Trigger Warning: This post is about mental illness and sexuality. Please exercise self-care.

Today is the day that Bell encourages Canadians to talk about mental health. I sat down in front of my trusty laptop feeling calm and clear-headed, eager to write a pithy post about my ongoing struggles with sex and mental illness. Ironically, the challenge of trying create a light-hearted entry has set my heart pounding and brought me to the verge of tears. Seriously, brain? You can’’t even stop being mentally ill long enough to let me write one lousy blog post about being mentally ill? No, of course you can’t. That’s not how this works.

 

That’s what the tears and the anxiety are about. I have a brain that doesn’t work the way that people say brains are supposed to work. And the effects of my malfunctioning brain have traumatized my body. I am never more aware of this fact then when I have sex.

Some people believe that our emotional experiences stay in our physical bodies. I don’t know if there’s any scientific research to support that claim, but I believe there’s something worth considering in that idea.  In order to become sexually aroused and sexually active, I have to allow my body to become vulnerable. Often times when I let that happen, my initial emotional reaction is overwhelming. It’s this kind of amorphous fear, anger, shame, sorrow and general badness that erupts from the pit of my stomach. It moves quickly, but sometimes I catch it right away and shut it down. Unfortunately shutting it down means shutting myself down as well and then no sex for me. Other times, it’s too strong and swift. It powers through me and beyond me. I start crying because the emotions are so big, I literally can’t contain them. When the tears stop, I typically feel relief…but I’m also a puffy-faced, snotty mess. No sex for me.

 

If our physical bodies are haunted by emotional phantoms, my body’s reaction makes sense to me. In some ways, I’m lucky. Most days, I can cope with my illness. Like I know that I’m going to be vaguely panicky for the first hour of every weekday. because getting The Bean ready for school and having the day’s “to-do” list looming in front of me is terrifying. But I also know from experience that tasks in front of me are not as daunting as my brain is telling me and that my heart rate will slow down as the day progresses and I get stuff done. I’m used to the way my heart leaps when I hear an e-mail alert or the phone rings. I’m getting better at ignoring the part of my brain that’s constantly telling me, ‘No one will care if you don’t show up, because no one actually likes you.’

 

Most days I can live my life in a way that probably looks pretty normal. But I can’t stop being mentally ill. So instead I strategize. I use tools and coping mechanisms, many of which involve ignoring my emotional state and dealing with the world on a more cognitive level. I constantly remind myself ‘Just because it feels bad, doesn’t mean it is bad.’  But the flip side is that just because those painful emotions are the by-product of lousy brain chemistry, it doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Even when I’m able to recognize certain feelings/reactions as “that’s the anxiety” or “that’s the depression,” it doesn’t make them go away. I’m not curing, but I’m coping.

 

If I want to have sex, I have to let my guard down. And if all those icky emotions that I normally push through are still living in my body, it makes sense that they kind of explode when I let myself be more physically vulnerable.

 

Like I said, I haven’t looked into any scientific data on this emotions-in-body theory, but I am trying a little experiment of my own. I’m sleeping naked. Back in Canada, it’s either too cold or too air-conditioned for me to sleep nude, but I find it quite comfortable in the Northern California climate. I know nudity is not required for sex, but I find nudity does make me feel very physically vulnerable. It sounds a little farfetched, but I think that maybe if I do that in times when I’m not having sex, it will give my body a chance to process and discharge some negativity, without the pressure of having it tied into a sexual experience.

Also, my grandmother told me it’s good to give my vagina some breathing room.

It’s just hard. For me living with mental illness is an ongoing process of building myself up and breaking myself down. As I build a system to cope with an aspect of my life, some other part of me is broken and I have to find new tools to shore myself up. I’m starting to realize that my sex life is not exempt from this. My sex life is part of my life, as is my illness. I can’t separate it. I can’t fix it That’s not how this works. I will never cure my mental illness, but I can keep learning how to live with it.

Touch. Our bodies loved to be touched. Not only does consensual touching feel great, it does great things for our physical, emotional and psychological well-being.  Unfortunately, our society doesn’t encourage a whole lot of touchy feel-y outside of sex, which is ironic since non-sexual touching can create the sort of intimacy many people need to feel authentically sexual with a partner.

Massage techniques are a great way to expand your tactile repertoire. It’s lovely, generous way to connect with a partner or even explore your own body. Massage may spark something sexual and that’s totally okay. But it’s also good to remember that we can bestow physical pleasure on others or ourselves without it necessarily leading to sex.

A scented massage oil adds another sensual dimension to the experience. You can purchase pre made oils in various locations but I prefer to make my own. My do-it-yourself skills are a step below basic, but this recipe is, as The Bean would say, easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.

Check out me out in all my just-rolled-out-of-bed glory as I demonstrate below:

 

Technological advancement ain’t just for the fancy-pantsy computer folks. Innovation is happening in the safer sex field as well. Just check out these nifty prophylactic developments!

According to it’s website, the Unique Pull is the thinnest and strongest condom on the market today. It comes in a nifty little three pack that looks like a credit card, which allows you to store them safely and discreetly in your wallet. It also comes with pull tabs, so you don’t have to handle the actual condom when you put it on. You can go to the website to get more information (some of which is weirdly gendered for reasons I don’t get). You can also check out the Unique Pull in action in this promotional video bellow.

Prrrow! Dig that sultry narration.

If putting on a condom is a tedious fumbling drag, check out Pronto condoms. Developed in South Africa, these rubbers come packaged in their own easy to use applicator. Just snap the pack, slide them down and voila! It’s a pretty nifty design, though sadly they don’t seem to be available in North America yet.

 

By Summer Skyes 11 (OMG Ikr lolUploaded by JohnnyMrNinja) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Summer Skyes 11 via Wikimedia Commons

An interesting article  from Daily Mail Online popped up in my Facebook’s stream a while back, called Experiment That Convinced Me That Porn Is The Most Pernicious Threat Facing Children Today. The subject porn and youth, something that illicits strong opinions among caregivers and educators. The idea that porn can have negative effects for younger viewers is a common perspective. It’s also one that I don’t entirely disagree with, although I certainly don’t think it’s the worst thing to ever could ever happen to a kid EVER.

At any rate the title sounded ominous/sensationalist enough that I was curious about the nature of the “experiment”. What was the methodology? Who was conducting the experiment? And what was the outcome that had convinced author, Martin Daubney – a former skin mag editor – about the unequivocal danger posed by pornography? But by the end of the introductory my curiosity was replaced by big time skepticism:

The moment I knew internet pornography had cast its dark shadow over the lives of millions of ordinary British teenagers will live with me for ever….Before me were a group of 20 boys and girls, aged 13-14. Largely white, working class children, they were well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy. 

I had trouble with the way the issue was framed. “Good” kids vs. sex. Goodness in this case being demonstrated by the students’ general whiteness and not-being poor. I guess it’s okay, or at least expected that ethnic kids from low-income families be exposed to pornography?  Only when it infiltrates the sweet ranks of society’s most valuable children should we sound the alarm bells.

Right under this paragraph is a picture of the author, his wife and his very young son who looks three, maybe four years old. The grown-ups look concerned verging on frightened. The kid is nine kinds of adorable, with blond curls and a pursed-lipped smile. And I can’t think it’s a coincidence that the editors chose this photo to lead the article. You have the words “Children” and “Porn” looming over the head of this cutey-cute little person and whoa! Suddenly, porn does seem pretty threatening!

The subjects of the actual experiment are a group of 13 to 14 year-old students. Teenagers. I do think that it’s necessary for adults to be aware that youth today have unprecedented access to sexually explicit material. A kid has with a smartphone they can see porn. And not just the commercially available stuff. Snapchat and other apps have made sending sexy selfies super-easy. I don’t think it’s necessary for us parent-types to panic. But I think we need to be aware that there’s a high likelihood our kids will be exposed to more sexual content at an earlier age than most of us were.

Under instruction from a sex-educator, the youth are asked to write down the terminology they’ve picked up from porn. The lists are pinned on the board and according to the article, there are words that none of the adults know. This shocks the grown-ups. One of the terms is “nugget”. (Full-disclosure: I heard the term for the first time very recently and it did shock me. It’s slang for a porn performer – typically a woman – who doesn’t have arms or legs).

Daubry goes on to report:

But the more mundane answers were just as shocking. For example, the first word every single boy and girl in the group put on their list was ‘anal’.

Daubry explains that he hadn’t heard of sodomy at that young age and he’s deeply troubled by the thought that some of these  youth may have a) seen it, b) may want to try it.

I was still annoyed by the sensationalism, but I can understand the alarm.  It seems to be pretty common for adults to feel thrown when they discover that the kids in their life are more sexually knowledgable than they assumed. I was a pre-teen when my peers and I started flipping through romance novels to find the sex scenes. I heard guys talk about a stash of Playboy or Penthouse they’d unearthed from the basement or their parents bedroom. We started hearing terms like “blow job” and giggled when someone explained what it was. This started when were ten, eleven, twelve. I don’t think any of us were ready to have sex yet  – I certainly wasn’t –  but we were old enough to be curious.

Now that I’m a parent, I look at my son. He seems so very young. It’s hard to fathom that the talks about sex – not just “these are your body parts/this is how babies are made” talks – might start happening in just a few years. I think it’s totally understandable for us grown-ups to have an initial freak-out. THE KIDS ARE WATCHING WHAT?!! But I think the next step is to get it together and figure out what to do next. If my kid does find himself amongst a group like the one in the article, here are some things I hope I remember to bring up:

  • What do you think about the fact that amputees are being referred to here as “nuggets”? How might it make that person feel? What message does that send about people with disabilities? What do you think about the fact that people with different bodies can and do have sex?
  • Do you know the differences between having anal sex in real life and the way it’s shown in porn? Do you know why it’s important to use lubricant? Do you know reducing your risk of infection with barriers? Do you know why communication with your sex partner is super-important here.
  • Let’s talk about why you’re watching this. How did you find it? Airial Clark a.k.a. The Sex Positive Parent had some great advice around kids discovering porn. Ask them if *they* think this is material is appropriate for their age. Remind them that the performers are real people, adults doing adult things. How do they think the people in the movie might feel if they knew kids were watching? How would they feel if a grown-up was naked or tried to have sex in front of them?
  • It’s also an opportunity to find out from kids what they find compelling about the material. Because it may not be what you think. It’s an opportunity to talk about the difference between porn sex and sex-in-real life.

Daubrey does have some follow-up conversation with some of the youth after the class. He finds the ensuing conversation “horrifying”, saddened that these kid’s expectations around sex have been shaped almost entirely by pornography and shocked by some of the content the teens have been consuming.

These kids were balanced, smart and savvy. They were the most academically gifted and sporting in the school. They came from ordinary, hard-working households. This was not ‘Broken Britain’.

Once again, folks – sex is for bad people. Who’s bad? Kids who struggle in school. The one’s who come from weird, poor households. The ones who are “broken”.

Most of us become curious about sex long before we feel ready to engage in partnered sexual activity. Sexuality isn’t something that suddenly kicks in on our 18th birthday. It’s with us all of our lives and it develops over time. When I was a kid, my friends and I didn’t look at novels, or Playboy and unscrambled pay-per-view because we wanted to run out and do those things. We just wanted to know what it was about. We were trying to understand.

Youth today are curious too. They’re seeing more because there’s more material and easier access to explicit content than we had at that age. Unfortunately, that isn’t something that we can change. I knew more about sex at a younger age than my parents had…and they probably knew more than their parents. Depending on our kids’ ages and situations, we can limit their exposure to porn for a time. But at some point they’re going to get on the Internet. And if they want to find porn they will. And I think the best tool we can give them is a whack-ton of real-world information about sex, so that porn isn’t the only influence.

Daubrey does conclude with cursory call for parents to teach their kids that  that real sex “is not about lust, it’s about love.

So, I agree with the spirit but I don’t love the phrasing.Lust and love aren’t mutually exclusive. And personally I’m not interested in judging the rightness or realness of  people’s sex based on how much of either is involved. I want to teach my child to  honour his own ethics when it comes to sex. I want him to understand their options when it comes to safer sex and if it applies, contraception. I want him  to understand why respect, consent and care for our sexual partners is essential. I want them to know that sex isn’t about being normal and doing what everyone else is doing, it’s about doing what feels good, what feels right for the people involved. And yes I will try to teach him about love and lust, just not as an either/or proposition. And finally, I will try my best to teach him to look at media with a critical eye, so hopefully he can distinguish between reality and a carefully crafted performance.

The very last sentence of Daubrey’s article tells us to communicate with our children.  “By talking to them, they stand a chance”.

At least we agree on something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret that anxiety has affected my sex life in a major way. It’s hard going at times, but I get by with a little help from my friends. My good pal, Natalie Joy also lives with an anxiety disorder. She dropped by the Adorkabode and we had some great girl-chat about living and loving with a mental illness.

 

Some things – like the dang flippin’ cold this summer – are out of our control. That’s okay. Because we can be all self-determined like with things like managing our sexual risk factors.

Actor Michael Douglas recently revealed that his oral cancer has been linked to the presence of HPV. Since everyone was talking about it, I figured I would too.

BTW, in the video I mention that there is no cure for HPV. I should clarify that there’s no medical cure; however, in some cases a person’s immune system can fight the infection on its own.

 

A few weeks ago, a dude known by the Twitter handle Grawly, gained the dubious distinction of being the first person to live tweet his visit to the emergency room after getting a vibrator stuck in his rectum. The Internets labelled Grawly an oversharer, but I disagree. Grawly a.k.a Rude Ass Robot (apt!) did us a solid. In my opinion we don’t chat about anal sex nearly enough. Fact is, lots of people  from all walks of life enjoy doing it bumwise. But in order to have safe, healthy anal experience there are special considerations, not the least of which is the design of the tools you’re using.

A brief anatomy lesson

There are two anal sphincters. The outer one – that puckery sweet spot between the bum cheeks – is pretty much under our control and can be contracted or relaxed at will. The second, internal sphincter lies just inside the body. That buddy is more of an independent thinker. You can coax it into opening up for you during anal penetration, but generally speaking it’s a strong little sucker that likes to grab hold of objects and can close up tight.

Also? The anus and rectum are one end of the digestive tract – a long, open system. If an object goes too far up the ass, there isn’t a natural barrier to stop it. So shape matters. If you want to avoid Grawly’s fate, make sure the anal object of your choice shaped in such a way that it won’t get pulled up into your body because once it’s in there, you’re only option is to go the @Grawly route and head to the hospital.

Red Light!

Generally speaking, putting anything up your bum that has uniform width is risky business. Long, tube-y shaped things are great for sex play but not in the back yard.

Once these are in the rectum, it’s very difficult to stop them from sliding in further. If sphincter number two gets grabby or lube (which you should absolutely have back there) makes things extra slippery, these type of toys can very easily get stuck in your body.

Green Light!

Fortunately there are many anal-friendly options that provide great stimulation without needing a search party on standby. Toys with a retrival device such as a ring or an external battery pack give you a literal lifeline, should things go a bit too far up there.

 

 

Dual stem vibes (think of the famous Rabbit Pearl) are a pretty good option as long as one the shafts stay outside the body. Also, toys with a pronounced curve are unlikely to stray to far too far a field.

By BMS Factory, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Dildos and vibes with a flared base are classic, go-to anal toys. If your plaything of choice has a big, pancake-style circle on the bottom it’s specially designed to go safely inside your bottom.

 

And course when it comes to bum sex, our bodies or those of our partners are stellar combination of form and function. No matter how intense you’re unlikely unlike to lose an entire person in your ass…unless it’s metaphorically!

So props to Grawly for sharing his pain and remind the rest of us that when it comes to anal sex, it pays to play safe!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: James Glover via Compfight cc

Confession:  I haven’t been having much sex lately.

I know that many people experience ebbs and flows of libido. Mine has been in a prolonged period of ebb…long enough that I know there’s some underlying cause. What is it? I’ve been thinking about it. A lot. The Man of Mans and I have talked about it at length. I began writing about it a few times, then back out.  Truth is…I was embaraased. I was afraid to admit that despite all of my professional experience, when it comes to my own sexual issues, I don’t have the answers.

I don’t know anything. I don’t know for certain why I’m less inclined to sex these days. But I’ve cobbled together a working theory that it’s related to some changes go beyond what happens in my bedroom.

Two summers ago, I was hit by the sudden onset of depression. I didn’t understand it. My life with brimming with great things. My marriage and my child. I was playwriting, blogging and working a dream job in sex ed.  I was training for a half-marathon, keeping a full social calendar and enjoying the company of dear friends. There was so much awesome, I barely had time for more than four hours of sleep a night!  It was tiring, but it was worth it!  I was doing it all and I pulling off…until, I wasn’t.  Suddenly, I was breaking down. Neither my body, nor my mind could keep up with the pace I’d set for myself.  I became strangely sad and withdrawn. I was overcome by  fatigue. I didn’t understand what was wrong, but I knew I needed help.

Fast forward to the present. I’m lucky. I’ve been able to access great support through doctors, a therapists and loving community of friends and family. I’ve done a bunch of self-exploration and made few subtle but profound discoveries. I realized the jammed-packed life I was leading was the manifestation of a life-long habit of multitasking and flitting from one activity to another.  I’ve always felt the need to keep my mind super-busy.  Not in the lofty sense of being an avid learner or great thinker, but as protection. I don’t cope well with quiet or stillness. As I kid, I was always buried in books, pretend-play, projects and anything else that would keep my mind occupied. I never wanted to stop, because when I did,  feelings would come.  Feelings I didn’t understand, didn’t like and didn’t know how to deal with. So I learned to avoid them by creating endless distractions.

I still have the same struggle today. When I’m not immersed in an activity, I’m forced to stop, to think and to feel things I don’t like. Stillness is pretty intimidating prospect for me.

When I look at my sexual history, I see those same behaviour patterns at play.  Sex was always best for me when there was a lot going on. Constantly stimulation. Deep, involved fantasy.  A lot of noise. Anything too slow, too quiet or too tender created a prime opportunity for those uncomfortable emotions to break through.  Getting into the deep feels during naked time always left me feeling way too vulnerable to do anything other than cry. And crying was definitely not on my list sexy things.

But thing thing is those uncomfortable emotions are there.  Like every one else on earth, I’ve been hurt and battle-scarred from life. For a long time, distraction was easier than dealing with the pain. It’s still easier. But I’m beginning to realize that just because it’s easy and familiar, that doesn’t mean it’s good for me. I’m older . My frenetic habits are taking a bigger toll both physically and psychologically. This all started when I was a child. Back then I didn’t know what else to do. Now I’m a grown woman and I can deal with my shit.  I can take care of myself.

I’m trying. I try to quiet down and let the pain do its thing. I’m not very good at it. My busy-making impulses are part of who I am. More often than not, I fill my head and my life with stuff that block out the pain. But I do manage the occasional moment of stillness, where I sit and breathe and let those deep-down feelings float up through all my mental floatsam to the surface. It’s unpleasant. I get anxious. Sometimes I cry.  Still, I find I don’t hate it as much as I once did. These past couple of months, I’ve started wanting that quiet confrontation with my pain. It’s yucky but when it’s over, there a peaceful moments and I feel a little happier.

I think these experiences might be affecting my sex drive.  I suspect my desires  around sex are changing. These days I’m less inclined towards the busy, somewhat frantic glut of sensation I used to want. I’m interested something that’s a little calmer, less rooted in fantasy and more connected to the present reality. But at the same time I’m intimidated by that prospect. It’s new, beyond my present comfort zone and my body is holding back a bit. I suspect this is one of those situations, where I need to tread slowly into new sexual territory. “Be gentle” with myself, as my shrink likes to say. I’m trying, but it’s hard not feel like there’s something wrong with me or that I’m failing on some level.

I definitely don’t feel like a sex expert in my own life. This stuff is HARD, yo!

Yesterday evening, I took some time to meditate. It was a rough-shot attempt, but it did sometthing. Feelings were triggered. Tears were shed.  When the crying stopped, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that I was wanting sex with both my partner and myself. My libido hasn’t left me. It’s just changing. It’s a shit ton of stuff to figure out.  But it’s my job to take care of myself, so I’m willing to patient and give myself the time I need to figure it all out.

 

The other night my pal stepc brought my attention to the following news item via Twitter. It’s a quick read but if you’re pressed for time, the gist is this:

Cathy Sanders, the mother of a 13-year-old Nanaimo boy objects to the distribution of an animated flip book in her son’s grade 8 class room. The book, produced by Catie.ca and distributed by AIDS Vancouver Island features an explicit demonstration of a woman putting a condom on her erect partner’s penis and having sex with him.  According to the article, Ms. Sanders is pissed about the graphic nature of the pamphlet and the fact that it apparently upset her kid quite a bit.

(If you’d like to see for yourself, check out Ian A Martin’s latest blog post.  He turned the flipbook in to a pretty nifty animated gif. As I said, it’s graphic, so exercise necessary discretion when clicking through.)

I have to admit that when I first read the article, my initial reaction was ‘Bah! It’s not that big a deal. Cathy Sanders is uptight, overprotective and blowing this thing WAY out of proportion!‘.  I even composed a tweet to that effect. But as I looked over my 140 characters snark, I thought, ‘Hold up there, Judgey!‘ . Sanders may be affronted by flip-book sex but I have my own set of biases…

  • I am building a career predicated on the belief that frank, open and explicit communication about sexual health and pleasure are a good thing. Not everyone shares that belief.
  • I’ve worked in the sexual health/pleasure field for several years. Graphic depictions of sexstuffs have become normal and commonplace for me. This isn’t the case for most people.
  • I’ve spent the last three years of my sex education career working with youth. I know that many teenagers are sexually aware. I’ve become extremely comfortable with the reality that teens may be sexually active and may have sexual partners. But sexual readiness comes at different times for different people. Just because many of the youth I’ve encountered have been interested in sex that doesn’t mean this woman’s son felt the same way.

I’m also biased because I’ve spent a lot of my career advocating in favour of sex education for youth that goes beyond the telling them how sex will get them pregnant or sick. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy defending against the type of inflammatory rhetoric that calls a museum exhibit pornographic or claims that comprehensive sex ed curriculum will “teach kids how to have anal sex”.

So I read the article and because of my biases, my first impulse was to get defensive. But then I thought a little more. I thought, ‘This woman probably loves her son and wants what she feels is best for him.‘ I thought about how it might feel to be confronted by your troubled child and a cartoon erection if you weren’t expecting either of those things. I thought about parents and the type of messages we’re given about the role we’re supposed to play in our children’s sexual education.

I don’t feel the pamphlet was pornographic nor would I say that it was categorically age-inappropriate for 13-year-olds. But it may have been age-inappropriate for this particular 13-year-old, or at least unsettling. And when I stop to consider his mother’s position I do feel some sympathy for her. ‘Cause in my experience, parents are primed on exactly three types of sex talks: The Birds, The Bees and The BasicsYour Body Is Going Through Some Changes; and finally Only Have Sex When You Are Ready (You Are NOT Ready!) Son, Let’s Talk About This Naked Flip Book And Why It’s Bothering You, isn’t in the parents’ sex talk playbook. For the most part, we’re told it’s our job to dissuade our kids from having sex. So while I disagree with Ms. Sanders’ characterization of the book, I can sympathize a bit too.

As I was discussing this article on Twitter and later with The MoMs, I realized that as much as I talk and teach about sex, I rarely talk about sex education as part of parenting. And I think I need to change that. Yes, I have a certain level of factual knowledge. But how to convey that information to my son? I know my role when I walk into a classroom or workshop. What is my role as a parent?

Like most parents, ultimately I want my son to grow into a healthy, happy, decent human being. I know that as an adult his sexuality will most likely affect that health and happiness. But what do I say? How do I impart my ethical belief that everyone has the right to make their own choices about their own bodies, when my parental instincts are already hollering at me to MAKE HIM WEAR A CONDOM!?

If he chooses to be sexuality active, long-term I want him to enjoy those experiences without shame or fear. But if it turns out he’s straight, there’s a reasonable chance I’m going to ruin is early dating life by screaming “DON’T GET ANYONE PREGNANT!” every time he’s with a girl.

I want to tell him that he should have sex when he feels ready? But if he asks me, “Mum, how do I know when I’m ready?”, I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know if that’s my question to answer.

All of this to say, that it’s hard. Parenting means flying blind most of the time, especially when it comes to sex. I guess this blog post is my way of sending out a signal. Tell me, fellow parents, how do you feel about sex-educating your kids? Do you have fears, issues you feel ill-equipped to deal with? Do your emotions and the instinct to protect your young ever clash with your general belief system?

It’s sobering to realize how quick to judgement I can be. It can be far too easy to position myself as the enlightened sex expert in these situations. But while our boundaries may differ, Cathy Sanders is probably a loving, well-intentioned parent who found herself in a situation she probably didn’t know how to handle. I can sympathize with that, because I’ve been there…and I will be again.

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in North America. Communicable illnesses are a part of life. We can get sick from sharing food, from sharing space and sometimes from having sex. Infections aren’t ideal, but heaping extra stigma on STIs just because they result from sex, seems irrational, mean and all kinds of negative.

One in four of us will contract a sexually transmitted infection in our lifetime. For many of us that infection will be chlamydia. So kick back and relax, while I hit you with a few chlamydia facts! *

What is it?

Chlamydia is a bacterial STI, caused by microscopic shit-disturbers known as Chlamydia tracomatis. Chlamydia infects the cervix in females or the urethra in males. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to further complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease, epididymitis and in some cases infertility.

How is it transmitted?

Chlamydia can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be passed from an infected parent to a baby during a vaginal delivery. Using safer sex barriers like condoms and dental dams can help reduce spread of Chlamydia.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of chlamydia are burning or pain during urination, abdominal pain, pain during during intercourse, fever and cloudy white discharge. (Pro-tip: The discharge is different from the normal ejaculate/discharge that comes out of our fun bits.)

Now here’s the important thing about chlamydia and symptoms. Chlamydia is super-weasely. Most people with the infection won’t present any symptoms at all – especially when the infection is in the cervix.  Fortunately, medical-types can screen for the infection with either a swab or urine test.  If you’re sexual active, you can arrange for testing through your regular health professional or pay a visit to a sexual health centre. In Ottawa, you can also download your own requisition form and take it directly to a testing lab.

How is it treated?

Chlamydia can be cured with course of oral antibiotics. Most health care professionals will tell you that it’s very important to complete the entire course of medication. They often direct patients to lay off the sexin’ until a week or so after they’ve finished their antibiotics, just to be on the safe side.

What else should I know?

Performing oral sex on an infected partner can sometimes lead to a chlamydia infection in the throat. Also touching an infected area and then touching the eyes can cause a nasty eye infection, which left untreated may lead to blindness.

Chlamydia testing is not part of a routine pap smear.

If you test positive for chlamydia it is highly recommended that your sexual partners be tested as well. Sometimes public health practitioners will ask for partners’ contact information so they can give them the heads up that they should come in for testing.

There are other strains of Chlamydia, some which affect humans and some that can be found in other animals, such as koalas. (Shout out to Younes for that fascinating fact!)

* FYI, I’m not a doctor or any kind of medical authority. I strongly suggest you based any health-related decision on the advice of a trained professional.