Pads, Tampons, and Menstrual Cups–Oh, My!

written by Amee Wurzburg

Did you know that menstrual pads used to be big and bulky, and attached by a belt? In the 1920s it was so embarrassing to buy pads that there were “silent purchase coupons.” Women would hand these coupons to male pharmacists because it was considered too inappropriate to directly ask for pads. Thank goodness people who menstruate have more options than that nowadays! Want to learn about what’s out there? Keep reading!

Pads: There are tons of variety when it comes to pads—wings, no wings, panty-liners, overnight…the list goes on. And while there are scented pads, they are not good for vaginas, since they can cause infections and because vaginas clean themselves naturally. As well, there are also reusable pads made out of absorbent cloth. These are environmentally friendly and can save money since you only need a few of them. Pads are easy, don’t require putting anything inside the vagina, and are easy to find—and thankfully don’t require belts these days.

Tampons: There is also a lot of variety when it comes to tampons—plastic applicators, cardboard applicators, no applicators… Tampons may take some time to get used to, but once people master using them they are fairly easy, though you do have to be comfortable inserting something into your vagina. Here and here are tips if you have trouble inserting tampons. When using tampons, it’s important to change them at least every 8 hours. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) can occur if a tampon is left in too long, which has serious health consequences, including death.

Photo by Cavale Doom, "Diva Cup," Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Cavale Doom, “Diva Cup,” Flickr Creative Commons

Menstrual cups: Newer to the field of menstrual products, menstrual cups are small cups made of silicone or rubber. They can be inserted into the vagina for up to 12 hours. You then empty the cup into the toilet, wash it with soap and water, and reuse it. People have many reasons for why they like the cup—it’s environmentally friendly and can be used for much longer than pads and tampons. It is expensive initially (around $30) but is reusable and can last for years. Using one can even save you money in the long run! Using a menstrual cup can take a while to get used to, and for some people it takes a few periods to feel like they have mastered techniques to put it in and take it out. You have to be pretty comfortable with your body and body fluids since you have to get up close and personal with your body—some find it very interesting to track their flow! You can also buy disposable cups you can throw out if you aren’t sure you want to commit to a menstrual cup. If you have an IUD or the NuvaRing, check with your healthcare provider about using a menstrual cup.

One great thing about growing up in the 21st century is there are options—we have so many more choices when it comes to menstrual products. Also, there are videos like Camp Gyno to remind us that menstruation is normal and that there is no shame around it!

 

Amee earned her BA in History from Barnard College of Columbia University. Before moving to North Carolina, Amee worked at an organization in India focused on HIV, where she worked on projects related to rights-violations, LGBTQ health, and domestic violence. She also spent three years volunteering as a rape crisis counselor and advocate in an emergency department in NYC and over a year in East Africa on various sexual and reproductive health projects.

Amee is currently earning her Masters in Public Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, anticipated graduation in 2017. Her interests involve sexual health and rights; she is especially interested in how people’s experiences with stigma and discrimination impact their access to healthcare. In her free time, Amee enjoys cooking and baking, tea, hiking, and trying to read her height in books each year.

Is everyone really having sex in college? Myths vs facts

Sometimes it can feel like we are surrounded by media stories and images that tell us that college is all about having sex—from movies like American Pie to our popular music, there is a pervasive myth that ‘everyone’ is having sex in college.

However, we know that isn’t true! In Spring 2015, Student Wellness implemented an annual survey called the Needs Assessment on Sexual Health (NASH). The survey revealed that one in four students (both graduate and undergraduate) have never engaged in any sexual activity. The survey defined sexual activity as oral, vaginal, or anal sex—though there are lots of other sexual activities people engage in that fall outside these definitions!

One major take away from our survey is that a significant number of students of all genders aren’t having sex in college, for all sorts of reasons. Some reasons that students gave include preferring to wait until they are in a committed relationship (either long-term or marriage), not having found a partner to have sex with, and moral or religious/spiritual reasons. Other reasons people may not be having sex in college include not being interested in having sex at that point in time, being too busy, recovering from trauma, identifying as asexual, having a hard time meeting someone…the reasons are endless!

We also learned that 85% of students who took the survey said that they feel UNC is supportive of students who choose not to engage in sexual activity. In other words: it’s totally okay to not be having sex or to never have had sex.

Everyone has their own timeline around sex, and the decision to have sex should be centered around sexual readiness rather than societal or peer pressure to have sex. You might be wondering: what is sexual readiness? Sexual readiness is all about feeling physically and emotionally ready to have sex. Some questions people can ask around sexual readiness include:

  • Do you feel comfortable communicating with your partner (whether sexual or romantic) about your wants and needs? Do you feel safe and comfortable with that person?
  • Do you need to think about safer sex supplies and/or contraceptives? If so, do you know where to get condoms/dental dams or contraception? (Hint: the Student Wellness office and the Student Union always have safer sex supplies and you can make an appointment at Campus Health to get a prescription for contraceptives!)
  • Are you educated on how to avoid any unwanted outcomes, such as unwanted pregnancy or STIs?

For more questions to check your sexual readiness, check out this article to learn more. You can also make a free appointment with Student Wellness to talk with a trained staff member about sexual health and sexual readiness by calling 919. 962.WELL (9355) or emailing LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu.

Sexual Health Appointments, UNC Student Wellness
Sexual Health Appointments, UNC Student Wellness

Shifting the focus to sexual readiness can be a hard concept to grasp when our society sends mixed messages about sex. There is both a pressure to wait until marriage to have sex as well as pressure to ‘lose one’s virginity.’ But did you know that virginity is not a medical term and that there isn’t an actual medical definition for virginity?

Furthermore, sex means different things to different people. A person can engage in oral sex and still consider themselves a virgin, while for another person engaging in oral sex means having sex. Our cultural understanding of sex tends to be heteronormative, focusing on sex as meaning ‘penis and vagina,’ though we know that there are lots of ways people of all sexual orientations have sex that don’t include this definition.

Because society often promotes unhealthy messages and meanings of ‘virginity’ and ‘sex,’ it’s up to us to understand the context of where these words come from and to find out what they mean to us. People’s personal worth is not based on whether or not they have had sex. Let’s shift the narrative to supporting people to make decisions about their sexual choices around sexual readiness and personal values on sex, rather than feeling pressured by the many messages we get from media and society about sex.

SAAM at UNC

It’s April which means…

SAAM

It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month! There are lots of great events going on throughout the month at UNC, Duke, and in the community. Going to these events can be a great way to learn more about sexual assault, support survivors, and help make Carolina a safer community. Here are some highlights of the month:

Till Friday—Alliance Against Violence in the Pit

Have you walked around campus lately and seen everyone sporting awesome teal shirts? You definitely don’t want to be left out! Co-sponsored by Project Dinah and the Carolina Women’s Center, this week-long event seeks to educate UNC about the prevalence of interpersonal violence and provide resources. They are giving out 3,000 free shirts to be worn on Friday as a visible representation of UNC’s alliance against interpersonal violence.

Tonight, April 9th: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (Old Well, 6 pm)

Sigma Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma are hosting a one-mile march with all proceeds going to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. They will also host a dialogue about how people can be allies in preventing sexual assault. It’s a great way to get some exercise for an important cause!

Friday April 10th: Campus Connections: Bringing Together the Sexual Assault Response and Support Community at Carolina (Campus Y Anne Queen Lounge, 2-4pm)

Come meet the staff that supports students who have experienced forms of interpersonal violence for coffee, refreshments, and conversation!

Friday, April 10: Project Dinah Benefit Concert for OCRCC (Local 506, 10pm)

Come join Project Dinah for a benefit concert for $5. All proceeds go to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center!

Wednesday, April 5: Coffee Conversation on Consent (Campus Y Anne Queen Lounge, 5-6:30pm)

The Carolina Women’s Center & UNC Men’s Project are hosting a discussion (with coffee and refreshments!) about consent.

Monday, April 20: Screening of The Mask You Live In. Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University, 6pm.

This documentary explores how boys are socialized to become men in America. Afterwards there will be a panel discussion featuring local activists. Don’t have a car? No worries–you can take the Roberson bus there!

Wednesday, April 22: Campus Conversation on Creating Allies Against Sexual Violence: Creating a Culture of Healthy Masculinities within the Greek Community (St. Anthony Hall, 207 Pittsboro St., 7-9pm)

St. Anthony Hall is hosting a campus conversation about Greek culture, being an ally, and healthy masculinities to empower everyone in the Carolina community to help change cultures of violence

Monday, April 27: How to Help a Loved One (Chapel Hill Public Library, 6-8pm)

Ever not known how to respond when someone tells you that they have experienced sexual assault? This seminar provides tips and resources to be a supporter.

Hope to see you at some of these events! Check out the whole SAAM schedule here.

What We Can Learn About Stalking from Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars

How many of our readers are Pretty Little Liars fans? The season finale aired last Tuesday, and we finally (sort of) know who “A” is!

But really, we’ve always known something about “A”—Pretty Little Liars is a show about stalking and “A” has been stalking the girls from the beginning of the show. As an audience, we see a lot of behaviors that if we were friends with any of the four main characters, would be red flags for stalking behavior. Some of these include:

  • Being followed
  • Being excessively contacted, such as “A” texting the girls frequently when it is clear the girls do not want the texts
  • Threatening someone or that person’s family, friends, or pets
  • Receiving unwanted gifts and letters
  • Being stared at/feeling like you’re being watched
  • Damaging someone’s property (remember that time when “A” drove a car through Emily’s family room?)

Stalking is repeated and unwanted attention that can be through physical, verbal, and/or electronic contact. Stalking creates a hostile, intimidating, and abusive environment that can cause physical, emotional, and psychological fear, and it is against the UNC Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct Including Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, Sexual Violence, Interpersonal Violence and Stalking.

As a viewer of Pretty Little Liars, I think often about how characters could be active bystanders and help the girls. There are a lot of things to observe that are red flags that something is off. Here are some signs to look for in someone who might be being stalked:

  • Anxiety
  • Missing classes and activities
  • Deactivating social media
  • Changing phone number and/or email address
  • Ignoring persistent texts or calls
  • Changing their routes
  • Avoiding places
  • Not wanting to go out (or wanting to, but not)

With stalking, the majority of cases involve someone the victim is dating or has previously had a relationship with (such as Ezra stalking the girls—but don’t get me started on Ezra dating his underage student, that is a whole other blog post!). A stalker could be anyone, though with most cases it’s someone known to the victim. Stalking is about the desire to control and/or manipulate a person. While stalking is scary, there are definitely things people can do! Especially as a friend noticing these behaviors, you can be an active bystander to help your friend. Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage your friend to save and document everything in case they choose to report. This can involve creating a journal and writing down each incident, the date and time it happened, and if any witnesses were present. You can encourage your friend to do this even if they aren’t sure they want to report. Just imagine what could have happened if Hanna had taken screenshots of all the texts from “A” so when “A” erased her phone when she went to report to the police, she would have had evidence!
  • Ask for help—check out the Safe@UNC website for more information about different resources on campus.
  • Let your friend know what you are seeing and that you care about their safety. This could be something like “I’ve noticed you’ve been screening a lot of your texts lately and seem a bit on edge when we go to Lenoir. I’m here if you want to talk about anything.”
  • Help them create a safety plan, such as offering to walk with them or plan what to do if they run into the person.
  • For reporting purposes, offer to help them figure out how to tell the stalker that they do not wish to receive any further communication. They only have to do this once, and it does not have to be in person—having documentation (such as a text or email) can be important if your friend does want to report.

As we see from Pretty Little Liars, stalking is incredibly scary and can cause extreme fear, anxiety, and stress. While stalking can make people feel out of control, there are things people can do to prevent stalking and help someone who is being stalked. Want to learn more about how you can be an active bystander and help make our campus safer and more supportive? Learn more about One Act and sign up for our last training of the year on April 10th! To learn more about stalking and reporting options, check out safe.unc.edu

What to Expect From Your First Gynecologist Appointment

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Dentist by Lee Mack (flickr creative commons)

For many people, seeing a gynecologist for the first time can be a nerve-wracking and scary experience. However, it doesn’t have to be—the more informed you are, the less scary it is. Knowing what to expect means you can advocate for yourself and be an informed patient. So why see a gynecologist, you may ask? Perhaps you are thinking about having sex and want to discuss contraception or you want to talk about pain during sex. Maybe you have an infection and want to get it checked out or your periods are irregular and you want more information. As you can see, there are so many reasons people go to the gynecologist! You don’t have to be sexually active to see a gynecologist, either. The most recent recommendation is that people see a gynecologist for a first pap smear at 21 and every three years after. Here are some things to know ahead of time:

  • Schedule an exam during a time when you are not menstruating
  • You can request a provider of the same gender if you want
  • It can be helpful to write questions down ahead of time in case you forget anything
  • When you get there you will fill out some forms answering questions about if you are sexually active, the date of your last period, and what brings you to the appointment
  • Wear comfortable clothing because you may have to remove them (including underwear) to change into a gown

Once you get there, you will have a conversation with a healthcare provider about why are you there and about your sexual history. Being honest is important and this information helps inform the provider about what kind of care you need. Their job is to provide care, not judge you. While people don’t always talk openly about gynecological health, your doctor has heard every question out there and seen many patients for gynecological exams. Nothing is too embarrassing or uncomfortable. Remember, it’s their job and they see patients with similar concerns all the time! If you have experienced trauma, this can be a time to tell the doctor that you might be nervous and discuss strategies for getting through an exam (here is an article with some tips to help you through the appointment).

Depending on why you are there, here are some things that could occur:

  • The provider performing a breast exam
  • The provider having you lie you down and put your feet in stirrups to examine the external genital area
  • The provider using a speculum, an instrument that allows for the provider to view inside the vagina and see the cervix, to perform the internal exam
  • The provider taking a swab of your cervix
  • The provider inserting a gloved finger into the vagina while feeling your abdomen—this is to examine your internal organs that they can’t examine with the speculum (the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes)

Throughout all this, nothing should hurt. You may feel some discomfort and pressure, and if you are feeling pain you should tell your provider. While it can be difficult, the more relaxed you are the more comfortable the exam will be. Taking deep breaths can help you try to relax. While it sounds like a lot, this part of the exam only takes a few minutes and will be over before you know it. Sometimes people like to know what is going on, have a conversation with the provider, or not talk at all. It’s up to you! It’s also totally fine to ask the provider to talk you through what they are doing.

Also, remember to speak up–you have the right to ask for explanations or stop any part of the exam at any point. It’s your body and you have the right to advocate for yourself! If you have questions, you can email Student Wellness at LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu to set up a sexual health appointment with our trained health educators. We are here to help make you feel as informed as possible when you seen a gynecologist for the first time!

Safe Sparks: How to Find Your Online Match

"Dating Online" by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons
“Dating Online” by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons

Match.com. eHarmony. Tinder. OkCupid. Coffee Meets Bagel. Over the past few years, all of these online dating websites have gained members. Online dating has become increasingly more common, especially among millennials. According to one study, 22% of Americans ages 25-34 have used an online dating website. Do people find their soul mate online? The data is unclear, but lots of people definitely meet people online, for friendship, relationships, and/or sex.

Meeting up with someone for the first time can be scary or intimidating, but it can also be a lot of fun! Here are some tips to make the most out of your online dating experiences:

  • Be careful what information you put online. It’s not recommended to put your last name, address, or work online since anyone can access it. Only share your phone number with people whom you plan to get to know better or meet up with.
  • It’s a good idea to chat online or on the phone (or even facetime!) before you meet. This way you can see if you want to meet up with them rather than arriving for a date and realizing then that they seem sketchy.
  • Meet in a public place, such as a coffee shop, for a first date. It’s not recommended to meet for the first time at someone’s apartment, dorm, or house.
  • Arrange your own transportation. This way you can leave at any point and won’t have to depend on the person to get you home.
  • Let a friend or two know where you are going ahead of time and who you are meeting up with. It can be a good idea to have a friend call or text you at some point to give you an “out” in case you want to leave. You can have a code word or just say that your friend needs you.
  • If you plan on hooking up or having sex, discuss expectations ahead of time. Discuss contraception and barrier methods (such as condoms and dental dams), comfort level with certain acts, and what you expect out of the meet up. Know that you can change your mind at any point in time, and you never have to do something you are uncomfortable or unsure about. Consent is required for all sexual acts.
  • Trust your intuition. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, trust that feeling. Never feel guilty for stopping communication with someone who doesn’t make you feel good.

Still adjusting to college life? No worries—it’s normal

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Remember, it took Harry a while to feel at home at Hogwarts, too! — photo: “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: This Way To Hogwarts.” Scott Smith. Flickr Creative Commons.

I wish someone had told me when I started undergrad that the adjustment can be really tough and that it can take awhile. Everyone told me that college would be the best four years of my life, that I would make amazing new friends, and enjoy the freedom of being on my own. However, I was also far from home, missing my friends from high school, and trying to get used to college life. I soon realized it’s normal to feel awkward, lost, confused, homesick, and lonely (and so many other things) when you start college, and the first semester is especially hard for many people. It’s a huge adjustment, and even though everyone might not always be open about it, lots of people struggle when they start college. It’s still totally normal to not feel ready to call UNC home yet—sometimes it takes a semester or two (and sometimes more) to feel at home. Here are some tips that I have found helpful when I was struggling to adjust and that might help you find ways to make school feel a bit more like home.

  • Know that you aren’t alone. Lots of people feel the same way, even if they aren’t talking about it. You are not the only one who is having a difficult time. It’s a time of transition for everyone and it can be very overwhelming.
  • Keep your door open when you are in your room. This is a good way to meet people in your hall. It can also be a way to invite people to hang out without having to be especially social. It’s not too late to still meet people who live in your dorm!
  • Find a place on campus you like. This could be a tree to study under, a favorite spot in the library, the Union, or an office on campus, such as the LGBTQ Center or Women’s Center.
  • Talk to people in your classes. Did someone ask a thought-provoking question in discussion? Tell them so—it can lead to a great conversation that you can continue over lunch or coffee. Also, forming study groups is a great way to know people while also helping each other out! Especially with finals coming up, this can be a good way to get to know people in your class you’ve wanted to talk to all semester.
  • Join a club or organization. Getting involved is one of the best ways to meet people. In addition to being a place of higher education, college is also a great time to try something new. Check out a sport, a service or political organization, or a religious or cultural group on campus. Joining a club or organization gives you an opportunity to meet friends who have similar interests, and for many clubs you can join at any point throughout the year.
  • Know your resources! There are lots of people on campus who want to help you adjust and who understand it can be rough. CAPS can be a great resource to talk out how you are feeling, especially if these feelings persist. The Learning Center and The Writing Center are great places to visit to talk about adjusting to the college workload and college level writing. All these resources are covered under student fees, so it’s free to take advantage of them!

Can nail polish really prevent rape?

You might have heard about the latest “rape prevention” innovation. This time around it is nail polish that tests for date rape drugs such as Rohyphnol and GHB. Past innovations have included anti-rape underwear, coasters that test for GHB and Ketamine, and even anti-rape condoms. It seems every few months there is some new idea that gets a lot of media coverage as a successful innovation to stop rape. On one hand, these stories bring attention to sexual assault, which is a huge public health problem—1 in 5 college women experience sexual assault. Obviously we need lots of people talking about and working on this issue. However, this new nail polish follows a long line of past innovations that do not actually help to decrease rates of sexual assault.

Photo from facebook.com/Orly
Photo from facebook.com/Orly

There are many reasons I take issue with this nail polish—one of which is that the most common date rape drug is alcohol, which generally people know when they are consuming. Many perpetrators use alcohol to incapacitate their victims, and this new nail polish will not address the role of alcohol in sexual assaults.

The nail polish also raises a great deal of questions around responsibility and assumptions—Why should a woman have to pay for a product that sells itself as ensuring she won’t be assaulted? If I don’t wear the nail polish and I am drugged, does that make me at fault for being assaulted? What about men, who are also sexually assaulted and don’t generally wear nail polish? Will the guy who roofied the drink of one woman who was wearing the nail polish just try to do the same to another woman? What about the fact that the majority of rapists are someone the survivor knows?

These questions aside, the main issue I have with this nail polish is that it doesn’t tackle the root of the problem—which is that the onus of preventing rape should not be on the potential victim. To fight sexual violence, we need to teach people not to rape, rather than simply redirecting rapists to another person. We need to target the underlying reasons why people sexually assault others and take a community-wide approach to prevention, rather than an individual approach.

So this leads us to the question of “What is sexual violence prevention then?” Sexual violence prevention means several things. First, it means teaching about what consent is and isn’t. Everyone should be able to define consent and feel comfortable asking for consent. This education should begin early so everyone has the same baseline and knows what sexual violence and consent looks like. In addition to teaching about consent, there is also bystander intervention, which trains people how to be active bystanders and safely intervene in situations where they are worried about a possible assault. Bystander intervention has been proven to be successful, and UNC’s One Act program has adopted this approach to teach students how to be active bystanders. This includes learning how to observe, assess, act, and follow up when someone sees a situation and is concerned about interpersonal violence taking place. To learn more about One Act and sign up for trainings, visit the One Act website and learn how to help prevent sexual violence.

One-Act-Logo-Transparent

I am tired of “innovations” that tell me what I should do to avoid sexual assault. While I believe that the four men who created this new nail polish have good intentions, they should have looked at the research and created an intervention that actually decreases the number of sexual assaults, rather than create a product that enables them to profit from a woman’s fear of being assaulted. We need to move away from all these so-called “prevention innovations” that wrongly place the burden of prevention on potential victims, and implement actual evidence-based sexual violence prevention programs like One Act that work.

Find more information on prevention programs at UNC and when you can get trained here!