Other than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex?

sexual communicationOther than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex? Turns out the answer is YES for Carolina students!  91% of UNC-Chapel Hill first years say they’d communicate with a partner about what they want in a sexual situation.  Now, we know that all first- years are not the same; different groups of students have different attitudes and beliefs. However, interestingly enough this statistic doesn’t change a whole lot across different gender identities, races, and sexual orientations (ranges from 88%-93%).

 

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Alicia Keys Photo by Intel Free Press, Flickr Creative Commons

Not convinced?  Famous musical artists across the decades would agree with 91% of UNC first-years, and have rather good advice and examples of how to communicate about sex. Salt-n-pepa kicks us off with the obvious, “let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me”. Coldplay chimes in about getting it on with, “Turn your magic on, to me she’d say ,…  ‘Oh you make me feel like I’m alive again’”  John Legend and Marvin Gaye (respectively) ask for affirmative verbal consent singing, “I just need permission, so give me the green light” and “I’m asking you baby to get it on with me, I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push, won’t push you baby”.  Lauryn Hill talks about what she likes singing, “The sweetest thing I’ve ever known is your kiss upon my collar bone.” And then there’s Alicia Keys showing us how to set some boundaries, “There’s an attraction we can’t just ignore, but before we go too far across the line I gotta really make sure that I’m really sure.”

 

 

 

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Coldplay Photo by pinero.beatriz, Flickr Creative Commons
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John Legend Photo by Fantasy Springs, Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of talking about sex… what does “sex” refer to anyways?  Study after study after study has shown that everyone defines sex very differently.  So, for the remainder of this blog, we’re going to focus on “sexual behavior/ activity”, which can include wide a range of behaviors done with ourselves or others including hugging, kissing, vaginal sex, holding hands, oral sex, abstinence, (mutual ) masturbation, different forms of physical intimacy, anal sex, the list goes on.  Some people have oral/ anal/ vaginal sex, other people are sexual in other ways, and some other people choose to abstain from some/ all of these things! Side note: it turns out lots of UNC students are abstaining in lots of different ways as well; click here to learn more! Moral of the story is, no matter what kinds of sexual behaviors you are or aren’t engaging in with other people, learning to talk about wants/needs and boundaries is important, and practice can help. 

Back to the point. If someone is interested in being sexually active, or is sexually active, why does everyone think talking about it with the people involved is such a good idea?  The long and short: talking means everyone is on the same page and everyone will have a better experience if there is clear communication. Loveisrespect.org would say that you’re the only person who knows what’s on your mind, so your partner won’t know unless you say it!  Along the same lines, you can’t know what your partner is thinking or wanting until you ask them and talk about it. We don’t always know how to talk about sexual activity, especially since we don’t always see representations of this in the media, and because we don’t often learn about how to communicate on this topic in school or from our families. However, it’s important for everybody to talk about what they like, don’t like, and what their boundaries are.  It’s also super important to listen to your partner, and respect the things they say and the boundaries they set.  Even if they have previously consented to intimacy, but do not desire to this time. This will show the person that what they say matters to you, and they’re more likely to trust you and listen to you as a result.

Some people think talking about being sexual is for folks in serious, long-term, committed relationships, however, this is just as, if not more, important for people who choose to have casual/ short-term sexual interactions! Why’s that?  Casual/ short-term sexual interactions often occur between people who don’t know each other well, and/or are interacting sexually for the first time.  Therefore, talking about expectations, limits and boundaries for sex (in ways that are comfortable, clear, and sexy) is even more important to make sure everybody is on the same page and having an equally positive experience. There are also people who choose to abstain from some or all sexual behaviors.  Do they need to talk about being sexual?  Absolutely!  Making sure there are clear lines of communication about what everyone wants in these situations is more important than ever so that everyone’s boundaries are understood and respected.

Sound hard/ challenging/ uncomfortable?  It’s easier (and sexier) than it sounds!  And, if someone knows what you like (and you know what they like), and everyone knows what’s on and off the table, it’ll be a lot more safe and satisfying, too. Here are some phrases our sexual wellness counselors recommend to get you started!

  • Do you want to…?
  • How would you feel about…?
  • How far do you see things going?
  • What do you want to do?
  • Would you like it if I…?
  • I want to…
  • I don’t want to…
  • That sounds amazing
  • Nope, not for me
  • I’m down to do… but I’m not into …

Still perplexed? Click here to take a free online course about creating and sustaining healthy relationships, INCLUDING skills around how to communicate and talk about sex in healthy ways. While the information is applicable to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, these modules are centered on the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Trans*, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two Spirit, and Same Gender Loving communities. Whether you are looking to strengthen your own relationship skills or support others in their relationships—this course is for you!

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Have additional specific questions?  Make a free private SHARE appointment to talk about talking about sex.SHARE

We encourage you to think about one way you or a friend could communicate about healthy relationships and sex in an open and positive way.  If you or your friend feels uncomfortable talking about this, remember that 91% of your peers and several pop stars have your back and support talking it out! Continue reading

How is HIV different than AIDS? An HIV primer

This year marks 35 years since AIDS was first recognized by the CDC. News of the highly-fatal AIDS epidemic was initially met with profound concern, panic and confusion. Still today, there are plenty of misconceptions about what HIV and AIDS are, and who is affected.  In honor of World AIDS Day, we’ll provide an abbreviated history of the discovery of HIV and AIDS, discuss how they’re different, and talk about how you can get tested for FREE!

AIDS and HIV: A super-duper brief history

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received several reports of a rare cancer, typical only among those with severely compromised immune systems and the elderly, among young gay men. Suspecting that there may be other factors at-play, the CDC began an investigation. At this stage of the epidemic, there was no identifiable cause and no single name for the phenomenon. Various organizations referred to it with different names, among them “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).  As the epidemic spread, it became clear that several groups were affected, including injection drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.  The CDC proposed using a unifying name for the condition, as there was mounting evidence that it was not limited to the gay community. In 1982, with over 400 cases reported globally, the CDC proposed the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or (AIDS). Around the same time, cases of mother-to-child transmissions of AIDS were reported, and a child who had received blood transfusions also appeared to have developed AIDS. Cases of AIDS among women who have sex with men were recorded. All of these cases provided evidence that an infectious agent was likely responsible for AIDS, and suggested several possible routes of transmission: through blood, breast milk, and sexual activity. In 1986, at least five years after AIDS cases were initially reported, the name for the virus that causes AIDS was born: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, or HIV.

AIDS vs. HIV?

The history of AIDS and HIV helps clarify how and why they’re different. Contrary to the widespread belief, HIV is not a disease. It is a virus – but a pretty serious one. Our bodies are able to fight off other viruses like the common cold, but for some reason, we just can’t rid our bodies of HIV. Our immune system is comprised of various types of cells, each having special roles to fight off infections. HIV attacks one such cell, the CD4 cell. The higher your CD4 cell count, the stronger your immune system is and the better you are at fighting infections. HIV attacks our CD4 cells by entering them and becoming part of their life cycle. Think of…mind control. When HIV takes over a CD4 cell, it no longer thinks it is a CD4 cell. When the CD4 cell (with its brain taken over by the virus) tells itself to ‘replicate,’ HIV replicates. This leads to an increase in HIV, a decrease in CD4, and a compromised immune system. If the CD4 cell count drops significantly, an individual has AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

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Image from http://aids.gov

AIDS refers to a syndrome, meaning the presence of clinical features or phenomena (example:  weakened immune system). HIV is a necessary but not sufficient cause of AIDS. In other words, HIV infection always precedes AIDS, but HIV doesn’t always develop into AIDS. HIV can be detected with a variety of tests that identify either HIV itself or circulating HIV antibodies. AIDS diagnosis is more complicated, and requires the presence of certain signs and symptoms, such as decreased white blood cell count and certain  AIDS-defining illnesses.

Who gets HIV?
Given that HIV can be transmitted through sex, contaminated sharp instruments or breastfeeding, almost all individuals are at risk. HIV transcends geographic, socioeconomic, political, racial, and gender boundaries. Some individuals have a higher risk than others depending on how often they are exposed to the following four fluids that transmit HIV: blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.

A person’s sexual network (a group of people one individual is connected to through sexual contact), which may be influenced by race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, may also influence his/her/zir risk for contracting HIV. Think of it in terms of probability. Let’s say Person A is an African American man who has sex with other men, and Person B is a White man who does not have sex with other men. Person A has a smaller number of potential sexual partners than Person B. In other words, Person A has a smaller sexual network. In terms of numbers, this means that if someone in Person A’s network becomes infected with HIV, he has a higher chance of also becoming infected even if he engages in the exact same level of “risky sexual behavior” as Person B.

HIV Prevention and Treatment
The key to prevention is education. With a lack of education about the truth, millions of individuals become infected because they believe HIV can’t impact them. In reality, specific communities have higher infection rates due to historical inequitable access to care and modern institutions that keep these communities at a lower socioeconomic status which maintains unequal access to care. Treatments for HIV exist, but are expensive.

Other than breaking down myths (which the Center for Aids Research is excellent at doing!), everyone needs to understand risks of sexual transmission BEFORE they put themselves in high-risk situations. The four fluids of HIV transmission (do you remember what they are? Blood, vaginal secretions, semen, and breast milk) along with education on proper condom use help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases -and (bonus!) unintended pregnancy. Everyone who has sex should get tested once a year or before embarking on a new sexual encounter, whichever comes first. Testing should be a regular part of healthy relationships.

HIV Testing

In honor of World AIDS Day, Student Wellness is hosting a FREE, walk-in HIV testing event in the Carolina Union from 10AM-4:45PM on December 1st (TODAY!). Please see our event page for more information. Additionally, at UNC Campus Health Services, we offer a rapid oral test (results available in about 20 minutes), and a blood test available every weekday. More information about HIV testing at UNC is available on the Campus Health webpage; for more information about making an HIV appointment with Student Wellness call 919.962.9355.

 

This post was compiled and updated based on two previous Healthy Heels blog posts, one written by Diana Sanchez, a PhD student in Public Health Epidemiology in 2012 and the other written by Jani Radhakrishnan, a MPH and City and Regional Planning Master’s Student. Both writers served as graduate student staff with wellness at UNC. 

Trich or Treat!

Nope – that’s not a typo. Trich–or trichomoniasis–is the most common curable STI in the country, and 8 million people in the U.S. will be infected each year. But, according to recent research from the American Sexual Health Association, only 1 in 5 women have ever heard of it. Our very own Needs Assessment for Sexual Health, conducted annually by Student Wellness, reflected that as well – in 2015, only about 1 in 3 UNC students had heard of this STI. So, what’s the deal?

7070_1151267044902470_8892073206618450531_nWhat is trich?

Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, is an STI caused by a single celled parasite called a trichomona. It passes from person to person through unprotected sexual activity. Most of the time, the disease is spread from a penis to a vagina (and vice versa) or from vagina to vagina through fingering and oral sex. It’s really rare for the parasite to infect other areas of the body – like the hands, mouth, or anus.

How do I know if I have it?

Here’s the real kicker – about 70% of people infected won’t have any symptoms, and on top of that, female bodied people are more likely to experience symptoms than male bodied people. When symptoms do occur for female bodied people, they can look like anything from vaginal discharge with a strong odor, itching and swelling around the vulva and vagina, and frequent, painful urination. For male bodied people, symptoms are less severe – usually, they will experience discharge from the urethra and painful urination. Symptoms can take anywhere from 3 – 28 days to occur, so it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in your reproductive health if you are having unprotected sex!

How do I get tested and treated?

Campus Health Services can help you get tested for trich if you’ve had unprotected sex or are experiencing any symptoms. Testing can be done through a simple vaginal swab and pelvic exam for female bodied people or a urethral swab for male bodied people. The provider will then look under a microscope for signs of the parasite and will usually be able to give you results that very same day. In the case that you do have trich, treatment is really simple! It usually takes only one dose of prescription antibiotics to cure a case of trich. However, you should always make sure that your partner gets tested and treated as well – it is possible to get re-infected through unprotected sex! 

In my words: Getting an IUD at UNC Chapel Hill

by Abby Kaufmann, guest blogger and UNC student

After 3 years at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have become very familiar with the general clinic at Campus Health Services but I had never really utilized their Women’s Health Services until this October when I got an intrauterine device (IUD). I am currently interning in a position where 10 hours of my week involves researching articles about reproductive justice issues, many of which are about birth control access and affordability. At the time I began the internship, however, I was not on birth control. The risk I was taking really started to nag at me, making anything intimate seem extra nerve-wracking and less enjoyable until I finally decided to do something about it.

A few weeks prior to making the decision to get an IUD, I had to go to campus health multiple times for a cold that just wouldn’t go away. Each time I was there, I couldn’t help but appreciate the free condoms throughout the building and the pamphlets on safe sex that included tips for queer people. But what really caught my attention were the charts on birth control in every exam room I visited, like this one:

I saw that with condoms, my go-to method of birth-control at the time, there was still anywhere between a 2%-18% chance of getting pregnant (depending upon whether or not they are used correctly).  I had tried things like the pill and the NuvaRing in the past but I was always forgetting when to take the pill or when to replace the ring which I knew made them less effective. I decided that an IUD would be the best way to go; not only are IUDs more effective than birth-control pills and the NuvaRing, they last for years.

The first time I heard about an IUD was in a magazine article in 2012. Even then, I recognized the benefits and expressed interest in getting one to my gynecologist in Cary at the time. She didn’t think it was a good idea and successfully scared me into changing my mind. She told me that, since I had never given birth, it would be painful and that this pain was too much for most of her younger clients so she often had to remove their IUDs. She said that the NuvaRing would be my best option since it would be easier to remember and that it was just as effective as an IUD (I now know that both of these statements were false). I expected a similar reaction at Campus Health but was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of resources about IUDs and to feel supported by both the nurses and the doctors.

I thought I would be able to just show up, have the procedure, and then go about my business for the next 3 years but this was not the case. When you make an appointment to get an IUD at Campus Health Services, you are required to have a brief consultation first so that you can discuss the various types of IUDs and what to expect during the procedure. After that, I also had to make an appointment for a well woman exam so they could check for STDs, do a pap smear, perform a breast exam, and assess my health in general. While it was a little annoying to have to come back so many times, I realized that it was all because Campus Health actually cared about my overall wellbeing. It also provided a good opportunity to get to know the doctor before the procedure.

Usually, CHS prefers to do the procedure when you are menstruating so that they can rule out any chance of pregnancy (even though they do a pregnancy test anyways) because of the life-threatening risks associated with getting an IUD while pregnant. Because of this, some students may have to wait longer than they would like to before they can get their IUD but in the end, it’s really for their own good.

To say that I was impressed with UNC Campus Health Women’s Services would be an understatement. They made sure I felt comfortable about the procedure not only during the procedure itself but before and after it as well. Never once did I feel judged or discouraged from making my decision.

I would encourage my peers to utilize UNC Campus Health’s birth control resources If you attend a different university, don’t be afraid to contact campus health on your campus to see what services they provide. Also, be sure to check out Bedsider for ways to bring birth control to your campus and to compare methods side-by-side.

I’m thankful for birth control. And I’m thankful that Campus Health Services at UNC understands that, as college students, we already have so many things to worry about and that getting pregnant doesn’t have to be one. #ThxBirthControl

 

Abby originally posted this content during her internship and agreed to let us re-post here with slight modifications as a guest blog. View the original blog post here.