It’s summer in Indiana, and you know what that means: extremely hot and humid days that are perfect for swimming! By the height of summer, it is honestly too hot to step outside unless you are stepping directly into a pool. Even though days of lounging by a pool in a swimsuit sound luxurious and effortless, your period is still going to happen despite wanting to wear your cute bikini bottoms. 

Although periods can cause bloating, headaches, and other discomforts, managing your menstrual flow should not stop you from enjoying time by the pool, on the beach, or in a lake. There are a handful of great options for managing your period during the summer months when you want to spend your time in a swimsuit submerged in cool water with a cold drink in hand!

1. Tampons

This tried and true method for period management is a great swimsuit-proof way to manage your period during the summer. Tampons are inserted into the vagina via an applicator that is removed, leaving the cotton tampon inside the vagina with a string hanging out. The cotton absorbs the blood, collecting it until it is ready to be changed. When you’re ready to remove your tampon, pull on the string to remove the cotton. 

Tampons are sold at nearly every grocery and drug store, with a variety of options to choose from. Depending on your flow, activity level, and applicator preference, you can find a size that works for you. Make sure you don’t leave your tampon in for more than eight hours, as there is a risk for toxic shock syndrome. Depending on your flow, you will likely need to change it more often than that anyway.

2. Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups have gained popularity over the last few years for being a reusable, super sustainable option for period care. Menstrual cups are small bell-shaped cups made from silicone or latex that are inserted into the vagina and collect your menstrual blood. There is a little stem on the end of the cup that stays in the vaginal canal, allowing you to remove it. To insert, you pinch the top of the cup, relax the vaginal muscles, and insert using your fingers. The opening of the cup sucks into place around the opening of the cervix and collects your blood throughout the day for up to 12 hours. 

While it is inserted, you shouldn’t feel it, and there will be that little knob of the cup that you can grab when it’s time to remove it. When you are ready to empty it, bear down using your bathroom muscles, grab the knob at the end of the cup, then carefully pull the cup out of the vagina. It will be filled with blood, so be careful in case of any spills. If you’re able to remove the cup in the shower at the end of the day, that would be ideal for clean-up.

Menstrual cups come in different sizes depending on if you have given birth yet or not, as that changes the size of the cervix a bit. Menstrual cups are a little expensive (around $40), but they end up being more economical than tampons because one cup lasts years and years. You clean it in between uses, following the directions that come with your specific cup.

3. Menstrual discs

Similar to menstrual cups, menstrual discs are inserted into the vagina and collect blood at the cervical opening. Menstrual discs are single-use items, however, and have to be thrown away after each use, similar to tampons. Menstrual discs look like actual little discs with a flexible round opening and material to collect the menstrual blood. To insert the disc, pinch the top of the disc so it is compact, then use your fingers to insert it into the vagina. Just like your menstrual cup, the opening of the disc will seal itself around the cervix and collect blood. 

Unlike a menstrual cup, the disc keeps the vaginal canal completely open. The disc sits at the top of the vagina, right below the cervix. These discs can also be kept in for up to 12 hours, while some even empty themselves as you use the restroom. When you’re ready to remove the disc, (with clean hands of course), bear down to activate those bathroom muscles, and insert your pointer finger into the vagina until you can use it to hook onto the edge of the disc and pull it out. Similar to menstrual cups, this can be a little messy upon your first few tries. Once the disc is removed, dump out the menses, then throw it away and insert a new one.

4. Period swimwear

You may have heard of period underwear as a way to manage your period, but now period swimwear is an option as well. Similar to period underwear, period swimwear is made from absorbent, odor-proof material that can hold 1-3 tampons worth of blood. Although this might not sound like a high level of absorbency, remember you would just wear this while you’re swimming, which would likely be only a few hours. 

Period swimwear can also be used as a backup method when wearing a tampon, cup, or disc, offering you extra protection. Period swimwear would be a great option on the lightest days of your period, absorbing the little bit of blood you might have as you start or finish your cycle. They’re as easy to use as regular swimwear- just put them on, and you’re good to go! You would wash them of course between uses, but this is definitely the least invasive method. 

Periods can have poor timing and cause discomfort, but don’t let your menstrual cycle get in the way of you having fun and being cute in your swimsuit this summer. If you’re not sure what period management method is best for you, talk to your gynecologist and express your needs or concerns. Knowing your vaginal health, your doctor can likely recommend what would work best for you. If you opt to use a tampon, cup, or disc, know it might take a few tries to successfully insert into the vagina. Menstrual cups and discs especially take a few tries to practice inserting and removing since you are using your hands and not an applicator to do so. 

Now go have some fun in the sun this summer!

Menopause is when your period stops permanently and your estrogen and progesterone levels go down. You are officially in menopause when you haven’t had your period for one year. The time leading up to the last menstrual cycle that we typically think of having hot flashes and other side effects is actually called perimenopause or the menopausal transition. This transition into menopause can happen anywhere from four to seven years before your last period, and after you’re in menopause, many symptoms can last for up to 14 years! Yowza! Menopause is an experience that all menstruating people will have, and it takes up a good portion of your life. 

Why does menopause affect sex drive?

Because of the changing hormone levels during menopause, your sexual desire and physical sexual experiences might change. Along with the more well-known symptoms of menopause such as mood swings, hot flashes, headaches, and forgetfulness, vaginal dryness can also lead to discomfort during penetrative sex. These hormonal changes, as well as the physical changes happening to the body, can lead to an overall decreased interest in penetrative sex. If you are still wanting to feel physically close and intimate with your partner, there are ways to do that even in menopause.

How else can you enjoy sex?

Open your mind as to what a physical, intimate experience with your partner (or yourself) can be. Penetrative sex is not the only option for pleasure. If penetrative sex no longer feels good due to lack of lubrication, try some other stuff. You can incorporate sex toys like a vibrator that stimulates the clitoris or the nipples or explore other erogenous zones such as the ears, the nipples, or behind the knees. You could read a sexy story together or give each other a sensual massage. Penetrative sex is not the only option, and exploring new ways of touching and pleasuring each other is an erotic experience that could bring you and your partner closer. 

Lubricants are great for menopausal sex

If you are wanting to experience penetrative sex, however, you can use lubricants right before inserting anything into the vagina or talk to your doctor about prescribed estrogen that will increase your vaginal lubrication over a period of several weeks. Lubricants can be found at any drug store and can be used at the moment of penetrative sex. Water-based lubricant is always best, as it is compatible with sex toys and condoms. If you’re wanting prescribed estrogen, visit your doctor and chat about it. 

This can make penetrative sex more enjoyable. You might notice after menopause though, that your body responds to touch a little differently. This is totally normal. Take your time, communicate with your partner, and don’t be afraid to use toys or other sexy items like erotica to turn yourself and your partner on. 

Some people have an increased sex drive after menopause once the risk of unwanted pregnancy is gone. Not everyone experiences a decrease in their interest in sexual activity. If you do though, talk to your doctor, talk to your partner, and get creative. Your body has changed during this time, so it’s natural if your sexual desires and activities change with it.

The vagina is a truly magnificent part of the body. Not only can it bring life into this world and then bounce back to its original shape, but it also is a self-cleaning organ. The vagina is lined with a thin layer of moisture that keeps the vaginal pH steady, preventing irritation/infection, and allowing sperm to become fertilized during procreative sex. This moisture is caused by estrogen, one of the female sex hormones. When estrogen levels decrease, the moisture in the vagina decreases as well, causing vaginal dryness.

What is vaginal dryness?

Vaginal dryness isn’t necessarily an unsafe condition, but it can be uncomfortable. Vaginal dryness can cause burning or itching, discomfort, as well as pain during or after intercourse. It can also cause bleeding after intercourse. Although vaginal dryness is a normal, natural part of life, pain during or after sex does not need to be. There are many ways to treat vaginal dryness and ensure you have a fun, pleasurable sex life. Vaginal dryness can also cause urinary tract infections.

How do hormones affect our vagina?

Estrogen levels lower naturally as we age, especially during menopause. One in three women experiences vaginal dryness as part of their menopause symptoms. Dropping estrogen levels can also be caused by childbirth, breastfeeding, excessive stress, rigorous exercise, some medication, as well as some cancer treatments. If you have a vagina, you will experience vaginal dryness at some point. It’s pretty common. If you do experience vaginal dryness and it is causing you UTIs, discomfort, or pain during sex, even a loss of interest in sex, talk to your doctor and find a treatment.

What type of lubricant should I use?

Over-the-counter lubricant can be an easy way to treat vaginal dryness during penis-in-vagina sex, or when inserting toys or fingers into the vagina. Water-based lubricant works best, as it is safe to use with condoms and all types of sex toys. Be sure to get a fragrance-free lubricant so you don’t cause any irritation to the vagina. Lube can be found at any grocery store or drug store, is fairly inexpensive, and can be used in the moment to treat vaginal dryness and make intercourse more pleasurable.

Other treatments for vaginal dryness

If you are wanting a long-term treatment for vaginal dryness, or are having issues outside of discomfort during sex, you can take estrogen to increase the moisture your vagina is naturally producing. You can take an estrogen pill that will also help treat any other menopausal symptoms, insert a cream into the vagina, or use an estrogen ring, also inserted into the vagina. Your doctor inserts the ring into the vagina, and it releases estrogen into the body. Similar to the ring birth control, it needs to be replaced every three weeks. The cream is also inserted once or twice a week, then can be decreased over time and used as needed. 

Although vaginal dryness is a normal, natural part of aging or experiencing life, being in pain is not. Use lubricant or talk to your doctor to find a treatment that makes you and your body feel good.

Summer 2022 is here, baby! Hot summer days! Warm summer nights! Mosquito bites! Outdoor concerts! Weekends spent by the pool! Sweating every time you step outside! Summer in Indiana is a wonderful time to get outdoors, soak up the sun, and have some fun. Whether you’re spending time outside or indoors behind your work desk, wearing sunscreen is a must every day this summer.

Most types of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet, or UV, rays. These rays come from the sun and tanning beds. Direct sun exposure obviously exposes your skin to UV rays, but UV rays are getting to your skin even on a cloudy day. UV rays can also affect the skin through windows, reflect off water, and shine through your windshield while you’re driving. Because of this, experts recommend wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen every day, no matter the time of year or if you’re spending time outside. 

What does SPF mean in sunscreen?

Sun protective factor, or SPF, helps shield your skin from UV rays by either blocking and scattering the rays before they are absorbed into your skin, or by absorbing the rays before they can damage your skin. The number associated with the SPF (15, 30, 45, etc.) indicates how long it would take the skin to become irritated from the sun without the SPF. For example, SPF 15 means that with this protection, it takes 15 times longer for the sun’s rays to damage your skin. Score!

How often should I reapply?

Everyone regardless of skin type or color should wear sunscreen, except babies under six months. One ounce of sunscreen should be used to cover your whole body and should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, with reapplication of that same amount roughly every two hours. Your amount of sun exposure, the intensity of the sun where you live, and even your skin type can help determine what level of SPF is good for you.

What type of sunscreen should I use?

I have extremely fair, sensitive skin. Even in Indiana, SPF 30 isn’t strong enough for little ole me. I need SPF 45 or higher, and if I’m in direct sun, I need to reapply more like every hour. Experts recommend SPF 30 or higher if you’re in direct sunlight, and they recommend reapplying immediately after sweating or being in the water. 

Ideally, use a sunscreen that is “broad-spectrum,” or protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburn, while UVA rays cause tanning and premature aging to the skin (like wrinkling) as a result of sun exposure. 

How else can I get sun protection?

Wearing sunscreen sometimes isn’t enough if you are exposed to the sun for long periods of time, or somewhere where the sun is incredibly strong. You can wear hats to protect your scalp from the sun, as it is a little tricky to rub sunscreen into your hair and scalp. Sunglasses help protect your eyes and a portion of your face from the sun’s rays, while wearing layers of clothing to cover the skin can also help. When in doubt, seek shade. If the skin is red and irritated despite diligent sunscreen use, find a nice shady spot and let your skin rest for a bit. 

There are even sunscreens for different activities and parts of your body. There are sunscreens specifically for your face that are less oily and can be worn under makeup, and there are also sweatproof sunscreens that are great for being active.

Even if you’re staying indoors this summer, be sure to load up on the sunscreen to keep your skin protected and feeling good.

It’s 2022 and there are so many ways we can identify our sexuality and attraction toward others. Hooray! The Kinsey Scale, invented all the way back in 1948, helps people read examples of sexual attraction and identify what feels best for them. Although the Kinsey Scale was a great invention in sexual research and health, it does not accommodate all sexual identities. Asexuality, for example, isn’t on the scale, and is often forgotten about and misunderstood in the conversation about sexual attraction.

What is asexuality?

Asexuality describes a sexual orientation in which someone is not sexually attracted to anyone of any gender. Asexuality deals with sexual desire and is different than celibacy or consciously choosing to not have sex for a period of time. Asexual people do not feel an inherent sexual desire or attraction towards others. People that do feel sexual attraction are allosexual. 

As with any identity or sexual orientation, asexuality exists on a spectrum. Think of asexuality as an umbrella term with other identities underneath it. Some asexual people identify as “Grey-A” or someone that feels their attraction and desire is somewhere in between asexual and allosexual. There are also demisexuals, or people who need to feel a strong emotional bond with someone before ever feeling any sexual attraction. 

What are different types of asexuality?

Just because someone is asexual or ace, that does not mean they don’t want to find love or a relationship. Ace people still can feel romantic attraction towards others, and some ace people do have sex with their partners. Just like allosexual people, people choose to have sex for many reasons: to feel close to someone, to express their love, for fun, maybe we’re bored, to have an orgasm, etc. Asexual people can choose to have sex with their partner as a way to express romantic attraction, or as a way to care for their partner. There are some sex-repulsed asexual people, but that is another identity under our asexuality umbrella. 

How does attraction work?

I love reading and learning about asexuality because it makes me think of all the wonderful ways we can be attracted to someone. There is sexual attraction of course, but also romantic attraction. How does romantic attraction feel different than sexual attraction? There is intellectual attraction. Aesthetic attraction or simply recognizing that someone looks good. Platonic attraction. Emotional attraction. It’s so exciting to think about! Within yourself and your attraction, you can examine how all of these different factors help you feel sexual attraction. Which attraction comes first?

Someone that is asexual can still identify with types of romantic attraction as well, although, under our ace umbrella, there are some people who are aromantic or don’t experience romantic attraction. You can be aromantic and still allosexual, however. Someone could feel sexual desire or urges, but choose to fulfill those urges on their own or outside of a romantic relationship. A full list exploring different types of romantic attractions can be found here.

If you are questioning your sexuality or attraction, there are many resources online. Go to your local Planned Parenthood and have an information session with an educator there. Find forums online. If you are a student, find the LGBTQ organization or center on campus and find like-minded people to talk to. Asexuality and sexual orientation are beautiful, exciting things to explore.

The female reproductive system is a complex, beautiful thing. Most female sex organs are located inside the body and have many parts working together for you to menstruate and be able to carry and give birth to a baby if you choose. With so many systems working together, things sometimes don’t develop properly, as is the case with MRKH.

How does MRKH work?

Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, or MRKH, is a rare disorder affecting about 1 in every 4,500 people assigned female at birth. MRKH causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped, while external sex characteristics are present. MRKH varies from person to person, but commonly the vaginal canal won’t fully develop, resulting in a particularly shallow vagina, and the uterus and cervix will not fully develop or be present at all. Healthy ovaries are often still present in people with MRKH, however, as well as fully developed secondary sex characteristics such as pubic hair and breast tissue. 

How does MRKH affect someone?

There are two types of MRKH. Type 1 includes an underdeveloped uterus and vagina, keeping other organs around these areas healthy and functional. Type 2 can affect the kidneys, causing complications or kidney failure altogether.

Since someone with MRKH doesn’t have a uterus or cervix, they won’t ever have a menstrual cycle. MRKH is often diagnosed during puberty because of a lack of a menstrual cycle during someone’s teenage years or when other markers of puberty are present. Pain or difficulty during vaginal sex is also a way to help diagnose MRKH. Since the vagina is underdeveloped, it is often very painful for something to be inserted. MRKH will be officially diagnosed by a doctor after doing several tests, of course, but these are common indicators. 

What is the cause of MRKH?

The cause of MRKH isn’t completely known, although it is clear it’s a result of an underdeveloped Mullerian duct. The Mullerian duct helps develop the uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, and upper portion of the vagina. The cause of problems with this duct is unknown, and MRKH does not appear to be inherited. The rarity of this condition also makes it hard to pin down a cause. 

Can someone with MRKH have a child?

Since a uterus does not develop if you have MRKH, carrying a child without medical intervention is not an option. If someone with MRKH does want to have a baby, though, there are alternatives. Since the ovaries can still be healthy, using a surrogate with your fertilized egg is an option. Some successful uterus transplants have also occurred, although this is a newer and less common procedure. This procedure takes the uterus of a deceased donor and transplants it into the patient needing a healthy uterus. As of 2019, only two babies in the nation have been born from successful uterus transplants. Although this is a newer option, it is very promising for treatment. 

How does someone with MRKH have sex?

If someone with MRKH doesn’t want to have a baby but wants to treat pain with penetration, they can use dilators to slowly stretch their existing vaginal tissue over time. Dilators are wand-like tools that you slowly put into the vagina, increasing the size of the dilator over time to slowly stretch the vaginal tissue. Dilators are also a great tool for treating pain with penetration for people that don’t have MRKH. Some people will also undergo vaginoplasty surgery, where the vaginal tissue is reconstructed by a doctor. Medical treatment isn’t necessary though if you are able to find other ways to enjoy pleasure and sexuality without vaginal penetration. MRKH does not need to be surgically treated, it is of course, up to the patient.

Although people with MRKH don’t menstruate, sometimes they might still feel menstruation symptoms. They can seek treatment for this as well. It is totally possible to live a healthy, fulfilled life and even reproduce safely with MRKH. 

On May 2, politico.com reported that an initial draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court had been leaked. This draft opinion stated that the Supreme Court will vote to overturn Roe V. Wade. This is a draft, meaning this overturn has not happened yet, but it is very likely, almost certain, that it will a few months from now when it is finalized by the Court. 

What is Roe v. Wade?

Roe v. Wade is a 1973 case that federally legalized abortion in the United States. Overturning Roe v. Wade would make abortion illegal federally, meaning that it would be up to each individual state to determine its own abortion laws. This is incredibly alarming for reproductive health, as well as the safety and health of people with uteruses. 

Experts are concerned for many reasons, based on the logic in the draft. The arguments the draft uses with its case to overturn Roe deal with a person’s right to choose. This same logic could potentially be used to overturn same-sex marriage, as well as interracial marriage in the future, although, at this point, that is just speculation.

Where have we seen this before?

Over the last several years, we have seen states enact incredibly strict abortion laws, such as the law in Missouri attempting to make it illegal to seek an abortion to treat an ectopic pregnancy (the only treatment for this type of pregnancy), as well as harsh laws in Texas and other conservative states making it illegal for someone to seek an abortion after only six weeks. Many people don’t even know they are pregnant after six weeks, and abortion is safe anytime within the first trimester, which is much longer than six weeks. If or when this draft passes, what does this mean for reproductive health?

How could this change reproductive rights?

This proposed overturning of Roe is troubling for many reasons. Many people and lawmakers that oppose abortion and seek to enact strict laws making seeking an abortion difficult identify as “pro-life.” If someone has an ectopic pregnancy, a non-viable pregnancy when the fetus grows outside of the uterus, the only treatment is an abortion. If the pregnant person does not abort the non-viable fetal tissue, it will rupture and they will most likely die. If someone is raped or a victim of incest, I would argue an abortion would be life-saving for the victim. Both of these examples directly contrast the pro-life argument. 

Why is this a matter of safety?

Before Roe, people were still having abortions, they were just incredibly unsafe. Women would use coat hangers or other sharp objects to try and puncture the cervix and abort on their own. Oftentimes these women would hemorrhage and die. Roe guarantees access to safe and legal abortions where women could make the choice, for whatever reason, to safely end a pregnancy without threatening their health. In fact, in the United States, abortion is safer than giving birth. Overturning Roe would threaten that. 

What could it mean if Roe is overturned?

With the federal law being overturned, it would be up to each individual state to make its own abortion laws. This likely means that conservative states would make abortion illegal or enforce strict laws about when someone can have an abortion, while more liberal states would stay legal. I am of course speculating, as this hasn’t gone into effect yet. If someone in a red state wanted to seek a legal abortion, they could potentially receive one if they traveled to a blue state. 

This might sound like a minor inconvenience, but it is not. In order to travel to another state for this procedure, you’d need to be able to take time off work, have access to a car, as well as money to pay for a hotel room in this other state. If you already have children, you need money to pay for childcare, or money to have a large enough hotel room so they can come with you. What if your job doesn’t give you time off, or taking a day off and traveling to another state means having to choose between making your rent payment or being forced to give birth? Privileged, wealthy women will still be able to access abortion once this goes into effect, but there are so many women who will not have that privilege. 

Could this affect contraception access?

I also worry that this will cause other laws not based on science regulating women’s reproductive health to go into effect. Louisiana is speculating about criminalizing IUDs and Plan B as part of their new abortion bill changing the state’s legal definition of human life. IUDs and Plan B, as well as every other type of birth control and emergency contraceptives, do not abort an already fertilized egg or fetus. These contraceptives prevent fertilization and implantation in the uterus from ever happening, meaning they prevent pregnancy. Period. Contraceptives are literally not abortion, however, conservative male lawmakers don’t seem to care about science. 

Having varying opinions on whether or not you as an individual would have an abortion is your right. You know what is best for you and your body. Male politicians who will never have the experience of being pregnant should not have a say in creating laws that force pregnancy and birth. The right to choose what we do with our bodies is just that – a right. Reproductive rights affect everyone, whether you have the capacity to get pregnant or not. If you have sex with people that can get pregnant, this draft affects you too. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not stop abortions. It will only stop safe abortions. This will kill women. Comprehensive sex education, as well as access to free or low-cost contraceptives, will stop abortions.

Here is the full Politico article outlining the specific arguments the Supreme Court used in its draft. If you have questions about abortion or reproductive health care, ask your doctor or visit Planned Parenthood. Those are both great resources for reproductive healthcare, even if you just have questions.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Hooray! Mental health relates to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. We feel our mental health through the way we think, feel, and act, as well as how we handle stress and relate to others. Everyone at every age and stage of their life has mental health. Similar to how you have to maintain your physical health, mental health should be actively worked on as well. You eat fruits and vegetables and move your body for your physical health to feel good, and you should give that same care to your mental health as well. Here are some ways you can work to maintain your mental health.

1. Therapy

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again—everyone can benefit from therapy! You don’t have to wait for trauma or tragedy to happen before seeking out therapy. And when you do seek out therapy, it does not mean you’re broken or “crazy.” I like to think of therapy as a mental health check-up or physical for your brain. There are all different types of therapy, including online therapy, art therapy, talk therapy, or EMDR. If you’re interested in therapy, ask your primary care physician for a recommendation, go to your school’s counseling center if you’re a student, or look for therapists in your area on psychologytoday.com

2. Movement

Moving your body is not only good for your physical being, but it’s great for your mind. Light exercise or movement can help improve your mental health or offer a respite from anxious thoughts. Go for a 30-minute walk. Take a yoga class. Dance around your apartment. Getting out of your head and present in your body is great for clearing the mind and getting your heart rate up.

3. Nutrition

Food is like medicine. If you are feeding yourself fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, you’ll likely feel good mentally as well. Of course, comfort foods to help soothe us in times of distress are helpful and sometimes essential, but eating food that is healthy for your body can also help clear the mind. I notice that if I only eat bread, sugar, or junk food without any vegetables for a few days, I feel tired and slow. You can of course consult your doctor for more specific information on what foods might help lift your mood specifically, but overall incorporating fruits and veggies into your diet will help with your mental health as well.

4. Meditation

Meditation and breathwork are proven to help regulate your nervous system and calm the mind. Meditation apps (my favorite is Headspace) offer guided meditations for an affordable price, but you can also look up guided meditations on YouTube for free. If you’re just getting started with meditation, I would recommend starting with guided ones, as the facilitator walks you through the various breathing techniques. 

Without getting fully into guided meditations, simple breathing techniques throughout the day can also help ground you and regulate the nervous system. A box breath or four-part breath is commonly used to calm an anxious mind. To begin, imagine a box or rectangle in your mind’s eye. Starting at the bottom left corner of the box, inhale for four breaths, moving up to the top left-hand corner. Exhale for four breaths, moving across the box to the top right-hand corner. Inhale for four, moving down to the bottom right corner. Exhale for four, moving back to where you started. Repeat as many times as you need.

5. Reach out to a friend

Talking with friends and loved ones about our lives and our struggles is really good for our mental health. It reminds us that we’re not alone and that we have people that care about us.

If you are struggling with your mental health, there are resources available. You can visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), or call the national suicide prevention hotline (800-273-8255) in a time of need. If you are struggling with your mental health, you are not alone. Reach out.

Warning: This article defines sexual assault and discusses examples of sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to RAINN (the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation), sexual assault refers to “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” This can include anything from unwanted touching to being forced to perform sexual acts on someone else, to rape. No matter the definition or act of sexual violence, it is never the victim’s fault. 

How common is sexual assault?

Every 68 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Despite this violence being so terribly common, only 25 out of every 1,000 rapists end up in prison for their crime. Because this violence is unfortunately so common, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important to draw attention to conversations around consent, supporting survivors, as well as how to report an assault. Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encapsulates all forms of sexual assault and abuse. 

What constitutes sexual assault?

The exact definition of what legally constitutes sexual assault varies from state to state. Sexual violence includes sexual assault, intimate partner violence, incest, date rape, and child abuse. Other forms of sexual violence also include sexual harassment, stalking, coercion, revenge porn, plus several others. RAINN.org provides an immense amount of resources for survivors of sexual violence. They have statistics, examples, a free hotline, as well as other resources available for free. 

Sexual assault can be a big topic, and it can be hard to know what you as an individual can do to help. You can be informed about consent and practice it with all of your sexual partners, you can be an active bystander and intervene if you see something that doesn’t seem right, and you can be there for people in your life who disclose surviving abuse. 

What is consent?

Consent is when someone freely and completely agrees to something another person has proposed. In order to fully consent, the person consenting cannot be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, they should not be coerced, and there should be no pressure whatsoever. The person is freely choosing on their own accord. Consent exists in everyday life and obviously in sexual relationships as well. 

Consent is ongoing and can change at any time, meaning just because you’ve had sex with someone before does not mean you have to have sex with them again. You are allowed to change your mind at any moment during a sexual encounter, and you are allowed to communicate that to your partner. The legal definition of consent varies from state to state, and horrifically, Indiana does not have a legal definition of consent., which makes persecuting sexual assault crimes much harder than it should be.

How can you help prevent sexual assault?

Be an active bystander by intervening if you are out and observe something that seems unsafe or not quite right. Step in when you see something not quite right. RAINN has a wonderful page on what you can do as a bystander if you notice something escalating that seems dangerous. They use the acronym CARE to provide a guide for bystander intervention. Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, and Enlist others. If your intuition leads you to believe the dynamic between two people seems alarming or unsafe, trust that. Create a distraction such as interjecting yourself in the conversation, then when you have a moment with the person you are concerned about, ask them directly if they are safe. Ask if they know this person who keeps talking to them. Ask who they came with. Interjecting as a bystander can be scary, and you might even think, “Oh it’s nothing, I’m just overreacting.” It is much better to overreact than to let something slide that doesn’t seem right. 

Be a source of support and love for survivors in your life. If a friend or loved one discloses they are a survivor of abuse, respond by saying something like, “Thank you for trusting me with this information. I love you. I’m here for you however you need me.” Ensure that they continue to feel safe sharing things with you by being supporting and showing you understand that sharing this information is a big deal. RAINN also has a wonderfully thorough page on its website with examples of how to respond in a supportive way if a loved one shares this information with you. 

We should be talking about sexual assault prevention every month of the year, but having April as a reminder is a good place to start. If you are experiencing or have experienced assault, call the RAINN hotline at 800-656-4673. It’s free and confidential. They also have a live chat feature on their website. Check out the rest of the site for more tools, examples, and information on support. You are not alone, and it is not your fault.

Infection and death rates for the Covid-19 pandemic have been steadily decreasing over the last few months, which is a relief to say the least. Mask mandates are being lifted, and people are more and more comfortable returning back to large gatherings and reintegrating into society. With the intensity of the pandemic slowing down, it might be easy to think that means vaccinations and booster shots are no longer necessary, but quite the opposite is true. 

How are vaccinations helping?

Vaccinations and booster shots are precisely why mask mandates have been lifted and infection rates are slowly declining. As coronavirus continues to exist in our society, it can be hard to know when to get boosted. How many boosters do you need? If I’m vaccinated, isn’t that enough? Don’t worry, dear reader. I’ve got the info for you. 

If you have not received your Covid-19 vaccine yet, I highly encourage you to do so. If you have questions or concerns, contact your doctor or pharmacist, and they can assist you. Once you do receive your vaccine, it’s time to think about your booster shot. The Covid-19 vaccine is given in one or two doses, depending on the kind of vaccine you receive. When to get your booster depends on the kind of vaccine you received, and when you received it.

What is the booster shot?

A booster shot is given as one dose, and it helps boost your immunity to coronavirus. Similar to how we get a flu shot every year to help protect us against the flu, booster doses help provide continuing protection against Covid-19. It is worth noting, however, that just because you are vaccinated and boosted, that does not mean you will never get coronavirus. The vaccine and booster ensure that if you do catch Covid-19, you will get less sick, and you will not require hospitalization due to the virus. Similar to how receiving the flu vaccine does not guarantee you won’t get the flu.

Getting the Pfizer vaccine

The Pfizer vaccine is available for everyone 12 years and older. It is given in two doses. The first dose is administered by your pharmacist or doctor, then the second dose is given about 4 weeks after the first dose. Anyone of any age is eligible for their first booster shot five months after they’ve received their full dose of the Pfizer vaccine. If you’re 18 years old or older, your booster shot can be either Pfizer or Moderna, as long as you receive the mRNA vaccine booster. If you are 12-17 years old, your booster shot must also be Pfizer. If you are 50 years old or older, you are eligible for a second booster dose at least four months after your first booster. For people under the age of 50, no word has been given yet on when they are eligible for a second booster.

Similar to the initial vaccine, the booster shot comes with some side effects. In my experience, my booster shot side effects felt like a less intense version of how I felt with my vaccine. I had a headache and body chills, as well as fatigue for a day, then I was back to normal.

Moderna vaccine details

The Moderna vaccine is available for everyone 18 years and older. Similar to the Pfizer vaccine, it is also given in two doses. The first dose is given, then the second is given about 4 weeks after the first. Everyone 18 and older is eligible for their first booster shot five months after their second dose of the vaccine. If your initial shot was Moderna, you can receive Pfizer or Moderna as your booster, as long as the booster shot is also an mRNA vaccine. Similar to Pfizer, adults 50 years old and older are eligible for their second booster at least four months after their first. 

The one-time Johnson & Johnson

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available for everyone 18 years old or older and is given in one dose. You’re eligible for your booster shot at least two months after receiving your J&J vaccine. It’s recommended to receive either the Pfizer or Moderna booster for your booster dose. If you received the J&J vaccine for your vaccine and your first booster, you’re eligible for a second booster at least four months after your first, regardless of age. If you received Pfizer or Moderna as your first booster and you’re over the age of 50, you are eligible for your second booster at least four months after that first booster. 

How do you set up a booster shot?

When you’re ready to schedule your booster shot, you can contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns, but you can schedule just as you did for your vaccine. I received both doses of my Moderna vaccine at my local pharmacy, so I received my booster shot at that same pharmacy as well. You can schedule your booster elsewhere if you’d like, depending on availability, but for peace of mind and ease, I used the same pharmacy for all three. You can schedule your appointment online with any local pharmacy. In the surrounding area, CVS, Walgreens, Meijer,  and Kroger all have doses available and easy online scheduling. Some pharmacies even have walk-in appointments available, depending on how many vaccines they have at a given moment. 

I imagine that as the months go on, more people will be eligible for their second booster shots. I also imagine that we’ll likely have to get our booster shot regularly, similar to how we get our flu shot regularly as well. Remember, just because you are vaccinated and boosted, that does not mean you will never get coronavirus, but it does drastically decrease the severity of the infection, as well as drastically decreases the chance of hospitalization or death. If we want to keep seeing mask mandates lifting and people safely gathering, we need to protect ourselves and our neighbors by receiving the vaccine and available booster doses. 

If you have any questions or concerns or are even unsure if you want to get your booster, call your doctor. If you have received your booster and know anyone who is wary, talk to them about your experience, and encourage them to protect their health and the health of those around them. 

Additional information can be found on the CDC website.