Living with Gender Dysphoria: Tips for Transgender People’s Friends, Allies, and Partners

A quick note: This blog post uses some terms that might be unfamiliar. We’ve used links to define them in parentheses.

What is dysphoria?

Many, but not all, transgender people  experience dysphoria. Here is a formal definition of dysphoria from the UK’s National Health Service: “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It is not a mental illness.” In that definition, treatment commonly refers to transition that can change the body, such as hormones and surgery, which are supervised by a medical professional. Because everyone experiences dysphoria differently, medical transition may not be right for some trans people, and it’s important that all trans people take transition at their own pace. This comic discusses how one trans person found the right pace for their transition. Gender dysphoria is not something that is necessarily “fixed” or “cured” by medical interventions. Additionally, medical interventions for dysphoria are not considered necessary by many health insurance providers. So, due to their high costs, these options are financially out-of-reach for many trans people who need them.

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“Clothing Dolls,” by Mi Mitrika. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Some trans people don’t experience dysphoria at all, and for some trans people, dysphoria is more about the discrepancy between their identities and other’s perceptions.  Here is one trans person’s account of what dysphoria is like: “Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel e this.like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. (Click here for the definition of cisgender.) Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt.”   Dysphoria can create disparate health and wellness outcomes, and therefore personal and academic outcomes for those who experience it. 

How do trans people cope with dysphoria?

Although dysphoria can be challenging and painful, there are many ways trans people have learned to cope. Some trans people with dysphoria seek medical treatment to make their bodies match their identities, some seek mental health services to help cope with dysphoria, and some use coping skills they’ve learned. One recent study found that transmen’s mental health was improved by chest-binding, which helps transmen’s chests appear flatter and more masculine. Here are 25 ways that the author of the quote above copes. For a lot of trans folks, one of the most valuable tools to cope with challenges like dysphoria is friendship. In one survey of MTF trans youth, ninety-eight percent of respondents stated that friends were “somewhat” or a “great deal” helpful for emotional support. (Here is the definition of MTF.)

…Support from people like you!

You’ve probably heard a lot about trans people’s struggles with mental health. What we don’t talk about enough is that support from family, friends, and partners can greatly reduce the risk of trans people’s poor health outcomes. For example, among trans people, “social support has been linked with lower levels of both depression and anxiety and fewer suicidal behaviors.” It’s also been positively associated with self-esteem and quality of life. That’s because social rejection is the cause of a lot of trans people’s poor health outcomes in the first place.  Creating a campus atmosphere of understanding, inclusion and acceptance can go a long way in supporting our trans peers.

So how do you support a trans person dealing with dysphoria?

anole-2Because dysphoria is about the discrepancy between someone’s sense of self and their body or other people’s perception of their gender, the best way to support your transgender friend or partner through dysphoria is by (1) seeing their gender the same way they do, and (2) communicating that (as well as your communicating overall care for them, of course!)

Sometimes, cisgender people have to challenge their own assumptions, thoughts, and unconscious beliefs about bodies and identities. For example, we are all socially conditioned to associate certain physical characteristics with maleness and/or femaleness, and these associations are deeply ingrained. However, being supportive to a trans person (particularly one you are intimate with) means actively working to undo those associations. Instead affirm that your friend or partner truly IS the gender they identify as regardless of their voice, mannerisms, or body shape.

That core belief, and your willingness to challenge the thoughts you have that are in conflict with it, is the foundation of supporting any trans person in your life through dysphoria.

Tips to communicate respect for trans folks and help alleviate dysphoria:

  • Use the name and pronoun the trans person prefers.
  • Don’t disclose someone’s trans identity to others without their consent.
  • Respect trans people’s decisions about if, when, and how to transition.
  • When you’re with others who know the trans person’s identity, correct them if they get names and pronouns wrong.
  • If you’re dating someone, ask what words they want to use to talk about their bodies (for example, chest vs. breasts).
  • Use compliments and descriptors that reflect your friend’s or partner’s gender identity. For example, if your partner identifies as a masculine person, they might prefer to be called  “handsome” rather than “pretty.” Luckily, “fabulous” and “smart” are gender-neutral.  
  • When you are struggling to see your friend or partner the way they want to be seen, it can be best to process this with a cisgender ally rather than the trans person. But be sure to do this in a way that respects the trans person’s privacy. For example, check in with them first about who to process with.
  • If dating a trans person (or anyone really,) practice consent consistently and carefully. Consent is important in all relationships, but it’s especially important in trans relationships because, as we’ve discussed here, trans people’s relationships with their bodies can be complicated.

More resources

Here’s more information on how to support trans folks.

For more content on healthy relationships in the LGBTQ community, check out this online course offered here at UNC.

If you are transgender and are struggling with dysphoria, social support, or anything else, contact the LGBT Center here on-campus or Trans Lifeline.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Be Good To Yourself

I love uplifting music with inspirational messages. Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite musical artists, Ledisi. She has a song called “Be Good To Yourself”, and the following lyrics from that song really resonated with me:

“Oh, when you’re traveling

Through the highs and the lows

Make sure you listen to your spirit

You gotta take care of your soul

Hold on, never give up

You can get through whatever

Always make time

For yourself, whoo”

 These lyrics resonated with me because they reminded me of wellness. wellness

Wellness integrates your mind, body and spirit. The dimensions of wellness is a concept used to express that integration. The model used by UNC Student Wellness integrates the following seven dimensions of wellness:

  1. Physical Wellness which includes the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows you to get through your daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress.
  2. Emotional Wellness which includes the ability to understand yourself and adequately cope with the challenges life brings.
  3. Social Wellness which includes the ability to successfully interact with people in our world, participating in and feeling connected to your community.
  4. Spiritual Wellness which includes your search for meaning and purpose in human existence.
  5. Academic Wellness which includes the ability to open your mind to new ideas and experiences that can be applied to personal decisions, group interaction and community betterment.
  6. Financial Wellness which includes awareness of your current financial state.
  7. Environmental Wellness which includes the ability to recognize (1) your own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds you and (2) that your social, natural, and built environment affect your health.

(To learn more about any of these dimensions please click on the hyperlinks above)

As I reflect on my own journey as a UNC undergraduate and now graduate student, I realize that wellness is often neglected during this time of year. It’s getting close to the end of the semester so there are exams, presentations, and papers galore! Lots of attention is focused on the ‘academic dimension’ of wellness. However, even in the midst of academic craziness, it’s important to, as Ledisi said, “listen to your spirit”, “take care of your soul”, and “make time for yourself”.

In light of the connection between your mind, body and spirit, I encourage you to “Be Good To Yourself” during the end of the semester and think about the other dimensions of your wellness in addition to the ‘academic dimension’. Taking a short break to pay attention to your physical, emotional, social, spiritual, financial, or environmental wellness can help you feel more balanced. At first glance, this list of dimensions may seem overwhelming so here are some simple ideas to get you started.

strechEngage in Activity: Research shows that becoming more active can make you feel better.  Here’s some simple ways you be more active.

  • Take a walk.
  • Take the steps instead of the elevator.
  • Turn on some music and dance around.
  • Take a stretch break.

books

                                                                          

Connect with Others: Research shows a powerful connection between social connection and well-being. Here’s some simple ways you can build your social relationships.

  • Have lunch with a friend. For a list of on-campus dining options click here
  • Call someone from your hometown.
  • Watch a movie with your roommate. Tip: You can reserve movies for free at the Undergraduate Library- click here to learn more.
  • Need to talk to someone else? Consider talking with a UNC CAPS counselor. They’re open for walk-in first time counseling appointments on Monday – Friday from 9am-12 and 1pm-4. Check the events calendar on the home page for any closures for holidays and breaks.circle

Chill Out: There are many wellness-related benefits of relaxation. Here’s some simple ways you can relax.

Havmusice other simple ideas for how to “Be Good To Yourself”? Share them in the comments section below!

Sources:

Brock, R. (n.d.). Kids in Action: Stretches and Warm-Ups Clip Art 18 PNGs. Retrieved from http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Kids-in-Action-Stretches-and-Warm-Ups-Clip-Art-18-PNGs-869484

Fox, K. R. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public health nutrition, 2(3a), 411-418.

Hicks, M. (n.d.). two friends. Retrieved from http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/clip/friends5-color.html

Klein, S. (2012, April 16). Stress Awareness Day: 10 Health Benefits Of Relaxation. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/stress-awareness-day-relaxation-benefits_n_1424820.html

Perry, P. (n.d.) Music Clipart Image: Teenager listening to mp3 music player. Retrieved from http://www.computerclipart.com/computer_clipart_images/teenager_listening_to_mp3_music_player_0515-1003-0104-3355.html

Seppala, E (2012, August 26). Connect To Thrive. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201208/connect-thrive

Terrigno, N. (n.d.). Friendship Globe Art + Border Graphics fro Multicultural Projects Retrieved from http://esl-multicultural-stuff-page2.blogspot.com/p/friendship-circle-clip-art-graphic.html

Originally posted December 2013 by Callie Womble

Callie Womble worked for Student Wellness as an undergraduate and graduate student at UNC. She now is a PhD student at NC State studying Educational Research and Policy Analysis, with a specialization in Higher Education Administration. Her doctoral research agenda focuses on critical race theory; grit and resiliency; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

How to Not Get Sick

Have you been sick recently? Have that little sore throat that shows up when you’re just about to get sick? Avoid the #uncplague this Cold and Flu season by using these annual reminders about what to do to not get sick.

Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons

Wash your hands (and stop touching your face).

Illness is often spread by people getting the a virus on their hands from touching someone or something that a sick person has coughed on, sneezed on, or touched, and then touching their face. You may remember from the movie Contagion that people touch their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. This might be a bit of an overestimate, but in a recent study, random people touched their face 3.6 times an hour and with the same hand also touched common objects that others had touched. So wash your hands and stop touching your face so much.

When should you wash ’em?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After riding on public transportation
  • After using the toilet
  • After using shared gym equipment
  • After handling money
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching or taking out garbage
  • After any other potentially gross things you do that I couldn’t think of

Sleep

We get that it’s difficult – but sleep is critical to keep your body functioning. Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene.” Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which we highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.

Hydrate.

Stop and take a sip anytime you pass a water fountain. Carry a water bottle with you to hydrate throughout the day. Drink a glass of water as the first thing you do when you wake up (on second thought: first pee, then drink the water). Drink at least a glass of water with each meal. There are loads of tricks like these to ensure you stay hydrated. Incorporate at least one into your life.

Drinkmore

When you are really sick, stay home.

Email your professors, let group partners know that you are sick, and tell your coaches that you cannot come to practice. I am as guilty as anyone I know of breaking this rule regularly; there is still part of me that thinks I just need to “tough it out” and work through it. Unfortunately, our society often still rewards or finds it admirable when individuals fight through a sickness, but we need to change this norm. I am not saying take advantage of a sickness. If you have a sniffle or a tickle in your throat I might not advise that you lay in bed all day, but if you truly are sick, you are protecting others by staying home. You also most likely will not get much out of being in class or at a meeting if you are not feeling well.

Get a flu shot

According to the CDC the number of deaths due to the flu has ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year in the United States in recent years.

Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons

Get a flu shot. You do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Let me say that again: you do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Some people do get a low-grade fever and headache from the vaccine, but this is just the body reacting to the foreign substance, not the Flu. According to the CDC, vaccines given to children have saved more than 732,000 lives and trillions of dollars over the last 2 decade. There is also absolutely no evidence that the Flu vaccine –or any other vaccines– present significant harm, and the idea that vaccines cause autism is a complete myth. The worst that could happen is that the Flu shot does not provide protection for the strain of the Flu that is being passed around but, even in that case, there is nothing lost by getting the shot. Most people who work in public health will agree that vaccinations are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and protect not only the individual getting the shot, but others around them.

So each flu season, get yourself that flu shot. The vaccine is available on campus without appointment at either Campus Health Pharmacy or Student Stores Pharmacy, and will remain available through at least January.

Do what you can to stay well, friends. And when you get sick, check out Campus Health’s cold-care guide or make an appointment.

This post was originally published on October 14, 2014 by Jedadiah Wood. It was updated and reposted November 4, 2016.

Don’t Overdo It! – Preventing Burn-Out at the End of the Semester

Although we know that self-care is an important part of maintaining holistic wellness, oftentimes it is difficult to truly engage in this practice. Being a college student is not always easy. Many times, competing interests are at work including courses, clubs, organizations, and other activities. It is extremely easy to look at peers and think, “They are doing so much! I’m not doing enough! I need to do more!” This thinking can be destructive for a number of reasons. We are all unique individuals with different aspirations and talents. My talents and interests may not align with my peers, but that does not necessarily mean that I am not doing enough. This means that I am strengthening and utilizing my skill sets in areas that interest me. Each activity and organization that you involve yourself with should be something that you are passionate about. Aside from thinking about what you can add to the organization, as a participant/member, it is perfectly okay to consider what the organization can add to your life as well. For example, will you gain the necessary skills and expertise which will help to guide you along your path?

Being over-involved can lead to fatigue and burnout.

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Burnout image by dskley at Flickr Creative Commons

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm). The dangerous truth about burnout is that it is a gradual process which manifests differently in everyone. It also directly impacts holistic wellness. Symptoms of burnout include but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time,
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits, sense of failure and self-doubt,
  • Loss of motivation,
  • Isolating yourself from others, and
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities

One of the primary ways to avoid and manage burnout is engaging in self-care on a regular basis. Below are some tips:

  1. Set aside at least 15-20 minutes per day after classes or other responsibilities in which you can sit alone and process the day. Alone time is essential for recharging!
  2. Find a hobby unrelated to school and schedule that time weekly (weekends usually work really well).
  3. Make friends! Don’t underestimate the power of these bonds!
  4. Be kind to yourself and others. Adjusting to the college is a process and everyone’s experience is going to be different. I know it is difficult, but avoid comparing your experience and journey to the next person’s.
  5. Embrace your individuality!

If you are having difficulty with any of the topics discussed in this blog, please feel free to stop by UNC Student Wellness or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) https://campushealth.unc.edu/services/counseling-and-psychological-services or call 919-962-WELL.

 

Millicent Robinson is a 2nd year MSW/MPH dual degree program student and Program Assistant with Student Wellness. Millicent went to UNC as an undergrad, earning a B.A. in Psychology with two minors in Spanish for the Professions as well as African and Afro-American Studies. Millicent is interested in holistic health and academic wellbeing, particularly in minority students. She has worked with the Upward Bound program at UNC for three years, and approaches health disparities and inequities using an interdisciplinary approach. 

How You Can Have a Healthier Relationship…with Food!

A healthy relationship… with food?

You’ve probably heard of a “healthy relationship” with family, with friends, or with a partner, but we talk less often about our relationships with food in terms of their health — beyond simply what we consume and when. A relationship with food is psychological, financial, social, and cultural as well as physical. Like any other healthy relationship, a healthy relationship with food is free of fear or the feeling of being controlled or out of control.

What impacts our relationship with food?

Our relationships with food are impacted by our life experiences and the systems around us. For example, the fad diet industry often uses body-shaming tactics and capitalizes on our desire to be “good” or “healthy” people in its mission to sell more products. These techniques often also promote the idea that some foods are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” You’ve probably heard a friend say, “I’ve been so bad today — I ate (fill in the blank).”

However, there are no “good” or “bad” foods — and furthermore, what we consume can’t make us “good” or “bad” people! Just like eating kale all the time doesn’t make you somehow better or more moral, a bag of chips doesn’t suddenly make you a “bad” or “unhealthy” person. A healthy relationship with food involves knowing that your morality or value as a person is not determined by what you consume.

Our relationships with food can also be shaped by a desire to attain an (often unrealistic) “ideal” as portrayed on TV, in movies, or through other media. This ideal of “health” or “fitness” often depends on visible body shape/size, and provides a very narrow window of “healthy” shapes/sizes. However, research tells us that we cannot tell how healthy a person is — or how healthy his/her/their relationship with food is — by the size or shape of her/his/their body.

Overall, our bodies need different things at different times. Only you can determine what’s best for you based on your body, access to resources, and belief systems. One rule or set of guidelines does not apply to everyone in regards to diet, and people have many different ways of getting the nutrients we need.

Image from Pinterest

What can I do to have a healthier relationship with food?

  • Remind yourself that your value does not depend on what you eat, and that there are many more ways to be healthy than are shown in the media.
  • Listen to your body. To the extent that you are able, try to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Don’t wait for your hunger or your fullness to “yell” at you – keep in touch with what your body needs to the best of your abilities based on your access to resources. This can take practice!
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself! Being rigid and restrictive about what foods you “allow” yourself to eat can be harmful to your body and your mind. Focusing excessively on what foods you have eaten, or counting calories obsessively, are often a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Pick the foods that give you the energy to do what you do during the day. After all, that’s what calories are — energy! The more nutrients that come along with that energy, the better.

Find more information:

Balanced eating as a vegan or vegetarian

Finding balanced and nutritious foods on a budget

Eating intuitively

Nutrition resources at UNC

If you feel concerned for yourself or a friend, or want to talk more about your relationship with food, you can find more information and contact options here.

This article was originally published September 4, 2014, by Mary Koenig, a program assistant for Student Wellness. She was in the school of Social Work and Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill.

Crisis Plans or “Mad Maps”: Creating Your Own Path Through Mental Health Crisis

In 2015, 18% of UNC students surveyed reported that anxiety had interfered with their school performance in the past year and 13% said depression had affected school in the same period. People with depression and anxiety are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health crisis, which is “any situation in which a person is not able to resolve the situation with the skills and resources available” (source). Crisis can feel like being so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to accomplish daily tasks, being suicidal, or being out-of-touch with reality, in the case of psychosis. Because UNC students experience depression and anxiety, we need to take care of our own and our friends’ mental health so that we all stay healthy, safe, and out of crisis. This post will help you learn about crisis-planning, which is one tool you can use to keep you and your community safe.

What is a Crisis Plan?

A crisis plan is a plan you create that guides you and the people around you to prevent mental health crisis, and respond to crisis effectively if it happens. Think of a crisis plan as a letter from your calm, reflective self to your future, struggling self, and the people who will support you then. Crisis plans are often documents that include information about what triggers you to feel emotional distress, what helps you feel better, and who to reach out to for support.  Your crisis plan uses your wisdom and knowledge of your own needs to guide your future self through hard times and back to stability.

How do I Make a Crisis Plan?

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“Subway Style Mind Map,” by Sharon Brogan. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Your crisis plan can be as simple or complex as you like, and it can include any information you think would be relevant to your future self and your support people–everything from when your friends should feed your cats to what metal songs you like to cry to.

This is one great crisis plan template you can use.

The Icarus Project, the radical mental health collective, refers to its crisis planning tool, available here, as Mad Maps. The Icarus Project’s mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation,” so its Mad Maps guide includes questions like “what does oppression feel like to you?”

Crisis plans can also be in the form of:

  • A psychiatric advanced directive, a legal document you can complete that will inform healthcare professionals how to best support you in the event that you are hospitalized for mental health reasons. Advance directives are intended for healthcare providers to read, so they include information like what medications you should and shouldn’t be given, and which of your support people doctors should communicate with about your care.
  • self-care boxes with actual stuff in them that helps you feel better
  • lists of activities you can do to perk up
  • this website , which is an interactive guide to navigating hard times . Bookmark it for exam week!
  • Safety Plan, a crisis plan app (available for free on Android and Iphone) that keeps your personalized crisis plan in your back pocket.

Why Make A Crisis Plan?

Here are some reasons folks create their own crisis plans, if you’re still not convinced.

  • Crisis planning keeps you in control of what happens to you. Crisis can be a time that other folks step in and take control to make sure you’re safe. By documenting your wishes for when you’re in crisis, you can stay both empowered AND safe during hard times.
  • Crisis planning helps you learn more about yourself. The questions you need to ask yourself in the process of developing a crisis plan prompt you to develop a richer understanding of yourself, your mind, and your unique strengths.
  • Crisis planning is tool to communicate with your  support people. Emailing your crisis plan to your friends and family can start (or continue) a conversation about mental illness–a difficult topic–on your own terms. Crisis planning also demonstrates to those around you that you are taking care of yourself, and so it could help your mom worry less about you. (But no promises on that one!)
  • Crisis planning builds more self-reliant communities. Communities with disproportionately high rates of mental health crisis, like LGBTQ  folks, also have too many negative experiences with mental health professionals and histories of oppression in mental health fields. Crisis plans encourage conversation and collaboration about mental health support within marginalized communities, so that when folks from these communities reach out to professionals, they are also grounded in networks of  friends who understand their struggles and can advocate for them.
  • Finally, a crisis plan prepares you for scary times, and that makes them less scary! Knowing that you are ready for the worst times reminds you of your inner strength. A crisis plan serves as a reminder that you always have a path out of even the darkest spots.

If you’d like help planning for–or navigating–crisis, contact the Counseling Center.  If you’re having trouble keeping up with school work because of mental health issues, contact the office of the Dean of Students for support.  If you are  experiencing mental health crisis after-hours, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline at 741741.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

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! 

How to Make Healthy Choices Concerning Alcohol and Other Drugs

Know the Facts
Know the Facts

Enjoying alcohol responsibly can be a healthy part of your college life. When it comes to alcohol and other drugs, the first step in making healthy choices is to understand what you’re putting into your body, what the substance’s effect on your body will be and the potential risks involved. These guides can help you. The second step is to recognize how you personally react to specific substances in various doses. According to the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, most of the harmful effects of alcohol come from drinking too much. For example, it may be important to know that you should avoid tequila because things get out of control when you start taking shots. The third step is to recognize the situations in which you find it difficult to control yourself or in which you make decisions that you later regret. Do you always end up drinking more than you originally planned when you go out with certain friends? Have you not remembered a single Halloween since you started college except through embarrassing Facebook photos the next day?

The following tips may be helpful if you want to pay more attention to your drinking habits.

Before going out. Let your friends know how much you’re planning to drink before you go out. You can watch out for each other and step in before a friend has had too much. This also requires that you count the number of drinks that you have over the course of an evening, which is always a good thing. You count how many tacos you eat at the food truck, don’t you? Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence, people seem to draw the line at 4 tacos in one sitting.

When you’re out. Don’t accept alcohol or other drugs unless you know what’s in it. Are you really going to drink whatever is in that red cup from that sketchy guy that’s been hitting on you all night? If you don’t know what kind of alcohol, how much alcohol, and what else might be in your drink, politely decline and ask for a Zima. That way they’ll know you’re a person of impeccable taste.

Throughout the night. Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. Alcohol causes dehydration because it’s a diuretic and effects the balance of vitamins and minerals in the body. The liver also requires water to process alcohol, leading to further dehydration. Drinking lots of water throughout the night slows down your drinking, gives your body a chance to process the alcohol, and prevents next-day hangovers.

When school gets stressful. Some students may turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with stress, which may gradually turn into dependence – and that’s a high price to pay for the temporary respite you might gain. If you are concerned about your alcohol or drug habits, check out the Student Wellness website for resources or write us an email to set up a one on one appointment with a trained staff member. We are here to help.

This blog was originally posted on August 31, 2011. It has been edited for clarity. 

Consent FAQ

These days, we talk a lot about sexual consent. If you’re not quite sure what it’s all about, this post can help you find the words to communicate consent. The following are some frequently asked questions about consent.

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“Love.” by SummerRain812. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

1) What if I am not sure what I want or I feel conflicted?

When your partner asks you about what you want, you may realize you don’t know. You also may find that one part of you is thinking “heck no!” and another is more like, “let’s go!” For example, sometimes your body is sexually aroused but your mind has some misgivings, or you like the idea of having sex, but just aren’t fully present in-the-moment.  It can be confusing to you and your sexual partner if you’re feeling conflicted.

Tips:

  • In the moment, stop and take space to identify what you’re feeling.
  • Reflect what might be coming up for you. Sexual activities outside your comfort zone can make you feel vulnerable in a way that’s positive and exciting or scary and threatening. How can you tell the difference between these two forms of vulnerability? What feelings, thoughts, and body sensations are associated with each of these experiences?
  • Outside the heat of the moment, talk with your partner about what you were feeling and the need to stop. A respectful partner should appreciate your honesty and your needs.

2) What if my partner’s words don’t match their actions or I’m getting mixed messages?

Sometimes you may be perceive your partner’s communications as confusing. For example…

  1. Your partner says yes, but their tone of voice and/or body language don’t reflect an enthusiastic yes.
  2. Your partner says no, but then they go along with sexual acts that you initiate. They may seem to be enjoying these things when they are happening.
  3. Your partner says they don’t want certain things to happen, but then initiate those things.
  4. When you ask your partner what they want, they say they don’t know.

In example B, you need to take your partner at their word. Initiating sexual activity after your partner clearly states no is sexual assault. There are many reasons someone might seem “into it” that do not indicate consent. Physical arousal and response are involuntary and not necessarily linked to consent or desire. Someone also may go along with a situation because they are afraid of the person violating their boundaries and trying to appease that person in order to stay safe.

In examples A, C, and D, there are a number of reasons you may feel confused by your partner’s communication. Remember, they aren’t trying to confuse you or “lead you on.” Instead:

-Your partner may be internally conflicted and unsure of what they want. (See number 1, above.)

-Your partner may feel pressure to go along with things they aren’t fully comfortable with.

Tips:

  • When you feel confused, it is your responsibility to stop and check in with your partner about where they are and what they’re feeling. For example, “Hey, let’s stop for a minute. You said you just wanted to make out, but now you’re taking off clothes, so I feel confused. I want to make sure we’re both comfortable with where this is going.”
  • In non-sexual situations, talk more about communication. Make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable setting boundaries with you, and ask how you can help create an environment where they kind of communication is possible. If your partner is not personally sure of what they want, ask them what kind of space and support they need from you to figure this out.
  • Consistently affirm your respect for your partner and their needs, desires, and boundaries.

3) What do I do when my partner says no?

  • Respect their no. Let them know you’re glad they felt comfortable telling you how they felt. Appreciate the honesty and safety you’ve fostered with your partner.
  • Do something else! You might want to get out of bed or whatever romantic or sexually charged situation you’re in, or your partner may let you know what they DO want to do.

4) What if no is hard for me to hear?

Hearing no may be hard for a number of reasons. It’s different for every person, and you may want to identify why, and exactly what you’re feeling, like sadness, resentment, hurt, etc. In the moment, you still have to respect your partner’s “no,” though you can say something like “Hey. I appreciate you being honest with me, and I respect that. Thanks! I’m also having some hard feelings about this I’m going to sort out on my own. I can get back to you about them when I’ve thought them through more.”

Here are some more tips about handling no and dealing with hard feelings around that. If you’d like to learn more about healthy communication, see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationships Online Curriculum. If someone has violated your consent or that of a friend, see safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.