February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. People of all ages are unfortunately subject to dating violence, but February is the time of year dedicated specifically to education and awareness around teen dating violence. Dating violence is using a pattern of aggressive or manipulative behaviors to control someone in the partnership. Dating violence could be physical, but it could also be emotional, psychological, or financial. Statistically, one in 10 teenagers will experience some sort of dating violence from a partner between the ages of 12 and 19. Since teenage years are when many people start with their first romantic and sexual relationships, it’s super important to teach consent from an early age. Although people of all ages experience dating violence, and it, unfortunately, happens all year round, you can use February as an opportunity to attend events or speak with a teen in your life about dating violence.

What is consent?

Consent is agreeing to participate in any activity, sexual or otherwise. Consent is a simple idea in theory – communicating if you do or do not want to participate in something. Oftentimes we get nervous talking about consent, especially in sexual situations. There used to be this idea that consent should be taught with a “No means no!” approach, but in some cases of dating violence, a victim might not literally say “no,” but they still do not consent to what is happening. If you don’t want something to be happening but you don’t say no because you’re scared, in shock, or overwhelmed, that doesn’t mean you consent. Rather than a “no means no,” approach, many sex educators are strong proponents of the “enthusiastic yes!” I’m also a fan of this approach to consent. An enthusiastic yes basically means there is no question about whether or not everyone wants to participate in what’s happening. The consent is incredibly clear and enthusiastic.

Healthy vs. abusive relationships

Consent is all about communication. Consent should be ongoing and can be revoked at any time. Just because you kissed someone once does not mean that you have to kiss them again if you don’t want to. Flirting does not imply consent. Wearing a sexy outfit does not imply consent. If you’ve been with a partner for years and had sex with them many, many times, you’re still allowed to not consent to sex with them if you’re not feeling it. If your partner reacts negatively or makes you feel bad for revoking consent, that is a major red flag. If your partner coerces you into any sexual activity, that is also not consent! If you say no and they keep begging you or try to convince you that you should participate, that is not consent! The National Domestic Violence Hotline has amazing resources for teens and adults, including lists of what a healthy vs. abusive relationship looks like, as well as resources for teens to connect with if they need help. 

Consent can be as simple as allowing someone to hug you, or consenting to being in a relationship in the first place. It obviously comes into play in an extremely important way with sex. You are allowed to say no and revoke consent at any time, and that does not make you a bad person. Young girls are cultured to be agreeable and kind, and oftentimes they can feel like they’re being mean or rude if they turn someone down. Prioritize yourself and your comfort level. 

How to talk about consent

There’s this idea that giving consent isn’t sexy because it “ruins the moment.” Do you know what ruins the moment more? Being forced to do something you don’t want to do. And if your partner is a decent human being with empathy, they should be jazzed to know that everyone involved is 100% excited about what’s happening. Consent is sexy! Simply ask your partner, “Is this okay?” as you slowly start doing something else. Ask them what they like. Have them tell you what they want you to do. Make it flirty and fun and sexy! Make a “Want, Will, Won’t List” – a list of things you want to do, things you will try, and things you absolutely won’t do. Talk about it together. Most importantly, make sure you pay attention to your partner’s answer and respond accordingly. 

Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but when you are physical with someone for the first few times, it probably would be most comforting to be verbal since you don’t know each other’s body language well yet. After you’ve been in a relationship with someone perhaps you’ll understand their cues better and you can consent with nonverbal reactions. You could also have some fun and make up some sort of code word or code signal to nonverbally consent with your partner. Make consent part of the sexual activity you’re doing. Open communication is key to consenting. 

I once had a friend who told me if you and your partner can’t talk about having sex, then you aren’t ready to have sex with them. I love this advice, however, with dating violence, not everyone is given that choice. That’s why it’s important to teach consent from a young age so teenagers and adults feel comfortable and confident setting their boundaries. 

Talking with your teen about consent and relationships

Additionally, talk with your teenagers about healthy relationships. Literally, every romantic comedy ever exhibits unhealthy relationship patterns and spins them as romantic. Relentlessly asking a girl out when she repeatedly says no thank you? Unhealthy. Showing up in a woman’s yard playing loud music to get her attention when she told you no thanks? Unhealthy. Showing up at a woman’s house or work or school because you want to run into her? Unhealthy. In fact, that is stalking. Calling and texting incessantly because they want to know where you are? Unhealthy. So much television and movies, and even music, romanticize these incredibly unhealthy behaviors so they become so normal that if they happen to us we think it’s okay. 

If you or your teenager want to learn more about unhealthy relationship patterns, The National Domestic Abuse Hotline and RAINN are both excellent resources for education and also for survivors.

It’s no secret that here at Just Jenn I LOVE talking about sexuality! We’ve discussed all sorts of things sexual health related here, and I’ve got another fun thing to add to our discussion: a Desire Journal. 

I first heard of the idea of keeping a desire journal from a sex educator on Instagram named Dr. Wendasha Jenkins Hall PhD (@thesensiblesexpert). Dr. Wendasha brought up the idea of keeping a desire journal in one of her Instagram videos where she discusses a different topic related to sexual health each week. The Sensible Sexpert describes a desire journal as a journal where you write down all of your sexual desires and explore the possibilities of your desire. I love this idea and totally think we all should start keeping desire journals, like, ASAP.

What is a desire journal?

As The Sensible Sexpert describes, a desire journal is a place for you to explore your sexuality and desire in private. if you want to share these desires with a partner now or in the future, of course you can, but the journal is just for YOU. Even just writing about your desires and allowing yourself to explore new ideas can help you better connect with your sensuality and sexual self. 

Why keep a desire journal?

There are SO many possibilities of what to write about in a desire journal. There are no rules! You could write about past sexual experiences that you’ve enjoyed, and why. You could write about past experiences you didn’t enjoy, and why. You could write down fantasies and let yourself explore them in detail. An important note about fantasies and a desire journal in general – just because you fantasize about something doesn’t mean you ACTUALLY want it to happen. That’s why it’s a fantasy. Besides, no one else is going to see these pages, so let yourself roam free with your sensual imagination. 

Suggestions for your next journal entry

You could make a list of sexy things that turn you on, non-sexual things that turn you on, ways you turn yourself on. Make a list of how you like to be touched by someone else, how you like to be touched by yourself, places you like to have sex, places you want to have sex. You could also use the pages of your journal to create a sex bucket list or a list of sexy things you’d like to try. Again, no one but you will see these ponderings, so let yourself explore your desire without shame! Are there any new sex positions you want to try? Write about it! Are there sex toys you’d like to try? Write about it! Is there a type of lingerie you want to try but never have? Write about it! Write down any and everything you desire, even if you don’t actually want to try everything you explore in the journal.

Being connected to your own desires and feeling safe and comfortable to express and explore them with yourself will help cultivate a more open, healthy relationship with your own sexuality and sensual self. Exploring your desires in a safe place such as a journal could help make it easier to express your desires to a partner as well. We are not often encouraged to explore our desires, or we’re shamed for being in touch with them. I’m here to tell you there is NOTHING wrong with exploring your desires, and in fact, I think it will improve your overall relationship with yourself. Get to writing!

A few years ago I kept seeing ads for a medicine called Truvada for PrEP that helps prevent the spread of HIV through sex. Amazing! I even wrote an article about it! Now, several years later, another option is on the market called Descovy for PrEP.

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and is a once daily pill taken to help lower the risk of getting HIV through sex. HIV is NOT the same thing as AIDs. HIV is a virus that takes over cells in the body of an infected person and weakens the immune system, making it impossible for the virus to get cleared out of the infected person. HIV can be spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid or pre-cum, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. People can become infected with HIV by sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV. A person is diagnosed with AIDS if or when their immune system is no longer working the way it should. HIV turns into AIDS if the virus is untreated and weakens the immune system over time.\

How does Descovy work with PrEP?

Someone who is HIV negative, but has a partner who is HIV positive would be a great candidate for Descovy, because it prevents the spread of HIV through sex. Descovy works almost exactly as Truvada does, however, there is one main difference in the medications. Descovy is not for people assigned female at birth, as no clinical trials have been done on these participants. Truvada trials have been done on people assigned female at birth, however, you should consult your doctor before becoming pregnant or breastfeeding while on Truvada, as HIV can be spread through breast milk. But back to Descovy!

Before taking Descovy, you must receive a negative HIV test. Once you start taking your prescription, it is recommended to get tested about every three months for STDs, including HIV. Other STDs can make you more likely to contract HIV, so regular testing along with taking PrEP regularly is the way to go. Descovy lowers the chance of getting HIV through sex, however, it doesn’t prevent any other STDs, again making those regular tests oh so important. If you take Descovy and have a monogamous partner who also knows their STD status, you likely wouldn’t need to be tested as often. 

What are the side effects of Descovy?

When used correctly in a clinical trial, 99.7% of participants stayed HIV negative. Heck yeah! As with any medication, there are some potential side effects. The side effects for Descovy and Truvada are nearly identical. Side effects for Descovy include the possibility of worsening Hepatitis B, so be sure to tell your health care provider all of your current medications and health status before starting Descovy. Side effects also include potential kidney problems, too much lactic acid in your blood, as well as liver problems. More mild side effects include nausea or headache. 

The Descovy website has a bunch of detailed information on how to find a healthcare provider to help you determine if Descovy is right for you, as well as ways to stay on top of your daily pill intake, including a daily pill tracker to help you never miss a dose. There is also information on the cost and coverage for Descovy on their website

Having more options for PrEP medications and HIV prevention through sex is huge and exciting! Again, Descovy is not for people assigned female at birth, but it’s a great option for other people at risk of being exposed to HIV. If you think Descovy is a good option for you or your partner(s), visit their website to find a recommended healthcare provider.

We often hear about the way someone’s body will change during pregnancy, but we don’t really talk much about how bodies change after pregnancy. For example, Chrissy Teigen’s Twitter page taught me that she had to wash herself with a little syringe after peeing when she first gave birth because patting herself dry with toilet paper would be too irritating. And apparently, that’s a common thing people do after giving birth. My limited knowledge on how someone’s body changes after birth made me wonder: between breastfeeding and fluctuating hormones, what happens to a person’s post-baby period after giving birth?

Breastfeeding Hormones Can Affect Your Post-Baby Period

The short answer is it depends — each person’s body is different. I was surprised to find that whether you have a C-Section or vaginal delivery does not affect your periods after giving birth. The biggest thing that affects your periods is whether or not you breastfeed. Breastfeeding produces high levels of the hormone prolactin, which will suppress reproductive hormones. If these hormones are suppressed, you won’t have a period. Although you won’t have a period if you are exclusively breastfeeding, this is not an effective birth control method and you could still get pregnant. If you don’t want to get pregnant again immediately after giving birth, talk to your doctor about birth control methods.

Once you stop breastfeeding, your period can return anywhere from six to nine months after giving birth. Experts recommend you see your doctor if your period hasn’t returned within this window of time after weaning off breastfeeding. If you do not breastfeed after giving birth, your period can return anywhere from four to eight weeks after giving birth. If you get your period very shortly after giving birth, it is recommended to avoid using tampons so your body can fully heal.

Post-Baby Vaginal Discharge

Before your period returns, you will have a vaginal discharge called lochia. Lochia will accompany a vaginal birth or a c-section. This discharge will likely be lighter and not last as long with a c-section. Lochia generally occurs for about four to six weeks after delivery and changes color with time. Initially, the discharge is dark red accompanied by small blood clots. After the first few days, it can be watery and pinkish-brown in color. After the first week, it will likely be yellowish in color. The amount of your discharge can change throughout the day and with physical activity as well. This comes before your period even returns.

Your First Post-Baby Period

Your first period after birth will likely be different than pre-pregnancy because your body is readjusting to menstruation. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what your period will be like after pregnancy until you start menstruating again. Your first period after giving birth might be heavier than usual, and you might experience more cramping due to the uterus clearing everything out.

 After the initial first period, some people’s periods will be lighter after giving birth, some might be heavier, some have less severe cramps than before getting pregnant, while some have more severe cramps. The uterine cavity can get larger after giving birth, causing it to have more lining to shed each month, leading to heavier periods. However, this is not the case for everyone. There is truly no sure way to predict how your period specifically might change after giving birth. Most periods should return to how they were before you got pregnant, although some changes can occur due to other factors.

It’s impossible to predict how someone’s period will be after giving birth, so it is important to pay attention to your body. Your first menstrual cycle after giving birth might be different than you period before pregnancy, but if you notice continuous, painful changes, severe increase in bleeding, or other complications, contact your doctor. You know your body best so trust yourself and speak up if something feels off.

As you and I have discussed before, getting regular STD tests is SO important! If you are sexually active, you should ideally get tested after each new partner. Yes, even if you use condoms! You can still get STDs from oral sex. If you and your new partner both know your STD status prior to hooking up, then you’re probably okay without a new test, that is if you trust this partner is being truthful with you. All this to say, it’s important and normal to get regularly tested for sexually transmitted infections. It should be part of your sexual health routine. You can, of course, get tested at your doctor’s office or a sexual health clinic, but now there are options to get tested for at-home STD testing!

Much like how we can now have our food delivered from our favorite grocery stores and restaurants, have beer and wine show up on our doorstep, we can now order an STD testing kit right to our house. What a dream!

Why types of at-home STD tests are out there?

There are many at-home STD testing kits available, ranging in price from $50-$150 depending on how many STDs you are testing for. The most commonly advertised kits are from Everlywell and LetsGetChecked. There are others available of course, but these two popped up most when I was doing my research. These brands also both have a wide variety of testing. Both brands have tests for all the commonly tested STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. The Everlywell test also includes a test for Hepatitis C. These are all the STDs you would be tested for at the doctor’s office as well, so an at-home test can be just as thorough. 

How will I complete the testing?

Once you receive your test in the mail, you have to collect your sample. Read the directions on how to safely and thoroughly collect your sample so you make sure not to contaminate anything or get a false result. Everlywell uses a blood sample and a vaginal swab, while LetsGetChecked uses a blood sample and urine sample. This is nearly identical to getting tested at the doctor as well. Most sexual health clinics will collect a urine sample, usually for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and a blood sample for the others. 

Once you have safely collected your sample, you seal them up and put them in the pre-addressed box provided. Both tests also provide a box that already has the postage paid for. Once the box is sealed, you mail off your samples and wait for your results. You should get your results within 3-5 days, and for both brands, if you are positive on anything or have irregular results, a physician in your state will contact you to discuss treatment options. If you are negative on all of your results, then that’s it! 

What are the pros and cons to at-home STD testing?

At-home STD testing is a great option for someone who wants to stay on top of their sexual health but maybe feels intimidated making an appointment in person. It’s also a great option if you live with your parents and want to discreetly know your status without them knowing you are sexually active. Especially during the COVID pandemic, at-home testing is also a safe way to stay on top of your sexual health without leaving your home. 

Although at-home STD testing can be a great option, it doesn’t appear that any of the at-home tests are yet covered by insurance. Getting STD testing done at a doctor’s office can be free with insurance, or incredibly affordable without insurance at a low-cost sexual health clinic such as Planned Parenthood. Although you get more privacy and convenience testing from home, it’s ultimately more expensive than going to a doctor for these tests. There is also a greater risk for user error resulting in inaccurate results. If you read the directions thoroughly and collect your samples regularly, you should be fine, but there is of course a small risk for user error.

Also if the idea of collecting your own blood freaks you out, maybe the at-home test isn’t for you. Finally, you’re able to ask questions and describe symptoms and your sexual activity at the doctor’s office, which can help best assess what tests you need, while at home you couldn’t do that. The turnaround time for test results is similar to the at-home tests as well as if you went to a sexual health provider, and the protocol for treatment options is the same as well. 

Don’t let the idea of getting an STD test intimidate you and stop you from staying on top of your sexual health. At home STD tests make it easy and convenient to know your status from home within a matter of days!

January is cervical health awareness month. Hooray! Although it’s great to be aware, what even are we being aware of? What is a cervix and how can it be healthy? All good questions with answers!

What is the cervix?

The cervix is essentially a small area of your body that connects your vagina to your uterus. The cervix sits at the top of the vaginal canal and has very small openings on either end. The cervix is about 1 to 2 inches long, and the openings open and close just to let out discharge, menstrual blood, or to let sperm pass through. The cervix opens super-wide during childbirth, and acts as a barrier to keep bacteria out of the womb all the time, but especially during pregnancy. 

The cervix is super important for your reproductive health because it does so much to keep your vagina and uterus clean and healthy. Just like any other part of your body, the cervix can be unhealthy. The main concern with cervical health is cervical cancer. When someone with a cervix turns 21 or becomes sexually active, regardless of their age, they should start having regular Pap smears. 

What happens during a cervical Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a procedure done by your gynecologist in their office to test the cells of your cervix. Your doctor will take a small sample of cervical cells by using a little brush to gently scrape your cervix and collect the cells. You might be thinking, “Uhh how can a scrape be GENTLE?!” It is uncomfortable, but the actual test takes literal seconds. Your doctor will have you undress from the waist down, put your feet in some stirrups so your legs are spread easily, and takes a look. Your gynecologist will prop open your vagina using a speculum, which kind of looks like a long beak made out of metal or plastic. The speculum holds your vaginal walls open so your doctor can reach your cervix. They’ll reach in with their brush, scrape the cervix really quickly, then take the speculum out and you’re done. Some doctors will also use their fingers to reach inside and feel around your vagina and feel the cervix to make sure nothing feels off. The whole exam is uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. If you experience pain during any part of the exam, tell your doctor immediately! You might bleed a little bit after the exam. Mild bleeding is normal, but if you bleed excessively, call your doctor immediately.

How often should I have my Pap smear?

If you are 21-25ish and have never had an abnormal result from a smear, it’s recommended to get a Pap test done every three years. Women in their thirties through menopause should get one every three years along with an HPV test. Women over the age of 65 who have never had an abnormal result might be able to stop getting Pap smears done altogether. If you’ve had an abnormal result before, have a history of cervical cancer, or have any conditions that weaken your immune system, you should get one done every year, regardless of your age. Talk to your doctor and they’ll be able to tell you how often you should get a smear done to maximize your health. 

What are possible cervical health risks?

Unhealthy cervical cells are most commonly caused by HPV or human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. If you are sexually active, you will almost certainly have HPV at some point in your life. There are about 200 types of HPV, and most types are harmless, show no symptoms, and go away on their own. It’s possible you’ll never know you’ve had HPV. HPV is so common because its spread sexually, but also through skin-to-skin contact. If you do show symptoms, you will likely get warts, genital or otherwise. They can easily be treated. In most cases, HPV is harmless and will go away on its own before you ever have symptoms. Think of it kind of like the common cold. You can get a cold through contact with other people and their germs. Most of the time your cold will go away on its own, but in some cases, it can turn into something more serious. About 12 types of HPV can cause cancer, including types 16 and 18, which are the main culprits. 

There is no cure for HPV, which is why getting regular Pap smears done is so important so abnormal cervical cells can be detected and removed right away. You can also get an HPV vaccine, which is recommended for kids of all genders when they’re about 11 or 12. The HPV vaccine is given in three rounds and helps protect against most types of HPV that cause cancer. Just because you’ve had the vaccine, however, doesn’t mean you won’t have another type of HPV at some point–just hopefully not the cancer-causing kind. If you’re an adult and haven’t had the HPV vaccine, it’s never too late! The HPV vaccine used to only be given to girls in middle school, but since it first hit the scene research has been done that boys should also get the vaccine. Although boys and men don’t typically have cervixes, they can still carry and spread HPV, which could lead to cervical cancer in a partner with a cervix. Now people up to age 45 can get the vaccine if they didn’t get it as a kid. 

Your cervix is an easy part of your body to forget about because it’s tucked away inside of you, working away without much notice. Because you can’t see your cervix, it’s important to stay on top of your cervical health. Get regular Pap smears done once you become sexually active or once you turn 21. After your first smear, your doctor will tell you how often you should get your Pap smear done going forward. Check and see if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, and if you have kids, make sure they get the vaccine as well. You can also ask your doctor to do an HPV test to check your cervical health that way as well. Now go schedule your annual, or semi-annual Pap test!

Jenn here back with another post about another new type of birth control! It’s exciting to be living in a time where new birth control options are being created regularly, giving people more agency over their fertility and more options to find something that suits them. What a time to be alive!!

What is Annovera?

I’m here today to tell you about Annovera. Annovera is a hormonal birth control ring that prevents pregnancy for up to one year. Annovera is a birth control ring that contains the hormones ethinyl estradiol and segesterone (a new type of progestin for birth control). The ring is inserted into the vagina by the wearer, kept in place for three weeks, then removed for one week. After the ring is out for seven days, you put the same ring back in place, and wear for twenty-one days, then repeat the cycle next month. This one ring can be used for one year.

Annovera does need to be prescribed by a healthcare provider, but because you insert and take it out at home, once you have the prescription you can start or stop taking it at any point, although your first insertion when you begin should be between days two and five of your period so it can sync up with your body. Annovera is covered by most insurance companies. Annovera is different from other birth control rings such as NuvaRing because you use one ring for a whole year, or 13 menstrual cycles. NuvaRing and other rings in the past provide a new ring each month. 

How does insertion work?

Using Annovera sounds simple enough. Once you get the ring, wash it with warm water and antibacterial soap. Dry it off, then you’re ready to insert! Annovera is made from silicone, which is body-safe, and the website continuously describes it as “soft and squishy,” so like, it must be comfortable. To insert, pinch the ring together with your thumb and pointer finger (it is the size of a tampon in this position), lie on your back, squat, or stand with one leg up, then slowly push the ring into your vagina as far up as possible.

Once inserted, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. Leave it in place for 21 days, then remove it for seven. To take it out, assume the position you did to insert it, put your pointer finger in your vagina until you feel the ring, then gently pull it out. Wash it, dry it, and store it in the provided case for seven days while you have your period. Reinsert for your next cycle. 

Annovera is designed to be kept in at all times for those 21 days, including during sex. Because it’s fairly small and flexible, you shouldn’t feel it during sex, and neither should your partner. If Annovera falls out for any reason, be sure to reinsert it within two hours of it being out, otherwise it is no longer effective. You’d have to wear it for seven days for your body to readjust to it.  Similarly, if you have Annovera out for a total of two hours throughout a day, you would need to use another method of birth control because it wouldn’t be effective. To be quiiiite honest, it’s made of super flexible silicone, and most sex toys are also made of silicone, so I’m guessing you won’t even notice it’s in there during intercourse. 

What is the failure rate of Annovera?

The ring is 97% effective with a perfect use failure rate, which is almost identical to the hormonal birth control pill. Because you leave the ring in for three weeks once it’s inserted, it would be quite easy to have a perfect use rate because you kind of set it and forget it. Annovera also has an app that accompanies it for you to track your cycle and help remind you to put it back in after seven days, which I think is a fabulous idea.

People often complain that with the pill you have to be on top of taking it regularly, but a plus side of that is you get in the habit of taking it every single day. With something like a ring that you only remove every three weeks and must remember to put back in place, it might be easy to forget when it was removed or put it back in late. The app is a perfect way to keep you on top of your birth control ring so there’s no forgetting.

Are there any side effects?

So now the not so fun part – side effects. Like many hormonal birth control methods, Annovera does not protect against STDs, so you would either want to make sure you and your partner(s) have all been tested and know their status, or you could use the ring with a barrier method such as a penile condom. The Annovera website warns in big, bold print on the front page of their site to not use this birth control if you smoke cigarettes and are over 35 years old because you are at a greater risk of heart or blood problems, which is a common warning for nearly every hormonal birth control method.

Similar to other hormonal contraceptives, Annovera could increase risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and is dangerous for users with high blood pressure, diabetes for more than 20 years, suffers from serious migraines, and some other specific conditions. Check out the full list of risks on their website. Although these risks sound intense, and they certainly can be, these are all common for hormonal birth control options, so it is essential you discuss with your healthcare provider your interest in this or any other hormonal birth control before you begin. More mild side effects are also typical of hormonal birth control and can include nausea, headache, yeast infections, painful periods, UTIs, and genital itching. 

How do I start Annovera?

There’s also info on their site about how you can get a prescription for Annovera through some online health care providers who will just write you a prescription for it, then have it delivered to your door. Sounds cute and convenient, right? I would strongly encourage you to resist this urge for convenience and schedule an in-person visit with your gynecologist before starting this or any other type of hormonal birth control.

Although it is fabulous you are in control of inserting it and taking it out each month, giving you full agency and control, you should still talk with your doctor to fully assess if it is safe for you to use, see if there aren’t any other birth control options that might work better for your body, and to get the low down on how to use this product so you get that sweet, sweet 97% perfect use rate each month.

Plus each ring lasts a year, so you’d only have to visit once in person. After the year is up, you would get a prescription for a new ring. If you think Annovera and the convenience of having birth control set for a year sounds right for you, contact your doctor! Check out more info on the Annovera website

Discomfort and pain from your monthly menstrual cycle can range from mild to can’t-get-out-of-bed intense. Perhaps your period is super painful every month, or maybe every once in a while. No matter the intensity of our cramps or the amount we bleed, periods are uncomfortable every time. Exercise can sometimes help relieve pain, and yoga is a fabulous way to do so. Yoga is a great exercise because it combines movement, breath, and stretching. It can also easily be amped up or toned down to give you and your menstruating body the relief it needs. Here are a few yoga poses that will help relieve some of your menstrual pain. These can be done in a sequence as written, or in any order you’d like. 

1. Classic Cat/Cow Yoga Pose

Begin in tabletop position or on all fours. Shoulders should be in line with the wrists and hips in line with the knees. Find a neutral spine by extending the crown of your head forward, feeling a long line of energy from your tail bone to the top of the head. Inhale, lift your chest and tailbone to the sky, letting the belly melt (cow pose). Exhale, round out the spine, tuck the navel in, push the earth away (cat pose). Move through some cows and cats, moving with your inhales and exhales. Add in any other little movements that might feel good, such as some circles of the spine or moving the hips from side to side. 

2. Child’s Pose

Is it ironic that one of the poses to relieve period pain is child’s pose? Perhaps, but it works! You can transition from tabletop into this position, simply sink your hips back so they rest on your heels, reach the arms forward towards the top of the mat, melting the belly towards the earth so it rests gently on your thighs. Feet together, knees together, or feet together with knees apart. Stretch the arms forward, gently move them to the right to feel a stretch in your left side body, and gently move them to the left to feel a stretch on your other side. Arms can also rest gently by your side. Stay here and breathe into your back and hips as long as you’d like. 

3. Forward Fold 

Standing at the top of your mat, inhale the arms up overhead, reaching towards the ceiling. Exhale, hinge at the hips and fold forward over the legs. You can bend your knees here to help maintain length in the low back. Hang out here as long as you’d like, shifting the weight forward and back or side to side. Maybe grab opposite elbows and gently sway from side to side, releasing some tension in the upper back. Nod your head yes and shake your head no. When you’re finished with this pose, release the arms and slowly roll up vertebrae by vertebrae. Repeat as many times as you’d like. 

4. Camel for Intense Yoga Stretching

This can be a more intense stretch, so only do this if it’s not too painful, and make sure to come into the pose slowly and gently. Begin upright on your knees with your chest forward and a soft gaze straight ahead. Inhale the arms up overhead, exhale reach back with the right arm and touch the right ankle for half camel. Inhale arms up overhead, exhale reach back and touch the left arm to the left ankle. Do this as many times as feels good. Maybe this is all you do. When you’re ready for full camel, slowly reach back the right arm to grab the right ankle, then grab the left arm to the left ankle. Feel can be flat on the mat or rest on the toes. Hands can also grab blocks on the outside of each ankle as well. Shine the chest up and forward, creating a mini backbend and big stretch in the low back and hip flexors. Maybe release the head back. Hold here and breathe for as long as it feels good. When you’re ready, gently take your right hand to your low back, then your left, and slowly roll back up to where you began. 

5. Supine Twists

Begin on your back with your legs extended long on the mat. Inhale, draw both knees into the chest and gently squeeze the knees in. Rock gently side to side, giving your low back a massage. Maybe roll slightly forward and back. With the knees still bent, let the knees drop to the right side, extending the arms out to a T, and looking over the left shoulder. Hold here and breathe as long as feels good. When you’re ready, bring the knees back into the center and give yourself a squeeze. Let the knees fall to the left, arms at a T, and looking over your right shoulder. Hold as long as you’d like. Inhale bring the knees back to center and give yourself a final squeeze. 

Namaste!

It’s no secret that the long harsh days of winter can get us feeling not our best. Between colds and runny noses, negative temperatures, and literal weeks without sunlight, winter in the Midwest can be a little disheartening. Although anyone can get a little bummed during the long days of winter, some people experience seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If you notice yourself feeling noticeable down during the late fall and winter months, you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Of course experiencing a little bit of winter blues is very common – it’s cold for literal months so feeling a little down or agitated is warranted. So how do you know if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a depression that comes with the changing seasons. Most people that experience SAD feel it during the late fall and winter, but some people experience SAD during the spring and summer months as well. As the acronym suggests, SAD makes you feel sad, among other things. It’s more than just an occasional sadness, however.

What symptoms can I expect?

Seasonal Affective Disorder’s symptoms begin milder at the start of the winter season and get progressively worse as the season goes on, which is understandable because winter gets worse as the season goes on. (I don’t like winter, can you tell?) Symptoms include feeling depressed for most of the day almost every day, a decreased interest in activities that usually bring you joy, feeling more agitated than usual, change in your sleeping habits (trouble sleeping or oversleeping), trouble concentrating, changes in your weight and appetite, and having overall low energy and feeling depressed. 

Seasonal depression is most commonly caused by your body’s natural reaction to decreased levels of sunlight. Dropping levels of serotonin (a chemical in your brain that affects your mood) or melatonin (a chemical in your body that affects your sleep) can also trigger SAD. The lack of sunlight can cause all of these levels in the body to change. Some people are more naturally predisposed to seasonal depression if they have blood relatives that also experience SAD. If you’re someone who already deals with depression or bipolar disorder, your symptoms might worsen during the winter months as well.

Are there any treatments for SAD?

Although there is technically no cure for SAD, there are many ways to manage it. Since SAD is triggered in most people due to lack of sunlight, you can purchase a SAD lamp. Light therapy is a great treatment for seasonal depression. Studies have found that sitting in front of a bright light within the first hour of waking up can help decrease the effects of seasonal depression. Seasonal affective disorder lights can be purchased online at a reasonable price, or if you have a natural light lamp for plants or pets, you could just use that.

For some people who are already on medication for depression or bipolar disorder, you could speak with your doctor about adjusting your medication during this time of year to account for the worsening moods. You can also step up your self-care game during this time of year. Although seasonal depression is difficult, at least you know about when you’ll start feeling symptoms each year, so you can prepare and set yourself up for success in managing your symptoms. You could try and spend as much time outside as possible on the days where the weather isn’t as cold. Meditation can help you find a sense of calm and routine during a time of year when your mood is fluctuating. Exercise is also recommended as a way to treat SAD.

If it’s in your budget, you could also arrange a vacation to a sunny destination to get some of that vitamin D you have been missing. Staying social can also help when you are feeling down because of seasonal depression. Although you’ll likely feel unlike socializing, being around other people can help you feel a little better when you’re experiencing symptoms. Additionally, going to therapy can be a great way to treat your symptoms as well. Treating your symptoms might not completely get rid of your seasonal depression, but it can make it way more manageable.

Remember that you’re not alone!

You know your body best, so find things to do that you know will make you feel a little brighter as you’re dealing with SAD. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about it. I have experienced symptoms of SAD for the past several winters, and through talking with several friends about it, I’ve found they experience it as well. It feels good to find someone else who can relate to these low feelings during this time of year. You could even manage your SAD with a friend. Plan a weekly time to get together and do something fun or even exercise together. 

If your seasonal depression gets really bad or feels worse than usual, contact your doctor. Be gentle with yourself and learn what works best for you and your body.

There are many options for birth control. From hormonal options like the pill, the ring, or the shot, to non-hormonal options like condoms or the copper IUD. Having multiple types of birth control helps put women in control of their bodies, reproductive health, and sexual pleasure. A new non-hormonal birth control gel called Phexxi just hit the market, and lucky for you, I’ll give you the scoop. 

Jenn Explores Phexxi Birth Control

Phexxi is a prescription only, hormone free gel that is inserted into the vagina right before penis in vagina sex. Once inserted, Phexxi lasts up to an hour to prevent pregnancy. It works by keeping the vaginal pH at a level that does not encourage sperm movement. Your vaginal pH changes when aroused, making it a pH that is welcoming to sperm, encouraging the sperm to meet up with an egg once inside of the vagina and uterus. Phexxi maintains a pH of 3.5 to 4.5, which is a neutral level that does not encourage sperm movement. Phexxi is designed just to prevent pregnancy and does not protect against any STDs. It should also not be used if you use a vaginal ring birth control method. Because it lasts up to an hour, you should ideally insert it right before you have vaginal sex, but as long as you have sex within that hour window, it will be effective. If you have vaginal sex again after the hour is up, you should insert another dose. 

Using Phexxi seems very simple, and there is even a really informative video on their website demonstrating how to use it. If you’ve ever had to use yeast infection medicine, it’s honestly quite similar to inserting that. Although birth control gel is more fun that yeast infection medicine, but I digress. Phexxi comes in a prepackaged dose in a little applicator. You insert the applicator into your vagina, push the end of the applicator until the gel all comes out, pull out the applicator, and voila. You’re good to go for one hour. It’s also very similar to inserting a tampon, only gel comes out rather than cotton. 

Possible side effects include yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, uncomfortability at the insertion sight, burning or stinging, and in extreme cases UTI or kidney infection.

Phexxi could be a great option for someone who has a monogamous partner and doesn’t want to use hormonal birth control. I say someone who is monogamous, because remember, Phexxi doesn’t protect against STDs. Although Phexxi seems like a great non-hormonal option to add to the mix of birth controls, I do have some questions that aren’t answered on their website.

How is Phexxi any different than spermicide? Is it in fact a spermicide that’s been rebranded to be trendy and appealing? Spermicide basically works the exact same way Phexxi does, only you can buy it over the counter. Spermicide isn’t typically effective enough on its own to use as your only birth control option, so is Phexxi more effective? Which brings me to my next question…

There’s also no information on how effective Phexxi is. All birth control methods are tested for a perfect use failure rate (someone using the birth control perfectly, every time) and a typical use failure rate (a more typical use of the birth control) For example, the hormonal birth control pill perfect use failure rate, someone taking the pill at the exact same time every day, is 98%. The typical use rate is about 92%. There is no info on failure rates for Phexxi on their site. Additionally, I wonder what happens to the sperm once it’s in the vagina? It is immobile because of Phexxi doing it’s thing, but Phexxi only lasts for one hour and sperm can live in the vagina for up to five days. Phexxi was effective in clinical trials and is approved by the FDA, so it seems to be effective, but I need more information.

Besides saying not to use Phexxi with a vaginal ring, there is no information on if it is safe to use with other birth controls, such as condoms. Since Phexxi is non-hormonal, it would be safe to use with hormonal forms of birth control as a second method. I would assume it is safe to use with condoms because spermicides are safe to use with condoms, but there is no info on the website that supports this. 

If you’re interested in a hormone free, use when needed, type of birth control, Phexxi could be a great option for you. It is prescription only, which I actually thing is good so you have the opportunity to ask your doctor questions about the effectiveness and using it with condoms to prevent STDs. If you think Phexxi is a good fit for you and your birth control, schedule a consultation with your doctor. There is a lot of important information to consider that is currently not on the Phexxi website. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get all the info before choosing a birth control method that’s right for you, whether that be Phexxi or something else. 

For more info and helpful videos, visit their website. But don’t forget my lingering questions. No birth control is perfect, so get all the info to make your choice.