Most of us went through one or more mind-numbing rounds of sexual education in high school or before. Let’s face it: sex ed was almost certainly awful if you weren’t cisgender and heterosexual.
So, here’s the scoop on queer-inclusive safer sex. Full disclosure: I’m not an expert, just a journalist with expert Googling skills and an interest in public health.
A note on the language: I have tried to avoid gendered and heteronormative language here as much as possible. I know that everyone has a different view of what to call their own body parts and the safer sex supplies they use and I cannot possibly cover the range of words people use. In that vein, I have chosen to use more clinical, formal terminology instead of slang terms.
Some of the websites I link to use gendered language. These are, largely, beyond my control, and I disapprove of such gendered language. However, the information contained in them is valid and the sites themselves are reputable.
To Begin: Lubricant
If your sex ed was anything like mine, you didn’t learn the importance of lube. Lube is absolutely necessary to keep sex from hurting (especially penetrative sex) and sex should not hurt.
But the kind of lube you use matters as well. Oil-based lube will break down latex barriers. Silicon and water-based lubes are better if you’re using a barrier, but water-based lubes can evaporate quickly, and silicon-based lubes can degrade silicon sex toys.
Barriers in General
Barriers include dental dams, condoms, finger condoms, and gloves. These are any physical object that you can place between the parts involved in sex. Barriers are, in many cases, preferable to other forms of contraceptives because they protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy.
Dental dams are good if you’re having sex that doesn’t involve a penis. Mouth-on-vagina, mouth-on-anus, vagina-on-vagina, vagina-on-anus are all perfect times to use dental dams.
A dental dam (essentially a large piece of latex or other material that can be spread over an orifice) can be made out of a cut-up condom, a glove, or a piece of non-microwave plastic wrap.
To make one out of a condom, cut the tip of the condom off and then make a cut from the bottom to the top of the condom. Voila! For a glove, cut off all the fingers and then make a slice up one side. Again … voila!
If you’re using a piece of plastic wrap, make sure you use non-microwave wrap. Microwave-safe wrap has small perforations in it that can let microscopic disease particles through. Spread the plastic wrap between the organs involved and have fun.
And, if need be, the Health Education Outreach office on campus gives out premade dental dams.
External condoms, those ubiquitous symbols of safer sex, are incredibly important if your preferred sex acts involve a penis.
There are so many fun external condoms. So, so many. There are condoms that glow in the dark. There are external condoms that have a “roomy, stimulating pouch” on them. External condoms with ribbing. External condoms with and without lube. Vegan external condoms, if that’s your thing. There’s a huge selection.
The CDC has an in-depth fact sheet on how exactly to put on an external condom. The high points: make sure there’s a space at the tip of the condom to use as a reservoir for semen, and don’t use oil-based lubricants since they can break down the latex in the condom.
The HEO offers a large selection of external condoms.
Internal condoms go inside the orifice in question for vaginal or anal sex. (They are often called “female condoms.”) These condoms can be worn longer prior to sex than external condoms can, which may be useful to some. They also are always made of materials other than latex in case of allergy.
Internal condoms can be found at the HEO.
Finger Condoms and Gloves
Finger condoms are smaller, finger-sized condoms, usually lacking in lube. Gloves are your standard latex gloves. Both protect your fingers during sex. Both are available at HEO.
The one thing my rounds of sex ed did get right was to talk about HIV. Then, inevitably, they veered away from the right path and adopted the mid-90s tact of “HIV is a death sentence, but if you’re a good straight kid you won’t get it.”
But it’s 2017 so we might as well face it: anyone can get HIV if they engage in “risky behaviors,” namely, unprotected sex and injection drug use. There are, however, ways to reduce your risk.
Beyond condoms, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, essentially by flooding your bloodstream with anti-HIV drugs so the virus can’t take hold in your body. It’s not a vaccine — you have to take a pill everyday — but research shows that it works. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health offers resources on where to get PrEP and how to pay for it.
The CDC recommends that everyone get tested for HIV at least once and that people at “higher risk” get tested at least once a year. On campus, the Queer Resource Center (QRC) holds free HIV testing the first Wednesday of the month from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the HEO holds free HIV testing every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Testing is also available for $20 at SHS.
If you are HIV-positive, there are community resources. The QRC and SHS both provide resources, as do local non-campus organizations such as the Foothill AIDS Project and clinics through the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
Birth control — or its formal name, “hormonal contraceptives” — is amazing if you can get pregnant and don’t want to. Even if avoiding pregnancy isn’t your first priority, birth control can greatly reduce or eliminate your periods and the symptoms that come with them.
There are many forms of birth control; perhaps the best known is the pill. However, the pill must be taken every day at the same time and this can be annoying or cause gender dysphoria for some people. If that’s you, there are other options.
Depo Provera — “the shot” — is a intramuscular injection that happens once every three months. From personal experience, the Depo shot is a miracle. Your period just disappears along with PMS symptoms. It’s a wonder. And it’s available at Student Health Services (SHS).
The drawback of the Depo shot is, of course, that it’s a shot. If you’re needle-averse, you may want to choose a different method.
The implant, also known as Nexplanon or Implanon, works for three years. It’s a small rod that goes into the upper arm and releases hormones over the course of its life. It goes in and you can forget about it for a couple of years.
The downside of the implant is that it can be very expensive — up to $800 — up front if you don’t have insurance. It also is not offered through SHS.
For a really “insert and forget” method, an intrauterine device (IUD) works well. It’s a small plastic or copper “T” that sits in one’s uterus. Depending on the type, an IUD can last up to 12 years. Some brands of IUD have hormones in them, which means they can decrease or stop your period. Some don’t, which is helpful if you can’t tolerate hormonal birth control.
IUDs can also be used as emergency contraception if one is inserted soon enough after sex.
Like the implant, IUDs can be incredibly expensive up front, up to $1000 without insurance. They’re also not available at SHS and must be inserted by a medical professional in an office setting.
There are two main methods of permanent sterilization if you have Fallopian tubes. These are tubal ligation — “tying your tubes” — and transcervical sterilization. The former involves cutting into one’s Fallopian tubes and then tying small knots in them. The latter involves inserting small devices into each of the Fallopian tubes to irritate them and cause scar tissue. Both have a typical failure rate of less than one percent.
If you have testes, the only permanent method of birth control (and only approved method at all, barring condoms) is a vasectomy. A vasectomy involves blocking the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the penis.
Emergency contraception (aka the Morning After pill, Plan B, and a whole host of other names) is a contraceptive that prevents pregnancy by stopping you from ovulating. It can be taken up to 72 hours after sex and is about 75% effective. Emergency contraception does not cause abortion because it cannot affect an already conceived zygote. EC is available from SHS for $20, no appointment necessary, or from the vending machine in the Walker Hall Wellness Room at Pomona.
Abortion, or the termination of pregnancy before birth, is legal in California and parental consent is not required for patients under 18.
There are two kinds of abortions: medical and surgical. A medical abortion is caused by taking pills that first cut off the body’s hormone supply and then cause the uterus to empty itself of its contents.
While you have to go to a clinic to buy the necessary pills, you can take them at home. You can have a medical abortion up to 70 days, or 10 weeks, into your pregnancy.
“Surgical” or “in-clinic” abortion is an umbrella term for several different kinds of procedures. These procedures involve a doctor using suction and/or medical tools to empty the contents of your uterus. Surgical abortions can technically be performed at any point in a pregnancy, but they are more often performed after the cut-off date for medical abortions.
Abortion, obviously, is a contentious topic. Not everyone who has an unwanted pregnancy will have, or even seek, an abortion. Having an abortion makes you no stronger or weaker than someone who decided to carry their pregnancy to term.
If you are pregnant and considering abortion as an option, contact SHS, Planned Parenthood, or another reputable reproductive health provider. The closest Planned Parenthood clinic to campus is in Upland; this clinic does perform abortions.
Your Body, Your Choice
Just because you can have sex doesn’t mean you have to have sex. It’s your body and you have every right to make decisions when and if you have sex.
There is, both in sex ed and violence prevention trainings, an implication that “sexual violence only happens to women” or “sexual violence only happens between a man and a woman.” Anyone can be assaulted and consent is vital regardless of your gender, sexuality, and the gender(s) and sexuality/ies of your partner(s).
Nobody has the right to use your body without your consent. Sex is cool, but it has to be on terms agreed on by all parties. Coerced consent is not consent. Sex that breaks the boundaries set by everyone involved is not consensual.
For many queer people, including myself, it can feel as if nobody can or should love us because of who we are. Oftentimes, we squish ourselves into boxes or try and pretend we’re something we really aren’t because we think it’ll make us more loveable.
I understand the need to do this. I understand the need to fit into a neat socially-prescribed box. And yet that’s not good for anybody.
It’s wearing on your mental health, and if people will only love you because you change yourself to fit their standards, that’s a bad sign.
You deserve to be loved for who you are, not who you can make yourself be. A relationship predicated on concealing your identity is not a relationship built on respect.