Soap truly has no gender, but the personal care aisle can still be a scary place. Let us help you out!

You walk into the corner store with a short grocery list: things like milk, cereal, and deodorant. Everything’s going smoothly until you turn the corner into the personal care aisle. An invisible line parts the wall of hygiene products. On one side, words like beautiful and sensitive adorn pastel colors, floral scents, and diminutive packaging. The other side sports dark labels, woodsy smells, and words like power and adventure.

Are you a boy or a girl? The deodorant selection seems to ask.

What should be a ten-minute errand becomes an unexpected interrogation. What does the shampoo you use say about your identity? Will people smell the gender of your bodywash? How will the cashier react if you bring this shaving cream up to the counter?

If you’re non-binary, gender non-conforming, or questioning, you might struggle to find anything that reflects your identity, especially if you've been spending most of your life using products other people bought for you, or personal care items you selected because you were "supposed to," from pink razors to heavy cologne.

This can be nerve-wracking if you’re a trans person with a binary identity, too. You might know which gender signals are affirming but worry about experiencing hostility for claiming them publicly. Let’s untangle some of the factors at play here — not just gendered packaging, but price, scents, ingredients, and vendors, too — so you can feel comfortable exploring all of your options.

Why Bother?

Gendered messaging is everywhere. The clothes we wear, the toys kids play with, even in our food. Once you start to see it, it’s hard to un-see it.

It can seem -- because it is -- pretty absurd. How can a bar of soap have a gender? What does it matter if I use “boy soap” or “girl soap” — isn’t the important part just to get clean? Even a 100 percent binary, 100 percent cisgender person who has never questioned gender identity might wonder this. It’s a fair question!

You may decide the whole thing is a bunch of nonsense and you don’t care what gender it says on the bottle. More power to you! But it’s also okay if you do care. And whether or not you agree that certain colors, scents, or words align with specific genders, we live in a society where these ideas often go unchallenged. It's okay to recognize that, too.

If it’s affirming for you to snag that apparently extra-girly, masculine, or gender-neutral face scrub, go for it! On the other hand, if your situation makes you feel unsafe bringing home affirming products, it may help to think of what’s on the shelf as camouflage instead of a statement about your identity. The things you buy are tools you mold to suit your needs, not the other way around.

You can use those gendered scents, change the way you style or cut your hair, and adopt new gender-linked grooming habits to explore your relationship with gender. For example, someone who wants to feel more masculine might avoid shaving their legs and armpits and start shaving their face instead — even if they don’t grow facial hair, just going through the motions can be fun and affirming. Similarly, someone who wants to feel more feminine could start shaving their legs and armpits, sculpting their eyebrows, and wearing makeup. Nail polish can be another fun and affirming part of the femme toolkit! Even if you’re in the closet, you might do your toenails and keep them away from prying eyes under socks and closed-toe shoes — but you will know how fabulous they look!

The point of all this is to find tools that make you more comfortable and confident with being you, gender and all. If passing is important to you, they may help you accomplish that, too. But if passing isn't a priority for you, playing with scents, cosmetics, and more can be a fun experience.

So what can help you with that? All kinds of things! Shampoo, conditioner, hair masks, face masks, hair accessories, cosmetics, stick-on nails and lashes, body glitter, hair glitter, body wash, soap, bath bombs, hand lotion, body lotion, foot lotion, face wash, face scrub, razors and shaving cream, aftershave, beard oil, mustache wax, hair gel, mousse, hair curlers, straightening irons, blow dryers, hair dye, nail polish, perfume, cologne, body butter, lip butter, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Factors to Consider

Gender presentation may not be the only thing on your mind as you’re exploring your options in the world of personal hygiene. Here are a few other things to think about:

  • Cost! This is a big one. Not only will price vary based on brands and vendors, gendered marketing affects prices. A 2015 study found that: “On average, personal care products cost women 13 percent more than men.” Products marketed towards feminine consumers sometimes come in smaller packaging, so keep an eye on the cost per ounce, not just sticker price.
  • Vendor. Do you want to buy online or in person? Do you have preferred brands? Indie maker or large-scale company? Do you want to visit a specialty retailer, or are you more at home at the drug store?
  • Ingredients. You may be looking for vegan, organic, cruelty-free, or fair trade ingredients. Small vendors are more likely to be able to work with you to customize products, but be aware that this can drive up the price.
  • Specific needs. Everyone has slightly different needs from personal care products. You may be looking for color guard for dyed hair or products designed for Afro-textured hair. Skincare products are formulated differently for dry and oily skin. Conditions like dandruff or acne can also affect your options.
  • Medical Transition. Taking hormones will also affect skin and hair growth! Testosterone encourages skin to secrete an oil called sebum, so FTM folks may see more acne and need to exfoliate more. In contrast, estrogen slows down sebum production, so MTF folks may notice their skin is drier than they are used to and want to pick up some moisturizers.
  • Privacy. Unfortunately, you might not be in a situation where you feel comfortable or safe putting your gender identity on display. If you share a bathroom with family or roommates you fear won’t accept your newfound gender expression, you still have options. Maybe you can share products with a supportive sibling or friend, for example. You might switch to neutral products to avoid the question altogether. You could even stow the contents of a gender-affirming product in a container that conforms to your housemates’ expectations.
  • Ethics. The cosmetics industry is big business, and many corporations have poor labor practices, engage in harmful political lobbying, or use problematic ingredients. If you're concerned about ethics, be aware that single-issue organizations often focus on what matters to them, but not the bigger picture. One group might tell you a cosmetics company is LGBQT-friendly...but maybe it uses child labor, tests on animals, or maintains an unjust pay gap for employees of color. Experts have some tips on learning more about brands to determine whether they align with your ethical concerns.
A Note on Scents

Scent is one of the few gender markers that sticks around once the shampoo’s out of its color-coded bottle. Of course, scents don’t actually have genders, but like it or not, our culture likes to slap a gender on anything it can get its hands on — or, in this case, its nose.

You can use those cultural assumptions to your advantage! (But remember: Interpretations of scent and gender are highly cultural.)

Looking for some feminine flair? Floral and fruity scents will serve you well, whether you choose calming lavender, bold mangoes and cherry blossoms, or the more subtle zest of a fresh lemon aroma. You may also find products that cater to stereotypes about girly mixed drinks or champagne, or even “sweet” smells like sugary desserts.

Is a masculine musk more your speed? You might try earthy scents like cedar, pine, or spice blends. Some play into hyper-masculine stereotypes, like cigarette or whiskey scented aftershave.

Maybe you don’t want a scent that screams MASC! or FEMME! Some smells seem to pop up all over the gender spectrum, especially sea salt and rain-themed scents. Fresh smells like cucumber, clean linen, mint, and sometimes citrus can be good choices to avoid sending strongly gendered signals. There’s plenty of grey area in gender signaling — shea butter, almond, and coconut may count as femme-to-neutral, and coffee or mountain fresh may fall somewhere from neutral-to-masc depending on personal taste. Unscented is always an option, too!

Shopping Online versus In-Store

Online shopping has undeniable advantages for trans and otherwise gender-nonconforming folks. With no face-to-face human contact, there’s no one to judge or misgender you based on your appearance. It’s simpler to compare prices. You can access a much wider selection than you would in any one store and may find trans-affirming vendors that don't have an in-store presence.

There are barriers to online shopping, though. You need access to a computer and a way to make payments online. You’ll likely have to pay for shipping. Privacy can be an issue: you may have concerns about your activity being noticed on shared computers or about receiving shipments securely. You have some options to work around these barriers, though — if you don’t have a credit card, you can use cash to buy Visa gift cards and pay online with those. You could have your purchases sent to trusted friend or relative if you don’t want to receive them at home. A community resource center, especially one that is trans-affirming, may have computers you can use or be willing to receive shipments for you.

Buying gendered products in-store can be scary when you’re trans. But it can also be affirming! “Yeah, I’m getting this girly body butter. And?” If you don't feel safe buying gender affirming products, it's still possible to do so without outing yourself. You might ask a store associate to help find “a gift for mom/dad” or “something my boy/girlfriend and I can both use, since we’re trying to save money.” DON’T feel guilty if you need to fib a little to feel safe! The most important thing is your security.

A typical drug store is the first stop for many people. In addition to being cheaper, generic store brands sometimes come in simpler and less gendered packaging. The biggest disadvantage is a limited selection. This can be especially noticeable if you have specialized needs. They’re unlikely to stock any explicitly queer- or trans-affirming products or high-end brands.

Chain and boutique stores can carry a wider selection. Societal expectations may make you feel that stores devoted to hair and skin care products are feminine spaces. Many of these stores carry a line marked “For Men,” however. Does that imply that items without that label — the majority — are not for men? Does it make them feminine or neutral instead?

Depending on your gender identity, this may affect how comfortable you feel and how others perceive you in these spaces. Besides these “For Men” product lines, scents and packaging in these stores often eschew gender to focus around conceptual themes such as locations, types of nature, moods, or even horoscopes. Stores that emphasize natural ingredients also tend to focus on the benefits of their ingredients instead of assigning gender to their products. These may be neutral spaces where you can interpret how features like scent, color, and ingredients fit into your gender presentation based on your personal perceptions instead of labels.

Unfortunately, you might encounter salespeople who look down on young people, visibly trans/queer people, and/or people of color. If you’re concerned a store might be snobby or engage in discrimination, check out their online reviews! It might not be a bad idea to bring along a supportive, responsible adult-type, too, if you know where to find one of those. And if someone does give you a bad attitude? Politely let them know that you are plenty capable of speaking with their manager, leaving a review online, and taking your business elsewhere. If you can’t reach their conscience, hit them in the wallet.

Independent sellers can be a great resource for finding gender-affirming bath and body products. Countless entrepreneurs sell their hand-made goods on sites like Etsy, but you can also find these folks in person at farmers’ markets or by inquiring with small business co-ops and chambers of commerce near you. These organizations can be especially helpful if you want to support queer and trans entrepreneurs, black-owned businesses, vegan or cruelty-free artisans, fair-trade companies, local business, or any communities and values that are important to you. Folks who hand-make their products may even be willing to customize their work to your needs, although be aware that this can drive up the cost. If you’re buying online, watch out for international shipping, and you should always be aware of vendors’ ratings from other customers. Be wary if a lot of previous customers complain about poor quality, service, or communication!

Last but not least, if none of these is a good fit, you could make it yourself! Why DIY? Maybe you’re concerned about financially supporting a business with questionable labor or environmental practices, or one whose marketing fuels rigid, binary gender roles. If you’re interested in natural products, there’s no better way to know exactly what’s going into your hair and skin products than by making them yourself. What’s more, the act of creating your own products can be very empowering — it’s not just custom-made for your gender, it’s custom-made for YOU! On the downside, cost can be a barrier, especially start-up costs. This is also the most time-consuming option.

Get Experimental!

Maybe no one product feels quite right. It can be tough to find something that consistently feels good, especially if your gender is fluid. Don’t be afraid to experiment! You could get some masculine-coded products and some that are more femme and pick which to use by how you’re feeling on any given day. Or maybe you want to go neutral: Unscented soap, deodorant, and antiperspirant are available — and can be appreciated by those with scent sensitivity. You might decide to experiment with a base of neutral scents with body wash or deodorant and add a layer of perfume or cologne on top if that speaks to you. The natural scent of your own body is an option, too!

Remember, these are all just suggestions that might help you turn a highly-gendered minefield into a source of affirmation. Using a product with certain gender associations isn’t the end all and be all. Plenty of cisgender and binary-gendered folks buy neutral scents or shop across gender lines. So can you! Nothing you buy in the store defines who you are or prescribes your gender. Rather, they are tools for you to use or not use as you see fit.

Whatever you choose, always remember: you and your gender are valid, no matter what products you do or don't use.

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I would consider myself an introvert. While I am interested in and fairly good at connecting with others, I tend to feel less comfortable with new people and in new environments. And because of the combination of my anxiety with the fair, poor, and sometimes hateful/violent treatment that I’ve received in public, I tend to feel more on edge and distracted when I’m out and about. Even if there’s nothing bad happening, and no one around me is paying me any sort of negative attention, my anxiety tends to make me feel like everyone is looking at me or that I stick out like a sore thumb.

This anxiety is informed by a history of interactions where I was made to feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even unsafe because someone decided to treat me differently. These are microaggressions —small everyday interactions that reinforce prejudice, discrimination, and othering of marginalized people — and can be committed totally by accident, without meaning to, or even by other people from marginalized backgrounds. A lot of the time they happen at the hands of someone who didn’t mean any harm at all; friends, coworkers, family, or overly enthusiastic strangers in the grocery store.

I recently experienced some microaggressions that specifically brought up thoughts about bodies and boundaries.

A while back, my partner and I went to a bar where she would be performing in a show. There was another show still finishing up when we arrived, and many of the actors were having a drink and practicing their lines in the main bar area. My partner had to go outside to practice lines with one of her scene partners (as it was very loud in the bar), so I took a second by myself to sip my drink and check on my texts/Facebook on my phone. Because of a recent leg injury, I was using a wheelchair.

Within seconds, a white male member of the production came up to me and said, “Hey love, how’s it going?” I wasn’t expecting him to try and hug me, and wasn’t particularly mobile, so I had to just sit there. His arms were wrapped awkwardly around mine, pinning my arms at my sides. I remember his words running through my head and thinking: When did you earn the right to call me ‘love’? Do you love me? Do you think I love you? Were you looking to share a hug or just to hug my body? You didn’t even pause to allow me the option. I cannot opt out of this hug.

All this from someone that I’ve talked to maybe three times in my life. Predictably, before I could get a word in to respond with how I was doing, he had spotted another friend and wandered off.

Fast forward to a few minutes later, when a young white actress nearby asked me if I could help her run lines. I said was happy to do so and moved closer to the table where she was sitting so I could hold her script. As we started to go through the scene, she started to repeatedly put her hand on my knee. She seemed to be concentrating deeply, trying to remember the lines she had memorized, but every so often she would touch my knee for emphasis or rest her arm on it. I found myself, once again, feeling confused and a little trapped, thinking: Why does this person think that it’s okay to touch me like this? Does she not realize that this is weird? Does she not care?

Being in my wheelchair, my knees/legs were the closest part of my body to her at that moment, but it felt particularly strange that she was choosing to repeatedly touch a part of the body that you don’t tend to touch on strangers or casual acquaintances. This was someone that I knew to be straight and in a monogamous relationship, who I was fairly sure didn’t know my last name, who was using my legs as the equivalent of an armrest. I had to unlock my chair’s wheels and roll myself backwards to put some space in between the two of us. She didn’t seem to notice.

I should also point out, I’m not a touch-averse person in general. I’m actually very physically intimate with people that I know and love; I will snuggle, hold hands, hug, kiss, and lay my head on the shoulders of romantic and platonic companions alike (with consent!). When my friends showed up to the bar and interrupted our line practice, I enthusiastically hugged them to say hello (while also being quietly grateful that there were more comfortable humans for me to interact with).

The rest of the night went alright, and we had a good time, but it got me thinking about boundaries and interacting with strangers in public. I found myself wondering how those interactions were informed by my visible characteristics, and how they would have been different if I hadn’t been in my wheelchair, or if I wasn’t visibly brown or fat or queer. What if everything was the same except I was white and passed for straight? What if I had been using my cane instead? What if I always used a wheelchair rather than being temporarily unable to use my leg? It’s hard to imagine what would happen in those scenarios, just like it’s pretty much impossible to separate out the different aspects of your identity into discrete categories.

Moments like these aren’t rare for people with marginalized identities; people of color, queer and trans folks, disabled people, and others all have to deal with their boundaries being overstepped by friends and strangers alike. It might not seem like that big of a deal as an isolated incident, but when it’s repeated and combined with the daily battles of institutionalized oppression, it really starts to wear on a person. These microaggressions become particularly harmful when they impact our sense of bodily autonomy and personal space, which happens in interactions involving the most basic physical form that we occupy — our bodies.

Here are just a few common examples of marginalized folks getting their boundaries violated by strangers, acquaintances, or even friends:

  • Black folks who deal with others touching their hair without consent, when there is a long history of violence, dehumanization, and voyeurism towards Black bodies.
  • People of color (especially women and femmes) who deal with lots of questions and “compliments” about their hair/skin/nails, which thinly veil exotification of their bodies.
  • Disabled folks who deal with people questioning/distracting/trying to pet their working service dogs, who are simply existing in public and go about life normally.
  • Queer and trans people dealing with invasive questions about their identities, genitals, sex lives, or (assumed) transition process that would be wholly inappropriate to ask a cisgender straight person whom you don’t know that well.

The examples above are particularly insidious because they specifically involve aspects of these individuals’ identities and lived experiences. Sure, it’s weird and/or upsetting anytime someone acts inappropriately or violates your personal space, but it’s even weirder when you know it’s because you’re disabled, or queer, or fat, or all three.

Maybe this phenomenon of touching everyone semi-intimately is a cultural norm for this particular group of actors, and they were trying to make me feel more comfortable as someone who was not like them. Maybe they were overcompensating because they realized that I was the only queer, brown, visibly impaired person in the room, and they wanted to be extra friendly. If so, I appreciate that effort, but wish they had taken a second to think about whether or not I wanted to be hugged or touched.

As someone who talks with young people almost every day about consent and boundaries in a sexual context, I thought these experiences were a good reminder of how boundaries and bodily autonomy inform our interactions in everyday life. It really can be easy to forget that everyone has different preferences when it comes to if, when, and how they like to be touched, and when it’s at all possible, we need to try and communicate about that first rather than making assumptions.

Thinking about this ideal scenario, here’s how I wish the night had gone:

Person A: Hi, Al! How are you doing? Do you want a hug? Are you a hugger?
Me: Hi, Person A! I’m doing alright! Actually, I feel awkward hugging people from down here, so let me give you a double high-five.
Person A: *double high-fives me and it’s great*

Person B: Hi, it’s Al, right? Would you mind helping me practice lines?
Al: Yeah, and you’re Person B! I’d be happy to read lines with you!
Person B: *reviews lines and does not touch my body at all* Thank you for your help! Can I get you another drink?

If you read through the above interactions and think to yourself, That sounds kind of awkward, that would never happen in real life, I understand. But I’ll also say this — it feels like that would never happen in real life because we’re socialized to see that behavior as awkward. We’re brought up to think that hugging someone that you’re friendly with is the norm, and that if we’d be okay with a certain type of touch from someone, they feel the same way. But it doesn’t have to be like that. (And in many other areas of the world and non-Western societies, it isn’t.)

We (yes! You, me, Person A, and Person B!) can choose to make a habit of thinking about a person’s boundaries and relationship to us before we reach out and touch them. We can choose to ask rather than making assumptions about what people are comfortable with, and we can educate ourselves about how to interact respectfully and appropriately with others, especially if they come from marginalized backgrounds. The more we consciously build consent and individually-defined boundaries into our everyday interactions, the more we are able to communicate and interact socially in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Know of a blog, organization, or resource that belongs here? Send it to our curator, Al (that's me!), at al AT scarleteen DOT com.

Interested in contributing as a guest writer for our Sexuality in Color series, or any other part of Scarleteen? Check out our information for writers and then take it from there! Queer and trans writers of color of varied abilities and experiences are always strongly encouraged to apply.

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Is pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention right for me? When should I use post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)? Get the answers to these and other PEP/PrEP questions, right here!

If you’re a sexual health nerd, read a lot of news, or have been exposed to sexual health ad campaigns lately, you’ve probably heard about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — medication that can prevent HIV infection. You might have also heard that there’s a “morning after pill” for HIV called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), or heard the slogan “undetectable equals untransmittable.” What these three things have in common is that they all involve the use of anti-HIV medication (also called antiretrovirals) to prevent people from getting or transmitting HIV. Together, these methods are known as biomedical HIV prevention.

The use of medication to prevent HIV is not exactly new (PrEP has been out for a few years now and PEP has been around since the 1990s), but there’s still a major problem with misinformation and a lack of awareness. This article aims to provide you with basic knowledge about PrEP and PEP — how they work and where to get them — and to clear up some common misconceptions about medications that are used to prevent HIV.

If you need to brush up on your HIV basics (which is a great idea before reading the rest of this article!), check out our brief STI File on HIV or read our extensive HIV roundup article.

Biomedical HIV Prevention – The Basics

Most conversations about HIV prevention involve barriers – like condoms and dental dams – or behavioral changes, like having fewer sex partners, getting tested more frequently, and communicating with partners about testing and safer sex. These are important, useful, and effective strategies for preventing HIV, but for some people in some situations, they aren’t enough. Biomedical HIV prevention can be really helpful for folks who want additional protection from HIV or for folks who feel like perfect condom use or other behavior changes just aren’t realistic goals for them. It’s also important for preventing HIV in folks who have already been exposed (as sometimes happens during sexual assault, or if a condom breaks). Finally, some people are HIV-positive themselves and want to protect their sexual partners or want to start a family and have biological children who are HIV-negative.

There are four main ways in which HIV medications are used as a form of HIV prevention:

  • PrEP: A daily medication that is taken regularly (before and after exposure) to prevent HIV. It is meant to prevent HIV exposures that occur on an occasional to frequent basis. People who take PrEP might decide to take it for months or years.
  • PEP: A medication that is taken to prevent HIV after an exposure happens. It is taken within 72 hours of an exposure and continued for 28 days. PEP is not used for routine HIV prevention but in unexpected situations like sexual assault, blood exposures, or broken condoms.
  • PMTCT: PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) includes methods used by HIV-positive people of any gender who want to have biological children who are HIV-negative. This includes medication taken by parents to prevent transmitting HIV to each other during conception, medication taken by the pregnant person to prevent transmitting HIV to the developing fetus, and a one-month course of medication taken by infants to keep them from developing HIV once they’re born.
  • TasP: TasP (treatment as prevention) is providing treatment to HIV-positive people not only to keep them healthy but to prevent HIV from being transmitted to other people. HIV-positive people who are on medication that successfully reduces the amount of virus in their body cannot pass HIV to others during sex. There are a couple of caveats here — different HIV medications work well for different people and they do not work immediately. For treatment to work as HIV prevention, the person with HIV needs to be on medications that work well for their body and needs to be taking them consistently and correctly (what this means is different for each medication but usually means once a day). In most people, the amount of virus in their body will be too low to transmit after two to three months of treatment.

The Big Disclaimer

The four HIV prevention strategies listed above work really, really well. We won’t understate how effective they are — every strategy we discuss in this article reduces HIV risk by over 90 percent (and, depending on which research papers you read, up to 99 percent). However, none of these medications do anything to prevent any other kind of STI and none of them do anything to prevent pregnancy.

In other words, these are useful tools for protecting your sexual health but are not a complete safer sex strategy on their own. HIV is obviously a big deal and it’s awesome to have so many ways to prevent it — especially considering that there is no cure for HIV and untreated HIV can progress to a serious, life-threatening condition. That being said, other STIs are nothing to sniff at (especially with infections like gonorrhea that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics). Everyone’s situation is different, but if you’re using medications like PrEP to protect yourself from HIV, you’ll also need to consider your risk for other STIs (and possibly pregnancy) and how you’ll protect yourself. You can also get more info about your risk for other STIs and learn more about your safer sex options!

Another major disclaimer — this article mostly discusses sexual transmission of HIV, not blood-to-blood transmission. It is unknown whether PrEP protects people from getting HIV through injection drug use or whether treatment as prevention prevents people from transmitting HIV through injection drug use. If you are using injection drugs, there are still a lot of ways you can protect yourself from HIV. You can learn more about them from the Harm Reduction Coalition’s safety manual Getting Off Right.

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a form of HIV prevention that you use to protect yourself from HIV before you get exposed (although technically, people take PrEP before, during, and after the exposure). PrEP is used to prevent HIV exposures that occur on a regular basis (like in someone who is sexually active with people who are or might be HIV-positive) and is taken as a daily medication. Since PrEP is taken every day, it’s meant to be a medication that you’d have in your body before, during, and after an HIV exposure.

The medication that is currently used as PrEP is a pill that contains two different medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine). In the United States, this pill is usually sold under the brand name Truvada, but outside the U.S. might be known by various generic names. Regardless of what it’s called, when taken once a day every day, PrEP is up to 99 percent effective at preventing HIV.

How does it work?

PrEP contains two anti-HIV medications (also known as antiretrovirals or ART) that prevent HIV from making copies of itself. In a person who is HIV-positive, these medications are used to keep the level of HIV in the body low. In an HIV-negative person on PrEP, the goal is to use these medications to stop an HIV infection from happening in the first place. When a person on PrEP is exposed to HIV, the drugs stop the virus from making copies of itself, preventing the infection from becoming established.

For PrEP to do its job at preventing HIV, it needs to first build up inside of the body until it reaches a high enough level to work. The drugs in PrEP need to be present in the parts of the body where HIV transmission happens — the lining of the rectum and the lining of the genitals (the walls of the vagina and the inside of the urethra in a penis). Because PrEP must build up in these parts of the body before it starts to work, PrEP does not provide immediate protection against HIV. You need to be on PrEP for a certain length of time before it will protect you from HIV.

How long? It depends on what type of sex you’re having. PrEP builds up faster in the lining of the rectum than it does in the genitals. If you are bottoming for anal sex (having someone’s penis inside your anus), you need to take PrEP every day for 7 days before it will protect you from HIV. In you are having other forms of genital sex (putting your penis inside someone’s vagina or anus, or having someone’s penis inside your vagina), PrEP must be taken every day for 28 days before it will protect you from HIV.

The other important thing to know about PrEP is that it’s really effective (like, 99 percent effective) at preventing HIV but only when you take it every single day. Just like with any HIV prevention strategy, there’s a difference between perfect use and actual use. In most studies of PrEP, the overall protection from HIV was between 40-75 percent — but these figures included people who skipped doses. People who took PrEP every single day had about a 99 percent decrease in their HIV risk. Missing an occasional dose doesn’t mean you lose all protection immediately, but more missed pills = less protection. This means that while PrEP can be really effective, it is not a great HIV prevention method for someone who would have trouble taking daily medication.

Who is PrEP for? And why haven’t I heard about it?

PrEP is for teens and adults of all genders and sexualities who might be at risk of getting HIV through sex. This means people who are gay, straight, bi, and queer, people who are cis, trans, and nonbinary, and people who are young and old. People who take PrEP can be:

  • Having sex with any number of people who are HIV-positive or of unknown status. A person on PrEP might have casual sex with multiple people, be in a committed non-monogamous relationship, be in a relationship with one or more HIV-positive people, doing sex work, not doing sex work, and so on. There’s no minimum number of partners you need to have to be on PrEP.
  • Having any kind of sex that can transmit HIV. PrEP works for both anal and vaginal sex and both topping and bottoming.
  • Using or not using drugs. PrEP provides protection from sexual transmission of HIV regardless of whether someone injects drugs. It’s just not known how effective PrEP is at preventing blood-to-blood transmission.
  • Using or not using hormones. PrEP works in transgender and nonbinary people regardless of whether or not they take hormones.
    Despite the fact that PrEP is meant for a wide range of people, many folks have never heard of PrEP or don’t think it’s intended for them. This is especially true of young people. The 2017 Kaiser National Survey of Young Adults on HIV/AIDS found that 74 percent of young people had never heard of PrEP. Of those who had heard of PrEP, only 18 percent believed that PrEP worked and only 26 percent believed that PrEP was something everyone who needed could access.

So what’s going on? Unfortunately, the majority of awareness campaigns around PrEP have focused on gay and bisexual cis men, and a large amount of attention has been concentrated in wealthier, white communities. In addition, it’s still a common misconception that HIV only impacts gay and bisexual men. Women are often left out of educational campaigns around PrEP and until the past few years, PrEP research studies excluded transgender people.

The result of this is that a lot of people either don’t believe that PrEP is meant for them or have never heard of PrEP at all. People who have heard of PrEP often believe that PrEP is only for gay men who have a lot of condomless anal sex with anonymous partners.

However, the fact that educational campaigns, research, and funding have focused on gay and bi cisgender men doesn’t mean other folks can’t benefit from PrEP. The CDC estimates that the number of cis women who are at high risk for acquiring HIV is about equal to the number of gay and bi cis men at risk (in fact, 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses are in women).

Increasingly, PrEP studies are including trans women, trans men, and non-binary folks and there’s a growing body of evidence that PrEP can benefit trans folks of all genders. That being said, there’s a lot of research and advocacy to be done in this area.

Why might someone use PrEP?

The most common reason a person might decide to use PrEP is that they are at high risk for getting HIV and want to reduce that risk. Some things that increase your chance of being exposed to HIV are:

  • Having partners who are HIV-positive.
  • Using injection drugs or having sex with folks who use injection drugs.
  • Having anal and/or vaginal sex with partners whose HIV status you do not know – especially if you have multiple partners.
  • Having anal and/or vaginal sex without condoms – especially with multiple partners whose status you do not know.

Most people who take PrEP will fit into at least one of the above categories. However, there are some people with lower HIV risk who take PrEP as well. Just as it’s common for folks to use back-up methods of birth control (like using an IUD in addition to condoms), many people decide to back-up their condom use with PrEP to help them feel safer and more relaxed during sex. There are also people who take PrEP because they are anxious about HIV. Often, people who come from HIV-impacted communities — especially gay and bisexual men — have grown up with the message that they are “fated” to get HIV. Especially for people who have internalized the idea that certain kinds of sex are inherently dangerous or deadly, using PrEP can be very liberating. In addition, the fact that PrEP is an HIV prevention method that does not require cooperation from sex partners gives many people a sense of control over their own bodies — it’s a way of protecting yourself from HIV that no one else needs to know about or agree to.

Why might someone stop taking (or never take) PrEP?

Taking PrEP is not a lifetime commitment. Some people use PrEP because they’re going through a period in their life where their HIV risk is higher. They might be dating someone who is HIV-positive, or experimenting with their sexuality or just going through a more sexually active period. These types of risks typically don’t last for..

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Well, hello everybody! It’s Heather, founder and director of Scarleteen, and Al, your friendly neighborhood sex educator and volunteer camp leader, here to make a quick ask for your support in a thing that helps keep our team doing all the good work that we do.

We've made two whole trips around the sun since we started planning our very first inaugural Camp Scarleteam in 2016! As a result of our last two retreats, we’ve been able to create lasting memories, traditions, and opportunities for our team to review our progress, recommit to our values, celebrate our accomplishments, bond with each other and come up with some great new ideas and work.

This year we'll be having our retreat at Camp Burton, a beautiful multi-use facility that will allow us to sleep, eat, work, and play together, all in one fantastic, natural setting. The cost of lodging and meals for the four nights and five days of the retreat at Camp Burton is about $150 per day per person. With ten of our team members attending, that's $7500 in costs at the most basic level, excluding the cost of transportation for any of our volunteers, some of whom are coming from very far away.

We’re looking for some help from you so we can raise around $10,000 to cover the costs of camp for everyone. If you already know you’re in for this, thank you! You’re so awesome! You can click over here to give us a hand right this very second. Or read on, you happy campers.

Camp doesn’t have the exact same value or benefit for all of us, but for me -- Al, here -- camp means getting out of my tiny apartment, out of my busy city, and out of my head for a little bit. It means meeting up with a group of people that I work with all year long, but rarely ever get to see face to face. It feels like coming back home to family that I know will love and value my authentic self, hairy legs and all. It looks like reuniting physically and figuratively over the things that bring us together; a passion for youth, education, identity, and all things relationships and sexuality.

As director -- Heather at the wheel now -- I think camp offers myself and the rest of the team so much, all of it incredibly important, even the silly bits. It allows me the chance to help guide the whole team into the kind of creative work I often have done alone or only with them remotely; being in person in a relaxed environment over several days together really feeds our heads and hearts and gives us the perfect space to come up with some amazing new ideas together. I can fill everyone in on where the organization stands, and where I want to see it going, easily and with a lot of input. I can better get to know them and see how they might work together in new ways. I can do a lot of listening, which really benefits me as the older leader of a team composed almost entirely of young people for work that serves young people. We all also get a place to restore and recharge, which anyone who does this kind of work needs to keep doing it well and care for themselves. More selfishly, I get to bring a team I care about and value so much to the rural setting where I live so they can enjoy the same kind of inspiration and solace I think so benefits the work I do and myself within it. Most selfishly of all, I like being and playing outside more than almost anything else in life. So, camp is a super extra bonus for me.

Camp last year included:
  • The ridiculous debut performance of the Scarleteam sea shanty, complete with drum-banging and newspaper sails
  • A skillshare in which each of us got to bring in a topic or aspect of our work that we’re particularly passionate about, which included data analysis, American Sign Language, in-person outreach activities and zines
  • Shifts helping users in out direct services where we got to communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve together in person instead of just remotely
  • Kayaking and paddleboarding, with plenty of the moon jellies we loved from the year before
  • An opportunity to share and discuss the results of the last year’s direct services logging, in order to better understand who uses which of our services and how they use them
  • Waking up to soft seaside breezes and more fresh lavender than we could possibly pick
  • A very dramatic Basil the dog who chose to test our emergency response skills and group cohesiveness by finding and eating baker’s chocolate (Don’t worry, he’s okay! He will be staying home this year to spare his dog dad any further coronary trouble.)
  • A successful outreach table at the Vashon Farmer’s Market, where we engaged kids and their families in a consent-based activity longtime volunteer Jacob designed called, “What’s in a Yes?”
  • Some moments and group dynamics that really challenged us to think about how to be accountable to ourselves and each other and helped create some new ways of managing intra-organizational conflict
  • Some Overall Times™ and an Overall Good Time

We’re still finding our feet with camp, so it hasn’t looked or been the same every year. This year we’re going a more unstructured route. We’re ditching rigorous schedules and are putting a big focus on our relationships with each other with a lot of open-ended brainstorming, problem-solving, organizational dreaming and engaging and more of the kinds of inspired whims and freeform creative wizardry that made Scarleteen what it is in the first place and continue to be a big part of why what we offer, has been and remains so unique, pioneering and consistently loved by young people and their helpers for nearly 20 years. Expect fresh ideas to come from land and sea (okay, the sound, whatever), from giggle fits and group empathy, from the intense hardcore hikers and the sandy beach layabouts. We do, and we’re really excited about all of them.

Can we get some help from you to raise the $10,000 we need to cover the costs of our annual staff camp this June?

We’re so grateful for anything you can give. We promise to tell a ghost story, make a sandcastle, spin an oar, toast a s’more, and most importantly, to use our time together to keep creating and delivering the some of best sex education on earth, thanks to you.

- Al and Heather, Camp (over)Enthusiasts

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It’s been just over a month and a half since the movie Black Panther premiered in theaters, and it continues to be the number one movie five weekends in a row, and seventh highest in domestic U.S. box office history. This landmark movie has had an incredibly positive effect on the mainstream public. It is challenging Hollywood’s diversity and inclusivity issues; providing a positive representation of a modern African landscape beyond the war-torn and poverty-ridden stereotype that is ubiquitous in Western culture; and tackling issues of personal and national identity through the lens of diaspora.

But I’m not here to talk about those things, which are thoughtfully discussed in the links above. Instead, I’d like to talk about how gender dynamics and sexism do and don’t play a part in Black Panther. Why? Because a blockbuster film’s impact doesn’t just come from its cultural diversity or overtly positive messaging; small choices in aesthetics, dialogue, and character development can create representation that is deeply (and often subconsciously significant) to how each viewer relates to their own sense of self and gendered experiences.

First, let’s talk about The Good, in the form of the Dora Milaje, or the female bodyguards assigned to protect the Black Panther (and/or whomever holds the throne of Wakanda). Let’s take a second to celebrate how wonderful it is that these Secret Service agents are a group of badass warrior women from various Wakandan tribes, rather than a bunch of men in boring black suits and earpieces, like I’m used to seeing in blockbuster movies. In fact, to touch on costuming for a little bit longer, I just have to appreciate how beautiful (and practical) the costumes were. In looking at Okoye’s outfit, we see that unlike many female superheroes/warriors onscreen, her outfit is designed to provide coverage and flexibility for combat.

There is much debate about how the outfits of women in comics range from the impractical to the impossible, reflecting just how much these aesthetics cater to the men who would look at and sexualize these women, rather than the women who would see themselves represented as heroes and fighters. Rather than putting the Dora Milaje into tiny unitards or skin-tight jumpsuits that tend to draw the viewer’s eyes primarily to the women’s body shape, the costume designers chose to put together outfits that were functional first. The fact that these women dress like warriors and act like warriors mean that they are seen as formidable forces and valued for more than their aesthetic addition to the scenes. However, it should be acknowledged that historically, Black women who play fighters or warriors in comics or onscreen adaptations have often been forced into a hypersexualized “Amazonian warrior” stereotype (think Grace Jones in A View To A Kill, X-Men’s Storm, Pam Grier in Foxy Brown). While the Dora Milaje don’t show as much skin or aren’t as inherently sexual as their predecessors, it’s worth thinking about the history of racialized sexism and asking ourselves if they overcome or simply contribute to harmful stereotypes about Black women’s bodies.

Another Good Thing about Black Panther is Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, the princess of Wakanda, and possibly my favorite young woman on this green Earth of ours. Damon Young over at The Root highlights some great things about Princess Shuri, in that she is a shining force of pure joy, intelligence, and passion that essentially holds Wakanda together. Even at her young age, she has taken over the role of chief scientist for Wakanda, inventing new technological uses for vibranium that eventually allow for T’Challa to claim ultimate victory over Killmonger. That super-cool and high-tech Black Panther suit that provides protection and stores up kinetic energy with every impact, collapsible down to a beautiful silver necklace? That exists thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of a 16-year-old Disney princess in a lab coat. All without ever wearing revealing outfits, performing sexual innuendos, or interacting with a love interest. Take that, sexism.

The actress, Letitia Wright, said that her hope was that young women of color who watch the movie might see her role and think, “I’m not a superhero, but I can be a scientist or build the next spaceship, like Shuri.” I can only imagine the number of young black and brown girls that got to look up at the screen in the movie theater and see a bright and beautiful potential version of their grown-up selves. I know it would have made a big difference to me as a kid, especially now that I know Letitia Wright shares my same heritage – she is Guyanese! For someone who’s only ever met one Guyanese person outside of Guyana in their entire life, it’s a pretty big deal to me.

But for all that Okoye, Princess Shuri, and the other women in Wakanda defy sexist and racist stereotypes about Black women and women in movies in general, they face some of the same oppressive treatment that accompanies those lived experiences off-screen. Here come the Not-So-Good Things. CIA Agent Everett Ross, one of the only two main roles in the film played by white actors, seems very surprised when he wakes up in the Wakandan tech lab to see Shuri working on her projects and supervising his healing process. While there’s no outright dialogue beyond the sarcastic exchange of “Is this Wakanda?” “No, it’s Kansas,” it seems at that very moment that not only is he reconciling the fact that Wakanda is actually technologically advanced far beyond any place that he’s ever known, but that this young woman is in charge of this technology.

If we could read his thoughts, they might be similar to: What is this young girl doing here? She can’t possibly be the head scientist overseeing everything. Who’s in charge here? Shuri ends up explaining everything to him, guiding him and teaching him about Wakanda every step of the way, even through the final battle scene. This flips the script on the traditional sexist narrative in which a heroic white man swoops in and saves the day while the women and children of color cower in the corner and wait to be saved. There are examples of Ross talking over others and being culturally insensitive all over the movie, but one of my other favorite moments includes when Okoye and T’Challa are speaking in Xhosa in front of Ross, and he asks T’Challa, “Does she speak English?,” referring to Okoye. In return, in true take-no-crap fashion, she responds directly to Ross, “When she wants to.” She shuts down an ignorant question and demonstrates herself as empowered and much, much more sharp and aware than Ross gives her credit for.

I really appreciated seeing the reversal of an all-too-common power dynamic of white men speaking over women of color while also preserving those moments of tension and awkwardness between Ross and the other characters. As far as I’m concerned, these were teaching moments, in which we the public can learn from examples of a well-intentioned white male “ally” who oversteps boundaries and treats others as inferior purely out of ignorance. These are tangible examples of women of color actively combatting sexism and sexual racism, rather than just passively being witness to them. And beyond that, there are many examples throughout the movie of Okoye, Shuri, Nakia, and other Wakandan women being respected and honored as members of the community. Even in the way that Angela Basset’s queen mother character, Ramonda, walks through the room shows the command and respect that she is given by the men and women of Wakanda alike. I personally saw my own family’s matriarchal tendencies reflected in that Wakandan throne room, and I appreciated that the power and wisdom of women of color was at the center of it all.

But then along comes the movie’s villain, Eric Killmonger. There is a lot of debate out there about Killmonger’s approach to racial justice and the Wakandan revolution, and what I think of his political strategy is neither here nor there. But several of the strongest examples of misogyny in this movie came from his character’s willingness to commit violence against the Black women around him. Not even halfway through the movie, he murders the nameless young woman that he is traveling with simply because she is another person who might complicate his plans for domination. There is no regret or remorse shown by Killmonger – perhaps he viewed her as “collateral damage.” He goes on to ignore the proper rituals of respect that appear to be customary for Wakandan culture and chokes one of his female elders who disagrees with his orders. He injures Nakia, and cruelly and intentionally murders one of the Dora Milaje in front of Okoye. And, as icing on the cake, he almost kills Shuri, backing her up against a ledge, calling her “princess” as he advances on her while she lies cornered on the ground.

For all that he preaches about unity and justice for his fellow Wakandans and Black folks worldwide, almost every interaction that we see Killmonger have with the women around him is drenched in toxic masculinity. In watching these scenes, I found myself wondering, why was this targeted violence against women included in this movie? What does this say about Killmonger’s views towards women and other marginalized folks within his community, and what does this mean for this amazing movie to include this violence? Perhaps it was intended to shed some light on the way that women of color are often spoken over or demonized even within their communities, which would represent an important step towards addressing the intersections of gender and violence in communities of color. But a more simple and disappointing reason may be more plausible; maybe these examples of violence were intended to serve as yet another facet of Killmonger’s evil-ness as a villain.

Personally, I believe that that would be the equivalent of a cop-out. Rather than taking the time to address how a person who is dedicated to combatting oppression and lifting up their community can also subconsciously enact the very violence they are trying to prevent, reducing that person to a static, all-around “bad guy,” who enacts “bad-guy” violence, denies the dynamic and conflicting characteristics that make up real people’s experiences outside of film scripts. What the intentions of the writers and directors are, I can’t say. I can only speak to what it feels like to look on the screen and see, like I constantly see around me, women of color being hurt and killed at the hands of the men around them.

At the risk of sounding like all the other thinkpieces that have come out (and continue to come out) after the movie’s release, I am grateful for both sides of the spectrum of gendered experiences displayed in Black Panther. I believe that representation (of both positive, stereotype-shattering dialogue/roles, and of the tricky-to-downright-deadly aspects of sexism and violence against women of color) generates conversation and imagines futures that are different than the everyday experiences of marginalized folks. Since the movie has come out, I’ve seen multiple pieces that reflect on toxic masculinity and gendered violence in Black Panther, and have had a few eye-opening conversations with other friends of color about how seeing these representations impacted their own sense of self and community. I would love to watch hours on hours of footage of life in Wakanda and the women of the Dora Milaje being badasses without seeing a single instance of sexism or gendered violence, but I am grateful for the representation of the bullshit that women and femmes of color have to put up with in real life every day. It’s a good reminder of all the work there is to be done, in Wakanda and everywhere else.

Know of a blog, organization, or resource that belongs here? Send it to our curator, Al (that's me!), at al AT scarleteen DOT com.

Interested in contributing as a guest writer for our Sexuality in Color series, or any other part of Scarleteen? Check out our information for writers and then take it from there! Queer and trans writers of color of varied abilities and experiences are always strongly encouraged to apply.

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I've heard horror stories of awkward conversations and tampons under tables between white American mothers and daughters. Periods in my Latinx family, however, were no such thing: they were cause for celebration. My mom told me her sister had biked to a drugstore the day she first got hers, bringing back chocolate and a box of pads to celebrate what she perceived as her oncoming womanhood. She continued the ritual by doing the same to me, passing me a chocolate bar like a relay baton as I sat on the toilet experiencing my first period.

We examined pads together. My mom said they used to be thicker, like diapers—we laughed. It was nice that they'd waned, becoming elegantly thin. I didn't know about tampons then. When I'd ask her about them a few weeks later after hearing about them from classmates, I'd be greeted with a look of confusion.

"I never use those unless I have to," she'd said. "They sound so uncomfortable, having something inside all day, right?" Tampons, I sensed from these curt, awkward conversations, were for somebody else. Mature women, perhaps—married women. The rest was a mystery.

A couple years later, I used my first tampon, fumbling to unwrap it in a concert venue bathroom. My friend dictated the steps of insertion through a crack in the stall. After that, tampons became an open secret between my mom and I; we both knew I used them, but I was discreet, embarrassed for reasons I didn't understand.

Why? Growing up in the States, tampons seemed to be everywhere. My classmates in early high school looked at pads like they looked at training bras. Artifacts of an embarrassing past.

It wouldn't be until many years later, after my sister sent me an essay by Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros giving voice to this tampon taboo, that I'd realize I wasn't alone. Growing up in Washington, I knew few Latinx people. I'd never discussed my experiences with anyone before so I chalked them up to familial oddity. But at the age of 22, with Cisneros's story in my hands, I was suddenly offered a different reality.

The stigma surrounding tampons is a documented phenomenon. Tampons are more often used in the United States over pads, but this is a unique trend—in many countries, pads take precedence.

Among Latinas in the states, this cultural trend is even more obvious: one study says that only two percent of Spanish-speaking Latinas and 22 percent of English-speaking Latinas use tampons, a lower rate than their European American and African American counterparts (a trend that's been shown in past studies, too). And like me, many report maternal disapproval of tampon use. What gives?

The topic of periods, a hush-hush "womanly" secret for decades, hasn't broken into mainstream conversation until recent years. In many ways, we're still globally slogging through the basics. It's only recently that we've voiced realities that have long been silenced or ignored, like the fact that not all women have periods and women aren't the only ones having them in the first place.

Texas State Associate Professor and Anthropologist Ana Juárez, who has taught classes on Latinx gender and sexuality for more than 20 years, points to that silence when considering why the conversation about tampons hasn't been an open one. After all, menstruation products often tout extreme secrecy as selling points.

"That's just not a very common kind of public thing and I think that's something that's been true historically in many different societies," she says. Without ways to discuss periods and tampons frankly, misconceptions and concerns aren't surprising.

Take the experience of Procter & Gamble, the corporate head of tampon brand Tampax. Around 2000, P&G noticed low tampon sales abroad and attempted to expand their market by reaching out to Latin American communities. They organized instructional tampon meetups in Monterrey, Mexico, modeled off Tupperware parties, where a group leader would educate local women about tampons and encourage future usage.

The venture revealed a few things. For one, the stigma against tampons was often rooted in misconceptions or lack of knowledge. Some believed, P&G reported, that tampons would get stuck or damage their hymens. They even encountered some local (mostly male) doctors who'd believed the same until being told otherwise.

But anxieties around the guarding of virginity sprout from more than simple misconception or culturally ingrained Roman Catholic teachings, as the P&G marketing team assumed. Gloria González-López, a sociology professor and author of Erotic Journeys: Mexican Immigrants and Their Sex Lives, notes that in some Mexican towns she interviewed, virginity is the currency of freedom. Anxiety around it, then, is inevitable.

"Women are socialized to believe that being a virgin is something that you can exchange for a good marriage…financial stability, etcetera," González-López says. "So it's a form of a social capital, the idea."

If their husbands discover they aren't virgins, they lose that currency. In her own studies and interviews with Mexican women, González-López found this fear of punishment, stigma, and potential recriminations from a future husband to be the driving force behind their desire to be viewed as virgins.

This exact mentality isn't present in all Latinx people, or event most. My own mother didn't grapple with tampons through such misconceptions herself; however, González-López suggests these historically present notions could be what's gradually fed into a broader, widespread discomfort with tampons.

"That's still there, why women make these decisions," she says. "Gender inequality shapes culture."

Then, she adds, "And the other way around: culture shapes gender inequality."

If there's anything true about change, Juárez says it's that "culture change tends to happen very slowly."

In the U.S. at least, menstruation has finally broken into mainstream culture. We've started to dissect gendered stereotypes about menstruation and welcome others who've long been excluded, like trans men and nonbinary people, into these conversations. As for my fellow Latinas, while they report a higher percentage of parental disapproval of tampon usage than other ethnicities in the States, their learned attitudes towards sexuality are also changing with this trend.

Education drives this change, González-López says, as well as exposure to other gender dynamics. Many of the women she spoke with in her research reported growing up learning certain stigmas without planning on passing them forward. You can see this in P&G's findings after their marketing venture in Mexico too, since, after educating women about tampons, they found a much higher percentage of Monterrey women willing to try the product.

But at the end of the day, it's not about the tampon. Everyone who gets a period should feel free to choose pads, tampons, menstrual cups, wads of toilet paper—you name it. Beyond the decision to avoid or accept that controversial swatch of cotton, however, lay deeper questions for me. As a young Latina in a community with few others like me, I often felt a little alien. I grew up with different cultural values, unaware that many others like me experienced the same thing or that these values were a product of culture at all. Knowing what my experiences—good and bad—were predicated upon helped me contextualize my life. Suddenly, I wasn't alone.

These days, my mom's antagonism towards tampons has dwindled. I speak more openly about some aspects of sexuality than when I was a child. In turn, she shelves her discomfort for different topics.

Regardless of these tensions, I'll always be grateful for that first moment with my mother. She, in her own way, wanted me to celebrate my body. And put in the words of Cisneros in her essay, my journey towards doing just that—tampons and all—has taught me this: "I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in skin."

Manola Secaira is a writer with special interest in Latinx and environmental justice. She’s based in Seattle, Washington, and has written for sites like Grist and Seattle Met. You can also find her on Twitter…a lot.

Know of a blog, organization, or resource that belongs here? Send it to our curator, Al (that's me!), at al AT scarleteen DOT com.

Interested in contributing as a guest writer for our Sexuality in Color series, or any other part of Scarleteen? Check out our information for writers and then take it from there! Queer and trans writers of color of varied abilities and experiences are strongly encouraged to apply.

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Scarleteen by Mo Ranyart - 1M ago
If you're unsure of your sexual orientation, that uncertainty can feel overwhelming. You're not alone in this feeling, though! We've compiled the experiences of several people who've gone through that questioning process in the hope that their experiences might be relatable or comforting.
"Do these feelings I'm having for other guys make me gay?"
"Can you tell me if I'm bisexual or not?"
"I thought I was a lesbian but my friend says I'm faking it, how can I tell for sure?"

Here at Scarleteen, we get a lot of questions from people who are questioning their sexual orientation and want our help figuring it out. While we can't look at another person's thoughts and declare: "Aha! I've solved your sexuality-puzzle for you!," we're always happy to provide affirmation, input, or just a sympathetic listening ear.

A common theme that comes up in these conversations is that a lot of people feel pretty uncomfortable to be questioning or confused about their orientation. Instead of feeling like a time of exploration or discovery, being questioning can be a period of distress or confusion for many people.

Are you questioning your gender as well as, or instead of, your sexual orientation? Gender is another facet of identity that can easily be confusing or overwhelming, and if that's your experience right now, we have an article about gender questioning and uncertainty that you may find helpful. In addition, because some people do question both, some of the experiences collected here touch on gender identity as well as orientation.

We have a great article on what it is to be questioning your orientation, and why someone might identify as questioning, and if you think you're questioning and are finding it to be stressful, I highly recommend starting there. However, there's also a lot of value in hearing other people's stories and experiences, as told in their own words. It can be a way to feel connected to a larger community, to know you aren't alone in your feelings, and maybe even to find a little extra hope for the future.

For that reason, we've collected some interviews that show a range of ways people question and eventually come to understand their sexual orientation. Some of these narratives may feel familiar to you; others might be pretty far removed from your own feelings or experiences. Either way, we hope they can help you see everyone's varied process in coming to understand their own sexual orientation.

If you don't see your experience reflected at all here, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you or how you're coming to understand yourself; it just means that the world of sexual orientation is so wide and varied that it's impossible to represent everyone's experience. Any label or descriptive term about your orientation can only say so much about who you are and who you might be attracted to; the rest you fill in yourself, and it might look surprisingly different from one person to another. If you find that the stories here fit somewhat with your own, that's great! And if they don't, that's great too; you're just showing how varied and unique sexual orientation can be.

No matter how you relate to these stories, keep in mind: there's no deadline you have to meet for figuring things out, no rule that says you ever have to know your orientation for sure at all, no one "right" way to be any particular orientation, and no specific path you have to follow to get there. It's not something anyone else can decide or decipher for you, but it's just fine to talk to other people about how you're feeling and to take your time figuring out who (if anyone!) you feel those big feelings for.

If you'd like to talk to us about any of this, we're always happy to do that with you on our message boards or in our live chat service, but remember: even when you're questioning this or any part of your identity, you are still going to be the best authority on your own feelings and experience.

In their own words, here are the experiences of people who've gone through (or are still in) a period of questioning and have lived to tell the tale:

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Legal scholar and reproductive rights expert Carol Sanger talks about barriers to abortion access and supporting pregnant teens.

Carol Sanger is the Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and one of the foremost scholars on reproductive rights and abortion law in the nation. She has written extensively on the issue of teen access to abortion, including in her new book, About Abortion, and I got the chance to pick her very brilliant brain about why this issue matters, what teens should know going into it, and how they can better advocate for reproductive justice for their peers and themselves.

 Tell us a little bit about what first drew you to writing about teen access to abortion.

As a Family Law teacher, I began to notice pretty early on that one particular category of family members — teenagers — seemed to get the short end of the stick in terms of their rights and their position within our legal system. The problem for lawmakers has been the “in-between” status of teenagers: they are certainly not children who must do everything their parents say, but they are not quite adults either. This puts minors (anyone under 18 years of age) in a kind of legal limbo with regard to the kinds of decisions they might want to make for themselves.

One of the clearest examples of this is a pregnant girl who wants to end her pregnancy. In most cases parents get to make medical decisions for their teenage children. But abortion is more than a medical decision; it is also a right under the U.S. Constitution that the Supreme Court has held applies to teenagers as well. As a law professor, I want those under 18 to be able to make this deeply personal decision, involving a parent if they want to, but being absolutely able to make it for themselves if there are reasons they don’t want to involve parents. I believe the law shouldn’t make life harder for pregnant adolescents — to do so is a misuse of law — and that is why I turned my attention to this issue.

Can you give us a quick overview of what teen access to abortion looks like right now in the U.S.?

I would say I am delighted to give you an overview, except there is nothing too delightful about the overall picture. Thirty-seven states now require that a pregnant minor must either get the written consent of their parents (one or both depending on the state) before they can themselves consent to an abortion, or they must notify them and bring a signed notification to the clinic before they can consent. If they don't want to involve them, they can instead go before a local judge and at a hearing, convince them they're mature and informed enough to make the decision by themselves. The Supreme Court has approved this system because it first acknowledges that parents have authority over what their children do, but it offers an “end-run” around the parents if the minor chooses not to involve them. In this way, the hearing “bypasses” the parents: that is why it is called a “judicial bypass hearing.”

On the brighter side, some states, like New York, treat pregnant minors like adults for purposes of consenting to abortion, and others like Delaware provide for an alternative to involving one’s parent. Teens there can notify a grandparent or a health care professional; pregnant teens in Maine can get consent from a parent or another adult family member or from clergy. Adults can be involved in meaningful ways without igniting whatever issues concern a minor about their parents.

Why do you think people, even liberals, are so reluctant to talk openly about why teens should have unrestricted access to abortion?

I think the answer has to go with attitudes about sex rather than with attitudes about abortion. To grant minors unrestricted access to abortion in the United States is taken as an indication that lawmakers think minors should be out there having sex, and this will only encourage them to do so, since it removes one of the wages of sexual sin. We should of course remember that there is no sin in the Constitution.

There are other examples where medical decision making is derailed on account of its relation to sex. Consider the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, which prevents cervical cancers and is most effectively administered in the preteen years. A fair number of parents in the U.S. refuse to consent to the vaccine out of concern that even just explaining what the vaccine does introduces the idea of sexual intercourse to their kids. For these parents, the matter is moral and not medical.

A second ground of opposition to unrestricted abortion access is that some people — even liberals like Bill Clinton, who as Governor of Arkansas signed that state’s parental involvement law — say young people should have a caring adult involved in their decision or some adult should know in case medical complications arise. This is why, the argument goes, there should be restrictions on abortions for sexually active teens.

There are a few things wrong with this. First, abortion is astonishingly safe, and should any complications arise, the minor should go straight to an emergency room, as she will be advised before leaving the clinic. Second, in a lovely world brought to us by Hallmark Cards and the Disney Channel, parents would be involved because they love their children and open communication flows. But families are not uniformly supportive of their children when they become pregnant; some think they should live with the consequences of their behavior (that is, they should be punished by motherhood). Other parents hold, mostly on religious grounds, that no one should ever have an abortion no matter what the circumstances and with no exceptions. Still other parents have their own problems — depression, immigration status, disagreement between parents on abortion — that make a teenager’s decision not to include them in the matter a rational, sensible decision.

Lawmakers, who must all have perfect parent-teen communications within their own families, pass laws that assume this is true for all families, even though we know this isn’t the case (probably even for all “perfect families”). This leads back to the first part of my answer. Many girls don’t tell their parents about an abortion because that is proof of pregnancy and that in turn is proof of sex. And that is what they don’t want to their parents to know about.

Why do you think the issue of teen access to abortion is so crucial?

Deciding whether or not to become a mother is always an important decision and one that for many reasons a pregnant person may want to think about. After all, parenthood, especially motherhood, is an enormous, long-term commitment that necessarily changes the shape of one’s life. This is true even when a pregnancy and the eventual child are totally wanted. When a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted (and these are two different things), the decision to become a parent may become harder because, as nice as babies may be in the abstract, the reality of parenthood [again, especially motherhood] may mean putting aside plans someone already has for themselves that they know will improve their life and perhaps make them a better parentin the future, if that is what she wants. In this way, teens have much more at stake in making this decision than older people. They are only now setting their adult path.

Once a teen has thought the decision over, talked to people they trust, made up their mind, and even gone through a bypass process in states that require it, the next step is actually getting the abortion and this too takes planning, time, helpers, and money. In this way, access has two parts. The first is the legal part of getting permission from a judge or your parents (should you want to involve them) and consenting to the procedure.

The second crucial part to access is practical. Where is the nearest clinic or doctor who performs abortions? How do you get there? Where do you come up with the money? How do you take time off from school? Depending on your state, there may be online resources to guide you, like Jane’s Due Process in Texas or Women’s Law Project in Pennsylvania or a regional Planned Parenthood office.

But to go back to your main question. Access to abortion services is crucial because teenagers have the same interests as those18 and over in deciding the shape of their lives and the composition of their families — when, with whom, and how often they want to have a child. The Supreme Court of the U.S. recognized this in 1979 when it said: “There are few situations in which denying a minor the right to make an important decision will have consequences so grave and indelible.” It specially noted that: “Considering her probable education, employment skills, financial resources, and emotional maturity, unwanted motherhood may be exceptionally burdensome for a minor.”

Access to abortion is also important as a matter of gender equality. Some man or boy has [typically] participated in bringing about this pregnancy [in someone else's body]. Compared to the person who is pregnant [most often a woman or girl] unable to access abortion care, he can go to college, join the army, or get a job without having to give any thought at all to her situation. In the 21st century, we think men and women have the same talents and potentials. Access to abortion makes this possible in fact and not just in theory.

What is one piece of advice you, as a lawyer with an understanding of the legal landscape of the law, would give to a teen facing the judicial bypass process?

Great question. I would say first of all, take a deep breath. Going to court for almost anything can be scary, even for adults. Just going to the courthouse alone can be intimidating: people with briefcases and clipboards running around who seem to know what they are doing and benches filled with nervous-looking people on them. People usually don’t associate good things with court houses (except maybe getting married or renewing a fishing license). You might also want to think of some reason you can say you are there (working on school report; social studies assignment; getting forms for a work permit; just looking around) just in case you bump into someone you know who asks why you are there. In the back of your mind, keep hold of the thought that you are there because the United States Supreme Court says you have the right to be.

You aren’t doing anything wrong: pregnant people in the United States may legally choose to terminate a pregnancy. Third, you will have a lawyer to guide you through the process. This is good and makes things much easier. Look over the questions your lawyer plans to ask you ahead of time. Practice your answers out loud, so you won’t be saying them for the first time in court. (It isn’t always easy to say personal words like “cervix” or “pregnancy” or “intercourse” or “condom” in front of other people, should any of these be part of your answer.)

Depending on your state and your judge, the hearing might be over within ten minutes and even if it takes longer, just stay cool, listen carefully, and speak as clearly as you can. In a week, this will be history and you will be your normal self again, ready to move forward with your life. Remember that the law in your state is making you go through this process, but a bunch of other states think the whole thing is unnecessary and a pregnant teen ought to be able to make this decision by herself. Finally, remember that by filing the papers and getting yourself to court, you have demonstrated a lot of maturity already and that is what the judge is looking for.

What can teens to do advocate for better access to abortion?

Advocating for better access to abortion is a process that is going require a lot of patience and some degree of bravery. Bravery might include going on a public march, which helps underscore that you are certainly not alone in this. But bravery also comes in quieter forms, say, simply by talking to people you trust. Abortion talk doesn’t have to be in the context of an actual abortion decision either. But it is important to educate yourself about how pregnancy occurs and how to prevent it as well as what one’s options are if you or a sexually active friend is faced with an unwanted pregnancy. That means investigating the laws in your state and the available resources.

At a more personal level, it may mean not to turn your back on someone who has made this decision. The point here is that lots of people think they don’t know anyone who has ever had an abortion. Considering that 700,000 women a year have abortions, everyone probably does know someone; they just don’t think they do and that is because women keep abortions very quiet. One way to think about abortion access is to imagine what it would be like if [cisgender] men got pregnant. Doing that little thought experiment (the “what if”) clarifies that as a society we can surely do better.

In an ideal world, what do you think teen access to abortion looks like?

I like this question because it shows that the promise of an ideal world, or at least a more compassionate world, still exists. So, ideally, I would first get rid of the strict parental notification requirement and follow New York’s “treat girls like women” scheme or Maine and Delaware’s “other trusted adult” model. If legislators can’t get their heads around that, then they should at least lower the age of parental involvement laws to 15 so that they no longer apply to 16- and 17-year-old teens (who constitute the great majority of girls who seek bypass hearings).

Second, I would get rid of many of the regulations that now apply to minors and adults alike. I have in mind special scripts that physicians must read to abortion patients telling them the fetus feels pain (neurologists believe the fetal nervous system does not “gel up” until around 26 weeks) or that there are links between abortion and suicidal thoughts, or between abortion and breast cancer. I would get rid of 72 hour waiting periods and treat abortion like all other medical services that take a patient’s consent seriously. Oh yes, and let’s get rid of the requirement that Texas put into play that fetal remains must be buried or cremated.

Third, I would urge young people to inform others that most pregnant teens already discuss their decision with at least one parent. In this way, the statutes are particularly cruel because they rope in only those girls who legitimately feel they cannot. The moment of a teen’s pregnancy diagnosis in hardly the time to work on better communications in the family, if it isn’t already in place.

How can teens spread understanding of parental involvement laws and why they aren’t necessary?

First, it is legal in most states for minors to have sexual intercourse with other minors at age 16. If we let them make that decision, it seems peculiar and cruel not to let them make decisions regarding the possible outcomes of sex. We also let pregnant minors at any age decide to keep their pregnancy and have a baby. Fifteen-year-old mothers face a significant amount of challenges, but we treat that as an acceptable decision that requires neither parental consent nor a judge’s permission.

Legislators pass parental involvement statutes because it is one of the few places where the Constitution gives them some wiggle room around Roe. Almost all bypass hearings end up approving the minor’s petition because judge finds them mature and informed enough to decide what is best for them to do. Thus, the statutes don’t really accomplish anything except to make vulnerable girls (vulnerable because they are pregnant and isolated in this process) suffer more in resolving this common reproductive problem. Remember, people become pregnant for all sorts of reasons — including coercion and bad luck — and making a decision that is best for themselves, their existing children, and their future children is nothing to be ashamed of.

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This is a piece that I wrote for a course I took called "Healing Narratives," in which I was challenged to write a poem from the perspective of my own skin. This class specifically focused on the ways in which people of color have historically had so much trauma, violence, and prejudice inflicted on their bodies, and how damaging it can be to their mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

I decided to revive and republish this piece with Scarleteen in hopes that it might help others not feel so alone. So with that, I dedicate this to: everyone with curly hair that doesn't grow in right, hairy legs and asymmetrical rolls; the people with mountains moving around beneath their skin and the weight of their ancestors' trauma on their backs; every person of color who's ever had the vision of an exotic sex goddess or a sideshow attraction or a hunk of meat slapped on top on of their bodies; for every queer person who's ever felt that they didn't look "_______ enough" to be who they are; and anyone who felt like a flower getting crushed underfoot.

I hope you know that you're beautiful.

"The skin they're in"
Healing narratives
3 december 2014

I am not whole for they aren't either
I am covered in scars some by casualty some by casualty with intent
all spanning over time that has never quite passed
I am covered in bruises from the people
that they learned to push away from first
I am surrounded by clothes that seem to fit them
but only seem to anger others
I am dark and light enough to confuse to inquisition,
and to even confuse themself
I am stretched over the hips and thighs that they dreaded
watching balloon up in the mirror squeezing back into jeans after middle school P.E.
I am covered in hair that they use as a shield for people
that would make those remarks through the rim of a broken bottle
quiet street
I bake in the sun when they lay out
trying to get the warm breeze and the light to somehow stick
to their bones I am dry
and crackled on the bottoms of the feet
from too many nights spent wandering under the stars
I shiver as they get colder waiting for someone to wrap their arms around them
I am flushed and sweaty with the thought of speaking
their mind after they've had a few beers at a party
where they know they don't belong
I am pierced and tattooed for semi-permanence
to make a statement to feel something I need to
feel something I am uneven I am scarred I am stretched
I am thick to protect against others I am thin

I am soft in her arms I am warm
I am softly traced circles around the scars and the ridges
The slowly healing wounds
I am hot coals under her touch and warm sheets under their back
The way that the crooks of her knees fit perfectly into mine
I am exposed by the candlelight and wanted
for more than hearts on a screen
I am cool under her breath and goosebumps popping up everywhere
as we forget the bills to be paid and
I am trusting her with me I am trusting her with it
trusting her to push back and ask for more
I am stretched out over the bone and muscle
that move underneath like tectonic plates
moving towards something and away from the past
where are you headed anywhere far from
what broke my mother's heart
I am stretched out over things that creak and shout and snap
and while they writhe I do my best to hold them together
under heating pads and pill bottles and days wasted in bed
I am soft lips and softer hips and the smell of
turmeric and chocolate on a lazy Sunday afternoon
I am a latte with too much milk and she is trying not to drink too much
I am unfazed by the temperature covered in rain and feeling
more alive than I ever have before
I am holding them together
they are standing on their own
standing tall
they are a redwood and I am the bark that keeps them safe

I do not surround a temple because there is no worship
but they are working on respect
for what remains.

Know of a blog, organization, or resource that belongs here? Send it to our curator, Al (that's me!), at al AT scarleteen DOT com.

Interested in contributing as a guest writer for our Sexuality in Color series, or any other part of Scarleteen? Check out our information for writers and then take it from there! Experienced queer and trans writers of color of varied abilities and experiences are always strongly encouraged to apply.

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A lot of people are talking about "bad sex" when they mean coercive sex. So let's have a conversation about when sex just isn't satisfying.

One night my partner and I were having sex. We hadn't hit the intercourse portion of the evening's program yet, but I was enjoying the fingering.

And then my partner, because he's usually pretty funny and because we'd been watching a movie (Hot Fuzz, if you're familiar) earlier in the night, asked if I wanted to be "fingered up the duck pond." Never in my life have I been so abruptly convinced that, no, actually, there were any number of things other than having sex I should be doing, including cleaning the litter box or flossing.

My partner could tell I was absolutely not having it and so he stopped and backed off, which is exactly the sort of basic good sexual etiquette that made me want to have sex with him in the first place. Then I yelled a little bit about how not sexy that phrase was and ranted about how, no, that was not okay; he laughed. A lot. We most emphatically did not have any more sex; it took me a couple of days to get over it, in fact.

In hindsight, this is a funny story that we remind each other of sometimes and then we both laugh and kiss and sometimes the mood escalates and sometimes it doesn't and either way is great. We laugh because sometimes even people who are usually good with each other have bad sex.

That means sex that just isn't satisfying for some reason; that means someone got a cramp at an inopportune moment or someone else got distracted by a deadline at work and lost their train of thought. Bad sex can involve realizing the dog is staring at you and not being able to close your eyes and just ignore that long enough to finish.

But the discussion about bad sex that has recently been happening on social media lately is not about sex that leaves you wanting. Instead, people are using "bad sex" as coded language to describe "sex you didn't want to have in the first place but couldn't say no to." At best, that kind of sex falls under the category of coercive sex. At worst, it is clear and unambiguous rape. And no matter what, coercive sex falls under the general heading of sexual assault -- which isn't sex for the person being assaulted -- the kind of thing that so many people seem deeply uncomfortable talking about.

I think the source of some of this discomfort is simple: when we hear these stories from other people, people who have been vulnerable, we must confront the similar situations in which we have found ourselves. And, if we have put years between ourselves and events that made our skin crawl, that made us funnel our rage into "safe" outlets, that made us repress our horror at our own experiences for which we had no words, then those reminders are not always welcome.

This is one way in which rape culture perpetuates itself.

When we shy away from acknowledging the experiences of others as a way of avoiding our own, when we minimize and dismiss sexual assault out of a misguided effort to protect ourselves from the potential difficulty of owning what happened to us, we are complicit in rape culture. We protect a system in which coercive sex is considered normal, just a rite of passage, just part of a shitty date.

We send the message to other people, people in vulnerable positions, that they should acquiesce to sex they do not want to be having. Then we blame them for not being strong enough to say no or remove themselves from the situation in the first place.

This ignores the reality that a lot of people experience, where there is a significant power imbalance for one reason or another — but it's also the voice of collective trauma. We are trying to protect ourselves, trying not to make eye contact with a predator. Instead we are feeding other people to the monsters.

If this were almost any other essay, I'd write here about my own past experiences, about the coercive sexual situations in which I have found myself from the youngest age through to a couple of weeks ago when I had to evade a stranger's attention. I'd spin the narrative of those assaults to illustrate why coercive sex can leave a person feeling not only powerless but guilty, like they are at fault, like they are the ones who failed their part of some ineffable interaction transaction. After all, we might think, after coercive sex, we should have been able to say no. We caved in. We weren't strong enough.

This whole emphasis on the laying bare of personal narrative is bullshit.

It's bullshit for two reasons:

  1. It has the effect of putting every person's experience on trial via social media. Experiences are examined from all angles and the court of public opinion weighs in on whether or not something was sufficiently bad enough to justify trauma. Is giving someone a blow job that you don't want to give him really that bad? Comment sections will debate it endlessly and ignore that the question has already been answered by the person to whom it happened.
  2. It reinjures people who do not need to have those wounds opened up all over again. Yes, these are necessary conversations that we have got to have if we have any hope of combating rape culture. But we don't need to ignore the very real trauma that survivors of sexual assault are living with.

Perhaps the summation of those reasons, though, is that no one owes anyone else a voyeuristic opportunity to observe and learn from their trauma. If you need someone to cut themselves open and bleed out in front of you before you can believe that they have suffered, I can only ask that you pause in your reading of this and consider why you need that performance of pain, why you need to validate or invalidate the suffering of other people like a parking stub.

But I don't want to go too far afield here.

What I really want is to ask, if you are having a hard time with the current conversation, that you resolve to listen. Sit with the discomfort of it instead of jumping to judgment. Consider what our culture might look like if coercive sex were never normalized as bad sex again, never minimized because we don't conflate not being able to say no with our partner orgasming and then falling asleep unexpectedly before we get ours.

That can be a really hard thing to imagine. I think some of us can still only glimpse a world in which enthusiastic consent is more than a nice idea. What do we do in this place to combat the tendency of people to minimize coercive sex? What can we do to remind ourselves and others that, hey, seriously, this goes beyond bad sex?

Simply and honestly, we can talk about sex.

Women in particular are often subject to the idea that they are either virgins or — and it's always meant in a slut-shaming way — whores. There is not a lot of positive sexual agency for women even now. Women are barely allowed to experience desire without it becoming a thing to be mocked, to be feared and defanged with humor. That's why there are so many heterosexual/heterosexist jokes about horny housewives lusting after the pool boy, who always wears hot pants.

Sex is something women are often socialized away from talking about; it's MODEST not to talk about it because sex is PRIVATE. Except that just creates a situation in which we are all bumbling around in the dark. The mechanism of normalizing coercive sex as bad sex really depends on this environment in which we are all isolated, all afraid to talk to each other. There's a reason abusers isolate their victims from friends and loved ones and the function is the same here.

The most powerful thing we can do is speak up and educate ourselves and others. I promise you, none of us are as weird as we think, and it's such a relief to find people willing to have open and straightforward conversations about sex. It eliminates so much of the "am I normal?" guesswork — that's one reason this is such an important website!

Sure, talking about sex can be scary. It can bring up a lot of feelings of shame. Keep in mind, please, that shame is about control; it's a mechanism for getting people to police themselves. You don't need that in your life. Hell, I could be ashamed that my partner quotes inappropriate movie lines when we're getting it on but if I were, I'd miss out on a lot of laughter in bed.

I challenge you to combat coercive sex, to stand in opposition to efforts to minimize it by framing it as "bad sex." I challenge you to normalize sex by talking about it so that people know being coerced isn't anything resembling normal at all.

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