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Ask your health or wellness question anonymously using this online form.
A staff member from the Center for Wellness will do their best to answer your question in a timely manner, but if you need immediate assistance please email the Center directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If this is an emergency, please contact Public Safety (617) 989-4444 (on campus) or 911 (off-campus).
**Also, please note, sometimes a question is asked that is outside of the scope of wellness education. In cases like this, responses to questions will not be posted and students should feel free to contact the Coordinator of Wellness Education directly at email@example.com to then be directed to the correct office for accurate information.
Ask Wellness Q&A's
Q: When is "Sex in the Dark"
A: Dear Curious,
In a previous response given, I had referred to the program The RA's have done in the past titled "Sex in the Dark". This event has gone on the past few years and has been great! The event is part of an RA initiative called a PERC event. Essentially it's when a team of RA's get together to plan an event around a specific topic. The topic given for "Sex in the Dark" is Sexual Health and Wellness. I am giving this information to clarify that while the "Sex in the Dark" event is typically what has been done, it may not be the actually event planned out by the RAs this year. It is up to the team to decide what program they would like to hold. The Sexual Health PERC event is scheduled to be held on February 8th 2019. So at the start of the Spring semester, look out for marketing and signs letting you know about the upcoming event! It might be "Sex in the Dark", or something totally new and exciting!
Q: I know there is counseling free of charge, but does that include sexuality, physical and mental, counseling? And is there couples counseling?
A: Thank you so much for reaching out, and those are great questions!
The Center for Wellness has wonderful staff who are happy to meet with students to better understand what they may need on a case-by-case basis. The office offers primarily short term mental health counseling, with a holistic focus. We believe that mental wellness incorporates physical activity, healthy nutrition, spirituality, mindfulness, and social needs into mental health counseling. While the staff are capable of addressing any mental health needs, including sexuality, there may be times where a student could benefit from a more specialized mental health provider. In those cases, a referral to an off-campus provider who may specialize in specific mental health areas may be more appropriate. Similarly, the counselors have offered infrequent couples therapy appointments, and would be happy to discuss during an intake or session to see if that may be something you would need or if a referral would be more helpful.
If you are interested in booking a counseling session, you can head down to Watson 003 and let the front desk staff know that you are looking to start counseling or that you are looking to book an appointment with a counselor. They can get you started in the process. The office hours are 8:15-4:45 M-F.
I hope you get what you are looking for.
Q: I know this is totally anonymous, but it is still really embarrassing
Me (a woman) and my partner (also a woman) have been together for a while, and we’ve explored each other a lot. But both of us agreed (through a really awkward talk) that it wasn’t really enough.
We want to try using “toys”, but both of us are too nervous and inexperienced to do anything. I could barely bring myself to get the little packet of lube stuff from the wellness place, when no one was looking, even though I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong and that nobody would care if they saw me.
Both of us are too scared to try and buy anything like that online, much less in a store. I wanted to know if the wellness place had any, or if someone had advice.
To clarify, I’m asking if there’s a way to get some of those things, discreetly, without ordering them online. I’m willing to pay, in cash.
From absolutely mortified writing this.
A: Dear Absolutely Mortified Writing This,
Kudos to you and your partner for having that talk! As awkward as it may have been, now you are able to know more about what you both are wanting in your sexual experience- and that’s awesome!
One thing to think about is what type of toy or experience you and your partner are interested in exploring. Looking up things online might be a great start to decide what you might be interested in. When first looking into different sex toy options, know that it can be a bit overwhelming. So take a deep breath and take it slow- remember that everyone else has also been nervous and inexperienced when they first looked into sex toys, and that’s okay.
There is a website that is helpful in offering suggestions of sex toys that are specific for female identified individuals in same-sex partner relationships. It is called evestoys.com. That might be one place to start. Also, in the past when we have brought in educators to talk about sex toys on campus, we have reached out to staff from Good Vibrations or Amazing Intimate Essentials. Good Vibrations offers education and information that promotes pleasure and empowerment. If you are able to go into their stores, they have a lot of information to offer and advice to give! Amazing Intimate Essentials has a store and a website that can also offer helpful suggestions.
The Wellness Center, unfortunately, currently does not distribute sex toys unless they are being given away as raffle prizes for various sexual health programs. One option may be to attend a program and try your luck! The RA’s also will typically run an amazing program each year called “Sex in the Dark” where they bring in staff from sex shops who bring sex toys as giveaways and offer answers to questions anonymously.
I understand that this may not have been exactly the answer you have been looking for. I’m hoping that the more you research and look into your options, the more comfortable you and your partner will become.
If you find that you still have more questions or are wanting to speak more on this, please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to talk to you via email or in person on this as there might be additional supports or resources I can offer.
All the best!
Q: Does the student wellness center provide silicone lube? I know there is water based stuff, but silicone works better and when we used the water stuff from there, it dried out and she got hurt. I just want to know if it stocks astroglide etc. or where I can get silicone stuff nearby?
From, guy with a pissed off girlfriend.
A: Dear guy with a pissed off girlfriend,
That is an excellent question! And it’s great that you are reaching out to make sure the sex you are having with your partner is pleasurable for the both of you. There are two types of lube that we currently have in the Center for Wellness. One is “Glide” which comes in a blue packet and is a water-based lubricant. The other is “uberlube” which comes in a white packet and is a silicone-based lubricant. You are welcome to come down to the Center for Wellness located at Watson 003 and check our wall of protection! There is a jar of lubricants and baskets full of condoms and dental dams.
It’s great that you brought up the point about different lubricants impacting different people in different ways. And you are correct! Water-based lube and Silicone-based lube will have a different impact. Silicone-based lubes are known to be slicker, can be used in water, and may not need multiple re-applications. However, some people find water-based lubes easier to clean. If you feel the usefulness of your lubricant has worn down, don’t be afraid to re-apply! It will increase you and your partners pleasure and will also make sex with condoms safer (reducing friction helps keep the condom intact). Note to all- Never use an oil-based lube with latex condoms! This runs the risk of breakage!
Pro-tips to increase stimulation- add a few more drops of the lube into the condom before putting it on. It can help increase pleasure.
Best of luck in all your sexual adventures!
Q: I like the taste of girls' vaginas, I prefer not to use oral dams because I can't taste anything when I use them. What should I do about that?
-Curious About Dental Dams
A: Dear Curious About Dental Dams,
Ah the age old question, to use a barrier method (male condom, female condom, or dental dam) or not to use a barrier method? How does one balance feeling fulfilled sexually while still protecting themselves against STIs? This is not a question that is uncommon among individuals who choose to engage in sexual activities. In fact, this same balance (fulfillment versus safety) can present itself in a myriad of ways in sexual encounters.
There are definitely various perceived “cons” to using a barrier method. These “cons” include barrier methods as being difficult, not as stimulating, or unfulfilling. While there may be these “cons” to using condoms/dental dams, lowering the risk of contracting an STI is certainly an important “pro” for your health/wellness!
Let’s talk for a moment about the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs are passed from one partner to another in two ways: skin-to-skin contact and exchange of sexual fluids. Whether we are talking about anal sex, vaginal sex or in your case oral sex—there is a risk for the spread of STIs via skin-to-skin contact or via fluid exchange. Now, do not get me wrong, an individual who contracts an STI can still have a fulfilling sex life through proper management. However, a proactive approach will negate the need to manage an STI and not managing an STI is easier in the first place! To decrease the risk of STIs, in your question specifically, a dental dam needs to be used consistently during oral sex.
Another thought, if partners are engaging in a sexual activity consistently and one partner (being you in this situation) wants to feel more sexually fulfilled, COMMUNICATION is key! If you could communicate with a partner about your desire to engage in oral sex without a dental dam and have a serious conversation about STIs, getting tested for STIs, and the risk involved, I think it would be feasible to have oral sex without using a dental dam. There is still going to be risk involved (think herpes type 1/cold sores lying dormant in the body), but the risk is going to be decreased when the activity is happening with the same partner and with commitment/trust, communication, and regular STI testing.
Also, before I end this response, I would just like to commend you for considering the best way to balance your safety with your fulfillment! I think it is WONDERFUL that you are seeking out options that are going to meet your needs and keep you and your future partner(s) protected! Way to go!
Q: I had sex with a partner yesterday, and at the end he gave me money that I didn't ask for. What do I do? What does this mean?
A: Dear Confused,
Wow, that is confusing! I'm sorry this happened to you, and I am also confused as to why someone would do that. It's possible that they thought it was a joke (funny or cruel), or maybe they were trying to do you a favor or give a gift (did they think you needed financial help?). Unfortunately, the only way to find out for sure is to talk to the person. I know it can be awkward or uncomfortable to have difficult conversations like this, but I would recommend doing it in person because this is just not the kind of thing that you want to discuss over social media or text, where it can be really hard to interpret people's tone or meaning.
Start by stating how it felt to receive the money (hurt? unwanted? confused? used?) and ask an open-ended question like "What was that about?" or "Why did you leave money after we had sex?" If this was a one-time thing and you don't think you'll see the person again, you can still try to get in touch and talk about what happened. If this is someone you're having an ongoing physical or emotional relationship with, it might be a good time to talk about that relationship and what it means to both of you. Are you getting what you need and desire from this relationship? Are they? You deserve to have sexual partners who treat you respectfully and communicate with you open and honestly. It sounds like this partner may not be a good partner.
I hope that this was just a weird misunderstanding and the person had good intentions. I hope you will be able to communicate with them and explain why this was a shitty thing to do. But ultimately, this behavior doesn't pass the smell test. Know that you deserve better. Move onwards and upwards, holding your head up high.
Q: Why is this school so homophobic? I'm a Bi girl who always just figured that being out in college would be so much easier than HS, but coming to WIT this hasn't been the case at all. There's no community, no resources, and sometimes even blatant intolerance. What's the deal?
-Disappointed and Queer
A: Dear Disappointed and Queer,
Thanks so much for reaching out. Know that you are not alone. There are several queer students who have struggled to make connections on this campus. Chris Haigh, Director of Diversity Programs, works on this issue every day and is a great person to talk to. Chris's office is located in the Campus Life office suite in the back of the Flanagan Campus Center. Chris's door is always open to you if you need some support or suggestions.Here are some other options:
The Center for Wellness & Disability Services is hosting a new LGBTQ group called Continuum. The first meeting is actually TODAY (Feb 12) in Flanagan 033 at noon - and they're serving free pizza. You should totally check it out! Even if you can't make today's meeting, you can come to another one. They will be meeting Feb. 12, Feb. 26, Mar. 12, Mar. 26, Apr. 9, and Apr. 23 in Flanagan 033 at noon.
There is a student organization called WITA (Wentworth Alliance) and can be reached at email@example.com. The challenge with WITA is that it is all student run so how active they are really depends on the leadership. I know that they were quiet this fall but I hope they will be more active in the coming months as several members have returned from co-op.
I also know that many students have chosen to connect at other colleges because they do not want to be out here. As part of the COF you can be a part of any student organization at any of the COF colleges. Here are some links:
Also, Northeastern not only has a student group but a great Resource Center. I have heard nothing but positive things about the staff there. There are also a lot of Boston area resources. An organization called BAGLY is one of my favorite Boston non-profits. They do tons of stuff for youth and young adults 22 and under.
I know that Wentworth can be a tough place in this respect and I know of many students who have benefited from free & confidential counseling through the Center for Wellness and Disability Services. You can reach out directly to David Byers at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is one of our counselors and a huge supporter and advocate for LGBTQ community. He is AWESOME! You can call to schedule an appointment with him or another counselor at 617-989-4390, or drop in between 8:15am-4:45pm in Watson 003.
I hope this helps, or is a good start. Institutional and cultural change takes time. There are definitely people at Wentworth committed to doing the work, but there is obviously a lot left to do. I hope you will find a supportive community, whether it's here, at the COF, or in the city of Boston. I also hope that you will join the folks at Wentworth trying to make change by joining WITA or working with Chris Haigh and the Diversity Programs office.
Q: This boy is giving me mixed signals, what do I do?
- Timid Tinder Girl
A: Dear Timid Tinder Girl,
Mixed signals could mean lots of things. Technology makes interpreting these signals even more complex and confusing. I think it’s important to remember that people approach online dating sites and apps with a wide variety of intentions. They might be there to find hookups or or they may be looking for a monogamous relationship. On top of that, people often approach dating with different levels of intensity or sincerity – some are looking to find meaningful relationships with new partners, and others might just like swiping through photos when they’re bored.
So your mixed signal boy might not be using Tinder very seriously. It’s possible he likes swiping and chatting, but doesn’t want to follow through with an actual date. Worst case scenario is that “he just isn’t that into you.” However, it’s also possible that he really likes you, but is too nervous or timid to make the first move himself.
When faced with mixed signals, you only really have two options. You can continue to wait it out and see if his intentions become more clear. Or, you can take charge of the situation and make the first move yourself. If you can muster the courage, I recommend the second option. It’s always a good idea to be honest and straightforward about your feelings. The best thing about Tinder is that you have nothing to lose by making the first move. You could ask this boy out on a date or even say something cute but straightforward like “I like you. Let’s hang out.” Hopefully he’ll say yes! If you do decide to meet up, take basic safety precautions. Meet in a public place during daylight hours. Let your friends know where you are and ask them to check up on you in an hour or so, just in case.
The worst that will happen is that he will say no or stop responding. That might sting a little, but you will be okay – and you’ll be able to stop wasting your valuable time trying to interpret his mixed signals. You deserve a partner who is 100% into you, who feels like the luckiest guy in the world to be with you, and who can be open and honest about his feelings with you. You deserve to have the kind of relationship you want - whether it’s a casual one night stand or a long-term monogamous relationship, there is no shame in knowing what you want. Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right or someone who makes you feel insecure. And don’t forget, there are plenty of other boys on Tinder who would be thrilled to date you. Because you’re awesome.
Q: Leah, I want to get personal things at the wellness office in Watson, but I'm worried I'll be judged. Or have to talk to someone there. I rather just get what I need and be done. Is that possible?
-Needs some Advice
Q: Dear Needs Advice,
You can certainly stop by the Center for Wellness and Disability Services in Watson to grab things without talking to anyone! When you enter there is a shelf on your right with pamphlets, condoms and other safer sex products, cold & flu care kits, sleep kits, and tobacco quit kits. If one of the baskets is empty, please do feel free to ask our front desk person (usually Mario, except when he’s at lunch) if we have more. Students come in and out of our office every day to grab things from those shelves, so please feel free to do so. No one here will judge you. We love it when students use our services and resources! No one will hassle you or speak to you, unless of course you’re looking lost or confused, in which case someone might ask “Can I help you?”
if you’re looking for information or products that we don’t have – don’t be embarrassed! Feel free to email email@example.com to request information or specific products and I will see if I can help. And, of course, if you do change your mind and want to talk to someone – the Counselors and I are always here to help!
Q: Hey, I live in a suite and it seams like all my suitemates hang out and go do stuff together but never invite me to do stuff. How can I ask to be included without seeming like the annoying younger brother who is constantly asking to tag along with his big brother?
A: Dear Sky-walker,
I’m sorry you’re in this situation. It’s really hard to live with people who are already friends with each other. This is definitely one of the big challenges of suite living. Some students may make fast friends with each other over similar interests or hometowns and not realize that they aren’t including other suitemates. So, the next time your suitemates are talking about going somewhere, you can certainly ask them if you could join. They might assume that you do not want to attend if you do not ask. By taking an interest in your suitemates hobbies and interests, you will get to know them better and will feel more comfortable spending time with them and vice versa.
Don’t be afraid to invite one or all of your suitemates to do something too. Weekends @ WIT? A walk to the Prudential Center? Even running an errand or walking to class can be a good opportunity to socialize. You might feel more comfortable hanging out with each of them one-on-one rather than in a large group. By taking the initiative and inviting someone to do something they will realize that you want to hang out with them too. It’s very possible they did not realize that you were feeling left out. By making yourself available you open up more opportunities to have fun with the group.
However, it may just be that your suitemates just aren’t going to be “your people.” I think there’s a myth that most college students make friends right away and then those people are their best friends for life. I think the reality Is quite different. For most people, it takes months if not years to find “their people” – the friends that you can be your true self around. Joining clubs or other student organizations is often the best way to find “your people” since you will meet people who share your interests. The Leadership Institute Phase 1 class is another great place to meet people.
It’s important to put yourself out there, even if it’s hard. This could mean going to a Weekends @ WIT event or a club meeting by yourself and introducing yourself to people you meet there who look friendly. It can also be good to try hanging out with different people you meet to see what feels like a good fit. You might make some friends this year and then make better friends next year. That’s okay. Friends come and go as we grow and change. Your suitemates may move on and find different friends next year, too.
I think the important thing is not to worry. You may not have found your friends yet, but that does not mean anything about you as a person. You are awesome and there are people here who will think you are awesome. Whether you find them in your suite or somewhere else, they are out there. Your suitemates might have gotten lucky by finding “their people” right in their suite, but most people are in the same boat as you: still looking. You will find each other – just give it time.
Q: I'm having a small case of contradictory beliefs happening. I'm having trouble reconciling my beliefs as an adamant feminist and trying to educate others about issues about gender equality and women's rights (including issues around rape, misogyny, etc.) with another private part of my life. My boyfriend is really into bondage and I've found that I enjoy it, too. Nothing too crazy or scary, but tie-ups and role-plays to include some situations that could be considered oppressive to females if it were a real-life scenario (which it's not). My boyfriend is very respectful and doesn't do anything I don't want to do and treats women with respect and is a good man. I guess, the point I'm trying to make is that I feel guilty enjoying being tied-up and dominated "by a man" while at the same time being very vocally against male domination of women socially, physically, emotionally, etc. outside the bedroom. I guess I'm feeling like a fraud. Help?
-Hands Seem Tied
A: Dear Hands Seem Tied,
In my opinion, there is nothing contradictory about engaging in bondage play or other BDSM kink and feminism. Of course, not all feminists agree on this point – or any point – because not all feminists are the same. However, there is a feminist way to look at BDSM. The most important concept here is consent. When BDSM is done right, there is explicit and specific consent. That’s what separates it from an actual oppressive act, like rape or assault. It’s actually pretty cool that in BDSM communities, consent is taken so seriously that what goes on is often more explicitly consensual than traditional “vanilla” sex.
For example, many kink practitioners use consent checklists (like this one or this one) to really ensure that every possibility has been discussed and boundaries are clear. Kink practitioners also use safe words in case a person chooses to withdraw their consent at any time. All of this is very aligned with feminist goals around sexual consent. There’s nothing anti-feminist about your desire to be consensually tied up and dominated by a partner who respects your boundaries. In fact, in BDSM play the submissive partner actually holds the power since they really are in charge of what’s going to happen to them and what isn’t. Some people call this “topping from the bottom.” Pretty neat, right?
To add some more info and depth, I’m going to quote this blog post from The Pervocracy, titled “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”
My usual flippant answer--which also happens to be my most emotionally honest--is that it's like asking how I can be a feminist and keep guinea pigs. What do my hobbies have to do with anything? Kink is just a fun activity that involves a different part of my personality.
A deeper answer is that it's pleasurable for everyone involved. The things I think of as feministically troubling are things that harm someone. Job and school discrimination harm women economically. Sexism harms women emotionally. Violence harms women physically and emotionally. Receiving pain in BDSM makes me feel strong, makes me feel desired, makes me feel present in the moment, makes me feel alive. (Also, makes me feel extraordinarily horny and kinda high.) I know that's not proof that it's good for me or for women, but... it's a significant piece of evidence. I put up with misogynist environments sometimes because they're the path of least resistance for my personal goals; BDSM requires absolutely no "putting up with." Good kink experiences are personal goals in themselves.
For one thing, a whole lot of those arguments could apply to plain ol' sex. It can be used as a weapon of, and an excuse for, horrific abuse? People are sometimes unintentionally harmed doing it? It's horrible when done nonconsensually? There are some really awful people who are into it? A lot of the narratives around it are sexist, hetero/cisnormative, body-policing, and glamorize unsafe and questionably consensual activities? The industries that sell media and services related to it are often nightmarishly exploitative? I don't want to deny or minimize the fact that all these things happen in BDSM. I just don't think it's any worse in kink than in sex.
Actually, I'll go a little further than that. While "kink is always consensual!" is facile white-washing, on average kinksters are more aware than the general population of what consent is and why it matters. We talk about it a lot more, and we (at least try to) socially normalize the idea of negotiating it. We acknowledge that different relationships have different rules and roles, and that gender does not determine them. We freely admit that lots of people simply aren't wired for what we do, or for specific ways of doing it. We have concepts like "Risk Aware Consensual Kink" and "Your Kink Is Not My Kink, But Your Kink Is OK." Again, I won't pretend we all apply these concepts all the time, but... the fact that we even hold these as ideals puts us a little bit ahead of society at large.
If you want to look into this more, I can recommend Clarisse Thorn, who has a book coming out called “The S&M Feminist.” This blog is no longer active but it’s still a great place to read about BDSM and feminism. You can also check out this blog post.
If you are looking to explore more BDSM, be sure to talk to your partner about what you want, and where your boundaries are. Make sure you have a safe word, and that your partner understands that you can withdraw your consent at any time. In order for BDSM play to be safe, healthy, and consensual, preliminary communication is necessary. And as for reconciling your sexual desires with your feminist identity and beliefs, I hope that I have shown that it is possible to do so. Whether you choose to is up to you!
Q: Please refill the consol dispensers! I just wanna have some safe, consensual sex :'(
Q: Leah, where are the condom dispensers on campus? And are they of good quality?
A: Okay folks, here's the deal with the condom dispensers. First of all there are 3. One is located in the hallway outside the Center for Wellness and Disability Services on the ground floor of Watson Hall. Another is located in the basement of Evans Way. A third is located in the Flanagan Campus Center near the vending machines. The condom dispensers are stocked with standard, Trustex-brand, lubricated male/external condoms. The condoms are of good quality, but they are not what you might call "fancy." Condoms of different brands, sizes, shapes, textures, and colors - as well as dental dams, female condoms, latex-free condoms and lube - are all available in the Center for Wellness and Disability Services. They are located on a shelf right by the entrance. You are always welcome to come grab condoms from the Center for Wellness during office hours: 8:15am-4:45pm. The reason we installed the condom dispensers was so students would have access to condoms after hours and on weekends. We try to keep them full as often as we can, but sadly we cannot afford to keep them full 100% of the time - especially when people grab big handfuls and empty them in less than 3 hours. Condoms are expensive! So help us help you by only taking what you need, and by taking them from the Center for Wellness rather than the dispensers when you are able to. We appreciate your cooperation!
Q: I'm on birth control and haven't gotten my period even though I went through the placebo pills. I have had unprotected sex but have been extremely careful to make sure that no precum or ejaculation has happened. Is it possible that stress is a factor in this missing of a period? Or should I be worried?
A: In theory, oral/hormonal birth control should prevent pregnancy (though it doesn't provide any protection against STDs). Of course, that's if it's taken properly, e.g. no missed pills, taken at roughly the same time every day. According to Planned Parenthood, less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always take the pill each day as directed. About 9 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don’t always take the pill each day as directed. The pill may be slightly less effective for women who are very overweight. There's a reason we call it "safer sex" and not "safe sex" because the only truly "safe" action is abstinence. But that aside, it is possible that stress can cause a person to miss a period or have irregular periods. Being severely underweight or overweight can also cause missing or irregular periods, as well as travel, excessive exercise, and certain medical conditions.
For peace of mind, I would recommend getting a pregnancy test from the drugstore, or seeing a health care professional for a pregnancy test. You can get one at Harvard Vanguard Student Health Services in the MassArt Treehouse building on the 2nd floor, or you could visit Planned Parenthood or Fenway Health in Boston. If you need more advice or guidance, I would recommend the Planned Parenthood sexual health hotline.
Q: Hey. So I love my girlfriend and I just recently found out from her that she has HSV-2. I need some advice on how to go about it. She has all her medications and it's under control but I'm still a little worried of me getting it. She explained to me what it was and with the right protection it will be fine. Is there any advice that you can give me? Thank you in advance.
A: Dear Worried, to begin with, I'm so glad your girlfriend was able to share her diagnosis with you and that you have had what sounds like a respectful and compassionate conversation about your relationship and your safety. HSV-2, the virus that generally cases genital herpes, is a highly stigmatized disease. The reality, though, is that it is a relatively mild condition and something that millions of people live with. It is not something to fear, but it is something to think about carefully and talk about with your partner. There are some amazing resources out there on HSV-2. My favorite is the American Social Health Association (ASHA) Herpes Resource Center. I am going to quote from their page on relationships:
"In an intimate, sexual relationship with a person who has herpes, the risk of contracting the infection will never be zero. Some couples have sexual relationships for years without transmitting herpes just by avoiding sexual contact during outbreaks, using condoms regularly and using suppressive antiviral therapy to reduce outbreaks.
Couples deal successfully with herpes all the time. For many, it is a minor inconvenience. Since herpes does not pose a serious health risk, some couples choose not to use condoms in a long-term relationship. If you're not sure about the relationship or you're uncomfortable with the risk, consider delaying intimacy for a while. Get to know your partner better and give yourself time. Remember, all relationships face challenges, most far tougher than herpes. Good relationships stand or fall on far more important issues--including communication, respect and trust."
I would start by getting tested yourself. It is important to know your status, and since the virus may be present without symptoms, you cannot be sure of your status without getting tested. You can get tested at Student Health Services. There will be no co--pay but they will bill your insurance. You can also choose to go to Planned Parenthood, Fenway Health, or Boston Children's Hospital for confidential testing.
Children's Hospital Boston: 333 Longwood Ave., 5th Floor. (617) 355-2735
Planned Parenthood: 1055 Commonwealth Ave. 1-800-258-4448
The Sidney Borum, Jr., Health Center at Fenway Health: 130 Boylston St. (617) 457-8140
Second, there are a few safer sex practices to employ if you wish to continue or begin a sexual relationship with someone with herpes. Again, I will copy from the ASHA Herpes Resource Center FAQ's:
"If one or both partners have herpes, it is important to become educated about herpes, to understand the basics of herpes prevention, and to make decisions together about which precautions are right for you. If someone has signs or symptoms around the genital or anal region (genital herpes), he or she should not have sexual activity until all signs have healed. When there are no symptoms present, there is still the possibility of asymptomatic reactivation. Using latex condoms between outbreaks for genital-to-genital contact can reduce the risk of transmission. While condoms don't always cover the potential sites of viral shedding, they offer useful protection against the virus by protecting or covering the mucous membranes that are the most likely sites of transmission. Furthermore, keep in mind that condoms also help reduce the risk of acquiring another STD.
One antiviral medication for herpes, valacyclovir, has been shown to reduce the risk of herpes transmission. When a person with a history of recurrent genital herpes takes 500 mg of valacyclovir daily, it can reduce the risk of transmission to a partner who does not have the virus by 50%. It's likely that a combination of suppressive valacyclovir and condoms provides greater protection than either method alone.
We do not recommend regular use of the spermicide nonoxynol-9 (“N-9”) as it can cause irritation in the genital area, making it easier for some STDs to be transmitted. If a spermicide is used, it should be used with a condom, not in place of one."
For more tips, please visit the ASHA page and read the rest. You could also talk to your doctor about this. You can also consider calling the Planned Parenthood Sexual Health hotline.
Of course, there's no need to rush into a sexual relationship right away. Take some time to think about it and talk about it. Practice other forms of intimacy, like cuddling and kissing. Remember that it is your decision and whatever you decide is okay and valid. So many things in our lives include an element of risk - even driving a car. There's no way to completely eliminate risk from our lives, but it's up to each of us to decide which risks we want to take. Only you can make that decision for yourself.
Q: Leah, my long time girlfriend just broke up with me because she "needed to figure out what she wanted". I truly love her and I can't just let her go. What do I do?
--Broken and Confused
A: Dear Broken, I am so sorry this happened to you. I will not sugarcoat it. Being left by someone you love is one of the hardest things anyone must get through. But you will get through it, and that is something you can hold on to. I understand that her reasoning sounds vague and confusing. But it is also valid. College is a tricky time for relationships. You are still so young and your adult lives have yet to take shape. You are still growing and changing and figuring out what kind of people you want to be and what kind of lives you want to live. Sometimes this type of growth and change results in a relationship or a partner no longer making sense for you, meeting your needs, or making you happy. Sometime's it's a logistical problem like timing or distance. Relationships that worked in high school might not work in college, and relationships that worked in college may not work after college.
It's often not a loss of love. But love isn't enough of a reason to stay in a relationship. Sometimes we love people we shouldn't be with, or cannot be with, or don't want to be with. Take comfort in knowing that this is not your fault, and that you are still loved by many people, quite possibly by her as well. And if not, I'm sorry. That hurts, but the pain is not insurmountable. I will share a quote from Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed), one of my favorite advice columnists:
"You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else. Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."
You asked what you should do. First, reach out to friends and family for support or just to listen. Let them help you. Let your friends watch movies with you or drag you to social gatherings or try to cheer you up, even if it doesn't work. Let them know you're hurting. Do not be ashamed of your feelings. To love is an act of bravery. Your vulnerability is strength.
Second, practice good self care. Indulge yourself with whatever gives you comfort. It is okay to cuddle up in blankets and watch Netflix for 6 hours if that is what you need. Show yourself compassion and patience. Nourish your body with good, wholesome dishes. Fill yourself up with hot tea. Go for walks or go to the gym. Listen to music that makes you feel connected. Write in a journal. Let all of your feelings and thoughts and sadness flow out onto the paper. Allow yourself some time to feel bad before you begin to feel okay again.
If some time has passed and you're still hurting, or even if you just need someone to talk to or process with, please reach out to our counselors at the Center for Wellness and Disability Services. They are more than happy to sit with you and listen and help. You can call (617-989-4390) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or stop by (Watson 003). We are here for you.
Q: A female student at WIT living on campus just was diagnosed with genital type ONE Herpes virus(after visiting an off campus gynecologist for diagnosis and consult). This was from a boy she has known for one year and considers to be one of her best friends. No other person could have transferred this to her as she has not had a sexual partner in many months except this other one campus WIT male student. How does she go about telling him he infected her with this virus so that he does not infect other girls? She is uncomfortable with the whole thing, emotionally and psychologically a wreck. Now taking prescribed AB tx for this virus and will have it forever. She is putting off telling him. Should someone else tell him?
A: This is a really tough thing, and it's really great that your friend is taking the time to think through how she wants to approach this. It's normal for folks recently diagnosed to go through a whole range of emotions and it can be helpful to talk about it with a friend or family member you trust, or a counselor. It's also important to remember that 1 in 5 or 6 people in the United States (over 51 million Americans) have herpes so your friend is definitely not alone. There are a lot of great places on the internet where people with herpes come together to share information and support. Your friend might want to check out the HC Support Network, or stop by the Center for Wellness and Disability Services to talk with a counselor.
It may be better for the two of them to discuss it together, although I cannot really say for sure without knowing the players involved. Assuming your friend is up for it, and that she and he are good friends, he might appreciate hearing it directly from her rather than a third party. It's important to remember that he may know he has herpes, he may not know he has herpes, or he may not actually have herpes. If he has herpes and knew it, then the discussion might address the issue of trust. However, he could have herpes but not know it because outbreaks can mild and go unnoticed. It is also possible that the virus can be active and not cause any symptoms. This is called "asymptomatic shedding." It's also possible that he does not have herpes. If this is the case, it is possible that your friend was exposed to the virus prior to her relationship with him and did not notice any symptoms, or that the symptoms did not occur until recently.
Your friend might want to choose a time and a safe place to have the conversation, where and when they won't be distracted. One way to start the conversation could be: "I care about you very much and want to talk with you about something that is very important to me [or that I'm concerned about]... I went to a woman's health care provider the other day because I had pain and discomfort, and I was surprised to learn that I have herpes." After saying what she needs to say, it's a good idea to pause and give him time to respond or react. I cannot predict how he will react, but if he is defensive, your friend might reassure him that she is simply confused and trying to figure out how she got infected. It's always good to emphasize that she cares about him and knows he cares about her too. If both parties do really care for each other and are willing to approach the conversation from a place of care and concern, they will be able to overcome this challenge to their relationship. When they are ready, they can begin talking about ways to manage risk of transmission in the future.
Please feel invited and welcome to come speak with me, or any of the counselors in the Center for Wellness and Disability Services about this issue. We are here to help. Contact email@example.com to reach me, or firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment with a counselor.
Q: I used to be a pretty good athlete. Then I began smoking for about a year. I recently quit but by the time I quit I was easily a pack a day. I can't breathe like I used to when doing physical activity, will my body recover over time?
A: It normally takes 3-4 months after quitting smoking for your lung function to return to normal. However, if it is taking longer than that or if you have any history of asthma or respiratory issues in your family, you may want to check with a doctor. For some folks, certain respiratory treatments might be helpful to support lung recovery. Check out the American Cancer Society website for more info on how your body recovers from smoking over time.
Q: Are there places on campus or nearby in Boston for free STD testing?
A: Yes! STD testing is available at Harvard Vanguard Student Health Services. While there is no co-pay (so no cost up front), Harvard Vanguard will bill your health insurance for the testing. If you are on your parents' health insurance, they may be able to see on the bill summary that you had some lab tests done. For some students, this is not a problem. Others might choose to get tested elsewhere. The good news is that there are lots of testing sites around Boston. Children's Hospital provides free and confidential STD testing for young adults ages 13-24. Planned Parenthood and Fenway Health also provide confidential STD testing. They both have multiple payment options, including a sliding scale. This means they will only ask you to pay what you can afford.
- Children's Hospital Boston: 333 Longwood Ave., 5th Floor. (617) 355-2735
- Planned Parenthood: 1055 Commonwealth Ave. 1-800-258-4448
- The Sidney Borum, Jr., Health Center at Fenway Health: 130 Boylston St. (617) 457-8140
Q: Are female condoms more effective than male condoms? If so, how?
A: Great question! It depends on your goal. If we're talking pregnancy prevention, male condoms are slightly more effective when used correctly. In one year with perfect use (meaning couples use condoms consistently and correctly at every act of sex), 98% of women relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free. With typical use, 85% relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free. By comparison, under the same conditions, 95% of women relying on the female condom will remain pregnancy free. With typical use, 79% relying on female condoms will remain pregnancy free. When condoms (male or female) are used in conjunction with another form of birth control like the pill, ring, or shot, for example, then you're as close to 100% covered as you'll ever be!
Of course, there's more to safer sex than simply pregnancy prevention. Condoms are also really important for preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In this case, female condoms are actually a bit more effective than male condoms because they cover more skin area. Some STIs like herpes and the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause genital warts, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact -- even if someone doesn't have any visible symptoms! This is why female condoms, which have an outer ring that covers more skin around the vulva or the anus, can be a little more effective for preventing STI transmission.
One thing that's important to remember about the female condom is that it is made of polyurethane, not latex, which means it is a bit less stretchy. In order to avoid tearing the condom, use lots of lube!
Q: Is it true organic foods from Peru are not good quality?
A: I have not heard any evidence that this is the case. There is an issue of sustainability, however, regarding the trendy Peruvian pseudo-cereal, quinoa. Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a super food because it is high in protein, dietary fiber, and iron. It even has some calcium. It's also gluten-free and makes great staple food for vegetarians, vegans, and folks with Celiac disease. Quinoa grows in the high-altitude Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia and historically, it has been an important staple of the Andean diet. However, these areas of Peru and Bolivia are impoverished, and the recent popularity of quinoa in the United States has raised the price of the crop the making it difficult for Peruvians and Bolivians to afford it. This could have devastating effects on local food security. To learn more about this issue, check out this article in The Guardian.
Q: After wandering the woods of Panem and being stung by a 1-3 Tracker Jackers, are you (in your state of delirium), able to:
a) drive a car
b) have unprotected sex
c) all of the above
d) none of the above
-Dazed and Confused
A: Dear Dazed and Confused,
I'd have to say d) none of the above. When you're under the influence of any mind-altering substance, be it alcohol, marijuana, other drugs, or even Tracker Jacker venom, it's generally a bad idea to do any risky activities. Driving is certainly a risky activity, and as for unprotected sex, that's something I'd advise against doing even when completely sober. It's always important to use protection to prevent pregnancy and STD transmission.