Hormonal Birth Control Made Me Crazy

I went off birth control when my relationship ended two months ago, after being on it for over three years. In the weeks that followed, school started up again, I did some freelance work, socialized with friends and family, and basically just went about my life as usual – with one key difference: for the first time in three years, I felt 100% happy, well-adjusted, and sane.

When I started flooding my system with artificial hormones in April 2011, I was about to go through some major life changes: starting school, getting into my first sexual relationship with a cis dude, enduring the deaths and mourning of a few people I loved, and falling out of touch with some of my high school friends. So when I started to feel sad, antsy, isolated and irrational, I thought it was just the circumstances of my life transforming me into a different person. I thought, I guess this is my personality now. I wasn’t thrilled about it but I didn’t think it was fixable.

I’d have bad anxiety days, when I’d show up at school and have the unsinkable sensation that everyone around me was staring at me and whispering about me. I’d have bouts of depression so bad that I had to call my city’s distress centre and sob at them over the phone, or lie in bed all day staring at the wall. I’d get irrationally upset at things my boyfriend said or did. I’d look at my body in the mirror and absolutely hate what I saw. My creative output all but stopped and I knew I needed to write and make music but it just didn’t happen, no matter how much I tried.

In short, I had turned into a nutcase. I could see that it had happened, but, again, I thought it was just the new state of my life and that I couldn’t do anything to change it.

Since going off birth control, I’ve felt sunny, excitable, flirty, creative, juiced up, carefree, and ambitious. I’m taking six very challenging courses with heavy workloads at school but I’m breezing through them with excellent grades and not giving a fuck what my classmates think of me. I wake up every day excited to put on a cute outfit, skip to the streetcar stop and go on a new day’s adventure. And my creative output is up up up.

As happy as I feel… I also feel kind of angry. Angry that I had no idea how much birth control was messing me up. Angry that the side effects of birth control are so often misrepresented or downplayed when they can actually literally transform your life. Angry that my doctor told me I should continue with hormones when I asked her to give me a copper IUD instead. Angry that I lost three years of my life to lunacy and turmoil.

Sure, there are some downsides of going off BC – my skin is a tad spottier, my periods will be unpredictable when they start back up, my sex drive is once again high to the point of almost being unmanageable, and my weight loss has slowed right down – but I think mental health is way more important than any of those things. I’ll happily be a zitty, chubby, horndog version of myself if it means I get to be outgoing, cheerful, productive and creative. That trade-off is a no-brainer.

I’ve spoken to a few friends who have corroborated my experiences, and now I’m wondering: did this happen to you? Do you know people who’ve gone through this too? Do you consider your mental health when you make contraceptive decisions? Are you as pissed off as I am that you didn’t know about this sooner?

5 Things I’m More in Touch With, Now That I’m Single Again

God, I can’t believe that prior to my break-up this past weekend, it had been over three years since the last time I was single. I mean, wow, man. In high school I sort of conceptualized myself as a “forever alone” type, so it’s truly astonishing to me that I was in a relationship for that long – that someone actually liked me enough to want to be with me and stay with me.

But what’s even more astonishing is that I wanted to be single again, which is what prompted the break-up – and that I’m enjoying the hell out of it already. Yeah, I miss my ex occasionally, like when I see a movie he would’ve liked or when something hilarious happens to me that I wish I could tell him about – but the benefits outweigh the costs and I am loving the single life.

Here are 5 unexpected things I’ve been getting back in touch with, since my break-up…

1. My natural cycle.

Well, not quite yet, but soon. Yes, an exciting announcement: I’ve gone off hormonal birth control!

While I dig how it’s kept my periods regular and my skin relatively calm, I’ve never been thrilled about pumping myself full of hormones, especially given that I’ve got a family history of breast cancer, a fact that doesn’t bode well when mixed with estrogen. And of course, birth control comes with a host of possible side effects, which, for me, included increased cramps, premenstrual irritability, depression, and sometimes suicidal ideation.

I’m looking forward to seeing what my ovaries and uterus will do when left to their own devices. A couple years before going on HBC, I was diagnosed with a benign ovarian cyst that really messed with my cycles, but it had shrunk considerably at the time that I started on the pill, so it’s possible it’s gone completely now – in which case, I might actually have regular periods! Hooray!

2. My natural vaginal aroma.

Uh, yeah, totally TMI. Sorry-not-sorry.

When I’m sexually active, I’m always worrying about vaginal smells, even though I consider myself body-positive and my partners have always told me not to concern myself with that stuff.

I mean, when I knew I was going to receive oral sex for the first time at age 16, I snuck away to the bathroom and gave myself a pre-cunnilingus scrubdown with DivaWash. And the girl told me I tasted slightly soapy so probably I shouldn’t have bothered.

Well, anyway. Now that no one’s face is down there regularly, I’m being less obsessive about keeping things pristine in that region. And it’s nice. I’m discovering that I actually don’t hate the way I smell. Maybe it’s the changes I’ve made to my diet and exercise routine lately, but the fragrance is actually kind of… sweet. Earthy. Natural. Lovely. Hmm…

3. Flirty energy.

Holy shit, this is blowing my mind.

I may have mentioned here before that my ex and I had an “arrangement” – a compromise between his desire for total monogamy and my complaint that the lack of flirtatious possibilities in my life was making me feel dead inside. (It’s possible that I’m a bit melodramatic.) We had negotiated that we were both allowed to flirt with and kiss other people, on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis. (That part wasn’t my idea. You might be able to tell from my blog that I always prefer to talk things out and be 100% honest, but the boyf just wasn’t into that.)

Well, despite this tiny negotiated degree of openness, I never felt quite right about flirting with other people while I was “taken.” I hated hiding it from my partner, and I felt like it was somehow dishonest to the people I was flirting with, too – like they’d believe it could go further than it actually could. Kissing was the hard limit; some folks tried to push past that boundary, thinking surely it would be okay, and I always had to stop them, even though it felt really unnatural to do so.

Obviously, all this guilt and concealment also meant that I couldn’t blog about my adventures, lest they be read by the boyfriend or by a relative or family friend who didn’t know about our monogamishness and wouldn’t have understood it if they did.

Now that all barriers to flirtation have been wrecking-ball’ed into oblivion, I can flirt as much as I damn well please. I haven’t really taken advantage of this fact yet – hell, it hasn’t even been a week yet – but just the option is making me feel giddy and enlivened. And if anything does happen, I can blog about it with wild abandon!

4. Being sexy in public.

By “in public,” I mostly mean “online,” because that’s the kind of person I am: an introvert and a geek. But I’m working on it.

Another thing my boyfriend didn’t like me to do was post naked or otherwise scandalous pictures of myself online. When you’re living in monogamy-land, this sort of makes sense, but every time I mentioned it to my poly friends, they’d be outraged on my behalf. “He doesn’t own your body!” they’d cry. “You can do what you want with your own tits and ass!”

I had really conflicted feelings about this, and I still do – but the fact remains that I do indeed hate the feeling of someone thinking they get to decide what I do and don’t do with my body. Sure, I understand why a monogamous partner wouldn’t want me to share my sexuality with another person… but I don’t consider my naked body to be an inherently sexual thing. Posting those pictures isn’t sexual for me; it’s an act of self-love, a confidence booster, a bold declaration of my womanhood and body-acceptance and unconventional beauty. It feels good, not illicit, and it feels like something I ought to be able to make my own decisions about.

Well, now that I’m single, I can. I’ve been posting as many (anonymous) naked pictures as I feel like posting. I’ve been enjoying the comments, guilt-free. Ohhhh yessss.

5. Being alone.

I don’t mean being single. I mean being physically alone. Being in a room that no one else is in. And not stressing that I “should be” spending time with someone. Just being.

The death knell of my relationship was when I realized that spending time with my partner had started to feel more like an obligation than a joy. It was another thing on my list that I had to do, like completing my sociology readings and emptying the dishwasher.

I have great love and fondness for my ex, but when someone is your Boyfriend-with-a-capital-B, it’s expected that you spend a lot of time with them. They expect it, and so do other people in your life. As an introvert, and someone with a lot of schoolwork and work-work on my plate, that got to feel like a lot of pressure. And the pressure to spend time with him sucked the joy right out of it.

Last night I was lying in bed reading a book, and I stopped and just thought to myself, “There is nowhere I’m supposed to be right now. There is nothing I’m supposed to be doing. There is no one who’s disappointed that I’ve decided to take tonight for myself.” And that realization was BLISSFUL. I sank down into the covers, took a long sip of tea, and buried my head back in my book. Mmm, heaven. Sheer heaven.

Look, I’m not saying the break-up didn’t make me sad. It did. And I’m not saying I’m never lonely, because sometimes I am. But by and large, I can see that this was the right decision for me. I’m thrilled with my life right now, even though I’m busy as hell with school and work and people keep asking me in hushed tones whether I’m “okay.”

I am more than okay. I’m reclaiming myself.

What was the best part of your last break-up? Got any advice for me on this journey of “finding myself” again?

How to Have Sex as a Teenager

I have been a sexually active teenager. As many of you know, it can be a hard life. Sneaking around, telling egregious lies to your parents, struggling to get access to contraceptives… I do not miss it.

However, despite the lies told by abstinence-only sex ed programs, many teens can and do have sex. So obviously, with that reality in mind, the best way to maximize pleasure and minimize problems is to equip ‘em with the info they need. Here’s my guide to having sex as a teen.

1. Get informed. Don’t rush into things without knowing what you’re doing. Here are some resources you’ll want to check out to fill your noggin with crucial sex info:
Planned Parenthood’s website is full of unbiased, useful facts that your high school sex ed class may have glossed over or missed altogether. Check out the birth control page, as well as their pages on general sexuality and STIs – though, let’s face it, their whole website is gold.
Violet Blue’s blog might be a bit advanced for teens, but she does have some great sex ed pages. Here are some of the most useful for the average teen: sex advice and techniques, fellatio, cunnilingus, kissing. (There are more in her sidebar.) These pages are full of articles, erotica, and safety information about the different kinds of sex you might be having or thinking about having.
• One of my personal sex ed super-sources when I was a teen was the Sex is Fun podcast. It approaches sex from a non-judgmental and pleasure-focused perspective, and is often quite entertaining. I suggest you start with the first 100 shows, as they cover the most basic topics. You can put ’em on your MP3 player or phone and listen while you walk to school or work out or whatever it is that you do, and no one will know that you’re learning about sex!
Scarleteen is widely considered one of the best sources of sex info for teens, and I agree. Their website is soooo full of content that you could read it for hours at a time and still be fascinated. The “first time here” page is the perfect place to start. And they have a message board. Just trust me on this one: you need to check out Scarleteen.
• Reddit’s Sexxit community is a good place to ask any sex questions that you can’t find answers to elsewhere. It’s an adult-oriented community but teens do wander in from time to time, and are always treated with respect.

2. Get protection. Listen to me, younglings: you need to be using some form of protection when you become sexually active. It is a non-negotiable. Sorry, that’s how it is. Here’s what you need to know…
• Condoms are often given out for free at places like Planned Parenthood clinics, other local health or sexual health clinics, high school nurse’s offices (depending on your school’s politics), your doctor’s office (if you ask nicely), and so on.
• If you have the money and are brave enough (or can enlist a friend or partner who is brave enough), you can also just buy condoms at your local drugstore. Don’t get anything that has a fancy texture or cooling/warming lube – just get a box of basic condoms.
• If pregnancy is a possibility with the kind of sex you’re planning on having, you need to think about birth control. (Condoms are pretty effective on their own when used perfectly, but most people don’t use them perfectly, and some people like to use birth control too, just to be extra sure they won’t get pregnant.) This Planned Parenthood factsheet has all the info about the different types of birth control, both hormonal and not, including their efficacy rates, side effects, costs, and so on. Read up and make an informed decision.
• If your doctor won’t prescribe you birth control, or they need your parents’ consent and you don’t want to ask your parents, or your regular pharmacy’s BC prices are too steep, you can seek out a Planned Parenthood clinic in your area and ask them to hook you up. Their prices are typically better and they are good about anonymity.
• If you or your partner have had sex with someone else before, whether consensual or not, STIs are a possibility. You can get tested together (for a fee) at a Planned Parenthood clinic, or another sexual health clinic (if it has no age rules).

3. Communicate. It can be really hard to communicate about sex (what each of you wants in bed, what you absolutely don’t want to do, etc.), especially when you’ve never done it before and/or don’t have a proper model for what it should look like. Here are some good resources about that:
• Dr. Debby Herbenick wrote this article about best practices for sexual communication.
• This UC Davis guide is pretty awesome.
• Here is a random textbook chapter about communicating sexually.
• This zine, Learning Good Consent, teaches all about consent, which isn’t always as simple as “yes” or “no.” You should have a look even if you think you know what consent means and how to recognize it.

4. Find a place to do it. Some teens are lucky enough to have parents who don’t mind them having sex in the house – but then there are others who won’t even let you be in your room with your partner when the door’s closed! Here are some locations you could try:
• Do your parents or your partner’s parents ever go out of the house for an evening, a weekend, or a more extended trip? That might be a good time to have sex in the house. Just make sure you clean up after yourself.
• Do you have any friends with cool parents (or parents who are often out of the house) who might let you use their place from time to time?
• Does one of you have a car that you can have sex in, or can you borrow one? (Having sex in public is illegal, of course, but you may be able to find a secluded enough area. Attempt at your own risk!)
• Keeping the above warning in mind: there are other public places that are pseudo-private and might work. I once had sex inside a playground tube at night, for example. Just make sure you keep a lookout, and bring condoms!
• If your parents are cool with you closing the door but you don’t want them to know you’re having sex, you can get creative to make sure they don’t hear you. It can be hot to have to remain totally silent, like you’re keeping a sexy secret together. And it can be fun to explore the terrain of your bedroom to find the quietest possible surface to bang on. (I used to have a super squeaky bed so my partner and I always had to have sex on the floor to minimize noise!) Additionally, you could try the age-old trick of blasting loud music to cover up your sex sounds, though that might arouse suspicion!

5. Listen to your body and your partner, not your expectations. This is the advice I wish someone had given me when I first became sexually active! Here are some examples of what I mean:
• If you’ve ever watched porn before, you might have the idea that someone who’s really enjoying themselves sexually will make a lot of noise. The truth is, not everyone is noisy in bed. Sexy sounds might develop over time, but don’t expect your partner (or yourself) to bust out loud moans and shrieks right off the bat. If you’re not sure if they’re enjoying themselves, ask them instead of relying on unreliable signals.
• If a particular sexual act doesn’t feel that great to you, but you feel like you’re “supposed to” enjoy it, don’t pretend to enjoy it! Instead, have a talk with your partner about what the two of you could try to make it more enjoyable. Lube? A different speed or rhythm? More foreplay? Harder or softer touch? And if you find that no adjustments can make you like a particular act, remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If a sex act makes you uncomfortable or just feels bad, you don’t have to do it.
• If you’re having sex with someone who has a vagina, remember that clitoral stimulation is required for the majority of those folks to have an orgasm. Vaginal stimulation alone won’t do it in most cases. It’s easy to add clit stimulation: you or your partner can use fingers, or you can incorporate a small vibrator (some drugstores sell ’em alongside the condoms, if you want to give vibes a try – though don’t judge vibrators on those, because they’re not the best!).
• If your partner asks you whether or not you’re enjoying something they’re doing, try not to lie, even if the truth is kind of embarrassing. When you lie, you give your partner the wrong signals and you deny yourself the kind of sex you want, while also denying your partner the pleasure of making you feel good. Sexual honesty is important, and if you can get good at it early, you’ll be ahead of the game!
• If you’re feeling good and having fun, and your partner is too, then the sex you’re having is successful. Don’t worry too much about orgasms, duration, what sex is “supposed” to look or feel like, or any other peripheral concerns like that. Pleasure and fun should be your main goals; all the rest is extra.
• For more info on how real-life sex can be different from some people’s expectations, have a look through Make Love, Not Porn.

What do you wish someone had told you when you first became sexually active? Teens: what kind of information do you think people in your age group need more of, in order to have safe, fulfilling sex?

Birth Control: An Inconvenient Truth

As a bisexual, one of the things people often ask me is whether I prefer dating men or women. While that is obviously a stupid question, given that I choose partners based on their awesome qualities and not on their genitals, there is one thing that kind of sucks about dating people who have penises: it requires me to be on birth control.

When I first got into my current relationship, which is my first serious relationship with a dude, I got prescribed Alesse – a lower-dose hormonal contraceptive pill. (I was recommended the lower dosage because I have a family history of breast cancer.)

The first 12-18 months or so were hellish. Bad cramps, heavier and more frequent periods than I was used to, and – worst of all – one or two days every month of total batshit moodiness. During those days I’d feel depressed, sometimes suicidal, and always listless and dysfunctional. Many a time, I called up my city’s distress centre to weep at them, or sobbed uncontrollably all over my boyfriend’s formerly dry shirt.

I had always heard that the worst side effects of hormonal birth control will tend to go away after only a few months of being on the drug, but that wasn’t the case for me. It took at least a year before things started to clear up.

After that, I didn’t have depressed days anymore (at least, not hormonally-induced ones), my cramps weren’t as bad, and I got used to the amount of blood, so everything was cool. Except that I had started to hate the process of taking a pill every day. It was annoying to have to remember to do it at the same time, every single day, forever. So I went to see my doctor to discuss other options.

She put me on the NuvaRing, a squishy, hormone-emanating circle that you shove up inside your vag and leave for 3 weeks at a time. I LOVE IT. It’s genius.

Initially I was worried that I’d get an infection from using it, namely BV, because that’s what tends to happen to me when I leave something in my vagina too long. So I would take it out during every shower and give it a rinse before sticking it back in. But eventually I discovered that this wasn’t really necessary. I’ve been wearing my current ring continuously since I put it in 2+ weeks ago and haven’t gotten an infection or even any discomfort.

The one thing that doesn’t thrill me about the NuvaRing is that it makes me a little bit hesitant to use penetrative toys, because I’m worried that the ring will fall out. But really, I shouldn’t worry about that. If it does fall out, I can just rinse it off and put it back in.

My partner and I also use condoms on top of my hormonal BC. Maybe that makes us paranoid, but whatever – we just really, really cannot get pregnant at this juncture in our lives, so we’re being careful. With proper use of high-effectiveness BC methods, condoms aren’t necessary.

Do you use birth control? What’s your current method? Would you recommend it?

Sharing the Sexy #18

• Sex-positive feminist podcast The G Spot has just released its entire first season as a Valentine’s Day gift for you or someone you love.

How to have sex with a survivor. Important stuff.

• I think we can all agree that the new Fucking Sculptures line of glass dildos looks pretty damn excellent. I’m intrigued by the Corkscrew, and laughing at their choice of name for the Hooded Nun.

Porn in space?! Oh man, this should be good.

• A line of lingerie for trans woman has launched.

• Interesting… Apparently gay and bi men are less depressed than straight ones. (Also, please watch the Steve Hughes video at the top of that post – it’s a classic!)

He’s a dildo engineer and Reddit grilled him about his work. Incase you ever wondered. I know I did!

When will feminists stop being equated with bitches?! And did it ever occur to the writer of that piece that maybe the reason it can be hard for a feminist to get with a man is not that she’s a bitch, but that he’s an ignorant, privileged asshole?

• Here’s some important information about the U.S.’s new birth control policies.

• Um, apparently Cosmo thinks you should wear Spanx on dates to keep you from having sex too soon?

• Here’s an amusing urban legend about sexual ignorance.

• Dodson and Ross explain how to use your PC muscle during sex.

• Call a spade a spade? Epiphora says call a sex toy a sex toy. What do you think?