Fresh Meat: Four Sex Ed Lessons From My First Year of College

Fresh Meat: Four Sex Ed Lessons From My First Year of College

A lot can happen on your dorm mattress.
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I don’t have a story about the first day of my life being my first day on campus. Yeah, there was a lot of promise ahead of me, but immediately ahead of me were four flights of concrete stairs, no elevator, and a set of parents wondering why the hell I’d brought so much crap to college, because now we had to carry it upstairs.

There’s a cliché in here somewhere, but that initial move-in foreshadowed my year ahead. I was sweaty, confused, exhausted, and anxious. All I thought I had to worry about were four flights of stairs and the fact that I’d never painted in my life were. I was in for it.

First I have to state that I've loved my college experience so far. There’s never been a single doubt in my mind that at this stage in my life, this is right where I need to be. But that first day, hauling an IKEA bookshelf upstairs, I had no idea what was to come. This whole “sex in college” thing had seemed irrelevant because I started school in a long distance relationship, and I wasn't prepared when it reared its ugly head.

The state of sex education in the United States is pathetic. There are still states that teach only abstinence and allow conservative parents to opt-out of their children receiving this information. People don’t know that Planned Parenthood isn’t just an abortion warehouse, but actually an important women's health clinic for a lot of female-bodied people who can't afford expensive specialist care. Even my own liberal all-girl high school’s sex ed program didn’t teach me a lot things that I would have liked to know, especially before entering this newly independent phase of my life. We went over contraception, but not in detail, with the emphasis being on condoms as the way to prevent STDs. We had an overnight retreat with a speaker about sexual violence that was more comical than informational. It wasn’t a lack of effort that bothered me, it was all the gaps I ended up having to fill in myself.

Lesson 1: You are not worth less because someone does not want your body.

As any sane person could have predicted, my long distance relationship was rocky by October. When fall break rolled around and my boyfriend came to visit, I was eager to make up for lost time. I spent forever trying to figure out how I would show him everything in my new life – including my new dorm mattress. It wasn’t long into the light rail ride downtown before he started to tell me what he wanted to do and see and the list didn't include having sex with me.

I was really upset for a while about it. What I had possibly done so wrong that he would reject the idea of physical intimacy with me? Had he cheated? My mind raced with the endless possibilities. I thought this was all my fault. I faced the facts: the relationship was rocky, it would become more complicated when he had to go back to school, and I didn’t want to coerce him into saying yes to something he didn’t want to do.

Eventually I realized it didn't matter that my boyfriend didn’t want to sleep with me. He was not the sole determinant of my personal worth, and it changed nothing about my value as an intelligent woman in a top-tier art college. I was not less because of what had (or hadn’t) happened.

Lesson 2: Silence does not equal consent.

I had class on the day of Halloween and had gotten ripped into my critique for something I wished I had worked harder on. I was dehydrated and almost passed out in class. The health center advised me to call out of work for the night, so I did. I slept for a few hours, trying to convince myself I wasn’t being lazy. My roommates started getting ready for the night and I didn’t want to miss out, so I put on the costume I’d planned to wear to work with the intention of only staying at their friends’ party for an hour or two.

Things got complicated. Everyone got drunk. More than tipsy. We kept a tally of our drinks on our arms in Sharpie, and everyone’s skyrocketed past ten in less than two hours. My roommate had just taken a fraternity brother back to her room. The other frat brother had quickly gone back with my other roommate. I was alone on the couch in my living room and called up a friend. They arrived quickly, and alone, at first. Soon after an uninvited entourage filed through the door. The group included a boy in my drawing class, who I hadn’t spoken to very much but considered a friendly acquaintance. He and his friend downed a bottle of Fireball and the rest of my roommates’ boxed wine. He climbed into the armchair with me and cuddled me, even holding me up; by that point I had more than fourteen drinks in my system and could barely talk, let alone sit up. He invited himself to stay the night for “platonic cuddling” and I was lonely so I agreed.

It was more than that. He stuck his hands down my shirt and took off my bra while I was too drunk to say yes or no. The rest was an extended anxiety attack; he’d gotten up, taken off his pants, and thrown up all over my bathroom. I’d quickly pushed all of his things out of my room, locked the door, and hoped he would get the hint that he was no longer welcome. But he stayed the night on the couch, and my roommates were wondering what was going on. The next day, I was reduced to the same silence that gripped me when I was too drunk and scared to tell my assaulter no.

I probably wouldn’t have reported it if my RA hadn’t run into me when the dam finally broke and I started to sob in public. The next month was a blur of official meetings and hearings. For weeks I could barely sleep in my own bed, haunted by what happened. He was removed from my drawing class for the remainder of the semester and suspended for the next semester. I still dread seeing him around, and wish the punishment had been harsher, but in a climate where college women who are sexually assaulted are routinely swept under the rug by an image-driven administration, I considered it a victory.

All the while, he rested his case on the fact that I hadn’t said no because I hadn’t said anything, and regardless of his drunken perception, silence does not connote consent.

Lesson 3: Do your homework.

Following the inevitable breakup of my relationship over winter break, I was newly single and ready to explore the dating scene at my college. There are details I won’t divulge; I know my mother is reading this right now and probably already wincing a little at my candor. The short story: I slept with a lot of people. Some of them I knew, some of them I didn’t. Some of them I still talk to, some of them I don’t.I don't have many regrets about this, but the one I do have turned into what may have been one of my most important lessons.

One person I slept with had a girlfriend he didn’t tell me about. One had a kid and a latent but very serious anger management issue, and I had seen him dehumanize women and those suffering mental illness in a single heated conversation. One had been investigated for sexual assault by the school. Other little white lies popped up here and there when I looked up my new hookups on Facebook, but it was the little white lie that I wouldn’t find online that turned out to be the problem.

An old hookup had just broken up with his girlfriend. He and I started talking. He told me he tested clean on his last STD exam, and since I had too, he suggested we try unprotected sex. Naturally the one time in my life I had ever made a decision quite this reckless, the consequences came right along and slapped me in the face. At a gallery opening, his ex had told me that, among other serious legal indiscretions, he had tested positive for chlamydia. He had not only given it to her, but had told her that I was the source of it.

It wasn’t even just that I slowly was realizing he was a pathological liar. It was that the one time I hadn’t been my punctual, prepared self, the worst had happened. I knew he was sleeping around. I shouldn’t have believed him so readily. I was lucky I had gotten something curable. I should have just done my homework.

Lesson 4: It’s not the end of the world.

My high school sex ed class would have led me to believe that taking an emergency STD test done was a sign that I had failed as a responsible adult. Even though my actions leading up to needing this test were not entirely responsible, it wasn’t as terrifying as I was told it would be. The clinicians didn’t pass judgment on me. My parents, though disappointed, understood things like this could happen to nearly anyone. It was nowhere near the horror that my sex ed classes had told me it would be, even though needing to contact everyone else I’d been with and swallowing a megadose of antibiotics sucked. I was, of course, privileged to have the knowledge and resources I already had and recognized that not everyone could get this lucky. I have a clinic on campus and health insurance that covered the prescriptions and test kit.

I realized at the end of all of this that what I needed to do was take charge of my own health. While I had started out terrified, it empowered me to know that I was the only person who could impact my own future. I’m writing this because I learned by doing and wish I hadn’t had to. I’m writing to spread my lessons and try to fill in the gaps that so many others in my position have in their sexual education.

Above all, I want those with fewer resources in a similar position to know they're not alone. These positions are obstacles, and they vary in size depending on the person, but it's not one that is insurmountable, and it is not the end of the world. The shame that we inflict on teen moms and STD carriers is rooted in societal flaws and double standards, and it can be difficult to overcome. At the very least, I hope sharing my story shed more light on something we don’t like to talk about and kept someone else from having to do instead of learn. They should realize they are not alone.

Cover Image Credit: Nat Raum, 2014

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To The Boy Who Will Love Me Next

If you can't understand these few things, leave before things get too involved
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To the boy that will love me next, I need you to know and understand things about me and my past. The things I have been though not only have shaped the person I’ve become, but also sometimes controls my life. In the past I’ve been used, abused, and taken for granted, and I want something real this time. The guys before you were just boys; they didn’t know how to treat me until it was too late. They didn’t understand how to love me, until I broke my own heart. Before you truly decide to love me I want you to understand these things.

When I tell you something, please listen.

I’m my own person, I want to be loved a certain way. If I ask you to come over and watch movies with me please do it, if I ask for you to leave me alone for a few hours because it’s a girl’s night please do it. I don’t just say things to hear my own voice, I say things to you because it’s important to my life and the way I want to be loved. I’m not a needy person when it comes to being loved and cared for, but I do ask for you to do the small things that I am say.

Forgive my past.

My past is not a pretty brick road, it is a highway that has a bunch of potholes and cracks in it. I have a lot of baggage, and most of it you won’t understand. But don’t let my past decided whether you want to love me or not. My past has helped form who I am today, but it does not define who I am. My past experiences might try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I will not go back to that person I once was, I will not return to all that hurt I once went though. When I say those things, I’m telling the complete and honest truth. I relive my past every day, somethings haunt me and somethings are good reminds. But for you to love me, I need you to accept my past, present and future.

I’m just another bro to the other guys.

I have always hung out with boys, I don’t fit in with the girl groups. I have 10 close girlfriends, but the majority of my friends are guy, but don’t let this scare you. If I wanted to be with one of my guy friends I would already be with him, and if you haven’t noticed I don’t want them because I’m with you. I will not lose my friendships with all my guy friends to be able to stay with you. I will not cut off ties because you don’t like my guy friends. I have lost too many buddies because of my ex-boyfriends and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. If you don’t like how many guy friends I have you can leave now. Don’t bother trying to date me if you can accept the fact I’m just another bro.

I might be a badass, but I actually have a big heart.

To a lot of people I come off to be a very crazy and wild girl. I will agree I can be crazy and wild, but I’m more than that. I’m independent, caring, responsible, understanding, forgiving, and so such more type of woman. Many people think that I’m a badass because I don’t take any negatively from anyone. Just like we learned when we were younger, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most people can’t do that in today’s world, so I stick up for myself and my friends. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, or their option on how I live my life. The only thing I care about is being able to make myself happy. Even though I’m an independent woman, understand that I do have a big heart. Honesty when I truly care for someone I will do just about anything they ask, but don’t take advantage of this. Once you take advantage of this part of me, all respect will be lost for you.

I’m hard to love.

Sometimes I want to be cuddle and get attention, and sometimes I don’t want you to talk to me for a couple hours. Sometimes I want you to take me out for a nice meal, but sometimes I want a home cooked meal. Every day is different for me, sometimes I change my mind every hour. My mood swings are terrible on certain days, and on those days you should probably just ignore me. I’m not easy to love, so you’ll either be willing to find a way to love me, or you’ll walk out like so many others have.

I’m scared.

I’m scared to love someone again. I’ve been hurt, heartbroken, and beat to the ground in my past relationships. I want to believe you are different, I want to hope things will truly work out, but every relationship has always ended up the same way. I’m scared to trust someone, put my whole heart into them, just to be left and heartbroken again. I sick and tired of putting my whole body and soul into someone for them to just leave when it is convenient for them. If you want to love me, understand it won’t be easy for me to love you back.

When “I’m done.”

When I say “I’m done” I honestly don’t mean that I’m done. When I say that it means I need and want you to fight for me, show me why you want to be with me. I need you to prove that I’m worth it and there’s no one else but me. If I was truly done, I would just walk away, and not come back. So if I ever tell you, “I’m done,” tell me all the reasons why I’m truly not done.

For the boy who will love me next, the work is cut out for you, you just have to be willing to do it. I’m not like other girls, I am my own person, and I will need to be treated as such. For the boy that will love me next, don’t bother with me unless you really want to be with me. I don’t have time to waste on you if you aren’t going to try and make something out of us. To the boy who will love me next, the last thing I would like to say is good luck, I have faith in you.

Cover Image Credit: Danielle Balint

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Abortion Bans Are Only A Small Part Of The Republican War On Women

These bans expose the Republican Party for what it truly is.

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This week, several states passed laws that ban abortion after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, before most women even know that they're pregnant. The most egregious of these is Alabama — the state has banned abortion except for in cases of danger to the mother. Exceptions in the cases of rape and incest were actively voted against by the state legislature. Under the new law, any doctor who is caught giving an abortion would be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and the woman would be charged with murder.

Apart from the fact that this explicitly violates the decision of Roe v. Wade (which is the point), this is only a small part of the slow but steady degradation of women's rights by Republicans in the United States. To anyone who believes that this is simply about people being "pro-life" or "saving the children," then tell them to look at what happens after the fetus is carried to term.

Republicans oppose forcing fathers to be involved in the lives of their children that were forcibly carried to term, desires to cut food stamps and make it more difficult to feed said child, cut funding for affordable housing to make it more difficult for them to find homes, cut spending to public education so these children can't move up the social ladder, and refuse to offer the woman or her child health insurance to keep them both healthy. What about efforts to prevent pregnancy? Republicans also oppose funding birth control and contraception, as well as opposing comprehensive sexual education. To them, the only feasible solution is to simply keep your legs shut. They oppose all of these things because it is, in their eyes, a violation of individual rights to force people to do something. The bill also makes women who get abortions felons, and felons can't vote. I'll let you finish putting those two together.

If you view it from this framework, it would seem like Republicans are being extremely hypocritical by violating the personal freedoms of pregnant women, but if you look at it from the view of restricting social mobility for women, then it makes perfect sense. The Republican dogma of "individual rights" and "personal responsibility" is a socially acceptable facade that they use to cover up their true intentions of protecting the status quo and protect those in power. About any Republican policy, ask yourself: does this disperse power or consolidate it? Whether it be education, healthcare, the environment, or the economy, Republicans love to keep power away from the average citizen and give it to the small number of people that they deem "deserving" of it because of their race, gender, wealth, or power. This is the case with abortion as well; Power is being taken from women, and being given back to men in a reversal of the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

Republicans don't believe in systemic issues. They believe that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed regardless of what point they started. This is why they love capitalism so much. It acts as some sort of great filter in which only those who deserve power can make it to the top. It's also why they hate social policies; they think that helping people who can't help themselves changes the hierarchy in a negative way by giving people who don't "deserve" power, power. Of course, we know that just because you have money and power doesn't mean you earned it fair and square, and even if Republicans believe it, it wouldn't change anything because it wouldn't change how they want to distribute power.

In short, Republican policies, including abortion, leave the average American with less money, less protection, less education, worse health, less opportunity, fewer rights, and less freedom. This is NOT a side effect. This is the point. Regardless of what Republicans will tell you about "inalienable rights" and how everyone is equal, in reality, they believe that some people and groups are more deserving of rights than others, and the group that deserves rights the most are the ones "that will do the best with them." To Republicans, this group consists of the wealthy, the powerful, and the white — the mega-rich, the CEOs of large companies, gun owners and Christians.

So, who do Republicans think deserve power and give it to? People who look and think like them. This, however, begs the question: Who do they want to take it from?

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