Dyspareunia = catchall medical term for “painful intercourse”.
For some of the below conditions, I mean non-penetrative sex in addition to intercourse, and some involve vulva pain in additional to vagina pain.
PS: This list is not exhaustive and is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended as medical advice and should not be a substitute for a visit or a consultation with a healthcare provider.
1. Less than ideal arousal
During sexual arousal, the vagina expands in length and width, while the cervix retracts. Increased blood flow to the genitals (vagina, labia, clitoris) increases sensitivity.
If this physiological process of arousal hasn’t fully transpired before the stimulation and friction of sex begin, ouch feelings can occur. Ouch being the technical term, of course.
2. Less than ideal lubrication
The blood flooding the labia/clit/vagina during arousal phenomenon (vasocongestion) is also responsible for vaginal lubrication. Plasma from the increased blood seeps through the vaginal walls, and this is the primary source of vagina lube.
Whether because arousal/vasocongestion was not enough, or if it’s due to other reasons, not having enough lube to reduce friction in the vagina or around the vulva is painful.
Remember going down a plastic water slide as a kid but there wasn’t enough water and your ass cheeks squealed on the way down, leaving your skin behind? Yeah, it’s like that.
Decreasing estrogen due to menopause make the tissues in your vagina thinner, and the friction on the fine skin can cause pain. Reduced lubrication production can also be a factor during menopause- see above.
From STIs like Chlamydia and Trichomoniasis to UTIs and your garden variety yeast infections, many different infections can cause vaginal and/or vulvar itching, burning, or stabbing pains. Yay!
Vaginas can get angry at certain condoms, lubes, and tampons, and vulvas can get wrathful at some soaps and body washes.
2/3 of folks with endometriosis have some sort of sexual function dissatisfaction, including dyspareunia. It is especially wide spread in those who have endometrial tissue that has replanted itself around the vaginal canal and the pain is often described as sharp and severe.
The intersection of gynecological and gastroenterological pain sensitivity is a thing. I don’t fully understand it, nor does it seem the medical research community, but the correlation is there.
Cysts on the ovaries can crowd the pelvic area and cause pain in the vagina during the rigors of sex, not to mention the hormonal impacts- see above.
I put my hand up to your face, your eyes blink in a protective reflex.
Vaginismus is I put my hand up to your vaginal opening, and it blinks in a protective reflex.
An involuntary muscle spasm, vaginismus makes insertion of a penis, finger, toy, tampon, or gynecological tool damn near impossible, and extremely painful if attempted anyway. It can be caused from trauma, past painful vaginal experiences (so pain begets pain), or nothing at all.
A chronic pain of the vulva around the opening of the vagina with no identifiable cause, in my experience it feels like a knife blade in your vag and it’s horrible.
It’s something I struggled with several years ago, and it was awful. Tampons were impossible. I needed a pediatric speculum for gynecological exams and I still winced. Penetrative sex was bloody and tear-filled.
This was around 2009 or so, and thankfully I had a sex-positive Ob/Gyn who took my complaints seriously and treated me successfully. No more vulvodynia.
And I never heard anyone else talk about it until the past year, and suddenly I’ve met DOZENS of folks who are experiencing chronic vulva pain that has either been diagnosed as vulvodynia, or hasn’t been examined yet but sounds a whole lot like vulvodynia to me.
My guess about the uptick is there's more comfort with talking about vaginas these days and less shame about it.
But talking about it is just the first hurdle. The medical community has been slow to show priority about understanding this condition- where it comes from, why, and how to treat it more effectively.
A rudimentary Google Scholar search yields just 9,000 returns for “vulvodynia”. Comparatively, “erectile dysfunction” yields 208,000, and ED doesn’t feel like one’s penis is being stabbed, so that seems fair, but I digress.
SO WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE VAGINA OUCH?
Make an appointment with your gynecologist. Advocate for yourself. Don’t accept a half-assed answer from the MD or any minimizing of what you are experiencing.
Get tested or ask your doc about pain treatment during an STI outbreak.
Try different positions.
Try different condoms and vulva-friendly body wash.
I’m going to say it again because it bears repeating: USE LUBE!
Talk to your partner. Again, advocate for yourself and what you need (more kissing, sex acts other than penetration, more gentle touches, whatever it may be).
Make an appointment with your favorite sexologist and sexual wellness coach to strategize sexual technique, communication with partner(s) and/or doctors, and emotional management approaches to work through the process.
HERE’S WHAT NOT TO DO:
Yes, these may be explanations, but ultimately sexual activity should NOT hurt, and it doesn’t have to.
Guest post by Takeallah Rivera.
Oftentimes, when “sex education” and “sex positivity” is mentioned, people immediately think of preteens and teenagers. It is time to change that!
It is possible to use age-appropriate tactics to promote sex positivity among small children! If there can be a national Head Start program for toddlers to prepare for college, there is no reason why they should not get a “head start” on learning about sex, bodies, and autonomy! Here are three ways we can promote sex positivity among toddlers:
Use Anatomically Correct Terms
It is very uncommon to hear the anatomically correct terms for genitals- “down there” seems to be the most widely used term at parks, playgrounds, and preschools.
Using “cutesy” words to describe body parts not only creates confusion about our anatomies , but also creates a sense of shame around bodies and sexuality. Normalizing words such as “penis, vulva, vagina, breasts, nipples, and anus” enables toddlers to learn at an early age that body parts are not shameful and prevents stigma from being formed about bodies.
Furthermore, if instances were to arise, a child would be fully capable of communicating to a trustworthy adult about the encounter; for example, a child stating “I was touched on my vulva” is more clear than saying “I was touched where the sun doesn’t shine”, which could mean an armpit, a foot, or a shoulder.
Teach Your Toddler About Consent- Then Practice What You Preach!
Consent is the most important concept of comprehensive sex education, and normalizing consent is the first step in creating sex positive children.
Consent can be applied to any scenario- from the dinner table to the playground. Encourage your children to develop boundaries by asking them questions, such as “How did you feel when (insert friend/sibling’s name here) did that?” and “Did you say it was okay for (insert friend/sibling’s name here) to touch you?”
Asking these questions allows for children to assess their own feelings and to create solutions to issues that arise, rather than a parent/guardian/caregiver to dictate solutions.
Parents, you aren’t off the hook! This applies to you as well!
After you teach your toddler about consent, practice what you preach! Get into the habit of asking your toddler “Would you like a hug?” “Is it okay if I pick you up?” “May I have a kiss?”
It is natural to want to console an upset toddler, but asking for consent to enter a child’s space further promotes autonomy with your little ones.
*Also, for the love of all things feminist, please don’t force your children to hug or kiss strangers or other family members.*
Choose A Pediatrician and Dentist With Feminist Values
Ahh, the doctor’s office. A place where many parents come in with high hopes and leave flustered, embarrassed, and frazzled.
Well-Child Check-ups can be nerve-wrecking for toddlers. In an examination room, a toddler can feel outnumbered, overpowered, and vulnerable, which can lead to a less than cooperative patient and an unpleasant experience.
Select a physician and dentist who engage directly with your child (instead of talking over them and only engaging with the parent), such as stating “I am going to check your vulva/penis now, if that is okay” or “Can you open your mouth so I can check to see if your teeth are healthy and strong?”
A doctor and/or dentist who values your child as a patient and an individual is key in building trust and alleviating anxiety when it is time for a check-up.
Let’s set our youth up for success! It is never too early to teach children about boundaries and their bodies!
Takeallah Rivera is a Full Spectrum Doula, Reproductive Justice Activist, Writer, Childbirth and Breastfeeding Educator, and Survivor. Through her work as a Doula and Educator in her community, she continues to advocate for reproductive justice and education equity. You can find her at www.takeallahrivera.com.
This list is not exhaustive, and is in no particular order.
Gender Reveal Parties
Ask my friends, I love throwing themed parties, so in that way I get the attraction. But it needs to die in 2018.
First of all, gender is a complex social, cultural, and personal identity so you can’t reveal a fetus’ gender, especially not by looking at their genitals.
Also, we know that strict, binary gender assignments and rules about what boys like and what girls like causes a lot of harm.
It harms trans kids, gender non-binary kids, every little girl who got made fun of for wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirts in the 1st grade because TMNTs are for boys (ahem), every little boy who got made fun of because he painted his fingernails or liked to dance, and every single human whose personality and interests are more nuanced and complicated than “trucks or tutus” (Psst- this is every human being!)
As for the Guns or Glitter cake? You're killing me with this!! The fun of alliteration does not outweigh the WTF factor of reducing your child to either a deadly violent machine or something pretty to look at before they are even born.
“Playing Devil’s Advocate” and “Giving the Benefit of the Doubt”
95% of the time I hear this, it’s a rapist, sexual abuser, street harasser, or slut-shamer who is benefiting from your doubt. Believe survivors in 2018. The devil doesn’t need or deserve advocates.
Body Shaming Strangers on the Internet
Stealthily taking a photo of a person you see out in public and then posting it online so you can make cruel jokes about the way their body looks is one of the most heinous things you can do to someone- even though they are unlikely to ever see it or know about it. It’s that bad.
A Playboy model was convicted and sentenced this year for doing it, leaving me hopeful this nasty trend will not be coming with us into 2018.
Calling Vulvas “Vaginas”
The vagina is an internal organ- the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the world. The vulva is the fleshy part you see between the legs made up of the labia, clitoris, and other fun bits.
They are two distinctly different body parts with distinctly different functions, locations, and names, and yet, people casually use the word vagina for both.
If you don’t call testicles a penis, because “whatever you know what I mean”, and you can distinguish between the geographically close but very very different anus and buttocks, then you can do the same for vagina and vulva.
Leave linguistically erasing half the world’s genitals in 2017. Thanks.
DON’T DO THIS! You know why.
Using Children as an Excuse to Deny Adults The Right to do Adulty Things
I want to protect children as much of the next person. Personally, I want to protect them by giving them free healthcare and a quality public education in a school where they don’t have to worry about being murdered by an Angry Man with a gun.
But far too many people’s idea of “protecting children” is pretending sexuality doesn’t exist.
This is actually counterproductive, but fine, you want to shield your kid from reality, you do you. But now you want to shield ADULTS from seeing, doing, and enjoying adulty things? No.
You don’t get to ban books, not fund research, censor films, shut down sex stores, outlaw same-sex marriage, criminalize prostitution, and force trans people from taking a piss in their bathroom because you don’t know how to communicate with your children.
“But think of the children!” and “Well how am I going to explain ___ to my kids?!” can stay the fuck in 2017. Bye.
Wear the short shorts. Buy the huge butt plug. Rock your small penis. Embrace your hairy nipples. Tell him how you want to be fucked. Keep a box of tampons on your desk. Whatever.
Rude Dating Behavior
Maybe I’m old, but I’m of the opinion that dating is supposed to be, now hear me out- about having a good time and getting to know someone as a potential romantic partner.
Literally the farthest you can get from that premise, dating is now a vehicle for abusing people and showing a potential romantic partner the very worse you have to offer.
- Saying “hi” “hi” “hey” “what’s up” a million times in a row.
- Making obscene sexual remarks within seconds of meeting.
- Sending unsolicited photos of your genitals.
- Being verbally abusive when someone declines a date.
- Making a date with dozens of people and then ditching some when someone better comes along.
- Generally treating people like they are disposable and being careless with their emotions.
Leave it all in 2017.
Pissing on People’s Pleasure and Joy
Life is generally shitty and painful. Its death, greed, strife, disease, and Donald Trump, punctuated with fleeting moments of joy- a pumpkin spiced latte here, an orgasm there.
You’d think people would want to support and encourage others who have managed to, through the abysmal hellscape we call existence, carve out a slice of pleasure for themselves. But no.
Instead, whenever something comes along that people enjoy and isn't hurting anyone- make-up tutorials, unicorn fads, selfies, avocado toast, Pokemon Go- other people gotta come in and piss on it.
If the joy comes from anything remotely sexual- lower back tattoos, twerking, crop tops, one night stands- the piss comes in the form of slut-shaming.
Why do we hate to see other people have pleasure so much?
JUST LET PEOPLE ENJOY THINGS IN 2018!
I originally published this 4 years ago on December 6, 2013 on tumblr, where it's been viewed over 150,000 times. The subject of this blog and I decided I need to publish it again here, now.
With the #MeToo movement and revelations and accusations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape being made against the world's biggest stars on the daily, I've seen people on social media questioning:
"Why are these alleged victims only now coming out about this 10, 20, 30, even 40 years after the fact?? If it really happened, why didn't they report it at the time??"
This story will show you exactly why they didn't report it at the time. If you're someone who has asked that question and you actually want to understand why, read on. It's a 17 minute read. It would serve you well to take the time.
A regular client turned good friend was sexually assaulted and asked me if I would go with her to the police station to make the report. Here is what happened.
Things to note:
1. There may be some triggers around sexual assault, victim blaming, and incompetent police officers.
2. My friend gave me permission to write this and actively encouraged me to do so, as a learning opportunity for all of you. However her name has been changed to LC for this post.
The assault occurred in a different state than where we live, so we made plans for a few days away as evening work schedules allowed for us to make the drive. In the interim, LC bravely posted about it on her facebook page, letting her extended family and friends know what happened.
Already I knew this was going to be a harrowing experience for her because in response, she received dozens of well-intentioned but totally awful and counterproductive comments.
After a violent experience, the last thing many assault survivors want to hear about is more violence, but there was the “let’s kill him! Let’s kick his ass!” comments about the attacker, which serve the commenter’s fantasies for revenge far more than they serve LC, the person the comment is supposedly trying to help.
There was also the ill-advised attempt at optimism with the comment “just be thankful you weren’t raped” and the ever popular “why aren’t you over it yet?” I cringed at “If it was me, I wouldn’t have let it bother me that much, but that’s just my strong personality, I guess?”
It’s amazing that as common as sexual assault is and as many people we all know who have experienced it, people are largely still clueless about how to be a friend to someone who has been victimized.
For the record, creating a hierarchy of assaults of which you have decided their assault is not the worst, and telling them how they should best handle their trauma based on how you would, especially when you have never actually experienced sexual trauma = bad.
LC incidentally had a date which she had to cancel. This was with a man she had not yet met in person, but had met online and had been chatting with on the phone and via text for a month or so. I thought she was more than gracious when she texted him:
I don’t know if you saw my facebook, and please don’t take this personally. I was really excited to go out with you and see you but I had a really emotional week and right now I’m just too emotionally exhausted but hopefully we can get together soon.
At first he expressed concern, saying: U ok honey? I didn’t see your facebook.
She said: I’m hanging in there just really emotionally drained :(
He then must have gone to look at her facebook, because he texted back awhile later and the tone had completely changed. He went from concerned to indignant, texting: I’m sorry to see that post. Understand but disappointed… Not all guys are like that babe.
Of all the things a new potential boyfriend could say to such news, this was one of the more obnoxious choices. It’s astounding how he turned HER assault to be about HIM. HE’S disappointed. HE feels the need to defend himself as a man.
He hijacked the conversation to make it such that in addition to everything else LC had experienced and had to contend with in the aftermath of the assault, she now would also have to contend with HIS emotions, HIS disappointment about not seeing her when he wanted to, HIS fragile ego around masculinity (because apparently being emotionally drained after being sexually assaulted by a man is in and of itself an attack on all men such that in a 16 word text, 7 of them need to be spent defending men). AHHHHH!
After hearing all of this, and in thinking about our trip to the police station, I decided that I would rather be with LC as her friend, not as the sexologist/activist around sexual violence. But I did want such a person there, so on the day we went to the police, I did a google search for the crime victims center in the state/county/town where the assault occurred.
Couldn’t find any.
I searched for a rape crisis center. Couldn’t find any.
And I’m someone who knows what they’re looking for. I’m someone who knows about these resources, know that they even exist, and that they provide services like sending a trained advocate to accompany rape and sexual assault survivors to the police station, hospital, and courthouse to be a support person, explain the procedure, answer questions, and make sure things run smoothly and the survivor is being treated fairly by police/doctors/lawyers.
If I had trouble finding help, how hard must it be for people who are not professionals in the field?
Finally I found a general crisis/suicide hotline, called in, and finally got routed to someone who could help. I explained that I would be coming in from out of state with a friend and wanted an advocate to accompany us just to make sure, frankly, the police didn’t act like assholes to LC- that they didn’t blame her, get hostile or aggressive, give her misinformation (for example I had fears that they would say it had been too many days since the attack to make the report, even though that’s not true, etc.)
This woman, we’ll call her KR, asked me if I was comfortable sharing my name and my relationship to LC and when I told her my name, she chuckled.
“Get out! I follow you on facebook. We are all big fans of your work. You’re a big celebrity over here” (referring to the agency she works for doing counseling, education, and advocacy around sexual assault).
I felt good about this. I felt like I had an “in” and that LC would get the care and compassion she needed because I know that people who follow me on the interwebs are good people and sexual assault counselors do amazing work.
KR was helpful and explained the process very thoroughly. She said the advocate on staff that night was amazing and that we’d be in good hands. She explained that rather than meet us at the police station at a set time, we’d have to go to the police first and ask for an advocate, and the police would call them as only the police can dispatch a crime victim’s advocate.
She assured me the police deal with her agency every day, and one member of her staff even has a permanent office in the police station and works there every day. I was feeling very confident about my visit to the police station with LC.
We took the drive from Pennsylvania into the neighboring state and arrived at 9:15pm. We parked in a metered parking spot out front of the police station and look around for signs that would indicate if we need to put money in the meter. Alas, there were no street signs and no sign on the meter itself.
We see a woman in a uniform walk by and LC asks her, “excuse me, do you know if I need to feed the meter right now?” to which she replies, “not at night”.
Seeking further clarification (does “night” mean 10pm? Midnight? Now?) LC asks, “So I’m OK right now?”
The woman barks back “I SAID, not at night. It’s night, ISN’T IT?!”
LC and I just stared at each other wide-eyed at the uncalled for anger on the part of the police officer, but we didn’t say a word and began walking. She was several steps ahead of us and despite the fact that we didn’t even say anything, she turned around to continue the conversation, adding “Look, I don’t know what your problem is. You asked me if you need to feed the meter, and I said not at night, AND IT’S NIGHT!”
LC just said “Ok thank you” and we continued on our way.
“Oh, my god” I said to LC under my breath after the officer was out of earshot. “This is not off to a great start”, which I said half-jokingly, because an interaction with a cranky cop about parking has nothing to do with how we would be treated by a detective when reporting a sexual assault- until it did, and we went inside and found out the cranky cop was the person we needed to talk to :/
The station was… well, it looked like this:
Poorly lit, dingy, unwelcoming, and cold in every sense of the word.
LC went to the tiny corner to the left, picked up the black phone to speak with the cranky officer through the Plexiglas, and was told an officer would be out in a moment to take her statement.
Not long after a man wearing baggy jeans and a too-big un-tucked polo shirt sauntered over, walking slowly, with an attitudinal swagger, pushed open the blue door, stuck his head out and asked “who wants to report an assault?”
You have got to be kidding me.
LC says, “I do, but first, could you please call an advocate?” doing exactly as I told her I was instructed to do from KR earlier.
I’ll do my best to describe his face at that moment. In slow motion, he dramatically cocks his head to one side so that it’s almost touching his shoulder while at the same time scrunching his eyebrows to make an overstated look of bewilderment and says, “Huh?” (Yes, HUH! Very professional.)
hen he asks… “What’s an advocate?”
Once again. You have GOT to be kidding me.
I interject, “You know, from the XYZ agency, you dispatch an advocate to sit in while crime victims make reports… you have one on staff here…”
He says, “I ain’t never heard of such a thing in my life.”
And I’m about to hit the roof.
He continues “I don’t know why you’d need one of those anyway. You just tell me your story, I type it up, and you go on your merry way.”
Correction, he goes on his “merry” way. LC goes on to deal with months of court dates, and interviews, and cross examining, and trial hearings, and being poked and prodded by nurses, and having to relive a hellish experience again and again and again. There is nothing “merry” about this.
LC says, “But I don’t just want to make a statement, I want to press charges. But I want to wait for an advocate” and this guy, with his head sticking out through the cracked open door while we stand in the cold and dirty public lobby, continues to say he has no clue what we’re talking about.
I finally just said curtly, “Give us a minute please” and I got on the phone to call the XYZ agency’s crisis hotline that I had called earlier.
The responder shared my frustration that these police who work every day with their agency and have been through multiple trainings about their services would claim to have no knowledge of it. But then the breakdown continued.
Me: So I know this is not your typical protocol, but since the police won’t dispatch an advocate, can you just send one here anyway?
Her: I’m sorry, we don’t have an advocate on staff this evening.
Me: But I spoke with KR today and she assured me my friend was in good hands and that there is a person on staff tonight and she’s very good. What happened to that person?
Her: I’m sorry. I can’t give out that person’s contact information.
Me: I’m not looking for anyone’s contact information, I just want the advocate KR said would come to the police station tonight. Do you know KR?
Her: Yes I do, but she is home for the evening. You’ll have to call back tomorrow morning.
Me: Not good enough. We are from Pennsylvania and we drove here tonight. We’re at the police station. She’s ready to make this statement. The police have already been rude and unprofessional and I just don’t feel comfortable doing this without an advocate.
Her: I’m so sorry. But there just isn’t anyone here who can help you.
Me: So you’re a crisis center that can’t help someone in a crisis?
Her: Please hold.
KR is patched through and tells me how appalled she is at the information breakdown from her agency, as well as the treatment from the police thus far. She says she will leave her home 45 minutes away immediately and personally meet us at the police station to handle this herself.
I was so thankful that she was willing to come out late at night to help someone in need even though it was her night off. What a wonderful woman!
As we waited for her I couldn’t help but wonder that if I wasn’t me, if I wasn’t a “celebrity” at this agency, and I didn’t advocate for myself on the phone as strongly as I did, what would have happened? If a person not well-known for their work in the field of sexual violence prevention walked into a police station asking for an advocate and was told by the police there is no such thing, that person would be standing in the lobby telling their story to a dude in street clothes through a half-closed door.
And if they had the wherewithal to call the agency to ask for an advocate directly, the officer’s assertion that there is no advocate would have been corroborated by the woman on the phone at the agency, and that would have been the end of that. I cringe.
While I was on the phone, I could overhear another woman making a report to the guy in the baggy jeans. She stood in the lobby and spoke to him through the blue door he had his head poking out of.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard her say “I’m afraid for my life” but he just let her stand out there and talk in front of us with no privacy and all body language seemed to say that he couldn’t give a shit less.
I was just so confused by his clothes and demeanor I thought he might be a clerk or something, so after she left I asked him, “are you a police officer?” In response he gives me, “Uh… yeah…” Ugh.
About halfway through the 45 minute wait for KR to arrive, the mean woman police officer behind the Plexiglas beacons LC over. LC walks over and picks up the phone to talk through the glass.
She asks, “what’s your name sweetie?” Encouraged that she might be nice now, LC tells her.
She asks “Do you know the name of your attacker?” LC says, “Yes, but I’d like to wait for my advocate.”
The woman gives her a dirty, annoyed look so LC tells her his name. Then with a raised voice and aggressive attitude, her entire demeanor changes and she asks, “How old are you?!” LC tells her. “Where do you live?!” LC tells her.
Learning she’s from out of state, she says, “We’re going to do things OUR way, the way we do them here. Look, if you want to have some “special” treatment and wait for some “special” person, no. We’re going to do things OUR way.”
With exasperation, LC said in a voice begging for mercy, “Please, I just want to wait for my advocate.”
And the cop snapped back, “WATCH YOUR TONE!” LC just hung up the phone and sat back down in the lobby.
LC just kept saying to me, “This is why people don’t report. This is why sexual assault is so under-reported.”
And she’s right. I found LC's resilience during this ordeal remarkable because she had been mistreated by not just the assailant, but also almost every single person she has had contact with since including her friends, her date, the police, and the rape crisis agency- all people who are supposed to be on her side.
When KR arrived she brought the uplifting energy the space needed. She was calm, and kind, and compassionate. She apologized again for the misinformation I was given on the phone by her agency. She asked LC how she’s feeling and listened for a good 20 minutes about how difficult this has all been. Then she explained the options from that point. She didn’t tell her what to do, or even make recommendations. She simply explained the pros and cons of column A and column B, and empowered LC to make her own decision. YES! Finally. THIS is how you engage with a survivor. 1. LISTEN 2. LISTEN.
LC decided to go to the hospital because making the statement at that awful police station, and having them take evidence photos of the bruises on her body was out of the question at that point. But there was another problem.
The state has a law about how many hours after an assault takes place a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) can examine a survivor, and the clock had run out by just a few hours. This is one example where an advocate is so important, because KR was able to call ahead to the hospital, explain the situation, and get them to agree to admit LC.
We drove about 20 minutes to the hospital where LC was assigned a nurse who was very sweet. She did the examination, took photos of the bruises, and took LC’s statement. She brought her food while we waited for police to come and take an official statement in the ER.
Two burly male police officers arrived and were just ok. They did their job. They weren’t perfect (I believe one officer used the phrase “cop a feel” when asking LC about one part of the assault, and other tactless and insensitive remarks.)
They also asked “Did you tell him to get the fuck away?” and “How many times did you verbally tell him to stop?” when in her narrative she described at least a dozen times where she did tell him to stop, to go away, to “leave me alone”, “Whoa there, not cool” and so on.
Not to mention, “NO” is the default setting, so even if she didn’t “verbally tell him to stop”, it’s still a violation and a sexual assault because her mere presence is not an invitation.
But at least they weren’t as bad as the officers back at the station, and LC told them so.
They asked he what she meant, and when she told them how she was treated, they softened their demeanor and left the room.
When they returned, they said they spoke with the Lieutenant who urged us to return to the police station to file a formal complaint with Internal Affairs against those officers, their colleagues, because such behavior was substandard and inexcusable.
In the room at this moment was LC, KR, the two police officers, and me. This is another example of why having an advocate was so helpful. When the police came in to the hospital room they automatically excused KR and I until KR butted in and said “Why don’t we ask LC who she wants in the room”, knowing that in the hours we waited at the ER, LC was adamant that we both stay during the police interview, and empowering LC to make the decision that SHE wants vs. what someone else has decided for her.
Then in walks the doctor. The SANE nurse told us that because she was admitted to the emergency room, LC would have to be seen by a physician before being discharged.
So the doctor comes in and starts asking LC about her medical history and any medications she’s taking, with all of us in the room which I thought was inappropriate. She listens to her heart and all of that, and before leaving looks her in the eyes and says in a heartfelt way, “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
LC seemed happy that in the long string of people who have been shitty to her through this whole ordeal, here was one more person showing the appropriate level of care. But then, the doctor added, “Be careful next time.” Sigh.
KR and I shot looks of dismay at each other as the doctor left the room. Sure. If only LC had been more careful not to exist in the world in a female body, this never would have happened. Unbelievable.
LC was discharged and we made the drive back to the police station where we filled out many Internal Affairs forms with many sympathetic SVU detectives who were not pleased at the treatment LC received the first time around. A formal investigation was opened against the two police officers as well as against LC’s attacker.
We left and I arrived home after 6am. In all, it was about a 10 hour ordeal. I continue to be in awe of LC, and grateful to KR for her compassion and for staying out all night comforting a stranger through an unimaginably hard time. I appreciate the SANE nurse who has a very challenging job and does it with kindness and empathy, and to the two police officers who came to the hospital and stuck their necks out to report their own colleagues’ misconduct because it was the right thing to do.
2017 Where Are They Now
He was arrested and charged with Unlawful Sexual Contact in the First Degree, Class D Felony, and Sexual Harassment in the First Degree; Misdemeanor. If found guilty, he would have to register as a sex offender.
Despite LC being on top of the case, missing work to drive the 4 round trip hours to the police station multiple times for interviews, the languid, apathetic detective on her case missed deadlines and lost paperwork, making him difficult to prosecute.
14 days before trial, he changed his story from "I never did that" to "I did, but she consented." His defense attorney was prepared to present the following as "evidence" that my friend consented:
- she had photos of naked men on her phone.
- while she did say "stop", "leave me alone", "get the fuck away from me", "get out of my room", "don't touch me", and "go away", she didn't actually say the word "no".
- also, she was sexually assaulted as a kid, so she was just confused and mixing stuff up.
The prosecutor told LC that given these victim-blaming, slut-shaming strategies (and the fact that his wealthy parents secured one of the best defense attorneys in the state), he would probably win with a jury trial.
Cases are decided by a jury of our peers and unfortunately for people victimized by sexual violence, our peers were raised in a culture that victim-blames and slut-shames. The prosecutor recommended offering an even lesser charge; Offensive Touching, a class A misdemeanor with no jail time, no sex offender registration, and it’s expunged after 5 years.
He accepted the plea, the judged sentenced him to a $100 fine and enrollment in an alcohol abuse program. Last I heard, he kept his job and still works as a physical therapist... touching people for a living.
She's applying to graduate school so she can be a counselor and give talks at schools about sexual assault.
She is now in private practice as a trauma-focused psychotherapist. If you're in Philadelphia, you can make an appointment with her here!
Cranky Cop and Swagger Cop
No update. Never head anything regarding the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation.
I admit I once thought positive affirmations were trite, but I got turned on to them when I was given a journal with daily prompts, one of which was writing a daily affirmation. I jotted down things like “I put on sunscreen every day” and “I am patient” and darn it if I didn’t start remembering to put on sunscreen, and somehow found extra patience when feeling frustrated! I began applying it to my business goals, and that’s been working like a charm too.
I’ve since read up and geeked out on the brain science of positive affirmations and now I’m a total convert. Here is what I learned, along with a list of 27 positive sexuality affirmations I created to set you on a path to feeling (and being!) sexuality confident and satisfied:
So evidently our brains change! In actual real, physical ways. So cool!
Our behaviors, environment, thoughts, and emotions can cause the brain to rewire itself, even in adulthood when neural pathways are well-developed, and the key to this, is repetition. Thinking “I am full of sexual energy. I am full of sexual energy. I am full of sexual energy” to ourselves on repeat can actually change our brain to HAVE MORE SEXUAL ENERGY! So there is validity to “fake it til you make it”. Whoa.
Reticular Activating System (RAS)
This is the part of the brain that makes you see sky blue Mazda Miatas everywhere after you decided you want to buy a sky blue Mazda Miata, or makes you notice 3 different people using a certain word the day after you just learned that word.
Apparently our brains receive a shit ton of information from our senses that we don’t need and it gets filtered out of our immediate consciousness. Until we tell our brain that this certain piece of information is actually needed, and then it’s brought to the forefront by our RAS.
So writing “I put on sunscreen every day” makes me more likely to notice the bottle of sunscreen on the counter that I used to walk by on the way out the door. And writing “My genitals are healthy and normal” can make it easier to notice and see opportunities to find beauty and goodness in your genitals where you used to see shame.
Humans strive for psychological consistency, and cognitive dissonance is the discomfort that occurs when we hold two contracting, inconsistent values, beliefs, or behaviors. And because of our distaste for this dissonance, human can do some impressive mental gymnastics and herculean behavioral changes to get consistency again.
This can be great. If you’re saying to yourself “Telling my partner what I want during sex is natural and easy for me”, and your brain is rewiring itself and adopting this as fact (cognition), but you don’t feel confident speaking up for what you want and in fact you’re not telling your partner what you desire (feeling, behavior), there’s a dissonance.
And to resolve it, one of two things can happen- you can believe you’re a liar, a hard pill to swallow, or you can start telling your partner what you want during sex to make your story true and have consistency between thought and action.
Such a powerful tool for sexual behavior change!
The problem is, this can majorly backfire.
There was a study finding that for some people, positive affirmations did change their thinking or behavior. But for other people, it made them feel worse because they resolved their cognitive dissonance by more deeply believing that their negative beliefs were true and that the positive affirmations were a lie instead of the other way around.
The truth is many people resolve cognitive dissonance in toxic ways. Here’s an infuriating example you may recognize:
Belief 1: I’m a good judge of character, and I know Joe Smith to be a good guy.
Belief 2: Sexual assault is bad.
Well when Joe Smith is accused of sexual assault, there’s cognitive dissonance and that psychological discomfort can be resolved in one of two ways:
Changing Belief 1 (“Joe Smith is not a good guy, I judged wrong on this one”) or-
Changing Belief 2 (“I am a good judge of character, so Joe Smith is a good guy, and therefore...” and then convincing themselves sexual assault isn’t that bad, or 14 isn’t that young, or the victim is lying, or deserved it somehow.
Take home message from this research: positive affirmations can help, especially already positive people, when they are part of a broader intervention strategy (therapy, coaching, mindfulness practice) rather than as a stand-alone self-help tool to make sure the change is going in the right direction.
So, given all that, here are my suggestions for making the best use of my list of 27 positive affirmations for sexual confidence:
-Pick 5 or so affirmations that really resonate with you and say them in your head, out loud, or write them down REPEATEDLY. Several times in a row, several times a day, for several days.
-Frame them as positives and in the present tense (I’ve done this work for you) because “I will” or “I want to” aren’t as powerful as “I am” in activating RAS, or so I’ve read.
-Use these in conjunction with other sexual and personal growth work, such as a therapist or sexual wellness coach, like me!
Without further ado:
1. Sexual pleasure is a beautiful gift that I deserve to receive.
2. I explore and embrace my sexual desires.
3. I am sexually generous.
4. I am full of sexual energy.
5. I am grateful for my body and the sexual pleasure it provides me.
6. I exude sexual confidence
7. I am in full control of my sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
8. I live, love, and engage in sexual behaviors according to my values.
9. I communicate successfully with my romantic and sexual partner(s).
10. Telling my partner what I want during sex is natural and easy for me.
11. My bed is a peaceful sanctuary where I feel safe and satisfied.
12. Sexual arousal is a fun process that happens easily for me.
13. I have intense and frequent orgasms that satisfy my body and mind.
14. My genitals are healthy and normal.
15. My genitals function exactly as I want them to and bring intense pleasure to myself and my partner(s).
16. My sex life is exciting and it makes me feel happy to be alive.
17. I develop and maintain meaningful relationships.
18. I am worthy of love and kindness from others.
19. I accept rejection from a potential sexual partner with respect and humility.
20. I am patient and compassionate about my partner(s)’ sexual insecurities.
21. I am a worthwhile, full-fledged human being whether or not I’m currently in a relationship.
22. I practice empathy and compassion to myself and all living beings.
23. I have a strong sense of purpose in life.
24. Exploring my body and growing into sexual wellness is a priority in my life.
25. I pay attention and listen to what my body needs.
26. I am confident and comfortable in my sexual and relationship identities.
27. I am sexually and emotionally thriving.
After 10 years in business as a self-employed sexologist, I decided to press pause and dedicate 6 whole months to reevaluating and reinventing my entire life. Today I’m thrilled to finally relaunch the 96 improvements, updates, and changes I’ve made to the work that I do and the way that I do it (yes, literally 96!!) So what are some of these changes you can expect from me?
Some of the changes are obvious
If you’re a long time customer or follower, you probably noticed:
- New logos and a bright new color palette that represent my revitalized excitement for sexuality and all the joy it entails.
- Sexual wellness coaching! This is a big one! After years of clients requesting 1:1 work with me, I decided to say yes to this. Read all about my philosophy and approach to coaching here!
- A self-scheduling calendar that lets you book sex ed classes (and coaching sessions) with me online yourself. You no longer have to email me back and forth to choose a date, time and topic! Hey, 21st century!
- A whole new approach to blogging and social media that is less “a day in the life of a sexologist” and more tools to help you grow sexually like:
- Inspirational and educational short-reads
- Sex in 60 Seconds videos
- Sex Trivia Tuesday (on Facebook and Instagram)
Some Changes Are Less Obvious At First Glance But Still Awesome.
- Classes are now charged per person instead of a flat rate.
- A focus on serving and making a name and community for myself in the San Diego area, retiring national speaking tours.
- An online store with a “Dr. Jill Picks” section, a handy quiz for beginners that helps you choose the best sex toy for your body (coming soon), and individual recommendations from me via email for a personalized and educational shopping experience.
- More free stuff- at classes, in your sex toy shipment, in your mailbox on your birthday!
- Sex Ed 101 is totally revamped and is now efficiently covers over three dozen sexuality topics for a true “crash course” experience. I love how it’s turned out!
BUT! THE BIGGEST AND MOST IMPORTANT CHANGE IS NOT ABOUT COACHING OR WEBSITES OR LOGOS OR BLOG POSTS.
It’s how I show up to this work and this business not just as a sexologist, but as a human being.
It’s about a mission to help you learn to feel good- sexually and emotionally, AND ACTUALLY PRACTICING THAT FOR MYSELF TOO!
It’s having a healthy relationship with this business, and setting the intention to approach my work from a place of personal wellness and thriving.
It’s setting professional boundaries and being self-compassionate.
I spent my entire 20s angry- ranting and writing and arguing about rape, female genital mutilation, misogyny, and sexual degradation on Facebook and online communities and in-person classes for literally HOURS A DAY, for YEARS. I became a public figure around this, and would wake up to an inbox full of news articles and emails about the latest sexual atrocity on the planet.
I opened my heart to giving help and advice to any and every one at any and every time of day. I wanted to, felt obligated to- and was naïve and idealistic enough to believe I could- change the entire world and everyone in it. Even after having a panic attack at the supermarket when my phone buzzed, and I checked it to find a private Instagram message from someone describing a particularly gruesome sexual assault they just experienced in graphic detail, I couldn’t figure out until this relaunch why I was completely burned out, depressed, and in therapy for PTSD.
This relaunch is about practicing self-compassion. It’s learning and accepting that it's not my job to change the entire world, I cannot change the entire world, AND THAT’S OK.
It’s knowing I still have a lot to offer and can still make a big impact by being the change I want to see with the people in my life- my family, my friends, my clients, my followers, knowing that it ripples out. It’s realizing that essentially running an unofficial 24/7 rape crisis hotline by myself out of my house with no funds, no compensation, and no emotional support was not a kind or compassionate thing I did to myself, my mental health, or my business.
I use to feel personally responsible for every mile of the beach, feel distraught when I inevitably couldn't help all the thousands of starfish, all the while cursing the tide for putting them in this position and fighting with the man for getting in my way. Relaunching is about becoming the young woman instead- making a difference on an individual level while letting herself enjoy the sunshine as she does.
It’s about never forgetting that sex can be weaponized and sexuality can be ugly, but remembering that it’s not always. It’s coming to understand that focusing 10% of my work on the ugly and 90% on the pleasure and love and connection and life-affirming aspects of sexuality instead of the other way around is not frivolous. Pleasure and connection are important and valuable.
This relaunch is about setting firm boundaries. It’s learning to say “no” to things I don’t want to do. That don’t feel good. That don’t serve my new business vision of personal wellness and thriving.
It’s saying no, I will not drive round trip from Pennsylvania to Alabama and put myself up in hotel to teach a sex ed class for $300! (a thing I actually did.)
It’s saying no, I will not write for your site, teach the sexuality unit to your students, or consult with your pharmaceutical company’s marketing team about a new erection drug for free, and learning to not feel guilty about it. It’s saying no, I don’t give individual sex advice via email or social media messages, and learning to resist the need to explain myself.
It’s acknowledging that earning a *just* salary that is commensurate with my advanced education, decade of experience, and high quality of work is not greedy.
It’s meditating every morning. And just letting shit go.
It's finding another amazing, supportive, badass self-employed woman to work with every day because the loneliness of working in isolation in an empty house does NOT make me thrive! And thriving is the #1 most important thing- so I can show up at my best to help you thrive, sexually and emotionally. Thanks for reading.
As a sexologist I am often asked if I know of any resources for a variety of sexual health services and information, so I decided to create this handy list of my most commonly shared referrals. Be sure to bookmark this for future reference to help yourself or a friend in need!
Note: Nearly all of these resources are non-profits and rely on donations to continue providing these incredibly valuable services. If you’re able, consider paying it forward and sending them a few bucks!
National Abortion Federation
Professional association of abortion providers with information, resources, and a directory of abortion providers by state.
Information about abortion, live chat feature to ask questions, and a directory of abortion clinics by zip code.
Directory of funds available to help pay for your abortion by state.
Image via Scarleteen
Inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationship info for teens and emerging adults
Sex education for teens, by teens, published by Answer, a national organization that provides and promotes unfettered access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people and the adults who teach them.
I Wanna Know
A site from the American Sexual Health Association, it offers information on sexual health for teens and young adults.
San Francisco Sex Information
Free, confidential, accurate, non-judgmental information about sex by phone or email answered by volunteer sex educators.
Image via Bedsider
Comprehensive information on birth control methods, a directory of where to get them by zip code, and a reminder app.
Comprehensive information on birth control methods, a quiz on which method is best for you, a directory of Planned Parenthood locations by zip code, and a reminder app.
Clinical Sex Therapists/Psychotherapists
Directory of clinicians, mental health practitioners, and psychologists with training in sexuality and certification by state.
Domestic Violence Survivor Support
Directory of emergency shelters by zip code, 24/7 hotline, and information on how to get an Order of Protection.
Advocates for Youth
Printable lesson plans and materials for elementary to high school aged students on dozens of sexual health topics including decision making, relationships, sexual orientation and gender identity, stereotypes and discrimination, and reproduction.
The Center for Sex Education
Curricula, manuals, and sex educator resources.
Our Whole Lives
Honest, accurate, lifespan sexuality education curricula with step-by-step instruction for program planners and facilitators, with 7 programs speaking to participants’ needs by age (grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, young adult, adult, and older adult.)
Image via UCSD LGBT Resource Center
Directory of LGBT Community Centers by zip code (LGBT Community Centers offer services that often include community space, youth drop-in centers, books and resources, counseling, healthcare services, leadership opportunities, and social events).
The Trevor Project
Crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24 via phone, chat, or text.
Legal help desk provides information and resources regarding discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and HIV status.
A free, 3 full day conference with 250 workshops of all types for anyone who feels like they belong there, anyone who identifies as an ally to the trans community, and anyone looking to respectfully learn more about themselves and others.
Research and Data
Research reports, fact sheets, and infographics on sexual and reproductive health.
The Journal of Sex Research
Scholarly peer-reviewed journal devoted to the publication of research articles on diverse topics in contemporary sexual science.
Sex and Disability
Sex and Disability
Information and blogs about sexuality and disability.
Sex Positive Doctors
National Coalitions for Sexual Freedom
Directory of psychotherapeutic, medical, legal and other professionals who have stated that they are “kink aware” and knowledgeable about and sensitive to diverse expressions of sexuality.
I am often asked by folks if I can know of a sex-positive, non-judgey, feminist gynecologist and/or obstetrician in their area. Sadly, such a database does not exist to my knowledge, but someone really should create one! Slut-shaming gynos are the worst!
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Information on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace and how to file a Charge of Discrimination.
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
Information on sexual harassment in school and how to file a Title IX complaint.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Image via Center for Disease Control
Information on infections, treatments, and prevention from the CDC.
STI testing location finder by zip code from the CDC.
Resources for People Living with HIV from the CDC.
Sexual Violence Survivor Support
Directory of Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Centers by zip code (Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Centers offer services to survivors and their families that often include free counseling, legal assistance, advocacy and accompaniment to the hospital, police station, and/or court hearings, and 24/7 hotlines).
1 in 6
Live chat help and online support group for male survivors.
Talking to Kids About Sex
List of books to aid in parent to child sexual health conversations (Robie H. Harris’ 3 book series is especially good).
1. One-on-one sexual wellness coaching worldwide via phone.
2. Private sex education classes for adults in San Diego, CA.
3. Sexual health and pleasure products.
4. Sexuality education, information, and insight via blog posts and graphics.
**These sources are provided for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice and should not be a substitute for a visit or a consultation with a healthcare provider or other appropriate professional.**