1. If you have a doctor who shames you about your sexuality, get a new doctor.
Gynecologists (and doctors in general) should be caring for you, empowering you, and educating you on how to live a healthy sexual life. They should be offering support if you find yourself in a shitty position, and they should help you understand what said shitty position means in terms of your health. What they shouldn’t be doing is reinforcing the tried-and-untrue idea that you should be ashamed of your body and what you do with it. A doctor who shames their patient instead of educating them automatically closes a door on communication — not just between doctor and patient, but between patient and future sex partners. Which means more infections, more unwanted pregnancies, more psychological damage, and more misinformed decisions. If your doctor can’t look you in the eye and tell you what’s up like a freaking adult, find yourself one who can. (And if your parents are running the show and you’re unsure of how to find a doctor who won’t impose their holier-than-thou morals on you, locate a Planned Parenthood. That’s what it’s there for.)
2. Learn how to communicate early on.
I think all bad sex stems from a lack of communication. Tell your partner what they’re doing right — and what could use improvement. There’s always a fear that your “pointers” might be taken as an affront, but do you really want to sleep with someone who cares more about their ego than they do about pleasuring you? Probably not. The sooner you speak up about what works and what doesn’t, the sooner you’ll be having good sex.
3. Condoms don’t protect you from everything.
So sorry to be the bearer of bad news :( But condoms are not little latex miracles. HPV and herpes are spread skin-to-skin, which means even a little dry humping could get you in trouble. The pregnancy rate with condom usage is between 2-15%, depending on how “perfect” you are at using condoms (I’m assuming imperfect situations include tearing and like, taking it off in the middle of sex because ‘it feels better.’) This isn’t to say you should stop using condoms — condoms provide a high degree of protection against HIV and other STIs — this is to say that wearing condoms is only one way to protect yourself. You should double up on preventative measures by getting tested, talking to your partners about their status, and/or taking some form of birth control (DO NOT double up on condoms — the only thing that’ll do is make the condoms more likely to break. Not perfect.)
4. STIs aren’t always symptomatic.
Which is why you should be getting tested. I know 90s email chain letters and sex ed taught us otherwise, but chlamydia doesn’t always look like a molded piece of broccoli vomiting up blood clots. The images we associate with STIs illustrate what the infections look like when they go untreated for years. Which is why you should get tested regularly, even if everything looks gravy down there (if it literally looks like gravy, you should make an appointment ASAP). Untreated STIs can have effects on your reproductive system as well, which may not seem like a big deal when you’re 16 but could most definitely lead to some stressful, emotional shit in the future. And finally, not knowing your status means your partner not knowing your status — party foul. Don’t be that guy.
5. On that note, stop making stupid STI jokes.
Whenever I hear a person joke that they hope someone contracts chlamydia, I get the idea that that person has no fucking idea what they’re talking about. Most STIs go away. Most of them aren’t any worse than say, strep throat. That’s why they’re called infections now, and not diseases. These jokes stigmatize something we should be trying to destigmatize. They make it harder for people to be honest about their sexual health. And when people aren’t honest about their sexual health, your ass could get caught in the crossfire. Trust and believe. If you’re going to make an STI joke, make it an educated one.
6. And if you do catch something, try not to despair.
That is much, much harder than it sounds. I know this because when I found out I had HPV, I literally stood outside of a mom-and-pop pharmacy in Fuck All, New York and cried my brains out for an hour before I could do anything else. I was depressed. I was afraid of sex. I was angry and accusatory. That’s normal, I think. But then again… so is HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.” That’s right, all y’all. But that’s not why you shouldn’t despair — not all sexually transmitted whatevers are so common, and not all of them go away. You shouldn’t despair because — whether you have this thing for two weeks, two years, or two lifetimes — you’re still you. Everyone has health issues. Yours just happen to be on your genitals. You are not your genitals. To borrow some wise words from Jay in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “You’re putting the pussy [or penis] on a pedestal.” Stop it. It’s just flesh. It’s not you.
An aside: I did have one friend whose HPV gave her cancer. Sounds like a case in which despairing is pretty much the only thing you can do, right? But she caught it early and is fine now — and she caught it early by getting tested on the reg. I’m telling you, that shit pays off.
7. Speaking of preventative measures, it may take you a while to find the right birth control for you.
I don’t want to get too involved here because I just wrote an essay for a forthcoming eBook (hey, y’all) about birth control making me go insane, but… birth control might make you go insane. And it’s important to recognize that this is a possibility — otherwise, you might think it’s just you who’s suddenly experiencing fierce mood swings and crying at Charmin Ultra commercials. Track your moods. Notice what changes occur when you’re trying different birth control options. Birth control is like any other medication — not all of them will be the right fit for your body chemistry. Shop around.
8. If you can’t talk to your parents about sex, find someone you can talk to.
I understand that talking to your parents about sex can be uncomfortable and sometimes, forbidden. But having someone older than you to confide in when, say, you’re confronted with an unwanted pregnancy or a strange looking rash or like, some questions about blow jobs… this is invaluable. Find someone you trust who’s been there and bounce some concerns off of them. We’re allowed to talk about sex. We’re allowed to talk about sex. We’re allowed to talk about sex.
9. It gets better.
I’m not sure if the “kissing a lot of frogs” analogy works here, but I had to have four years of bad sex before I got to the good stuff. I remember my freshman year of college — I was sitting in the caf with my three roommates and telling them, “I genuinely don’t understand what people enjoy about sex. It honestly seems terrible to me.” And they were like, “Yeah, cosigned.” Good sex takes a while. It takes learning how to enjoy yourself (or unlearning how to not enjoy yourself). It takes communication. It takes patience — identifying what makes you feel good and what makes you feel completely disconnected from the human experience. And it will come. Just be strong in the meantime. (And if you fuck a lot of frogs, be safe about it.)