How to have a better hookup?

After last semester’s “Orgasm? Yes Please!” performance, we received feedback that you wanted to learn more about communicating about sex during hookups.  In our program, we showed couples in committed relationships working out how to have safer & better sex.  Y’all let us know that you want to see how that works in less committed relationships, too.
What are the difficult conversations with hookups? What do you wish you could express? How could you picture your hookups being safer and sexier? Your questions will help us bring you a fresh, updated OYP in Fall 2013!
Let us know what you think on this anonymous survey.
Stay tuned to the Healthy Heels Blog for information on the upcoming Orgasm? Yes, Please performance! Put it on your calendar: Friday October 25, 2013 7-9pm.

Give Yourself a Hand: Part Two (Female Masturbation!)

Our guest writer is a UNC graduate student in public health who focuses on sexual health and the social factors that influence it.


Female masturbation! In Give Yourself A Hand: Part One, I explored varying perspectives on female masturbation throughout history and some of its less obvious benefits. Here, I offer an introduction into its mechanics for those female-bodied readers newer to the solo no-pants dance. Because I wanted you to be informed by more than my thoughts and experiences, I solicited the input of lady friends across the country. To those wonderful women who opened their bedroom doors to us, I offer my sincerest thanks.

Masturbation can be defined as self-stimulation of genitalia for sexual pleasure. I like this broad definition, because it reminds us that there are no rules about how and with whom you masturbate, and that masturbation does not need to result in orgasm in order to be pleasurable. Still, in the varied forms that female masturbation takes, there are a few key things to keep in mind:

Continue reading

Give Yourself A Hand!

Our guest writer is a UNC graduate student in public health who focuses on sexual health and the social factors that influence it.


I was 16, out renting a movie with some friends. Somehow, the topic came up, and before I knew it, the question was pointed directly at me, like a loaded barrel: “Do you masturbate?” Oh, the shock, the embarrassment! But mostly, I was embarrassed because I didn’t really know what masturbation meant – for women, anyway.

As it turns out, I was not alone in my cluelessness. In 2009, a national survey of adolescents found that only 52% of 16-17 year-old girls had ever masturbated, in contrast to 79% of males of the same age. The decision of whether or not to masturbate is a personal one, but it’s a topic young women don’t always have the opportunity to discuss. Thus, I’m here to impart some of the what, why and how of that timeless tradition of self-pleasure. And while I hope these musings are of general interest, I especially dedicate these posts to the female-bodied members of the UNC campus community.


“If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, then surely masturbation is the world’s oldest avocation,” writes researcher Steven D. Pinkerton from Medical College of Wisconsin. Indeed, evidence of female masturbation dates back to the Stone Age. Ancient Grecian art portrays women masturbating using dildos. Further down the line, however, masturbation was condemned as a behavior with ruinous consequences. In 18th century Europe, a widely-circulated treatise entitled Onania insisted that women who masturbated suffered from imbecility, hysterical fits, and barrenness. The very word “masturbation” is thought to stem from the Latin manstuprare: “to defile oneself by hand.”


While human sexuality research has made leaps and bounds in debunking myths about the harms of masturbation, the topic hasn’t lost its controversial edge. Many religions across the world prohibit or frown upon masturbation, but female masturbation is less often explicitly addressed. And it was only in 1994 that U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was dismissed after she suggested that masturbation be promoted among adolescents as a means of reducing riskier sexual behaviors.

Dr. Elders had a point. Like intercourse, masturbation is often accompanied by intense physical pleasure that climaxes in sexual orgasm, but it carries no risk of unintended pregnancy or spreading sexually transmitted infections. Furthermore, masturbation has been linked to a number of potential health benefits. Masturbation resulting in orgasm can lead to a flushing of the cervix and vagina, which can reduce the presence of infection-causing organisms. It can aid in relieving painful menstruation. Arousal and orgasm trigger the release of dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin in the body, which can contribute to improved mood, decreased stress, and even boosts in learning and memory. Finally, masturbation strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which improves sexual stamina and can increase pleasure during intercourse.

That’s right! The perks of masturbation extend into your sexual relationships, current or future. Whether you are single or are intimately involved, masturbation can be a healthy part of your sex life. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post, which will explore the physiology of arousal and masturbation, the broad range of masturbatory practices among women, and a few how-to’s from some of my friends around the country who share my conviction that your greatest resource for sexual pleasure is YOU.


Get your sexual health knowledge on by taking part in World AIDS Day on November 30. FREE rapid HIV testing will be offered from 11 AM – 5 PM in the Carolina Student Union. The event is open to UNC students, faculty staff, and the greater community.


Pinkerton SD, Bogart LM, Cecil H et al. “Factors Associated with Masturbation in a College Sample.” 2003.
Herbenick D, Reece M, Schick V et al. “Sexual Behavior in the United States: Results from a National Probability Sample of Men and Women Ages 14-94.” 2010.
Taylor T. The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture. 1997.
MacDonald RH. “The Frightful Consequences of Onanism: Notes on the History of a Delusion.” 1967.
Levin RJ. “Sexual Activity, health and well-being – the beneficial roles of coitus and masturbation.” 2007.

Lingering questions from “Orgasm? Yes Please!”

Your Questions from “Orgasm? Yes, Please!” 

We had a great time hosting “Orgasm? Yes Please!” a couple of Fridays ago to a rowdy audience of over 300 UNC students! Big thanks for The Daily Tarheel for sending some love our way, to our co-sponsors Project Dinah, UNC Panhellenic Council, and to our collaborators on stage, Interactive Theater Carolina.

During the presentation, the audience texted in their anonymous questions. We didn’t have time to answer everything at the event, so we’re here today to  address some of your questions that we missed. Some of them we’ve blogged about before!

You asked, “G-spot, fact or fiction?”

Recent research has shown that “even though the majority of women believe that the G-spot exists, even if they don’t have one, we’ve all been fooled.  Sort of.” Read more!

You asked, “Is having sex while on your period really an option? How is that sanitary?”  

It’s entirely a matter of taste, and “if you are worried about the aesthetics of it, you can always throw down a towel first and then go for it!” Read more!

You asked, “Are Trojans the most effective condom? 

All condoms whose labels indicate they are for sexual use (aka, not “novelty items”) are required to pass the same tests for efficacy as they are “regarded by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as Class II medical devices, a designation that includes pregnancy tests and powered wheelchairs.  Products in this category have to meet special labeling requirements and performance standards.”  Read more!

You asked, “Are STI tests on campus free?”

The Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS)  office offers a free blood HIV test! Otherwise, the price depends on your insurance. Campus Health website has information on pricing without insurance! Read more!

Free Oraquick rapid test will be available on World AIDS Day, being celebrated 11/30/12 on the UNC Campus. Free testing will be available on a walk-in basis from 11am-5pm in the UNC Student Union.

You asked, “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or one horse size duck?”

You know, I’m going to have to think about that one.

Stay tuned for more! We’ll be answering other questions from “Orgasm? Yes Please!” in upcoming blog posts.


Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes
–Guy Clark

We all know we’re supposed to eat more fruits & vegetables.

“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” they tell us. That just got so much easier! Why, you ask? Because it’s summer in North Carolina! Do you know how lucky you are to be right here, right now? You’re probably cranking up your AC and slapping mosquitoes and looking at me funny, but I’ll contend we have it good because we live in a community with so many amazing farmers and farmer’s markets. What do I love best? Their tomatoes!

Find a farmer’s market near you!

Don’t Put Tomatoes in the Fridge

This discovery changed my life. Have you ever eaten a tomato that’s never been refrigerated? Try it and tell me if it’s not markedly better than what you’re used to. I was delighted to discover that Elizabeth Baldwin, a researcher at the USDA who investigates “flavor quality of citrus, tomatoes, and tropical/subtropical products” has found EVIDENCE that refrigeration diminishes tomato flavor.

If you don’t have access to home-grown tomatoes, the next best thing is your local farmer’s market for never-refrigerated tomatoes. If you’ve only ever eaten tomatoes still chilled from the grocery store, you might be shocked by how much better they can be with appropriate handling.

I recommend you buy tomatoes as you go. Buy what you can eat in the next couple days, because in this weather they aren’t going to last that long at room temperature. Keep them out of direct sunlight; if they’re pretty ripe, farmers have advised me to keep them in an open paper bag in a dark pantry. Closing the paper bag will trap the ethylene and further speed their ripening. If you keep them in a darker place, just don’t forget about them. However you keep them, lay them flat in a single row because they are sensitive to bruising. If you discover that tomato has a break in the skin, I’d recommend eating it immediately.

If you buy too many, here is a simple solution: eat them. Have people over to eat them with you. If you cut a tomato and don’t use all of it, eat it. If you refrigerate it, it’ll get mealy and bland. If you wrap it up and leave it at room temperature, it’s probably going to mold & attract fruit flies. Just sprinkle a little S&P on it & eat it! Easy as pie!

Where to start

If you’re new to the wild world of heirloom tomatoes, it can be daunting. There are so many different kinds! Talk to your farmers — the people who grow your food often have great advice about what to try first. Personally, my absolute favorite tomatoes are sungolds and Cherokee Purples. Rinse off the sungolds and eat them like candy. Cherokee Purples make sublime tomato sandwiches. But matters of taste are very individual! I did an informal survey of my friends, asking, “What are your favorite tomatoes?”

“Green Zebras are my fave. Firstly they are striped, and that’s sexy, but also they are sweet and tangy at the same time – I eat em like apples!” — Erin

“I don’t like the goop inside of the tomato, so I tend to like smaller tomatoes. Because they have less goop.” – Diana

“Heirlooms are trendy and all, but I love beautiful, fresh grape tomatoes in a great panzanella salad. I love the question, by the way. Tomatoes are our friends.” — Leslie

“Cherry! Tart, tiny, tasty!” — Cameron

“Fresh off the vine, don’t matter the kind” – Alysse

“Whatever is still warm from the sun” — Joanna

Go exploring! Maybe try one new tomato every week. Ask the farmers what they like best! Try them with balsamic & basil or feta & cucumber. Be adventurous or be classic.

At the end of the day, remember that Latin maxim — “De gustibus non est disputandum” – “No disputing matters of taste.” You like what you like! You might like tomatoes more if you try them ripe & fresh & in season.

“Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?”

Last semester, I overhead some students talking about how Tori Spelling got pregnant one month after giving birth even though she was breastfeeding. I’ve never really understood breastfeeding-as-contraception, so I did some research about LAM, aka Lactational Amenorrhea Method.

My hope is to provide an overview of LAM to folks who are unfamiliar with this method and blew it off as just another sexual health acronym (IUD, NFP, PID, HIV, HPV, HSV, etc). If you are interested in using this method, please consult your health care provider for more detailed guidance. Check out my last blog entry Are you pregnant or parenting at UNC? for more info on resources available UNC.

What is Lactational Amenorrhea Method? Lactational Amenorrhea Method is a contraception method where a woman relies on exclusive breastfeeding to change her body’s hormonal balance to prevent pregnancy. This method can work up to the first six months of the infant’s life, which is also the duration for which the WHO and American Academy of Pediatricians recommends exclusive breastfeeding.

How does LAM work? Time to get your Anatomy & Physiology extra credit! Continue reading

Are you pregnant or parenting at UNC?

What an impressive juggling act! Hats off to you. You’re doing important work!

Let me tell you about a few of the resources available for you locally:

UNC Student Parent Association
UNC Parenting Resource Guide is a great way to get oriented about services available to you through UNC and in the community at large.
List of lactation spaces on UNC Campus
La Leche League of Chapel Hill is a group where experienced mothers support women who are figuring breastfeeding out.

Personally, I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding until I trained as a doula (a doula stays with a laboring woman, not as part of the healthcare team, but as an attendant who provides emotional, physical & informational support). I was blown away when I learned about the emotional, nutritional, and health benefits for women & children that come through breastfeeding.
• The physical contact helps women and babies bond.
• The baby receives IgA antibodies through the mother’s breast milk that provide a natural passive immunity while the baby’s own immune system gets up & running.
• Babies instinctively drink the right quantity of breast milk, so they reduce their risk of over-nourishment.
• When babies latch on to the nipple, breast milk goes right down their throats without lingering in the mouth so the risk of dental cavities is reduced.
• Breastfeeding helps women lose weight after pregnancy and reduces risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Even if you aren’t thinking about having kids right now, it’s valuable for everyone to understand breastfeeding and benefits in order to be more supportive of nursing women. Breastfeeding can be challenging; many women have a difficult time with various parts of breastfeeding including latching, production, emotions, balance, and more. In other words, nursing women need all the support they can get!

FYI, in North Carolina it’s legal for a woman to breastfeeding in any public or private location without being in violation of indecent exposure laws. On top of that legal foundation, I hope we can have a culture on campus where all nursing Tarheels feel comfortable and respected breastfeeding their children.

Stay tuned for more! My next project is to examine a birth control method I’ve never understood: LAM, aka Lactational Amenorrhea Method, aka breastfeeding-as-contraception.

Learning about sexual health issues with Tarheels abroad!

Usually, we write about reproductive health issues that directly impact the Tarheel community on the Healthy Heels blog. Today, I want to explore a sexual health topic that’s generally not be part of life here, but might be something you address someday, like my friend Kathryn Stein (UNC School of Public Health, HBHE ’14). She’s spending 3 months at the Bwaila Maternity Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi doing documentary work with women who have obstetric fistulas.

Summer’s here, and so many UNC students are doing inspiring work!

Plus, I figure all you New York Times nerds probably read Nicolas Kristof’s moving Mother’s Day article about the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in the capital of Ethiopia. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about the sexual health issues at hand.

An obstetric fistula is a hole in the vaginal wall that often results from obstructed labor. These have been a problem across time and culture; evidence of obstetric fistulas dates back as far as 2050 BC, in a mummified Egyptian noblewoman from the Mentuhotep dynasty! In the 19th century, surgeons explored various strategies for repair; finally in the 1940’s Dr. Latzko developed a resection technique with 95% success rate. Conditions and care improved throughout the 20th century until obstetric fistulas ceased to be part of the typical Western female experience.

What happens when you can’t access that basic $350 surgery. What if you can’t afford it? What if you live too far away from trained providers? Untreated fistulas can lead to ulcerations, kidney disease, nerve damage in the legs, and death. The most common side effect is urinary and fecal incontinence. Some women avoid food and water to avoid leaking, resulting in malnutrition, dehydration, and kidney stones. Although incontinence may not seem that bad, the social and psychological consequences can be profound.

Incontinence can completely change your life. If you leak urine or feces, your husband might leave you and your family might kick you out. Maybe you live on the outskirts of town; maybe you live in a hospital. How do you support yourself? What happens to your children? What happens to your self-esteem, dignity, and hope? Freedom from Fistula Foundation is working to empower and help women, including those at the Bwaila Maternity Hospital, where Kathryn’s doing interviews, taking photos, and teaching media skills give them a voice with which to tell their stories to an international audience.

I’m going to discuss why fistulas happen, and I’ll warn you, this gets graphic and upsetting. Continue reading

HPV and Men

Did you know that the CDC recommends that men get vaccinated against HPV (human papilloma virus)? It’s true! The CDC now recommends the HPV vaccine Gardasil for both men and women ages 9-26 years old.

Man, HPV is confusing. So true! My fellow Sexual Wellness Specialist (formerly CHECS) Diana has written a great blog entry about HPV. I want to reiterate that there are over 100 strains of HPV that are transmitted through skin/skin contact in the genital region. Some strains of HPV don’t do anything. Some cause genital warts. Some cause cancers. Gardasil vaccinates against four common strains: HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers) and HPV-6 & HPV-11 (which cause 90% of genital warts).

You probably noticed that Gardasil does not vaccinate against all strains of HPV. This means that Gardasil reduces risk of infection but cannot entirely prevent it. It’s still important to take other risk reduction steps, like using condoms and dental dams.

Also note that there is another HPV vaccine available for women, but not men, called Cervarix. It only vaccinates against HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers).

I thought HPV was a women’s health issue. Continue reading

“Why do I feel pain during sex?”

Sex is supposed to feel good! Sex might not be earth-shattering every time and that’s just part of life, but sometimes penetrative vaginal sex can be downright physically painful. Why? There’s no one single answer. A variety of physical and emotional issues can play a role. Here are some possibilities to consider.
Continue reading