces so powerful that even the men who look like me won’t come near me. Not unless I’m a little lighter, or a little less outspoken. Maybe they are right, and I can still experience love if I just get past the hate. Maybe if I’m really loud I’ll drown out his racism, or maybe if I’m really quiet I’ll hear the few sweet nothings he whispers when he isn’t spewing ignorance.
Dating while Black-but more specifically, as a Black woman- presents challenges and forces me to set standards that non-racialized women likely wouldn’t even think to consider. From the unrealistic beauty standards that continuously leave Black women out, to fear of not being accepted by family in interracial relationships, to intense feelings of undesirability.
I’ve had this conversation with many friends about how to identify when White folks are dating us out of genuine interest, rather than an experiment or a “phase”. How exactly can I be sure that I’m not someone’s attempt to hook up with as many people outside of their race as possible, and am merely a fetish? But what about when you don’t feel desired by people within your own race? What happens after you find out that rejection is coming just as strong from people who look like you?
And that, right there, is it. These questions and anxieties are what come along with dating for me as a Black woman (of course, won’t be exactly the same for every Black woman.) The stress, and confusion, and rejection that is already a common aspect of dating, becomes more complicated when recognizing that race and racism find ways to be present in every single aspect of racialized people’s lives.
This is racism that isn't always loud. This is slow violence. This is figuring out ways to navigate white spaces. This is little Black girls coming home from school and telling their parents that they wish they were lighter. This is me in the fourth grade going to school with my cornrowed head held high, then rushing home in tears begging my mother to take them out. This is conditioning women and girls of colour from the minute they're born to believe that they are difficult to love. To believe that we are lesser than white women. To believe that we don't know how to give love properly, or receive love properly, or understand love properly. This is fetishization and tokenization and the colonial quest to conquer Black bodies. This is me coming home from dates and questioning my own greatness. Examining my worth with a fine-tooth comb and staring at my body as the enemy.
This is what happens when we try to put Blackness, and womanhood, and love all in the same sentence?
Throughout my life I’ve always heard so much about dicks. Every day I’m constantly bombarded with commercials about condoms, Viagra, and how to make penises feel good. Straight cisgender men’s sexual pleasure is so prevalent in Western society. But what about what I and millions of other people in the world have? Why the fuck doesn’t anyone talk about vaginas? Many of us can’t even name our own biological parts or don’t understand their purpose. Well it’s time to switch it up. It’s time to learn more about our complex genitalia. So let’s talk vaginas.
I should mention that not all women have vaginas, and not all men have penises. I know, you might be a little confused, and everything you were taught as a child has just been stomped on, but bear with me here. Gender is actually a social construct. It’s something that we learn. It’s the moment when parents find out our sex and decide whether we’re going to wear pink or blue. But it isn’t actually something that’s biological. It’s also necessary to remember that all vaginas are different. Yeah, sure, when looking at it scientifically there are some standard similarities, but in many ways they differ. From size, to colour, shaven or unshaven, hymen or no hymen, vaginas are so diverse!
Even at 22 years old there are still many facts about my genital area that I’m learning. And I am by no means a doctor or specialist, but based on research and personal experiences, I’ve picked up a few things. If you have a vagina, here’s a little information about it that you might have not known:
1. Masturbation is super healthy
Masturbation actually does wonders for your health. From lowering stress, improving your sex life, and having the ability to uplift your entire mood (even if just temporarily.) It can even help with relief of UTI’s.
2. There is a lot more to the vagina…than the vagina
Mons Pubis, Labia Majora, Labia Minora. And that isn’t even the full list. There are so many different parts that make up the whole genital area. Now, I’m really about to confuse some of you. Believe me or not, but the vagina isn’t really what you think it is. All of the external organs of that area are actually called the vulva. The vagina is located inside of that. Mind. Blown.
3. You don’t get “loose” from having too much sex
This idea is forced especially on cis-hetero women. The assumption that the more sex she has, the less “desirable” her vagina will be due to its “looseness.” The truth is the vagina expands a lot when it’s aroused, and can comfortably accommodate for a penis (if that is your object of desire.) So the vagina’s ability to stretch is actually a great thing.
5. Relax, It cleans itself
The vagina is a self -cleaning organ. Put some water on it and let it be. Adding soap and scrubbing the area can throw off its pH level and kill bacteria that is actually supposed to be there. Yes, you read that right. Certain bacteria is good for your vagina. Just be gentle and leave it alone.
If you have a serious odor and are concerned then speak to your doctor, especially if the smell comes with soreness.
Quick tip: some foods such as garlic, red meat, and curry can cause it to smell a bit funky down there.
6. The clitoris is essentially a penis…yup
Okay, not completely. Obviously the clitoris is its own identity and not merely a penis. I just love throwing it out there to make homophobic cis-hetero men squirm. But in all seriousness, the clitoris and penis are basically made up of the same ingredients. The clitoris is actually way more sensitive than the penis, it gets hard, and it even grows!
7. Not all G-spots are the same
Every G-spot reacts to stimulation differently. So what works for one, won’t necessarily work for all.
Fun fact: Not everyone has a G spot!
8. Let’s talk about pubic hair
Many don’t want it, and no one is obligated to keep it. But it is interesting to know that pubic hair actually has a purpose. It can reduce issues including infections and even rashes!
9. If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get in my head
The brain and the vagina actually work together to assist you in reaching orgasm! When it’s sexually aroused, there is a signal sent to your limbic system; a part of your brain that controls your emotions. And it all goes up from there!
10. There is nothing wrong with you and your un-popped cherries
There can be a thin layer of skin across the vaginal opening, that’s called the hymen. If that layer still exists by the time you lose your virginity, it can pop and cause you to bleed. This is where the term “popped cherry” comes from. But it’s important to understand that not everyone has a hymen! Some are born without one, and some lose it through other (non-sex related) activities.
So there you have it! A few things about your vagina that you probably never learned in sex-ed. I’m no medical genius, so I must give credit where it’s due. Here are a few links to some of the online articles that I’ve used to help me learn more about my vagina! I also suggest having conversations with professionals, reading books, magazines, and looking into films that discuss this topic. So don’t limit your resources to just online material. Unfortunately I’ve struggled to find enough in depth resources for sexual education that is more inclusive of queer folks and looking at health benefits of queer sex and sexual activities. However, this list does include two articles discussing the importance of sexual education curriculum's that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and what that education might look like! But in regards to the overall facts about our genitalia and how to understand and take care of it, I think these first few links can be especially useful:
You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.
- Dita Von Teese
As young as kindergarten so many of us are taught that no never really means no, it just means "playing hard to get." We think that hair pulling and shin kicking is a display of one's unannounced love, instead of an indication that they just really don't want to be around us. Dita Von Teese's quote goes so much deeper than differences in fruit taste. It calls attention to the very simple, yet often not understood fact, and 2009 romance movie title "He's Just Not That into You" (or she, of course.) This concept seems to get so lost in translation when it’s really quite easy. No one is obligated to want you just because you possess qualities that might be desirable to them.
The difficult part about accepting this is the assumption that there must be something wrong with you for that person to not be interested. But that’s where we’re so wrong. No matter what you do, there will never be enough changes you can make to yourself that will cause an uninterested person to suddenly fall for you. And that’s not about you. People fall in love, or simply just have crushes on other people, for so many different reasons. There is something about you as an individual that will cause some to get weak at the thought of you, while others will barely acknowledge your existence. And sadly because we’re told that being ignored and mistreated is a sign of interest, too many of us tend to go for the wrong ones.
I spent years bending over backwards trying to mold myself into someone that I thought that person wanted me to be. I thought if I did or said certain things it would somehow make him feel for me as I did for him. I tried different hairstyles, clothes, even agreed with him when I knew he was wrong.
I tried coming on strong, I tried playing it cool, I spent time with him, I smiled and nodded when he'd flirt with my friends in front of me, I lied for him, I had sex with him. But none of it was enough. Nothing I did could make him want me, and he didn't need to. It wasn't up to him to reciprocate feelings that he made obvious didn't exist. Although the way he treated me was uncalled for and not acceptable, he told me that he had no interest. He made it clear from the beginning that nothing more would come from this friendship. It was me that continued to try to change his mind. And so much of that had to do with me needing to learn to be secure enough with myself to know that I should never want someone who doesn’t want me back. I needed to understand this in order to come to terms with the fact that he just wasn’t-and never would be- into me. I had to recognize that love is a two way street, and I can’t be the only one on the road.
I'm realizing that a vital component of adult relationships is simply telling people what you want. Making it clear what you are looking for from someone to ensure that your personal wants and needs are met. No subtle hints or bottled up feelings. Just being straightforward, coming right out and telling them. And that’s how I choose to live now. To tell people what I need from them and make clear what my intentions are, and I expect them to do the same. I can now understand that feelings can’t be forced, and some people won’t admire me the way that others do, or the way that I admire myself. Just because they might not see the same things in me that I see, doesn’t make them a bad person, or me any less worthy of love. And just like fruit, I could be the best of the bunch. I could be desirable and magnificent to the eyes of one that craves my kind of fruit. I may be flawless to someone who adores my particular sweetness. But there will always be someone who only likes vegetables, and that’s okay.
“Honestly the best piece of advice I can give to younger girls trying to figure life out is to completely ignore men. I’m not being quirky or cute when I say that, I mean it seriously. Ignore men’s judgments of you, ignore their insincere compliments, ignore their half-assed romance. Focus on developing yourself. Practice your art, play sports, do theater, volunteer, spend time with your friends, but do not put substantial effort into pleasing men. They’ll be there for you to pursue when the time comes and if you want to. But nothing will waste your youth more than fighting for male acceptance."
-tofugoddess (tumblr name)
There seems to be this unhealthy social obsession with forcing girls and women to revolve their lives around men. The way we dress, the things we say, hell, even the way we eat. And this isn’t only expected for certain women; this is enforced on all different kinds of women. It took me a long time to come to the realization that I’ve spent so much time focusing on micromanaging my mind and body to be more appealing to men. Often times without even really noticing. It’s a total mind fuck to be given so many different standards to live up to: we’re too loud or too quiet, we’re too fat but aren’t allowed to be too skinny, we’re too slutty but not slutty enough. Somehow we are always something, but we are never enough. Sometimes I’m asked how I overcome this. How I began the process of unlearning these tendencies to impress men. The answer is quite simple: I just stopped giving so many fucks. More importantly, I stopped caring about what men thought of me. I eliminated the expectations that I assumed they had. I thought of the boy who told me I had thunder thighs in high school, or the guy that stared at me funny naked when looking at my stretch marks. I began to laugh at the thought of the one who didn't like my hair or the one who told me my voice is too deep. I gave a middle finger to the guy who said my elbows and knees are too dark. Thought of the times I lathered these parts of my body in lightening cream and homemade scrubs praying that the darkness would go away. Looked back at the days when I would try every diet I could find and hate myself even more when they didn't work. Or when I’d think that not eating at all might be the answer instead. I thought of every time that my body image was brutally attacked by men and by myself. But I realized that those thoughts were just beauty expectations eating me alive.
I discovered that the men that I spent so much time gawking over were never worth my time. And the moment I remembered that none of those opinions matter, is when I allowed myself to be free in every sense of the word. And that is how I am coming into my womanhood every day. I only look to myself for approval.
The fresh moments after my breakup brought me to an unfortunate place, a place that was so unfamiliar to me since my young teenage years. For a short period of time I felt myself craving very specific attention. Not actually going on dates, or “hooking up,” but just feeling a strong need for some kind of validation from men, whether it came in the form of good morning texts or unwanted dick pics. I became so close to a place of desperation for these different aspects of a relationship that I was now missing. After a couple months I cracked down on myself. I stopped replying to degrading texts, deleted my tinder account, and decided it was time to get my shit together. Fortunately I was able to come back to my regular self, and I came back even better. My self-love was stronger and my understanding of what I want and expect in a partner has been much clearer. I went back to being in a committed, monogamous relationship with me.
I decided to like myself. And to do it right now. To not wait until after I lose ten more pounds, or after I fall in love with someone, or after I learn to perfect my contour. I realize that I am able to love myself and still be a work in progress. So I like my oddly large thighs and my quirky attitude. I love my stretch marks. I admire my spectacular breasts and lack of a butt. I feel best when I'm in my room, dancing in my granny panties. I no longer care to wear a bra. I feel most loved when I smile in the mirror. I gaze at this spectacular being. This fascinating, hilarious, brilliant being and wonder how I could've ever hated her in the first place.
And to have to face myself at the end of every day and be happy with who I am, is a feeling no man could ever provide. There's nothing like it; lying in my bed with all thirteen pillows, sprawled out without a whine or a whisper. Without someone rolling over and invading my space. Without an unwanted sound or touch or smell. No one to impress but me. There is so much beauty in comfort. So much sexiness in security. And what a beautiful feeling. To know that no one else needs to be in love with me but myself.
It all started with a fluorescent orange condom. Actually, it started about 10 years prior to that when I met my longest lasting crush. Was he cute? Kind of. Nice? Barely. But he made me laugh and had a badass edge that possessed me to invite his presence. After a steamy MSN conversation that soon made its way to Facebook messenger, we decided to go for it. I longed for attention and he was willing to satisfy my craving. An insecure, rebellious, high school freshman, convinced I was in love. What the actual fuck was I thinking?
I got away with a lot of things in my early teen years. God bless my mother (the hardest working person I know,) who was preoccupied with night shifts at the hospital, and therefore unable to know about the mischievous things I did while she was gone (she found out about most of it. Moms always find out.)
My best friend and I left the house around midnight and walked over to his place. His brother offered us drugs, we kindly declined. Sitting across the room from him, I received a text message: "Hey, let's go do it." He was eager. He was ready. He had every intention to stick to the plan and do exactly what I went there to do. I was goofy, and awkward, and sweaty. I stood up wearing the slightest bit of confidence- enough to almost make it look like I've done this before- and followed him down the hall. We went into his racist mothers bed and let the weirdness begin. He pulled out the infamous orange condom and looked surprised to find out this was a first for me. We went right to it. We did "it," whatever "it" was. It was safe, it was consensual, but it certainly wasn't enjoyable. It had nothing to do with either one of us being shitty in bed, and everything to do with the fact that we were two inexperienced kids, with porn as our only guideline.
I walked out of his house with my best friend giving me the "bitch, what'd you just do?" look. I remember it being late, roughly 2:00a.m, or maybe just before that. We walked far enough down the street and away from his house that he couldn't hear us before we said a word. She asked me what we did. I stopped in the middle of the road, looked her in the eyes, and said "girl...we had sex." She jumped back with her eyes nearly bulging out of her face, and started speaking quickly and loudly in Portuguese.
We did a little dance in the street. I think we even high-fived. I stretched my legs, squatted up and down, pointed to my vagina and yelled out "I feel so free!" She asked me how it was. Obviously I lied and said "so good!" Walking around with my head held high as if it was everything I imagined it would be. In reality, all I could think was "so, what now?"
I have no hard feelings towards him. We were young, dumb and uncontrollably horny. In some odd way, I'm glad that he was the one I shared that experience with. Through his actions he taught me valuable lessons about self-love, sex, and sexuality at a young age. He even helped me familiarize myself with concerns regarding race and racism. I can never forget his mother telling him to "get that jungle bunny out of my house," or him telling his friends he "gained his black belt" with me. He forced me to ask myself questions that desperately needed to be addressed.
I racked my brain looking for so many answers. Like why I was only good enough to be his late night fuck, but never worthy of a label. I couldn’t understand why I was only the awkward Black girl and never good enough to be the girlfriend. When someone treats you like a secret, it’s easy to internalize feelings of unworthiness. Even as an adult I’ve had to reteach myself that I do deserve to be shown off, respected, and admired. Fifteen year old Lydia couldn't conceptualize why these hateful attacks on my identity were problematic, but I get it now. And never again would I allow someone like him to even step foot in my presence, let alone in my pants.
Reflecting back on it now, I don't regret it in the slightest. I do, however, want to stress that there's nothing wrong with waiting (and honestly there's nothing wrong with not waiting, too.) Just remember that it might not live up to the hype. It won't be perfect. It might not be with someone you love or are in love with. It might not last long. It might confirm thoughts you had about your sexuality. You very likely won't experience orgasm. You might wish it was somewhere different, or nicer. You might have imagined it with candles and fancy wine, but end up doing it in the local park. It might be great. It might not be. It might end badly. You might cry after. It might end with you falling in or out of love with that person. Or who knows, maybe it'll end with a fluorescent orange condom, and your underwear left on the floor of their racist mother's bedroom.
Hating myself is easier. It makes things less complicated. It's easier to put myself down rather than embark on the journey of complexities that go into lifting myself up.
It's easy to write yourself off (especially as a woman,) it's much harder to remember why your existence is special, and rare, and important. With every small inch towards a higher self-esteem there's another celebrity inspiring us to get our bodies "summer ready." Or a friend that we secretly envy and wish we could look like. With every slight step towards self love we're yanked back by bullies, shitty partners, and just about anyone else who wants to make us feel small. I am not going to wait for someone else to tell me what I already know deep down. Nobody should. No more waiting for peer approval, or validation from a significant other. Enough of depending on "likes" to remind ourselves that we fucking rock. It's time we do that ourselves.
I guess you could say I met someone. Exactly five months after my breakup, it clicked. For the first time in a long time, I remembered that I'm quite the catch. I'm fantastic. No, seriously, I am incredible. The idea that I was difficult to love was so deeply ingrained in me for years. I'm realizing now, that's bullshit. I'm difficult in general, but I'm easy to love.
I've always valued alone time. For years I've enjoyed basking in my solitude. The problem is, I never did it while loving me. I mean honestly, passionately, genuinely loving myself. So I've decided I'm going to do it now, the way I always should have. I'll be more kind to myself now that I've given me a second (third, fourth, fifth...50th,100th) chance. I'm dating myself, but I'll treat me much better this time around.
Being with myself is great. I'm so down to earth and very low maintenance. I never act sneaky or suspicious. I'm trustworthy. I don't cheat on myself. I don't yell at me. I don't constantly ask me for sex. I don't stand me up. I don't mooch off of me.
I'm so attracted to me. I'm the best I've ever had. I hit the spot every time. I know my weaknesses. I know my body. I make love to myself so passionately until I'm begging for more of me.
I take myself on dates. I always take care of the bill for me. Myself and I agree that dinner dates are corny and played out. We go to museums and jazz festivals instead. We discuss art, and politics and feminism. We lay in bed and read. We hold hands in my lap. Our fingers interlock perfectly. We are the perfect match. I am the perfect candidate to love me.
I'm falling so hard for everything about me. I keep coming back to me like Cory and Topanga did. I fell for myself unexpectedly like Zack and Miri did. I bring myself excitement like Martin and Gina did. I'm so amazed by myself. I'm loving, and beautiful, and hilarious. The room lights up when I step into it. I'm so intelligent. I'm so fucking intelligent. I'm productive. I'm one of the hardest workers I know. My conversations are stimulating. My awareness of social issues is intriguing. My ability to rap nearly ever Tupac lyric is impressive. My love for classical music is surprising. My sarcasm is sexy. My style is effortless. I can't be done again. I'm too unique to be copied.
There's so much of me to love. Don't even get me started on my body. No body has ever been identical to mine. No stretch marks shoot up the sides of hips, like flames, the way mine do. No breasts are marked, scarred, and uneven quite like mine are. My hands are warm and comforting. My tattoos have intermingled into my flesh and become one with me. And this smile, oh, this smile. It has survived the rockiest storms of self-hate.
I am falling in love with myself. Day by day. I can't stop it. I always feel the need to be around me. I crave myself. I no longer go a day without wanting to touch me. I rarely fail to admire my reflection. I have fallen so deeply in love with the woman in the mirror. She's been waiting for this.
I was 15 and most of my friends were hetero-normative straight boys. It's been this way for as long as I can remember, but this time, it's different. As a kid I didn't think about this stuff. I ran around in the mud with my bare feet and won burping contests. I could care less about how I looked. None of that mattered to me. Until now.
While discussing the girls that my friends were crushing on, my name somehow came up. Not because any of them lusted after me, but because I was the ideal example to compare "likable" girls and "unlikable" girls. He looked at me with a grin, patted me on the shoulder and said "we've never even thought to look at you like that. You're not like other girls, you're just Lydia. Going after you would be like liking one of the guys." I mean, I understood. I was never that girl friend. The one that the guys all secretly gawked over and kept around for their own romantic pleasure. I've always been the friend. Nothing more in their eyes. We never slept together or attempted to take our friendship to "the next level." I helped hook them up with different girl friends of mine (I'm seriously the best wingwoman.)They were never attracted to me. I wore shitty clothes and had shitty haircuts. I wrestled with the boys and would fart on their heads. I picked up dead birds with my bare hands (totally unsanitary, regardless of gender,) and played shot-for-shot until my arm turned blue. I was (and by definition, probably still am) the "ultimate dude."
Now fast forward a few years to the current me. The me who has an opportunity to reflect on past situations with more wisdom, common sense, and self-respect. What he said was fucked up. Why couldn't I do the same weird shit I did with them and be a desirable girl too? Why did I have to hide my Bratz dolls in front of them? Just because they didn't see me like that, why'd they make it seem like no one else could? These types of things don't just exit my brain, and I'm realizing that more as I get older. This kind of shit unconsciously leaves a mark. After years of hearing comments like these, I've internalized this "just Lydia" mentality and allowed it to translate into my adult relationships.
I recently had a cool movie type of moment where I thought deeply about this. I had to ask myself: at what point do I move on from this? At what point do I decide that Lydia is a multifaceted, complex woman who enjoys Sunday morning cartoons and Star Trek, but also loves makeup? A woman who can nearly belch the alphabet but also wants be told that I'm pretty and sexy and beautiful. Why can't I be everything I already am, and why can't that be enough?
And I get it, now. I can be. I can be all of those things. I can like what I like, and do what I enjoy doing and still be a woman that someone might want. However, it will take a lot for me to unlearn this rhetoric that I've been force fed for as long as I can remember. You know that saying "we accept the love we think we deserve?" I think that's a huge part of it. I am constantly lowering my standards and welcoming undeserving people into my life because I figure that's the best that I can do. I think oh, no need to be too picky. Who cares if you're not that attracted to him. He's stomping on your feelings repeatedly, but at least he's into you.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a very zero tolerance type of person when it comes to dating, and if you fuck with me I won't have a problem kicking you to the curb. I will, however, be incredibly understanding and accepting of flaws. And when I say flaws, I mean massive fuck ups that I'm willing to look past because the naive in me still sees the good in everyone. Now that I'm single, I'm more in tune with how much of a pattern this has been for me. To not look for men who are overqualified. How fucked up is that? I see a dude who's attractive, intelligent, and not plotting to ruin my life, and the little voice in my head screams TURN THE FUCK AROUND. HE AIN'T FOR YOU, KID. Maybe go back to someone from your past. Hmm. How about that asshole you lost your virginity to? Or the one who told you that you have thunder thighs? Or what about that one? You know, THAT one. I think he might've just gotten out of jail. Or no, maybe that's someone else. Regardless, I think that's a pretty good roster, right? Take your pick. It's the best you've ever done, and the best you'll ever do.
Staying away from these men isn’t the hard part for me, getting this voice to stay silent is.
I've decided to leave this mentality behind with my 15 year old self. I'm neglecting the idea that I'm "just Lydia" and substituting it with the mindset that I'm just kick-ass, hilarious, gorgeous, super cool Lydia. Just magnificent. Just great. Just fine-the-way-she-is Lydia. One of the boys and one of the girls; defying gender roles since '95. My own, unique version of myself that I quite enjoy. I'm understanding that I am capable and worthy of being admired without having to settle.
I can be loved, and be great, and be myself. All at the same time.