Aromatherapy has gained popularity over the last few years with soothing scents showing up in our shampoo, lotion, and candles we use every day. Aromatherapy is a holistic practice using plant extracts, or essential oils, to use scents to treat physical and emotional ailments. Despite the trendy popularity of aromatherapy, this practice has been around for thousands of years, dating back as far as the tenth century. I’m a firm believer that if something has been around that long, there must be something to it. 

How to Use Essential Oils to Reduce Stress

You can use aromatherapy for many different physical and mental treatments, and the specific scent being used dictates what effect it has. Essential oils and aromatherapy are a great, accessible way to help treat stress and the pesky symptoms that come with it. 

Lavender is probably the most popular de-stressing essential oil, and for good reason. It smells delicious, but in a very gentle, soft way. Lavender essential oil is known for its calming properties, aiding in sleep, calming the mind, and helping you feel relaxed. Lavender essential oil can be diffused in the air, sprayed on your pillow at night, used in lotions or massage oils, and can even be drank in tea. Some people even put lavender oil on their feet before bedtime to help them sleep.

Lemon and orange essential oils are said to help in reducing stress as well. The citrus in orange essential oil specifically has strong antioxidant benefits, and the smells of lemon and orange essential oils are slightly energizing and could possibly help uplift your mood. These oils can be diffused in the air, applied topically through lotions and massage oils, or drank in tea.

Ylang Ylang is another great oil for calming the mind and de-stressing. A study in 2012 found that participants who used Ylang Ylang oils lowered their high blood pressure. This oil is great for slowing down the mind and creating a calm mental state. Similar to our other de-stressing oils, it can be diffused, applied topically through creams and massage oils, or worn as a scent. I have never had Ylang Ylang tea, but I know it’s out there, and based on the smell, it’s probably delicious.

 It is important to note that if you’re applying an essential oil topically or drinking an essential oil, make sure you buy oils that are specifically used for those purposes. In order for an essential oil to be applied topically, it usually needs to be diluted with a carrier oil such as vegetable oil to make it gentler on your skin. Similarly, if you choose to ingest an essential oil, make sure you purchase oils that are specifically made for being ingested. It’s possible to have very adverse reactions if you don’t use the proper oils. 

Scents are powerful and can truly help calm a racing mind and put you in a new mindset. All essential oils can be helpful in creating a new environment in the space they are being used, but these four specifically are great for de-stressing. A little aromatherapy, coupled with some meditation or movement such as yoga or even a walk could help de-stress you almost immediately. 

Have you seen the Truvada for PrEP commercials? Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is not something I ever learned about in sexual education in school. I also lived most of my life thinking HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) were the same thing. 

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.

Thanks to awareness of HIV and AIDS and advances in modern medicine, there is now a daily pill available to help prevent the spread of HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is an effective way to prevent HIV. When used correctly, PrEP can reduce the risk of infection through sex by 90%, and reduce the risk of infection through injecting drugs by 70%.

What is Truvada?

Truvada is the daily pill prescribed for preventing the spread of HIV. If the pill is taken every day as directed, it is highly effective. Truvada’s website states that when the pill is used as directed, combined with safe sex practices such as condoms and dental dams, a person’s risk of getting HIV from a partner or partners decreases significantly.

People wanting to take Truvada need to start taking the pill before they are infected with HIV. You cannot take the pill if you already have HIV. For example if you have a new partner that you know has HIV, you’ll want to get tested to ensure you aren’t infected, then begin taking the pill before you have sexual contact involving any of the bodily fluids mentioned above. You must be tested before you start to make sure you don’t have HIV, and once you start the pill, you should be tested once every three months to ensure you haven’t contracted HIV, and to check for other sexually transmitted infections. People with other sexually transmitted infections are more likely to contract HIV, so regularly getting tested is essential for Truvada to be most effective.

Like with any medicine, there are side effects to Truvada such as a worsened case of Hepatitis B, kidney problems, liver problems, and bone problems. A full list of side effects can be found here on Truvada’s website.

Truvada for PrEP is a game changer. Not only does this pill help prevent people from contracting HIV, but it also helps destigmatize the virus. I’ve seen countless billboards and commercials for Truvada since the pill has been on the market, and hopefully this exposure will start important conversations so that more people are educated, and help people live happy and healthy lives.

Beauty trends come and go so quickly sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are worth it. Beeswax facial for example? No thank you. One beauty and self care trend that is relatively affordable, accessible, and has stuck around for the last few years is face masks. No, not Pandemic Cover Your Mouth and Nose Face Masks, but Soak in the Bathtub, Drink a Glass of Wine and Moisturize kind of face mask. 

Facial masks can be found at nearly every drug store, grocery store, or Target. They usually range from about $5 to $10, depending on the size and intent of the product. There are sheet masks which contain the product on a thin sheet made of paper or cloth, shaped like your face with little cut outs for your nose and mouth. Sheet face masks oftentimes have a lot of product on them and are very wet when you apply them. These masks often have you rub in the excess product afterwards rather than rinsing it off. Because sheet masks are so wet with product and can be rubbed right into the skin, these oftentimes contain vitamin C, rose water, or other ingredients that will brighten or moisturize your face. They are generally fairly gentle on your skin since they don’t need to be rinsed off.

There are also clay face masks. These usually come in a little pouch or a jar with a lid. These masks are spread onto the face with your fingers or a little brush. You’ll feel this type of mask tighten and harden on your face over the period of time you have it on, and it will need to be rinsed off when you’re done. Clay face masks often times contain charcoal, focus on acne prone skin and refining pores, and are usually a little more heavy duty on your face. There are some moisturizing clay masks though, so not all of them are heavy. 

Although these quick at home facial treatments are widely available and easy to do, are they really that good for our skin? The short answer is yes!

Facemasks certainly aren’t bad for your skin, and unless you have an allergic reaction to an ingredient, they won’t make your skin worse. Since face masks are left on for such a short period of time, usually no more than 10 or 15 minutes, the effects of the face mask are likely short lived. I’ve certainly used a face mask and had a little extra glow the next day, but my charcoal mask isn’t going to keep my pores clean for a week or anything like that. Masks that have product that can be rubbed into the skin likely have a more lasting effect because your skin is soaking the product up even after the mask has been removed. Harsher masks that need to be rinsed off don’t really keep working their magic long after the mask has been removed because it’s only on your face for a short period of time. 

Face masks are a quick and inexpensive way to give yourself a little TLC and spend some time on self care. They smell good, make you feel good, and help your skin glow even if it’s only for a little while. If you’re wanting to use a face mask and have very dry skin, I recommend a cream based mask. If you want to unclog your pores, a charcoal or clay mask might be nice. Vitamin C masks are great for brightening, but can also irritate super sensitive skin. Before you purchase a mask, read the fine print and see what the mask is intended to do, then consider how your skin might react to it. The ingredients in face masks are quite mild, so a severe reaction isn’t likely, but it isn’t impossible. Read before you buy!

Now stop by Target on your way home and pick up some ice cream and a few masks and relax tonight!

Raise your hand if you regularly use lube during sexy time activities! Raise your hand if you only sometimes use lube during penis in vagina sex. Raise your hand if you’re used lube during masturbation. My dream is for everyone to raise their hand for using lube all the time! Lube is your friend and will make all sorts of sexual activity more pleasurable and fun. 

You Should Be Using Lube

Lubricant or lube can be water based, oil based, or silicone based, and can be put on your genitals, fingers, or sex toys during sexual activity to increase wetness and make penetration more comfortable and enjoyable. Sex should never hurt. Lube can help it feel even better! There are different types of lube with pros and cons for different types of activity.

Water based lube is what is most commonly sold at the store, and probably the kind of lube you’ve used if you’re ever used some. Water based lube is safe to use with latex and non latex condoms, and is most commonly sold in the condom aisle. It’s also safe to use on all materials of sex toys, and safe for masturbation. Water based lube is gentle on sensitive skin, fairly mess free, and won’t leave sticky or stain-filled residue behind. Since it isn’t sticky, you could use it for a sexy massage as well. One downside to water based lube is that they don’t last super long during sexy activities, so you might have to reapply a few times if you’re enjoying a particularly long session.

Oil based lube can be purchased from the store, or you can probably find an oil based lube in your kitchen. Coconut oil is a great oil based lube that you might already have at home. Oil based lubes are great for hand play activities, masturbation, or even a sexy massage. Oil based lubes will break down latex condoms, so do NOT used oil based lube with condoms. Even if the condom doesn’t full on break, it could have been compromised. Keep the oil for making all of your touching activities a little sexier, or for using on a monogamous, STD free partner.

Silicone based lubes are extra slick and long lasting. If you’ve ever been to the gynecologist for a pelvic exam, the lube they use there is silicone based. Silicone based lube is safe to use with latex and non latex condoms. Yay! I once heard silicone lube described as the “silk sheets” of lube. Amazing! Silicone lube is also great for shower sex because it stays in place a little easier and doesn’t wash away like water based lube would. A downside, however, is that silicone based lube cannot be used on silicone sex toys. Silicone lube on a silicone toy will break down the toy and ruin it. 

Experimenting Using Lube

Even if you are someone who can easily naturally lubricate during sex, you should still have lube handy at all times. Maybe you apply a little lube halfway through to get things extra slippery and fun! Even if you are naturally lubricated, experiment using some lube as well to see if that creates any ease or new sensations. Use lube with your sex toys! Use lube to give your partner a massage! Using lube doesn’t mean your vagina isn’t good enough or you’re not turned on. Think of it like another toy or element to make your sex life even better. Everyone should be using lube!

A lot of people exercise to benefit the health of their bodies and minds. People lift weights to slowly strengthen their muscles and help them maintain good health. Did you know that you can also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to increase your pelvic floor health?

Your pelvic floor muscles are a series of muscles that extend from the pubic bone to the tailbone. These muscles support the bladder, bowel, and uterus in women, and the bladder and bowel in men. These muscles help you control when you have to go to the bathroom, and they help women in childbirth as well. In people with vaginas, these muscles are on the outside of the vagina, and can also help increase sexual pleasure. 

Just like any other muscle, pelvic floor muscles can become weak over time. Pregnancy, childbirth, old age, obesity, chronic constipation, or surgery can weaken these muscles. People can strengthen these muscles to help with incontinence, childbirth, and sexual satisfaction. You should definitely consider pelvic floor exercises if you leak a bit of urine when you laugh, cough or sneeze. Pelvic floor exercises can help. Men can benefit from strengthening their pelvic floor muscles as well.

Ways To Strengthen Pelvic Floor Muscles

You can do a series of fairly simple exercises to strengthen these muscles, and you can also use kegel or Ben Wa balls, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first, the exercises!

Kegel exercises are a simple way to strengthen your pelvic floor. Kegel exercises simply consist of you tightening and releasing your pelvic floor muscles. To figure out what contracting these muscles feels like, you can stop mid-pee next time you’re in the bathroom, and you’ll feel the pelvic muscles tightening. Another source also recommended imagining you’re sitting on a marble and need to lift it for a few seconds at a time. Boom, baby, there are your pelvic floor muscles! Now that you know what they feel like, tighten and release these muscles for about five seconds at a time for a set of ten up to three times a day.

Squats are also a good way to strengthen these muscles. You can also do hip thrusts where you lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and thrust your pelvis upward. A few other simple pelvic floor exercises can be found here. If you do kegel exercises daily, you should notice a difference pretty quickly. Your ability to control when you have to go to the bathroom should improve pretty soon after regularly flexing these muscles. 

If you have a vagina, another popular way to train these muscles is kegel balls or Ben Wa balls. Kegel balls are small balls made from silicone that you put inside of your vagina. These balls come in different sizes with different weights, and essentially weight train your pelvic floor muscles by supporting the ball in your vagina while you go about your daily life. Many of these balls come with two or three balls attached to one another in a line with a string or handle on the end. There are some balls that don’t have a string on the end, but you should only use those once you’ve gotten comfortable using kegel balls. 

Kegel balls can be used to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles for all of the reasons mentioned above, but a lot of people will use these to strengthen these muscles for increased sexual satisfaction. The stronger your pelvic floor muscles, the stronger your orgasms can be! Orgasm is the contracting of your vaginal muscles, and if your pelvic floor muscles are strong, this contraction will be strong and more pleasurable. You can also tighten and release your pelvic floor muscles during sexual activity for increased pleasure, and the stronger they are, the more you’ll feel it.

To use kegel balls, first clean them using warm water and antibacterial soap. You should always clean them before and after use and towel dry them once they’ve been washed. To insert them, lie on your back and slowly push the balls inside of your vagina, one at a time. It might be helpful to use lubricant on the balls and the vaginal opening to help slide them in. After you insert the kegel balls, pay attention to how it feels in your body. If it’s uncomfortable or painful, you might have inserted them too high. Give the handle a little tug and see if that feels more comfortable. If you have any intense pain, take them out right away. After they’re in, you can just carry about your daily life without much thought. Kegel balls can be left in for four to six hours. Your pelvic floor muscles will naturally tighten to keep the weighted balls in place, working them out while you carry on with your day. It’s like weight training for your vagina. You can also tighten and release your kegel muscles while they’re in in. Make sure you don’t do the kegel exercises for too long with the balls inserted so you don’t strain the muscles. You can also put the balls in just for kegel exercises and take them out afterwards. Although they can be left in for up to six hours doesn’t mean you have to leave them in that long.

When you’re ready to take them out, lie on your back again and slowly and carefully pull on the string to take them out. Again, lubricant around the vaginal opening can help slide the balls out. Once you’ve used kegel balls several times and feel comfortable, you could try balls without the string on them. They are inserted similarly, but when it’s time to take them out you’ll have to bear down and squat or push them out. Once they’re out, wash them thoroughly with warm water and antibacterial soap, towel dry them, then store them in a safe place. Wash them the next time you’re ready to use them. 

If you’re interested in using kegel balls, talk with your doctor about it. People that experience pelvic pain might have a hard time using them comfortably so ask your doctor if they recommend you try it. Regular old kegel exercises without the balls are safe for everyone though. 

Some people keep kegel balls in their vagina during sexual activity for increased sensation. You can even keep the balls in during penetrative or anal sex, but I would recommend doing some research before trying this, and make sure you are super comfortable using kegel balls for exercise purposes first. Although they could be kept in the vagina during anal sex, NEVER put kegel balls in your anus. They are not designed to strengthen any muscles in the anus, so don’t put them in there. 

Pelvic floor exercises are designed to help strengthen your pelvic floor for childbirth, controlling your urine, or increased sexual pleasure. When I first heard about kegel balls and kegel exercises, I heard that these exercises will tighten your vagina. This is untrue and a lie told to women so we feel like our bodies need fixing! Your vagina is incredibly strong and does not get “stretched” out from frequent sex like you may have been told growing up. Your vagina will definitely change after childbirth, but it doesn’t get “stretched out” to a point that it needs fixing! These pelvic floor muscles are around your vagina, so they help make this area of your body stronger. Your vagina is resilient and will bounce back to it’s natural shape. It is not stretched out and does not need to be tightened or fixed. Pelvic floor exercises will help you in childbirth by making you stronger to push out your baby. These exercises will help you control when you have to pee. These exercises can help make your orgasms stronger! They won’t “fix” your vagina because it doesn’t need fixing. Pelvic floor exercises, just like other exercises, will help increase the strength and health of your pelvic floor, which is a beautiful thing.

Once several years ago I was prescribed an antibiotic to treat an ear infection. I was also taking the hormonal birth control pill, and ’d heard rumblings of antibiotics making the pill less effective, so I asked the doctor at the walk in clinic I was at why that was. The doctor literally said, “Oh yeah, that’s what they say. I’m not sure. Use a second method of birth control just in case.” First of all, who is “they”? Isn’t the medical professional working with me the “they” she was talking about?! Clearly I wasn’t going to get the answers I was looking for, so I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little research.

Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in your body. This means that when you take antibiotics, some of the good bacteria in your body could also be killed. This includes good bacteria in your gut or in your vagina. That’s why digestive issues and yeast infections are more likely when you’re taking antibiotics. 

Birth Control Pills and Antibiotics

Turns out, there is only one antibiotic that has been proven to decrease the effectiveness of hormonal birth control and that is rifampin. Rifampin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat tuberculosis. More common antibiotics such as penicillins do not decrease the effectiveness of the pill. 

The hormonal birth control pill works by giving your body doses of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones work to stop ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus, thus preventing implantation and preventing pregnancy. Rifampin can mess with the levels of these hormones, and even causes irregular periods as a side effect if you’re not on the pill. Because rifampin messes with hormone levels, that means this drug makes other forms of hormonal birth control, a.k.a the vaginal ring, patch, or shot, less effective as well. Although you won’t likely be prescribed this antibiotic unless you’re being treated for tuberculosis, it’s still important to tell your doctor or whoever is prescribing your medicine that you’re on the pill or hormonal birth control. 

It is possible for other antibiotics to decrease the effectiveness of the pill if it causes you to vomit up your pill within two hours of taking it. For some peace of mind, it might be a good idea to use a secondary form of birth control, such as condoms, for the time you’re on antibiotics.

Although only rifampin decreases the effectiveness of the pill when it comes to antibiotics, other medications can mess with how well the pill or hormonal birth control is working. Some anti-HIV medications, some anti-seizure medications, and some oral antifungal medications can decrease how well hormonal birth control works. That’s why it’s ultra important to tell your doctor or whoever is prescribing you medicine that you’re on the pill. You can also explicitly ask if it will affect your birth control so you get a clear answer no matter the prescription you’re given. Antibiotics and other medications aside, the birth control pill will be most effective if you take it at the same time every day. Missing even just one day can decrease its effectiveness and lead to unwanted pregnancy.  

It’s no secret the world is stressful right now. And with colder months right around the corner, certain to keep us inside much more often (as if that’s even possible!), our stresses and anxieties might creep up a little more than usual. We of course know all of the stress relieving benefits associated with physical activity, but focusing on mindfulness, breathing, and meditation also can help with your mental health. Let’s explore breathing techniques.

Reduce Stress with Breathing Techniques

  1. Natural breath

Find a comfortable seated position, either upright in a chair, or criss cross applesauce on the floor. Try and sit up as straight and tall as possible. Rest your hands on your legs. Take a few breaths in and out as you naturally would, keeping your gaze soft and straight ahead. After a few breaths in and out, on your next exhale, slowly close your eyes. Pay attention to the length and depth of your breath. Are you breathing in slowly? Are you breaths long or short? Just observe and keep breathing. As you breathe, keeping your natural pace, start countin your breaths. The inahel is one, exhale is two, inhale three, exhale four, etc. all the way to ten, then start again from one. Repeat this as many times as you’d like until you slowly blink your eyes open again. 

I got a little more relaxed just writing that!

  1. Three part breath

Begin as you did with the natural breath exercise, in a comfortable seated position, either in a chair or criss cross applesauce on the floor. Keep your back nice and straight and rest your hands on your legs. Begin by breathing for a few breaths as you naturally would, and slowly close your eyes on an exhale. After a few more natural breaths, begin the three part breath. Inhale from your belly, into your chest, and into your collar bones. Hold the breath for a moment, then slowly exhale out through your collar bones, then your chest, then back down to your belly. Hold for a few seconds, then repeat. Try and have the breath travel up and down your torso as smoothly as possible, visualizing the breath traveling, but without holding it in any spot for too long. Repeat as many rounds as you’d like, and slowly blink your eyes open when you’re done.

  1. Alternate nostril breathing 

Begin seated in a comfortable position, either in a chair or criss cross applesauce on the floor. Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed. You left hand rests on your leg, while your right hand comes to your forehead. Rest your pointer and middle fingers of your right hand gently between your eyebrows, while your thumb and ring fingers hover on either side of your nostrils. Begin with a few natural breaths, gently closing your eyes. When you’re ready, gently plug your left nostril with your ring finger and inhale through your right nostril. Hold the breath for a moment, then lift your finger, and plug your right nostril with your thumb as you exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left, pause at the top of the breath, then use your ring finger to once again plug the left nostril, exhaling through the right. Inhale through the right nostril, pause, then exhale through the left and so on. Repeat for as long as you’d like, taking your time. Gently remove your right hand and resume your natural breath when you’re finished. Slowly blink open your eyes. 

Practice these breathing techniques and enjoy!

Six months later and the coronavirus pandemic is still raging in the United States. Because of this ongoing pandemic, lots of people have been working from home, and are still working from home, and maybe will continue working from home until the end of this year. Yikes! Are you having trouble separating your down town from your work time? Not sure how to create a clear boundary between work hours and not work hours? I’ve got some tips for you! 

Stay Sane With Our Working From Home Tips

1. Give yourself set work hours

Perhaps your job already has set hours like a 9-5, even from home. If it doesn’t have strict hours, or even if these hours are loosey goosey, set a schedule for yourself. Start work at the same time every day, take your lunch break at the same time every day, and end at the same time every day. If you get an hour for lunch at the office, take an hour at home. Giving yourself a schedule and sticking to it will help create a routine and separate work time from down time.

2. Leave the house at least once a day

Maybe you leave in the morning to grab your morning coffee, or perhaps you go pick up food for lunch. It doesn’t matter how long or when you leave the house, but leaving your space will help break up the day and help things flow better without feeling stuck in one spot all day long. If you usually work in an office, you probably have different floors or areas to walk through throughout the day, whereas at home you don’t. Create a little walking break by running a quick errand during the day.

3. Designate a work station

Sure working from your bed every day might feel cozy, but it is confusing your brain!! Your brain and body associate your bed with rest, so also turning it into your work space could cause you to get sleepy faster or be less productive. Set up a designated work station, even if that is just a specific spot at your dining room table, or a card table set up in your living room. Giving a space designated importance will help you be more focused and productive.

4. Take breaks

Just as you would likely get little breaks working around other people, make sure you take breaks throughout the day. Sure you can’t walk with Jan to the watercooler and gossip for twenty minutes anymore, but maybe call Jan and chat on the phone for 20 minutes anyway. When you’re working around other people and in a space conducive to moving around, you aren’t actually working for the whole day hours without interruptions. Go for a walk around the block or call a friend.

5. Do the best you can

Adjusting to working from home indefinitely is hard! Some jobs aren’t best done at home, while some are. Remind yourself that this is an unusual circumstance and try your best. Perhaps communicate with your boss or coworkers about adjusting expectations for working from home. Do your best and give yourself some grace.

Although working from home is the safest choice for us during the COVID pandemic, it can still be tough. It’s especially tough if you don’t know how much longer you’ll be working this way. Follow these working from home tips and figure out what works best for you.

Imagine: It’s a post-pandemic world where it’s safe to go out to bars again. Perhaps you’re heading out on a date or even going out for a night with your girls. You’re feeling frisky and open having a sexual encounter so you decide you need to buy some condoms because you are well informed and understand that your sexual health is a priority! Check out our tips for confidently buying condoms.

Buying condoms can feel intimidating, but I promise you, it is easy peasy. No one will judge you for buying them, and if they do, they’re not worth your time! If you’re a student, most schools and campuses have free condoms available in the health center, and some dorms even pass them out. You can grab a few there. If you do need to purchase some, however, they’re available at every drug store or grocery store, and they are fairly inexpensive. A pack of 12 is usually less than $10, and you don’t need a prescription or need to be a certain age to purchase them.

Tips for Confidently Buying Condoms

All you have to do is waltz into the store of your choice, head to the “family planning” or “feminine hygiene” aisle and take your pick. There are MANY types of condoms and it can be overwhelming knowing which ones to get, especially if you’re feeling timid about perusing the condom aisle in the first place. Take your time! Take up space in that aisle! Pick up the box and read the description on the back! Find what sounds good to you. Although it might feel like it, no one in the store is judging you or staring at you while you shop. They are too busy worrying about what they need to buy. You’ve got smooth condoms, ribbed condoms, lubricated condoms, condoms with lube that is heated, or cooling, or creates different sensations, flavored condoms, thin condoms, extra large condoms, condoms with a reservoir tip…the list goes on and on! If you’ve used condoms before and have vague idea of which ones you like, then go for that. If you’re not sure, the ones with the reservoir tip are nice and lower the chance of breakage just a little. These condoms have a little extra room at the top so the sperm has somewhere to shoot out and be caught without adding any extra pressure to the tip of the condom. I find that those are less likely to break.

Some stores have started putting condoms in plastic containers that need to be unlocked at checkout by the store clerk. Don’t let this interaction with the clerk hold you back from prioritizing your sexual health!!! They probably unlock packages of condoms all the time and they do not care that they have to do it for you. They are not judging you.

Once you’ve selected the kind you want, just take them to the check out. Easy peasy. If there is a self checkout at the store and that makes you feel more comfy purchasing them, go for it. If you do still need someone to unlock the protective packaging for you, don’t fret. Just ask and they will gladly help you. Personally I’m not a fan of the plastic boxes that need to be unlocked because it further discourages people from freely buying them because it can create a sense of anxiety around purchasing them, but I’m here to assure you, no need to feel anxious when purchasing condoms. They’re inexpensive and widely available for a reason – because people buy them all the time!

If you have a consistent sex partner that has a penis and you’d like them to be responsible to buy the condoms, you can certainly discuss that once that dynamic is established. Until you reach that point, it’s always good to be prepared just in case things get spicy! There is no shame in buying condoms, and you deserve to do so with a sense of ease and calm. Remember, no one in the store is judging you!

A very important and often overlooked part of being sexually active is getting regular STD testing. Sexually transmitted infections or sexually transmitted diseases are infections that one gets through sexual contact such as vaginal, penile, or anal fluids. Fun fact, STIs and STDs are the same thing. The only difference is that to be diagnosed with an STD you must show symptoms. Another fun fact (or maybe this one’s not so fun), most STIs don’t show symptoms for years after the initial infection.  JAW DROP. RECORD SCRATCH. WHAT?

Yes, that’s right. Most STIs don’t show symptoms. That is why it’s super important to get tested after each new sexual partner.

Everything You Need to Know About STD Testing

If you are in a monogamous relationship, you and your partner can get tested when you first start seeing each other exclusively, then you’ll know your status. Or if you are someone who has never had sexual activity that would swap fluids, such as oral, vaginal, or anal sex, then you wouldn’t need to get tested either. The most commonly known spread of STIs is through unprotected a.k.a. condomless penetrative sex, whether that be penis in vagina sex, or anal sex. You can also contract an STI through oral sex, which is often overlooked! If you perform oral sex on someone who has an STI, even if they don’t have symptoms, you could possibly get an infection in your mouth, or spread it to your genitals. Say you give oral to your partner, then you makeout with them, then they perform oral on you—BAM the infection from their genitals could be given to your genitals through their mouth. Although getting an STD this way isn’t as likely, there is still a risk. This sounds scary and intense, but I promise it’s not. STIs are a normal part of life, and most of them are treatable with a short round of medicine such as antibiotics.

Getting an STD test is very easy. Make an appointment with your gynecologist or a sexual health clinic such as Planned Parenthood, and tell them you’d like to schedule an STD test. Most student health centers on college campuses or schools also have free STD testing! When you arrive, the nurse will ask you questions about your sexual activity, such as do you have sex with partners with penises, vaginas, or both? Have you had penis in vagina sex without a condom? Have you had anal sex without a condom? Are you showing any symptoms of an STD such as burning while you pee, rash on your genitals, etc? It’s very important to be open and honest during the questions. The nurse is not judging you. They have likely seen and heard it all. They are they to help you be healthy!

For chlamydia and gonorrhea, you simply pee in a cup to determine if you have those infections. An HIV test is done by taking a pin prick of blood. Most clinics have a rapid result HIV test, so you will likely hear the results of that test before you leave your appointment. Syphilis is also tested by taking blood. Usually clinics do not test for herpes unless the patient is showing symptoms of an outbreak. This is due to the fact that someone can have herpes and never show symptoms, so it is hard to even detect in the first place. Additionally, the blood test done for herpes is often inaccurate and will show false positives because it can detect traces of oral herpes in your blood, a cold sore, rather than genital herpes. Since the test isn’t reliable, you won’t be tested for that unless you’re showing symptoms.

Besides the HIV test, you’ll likely hear back from your doctor within one to two weeks with your results. Oftentimes, no news is good news. Although if you do find out you have an STI, your doctor will talk to you about a treatment plan, which as I mentioned before, is often a short round of antibiotics.

I recommend getting tested after each new partner if you had unprotected oral or penetrative sex. If you had protected penetrative sex, but unprotected oral, you should probably still get tested since there is a chance of spreading STIs that way.  If you talk with your partner before the sexiness begins and they say they have been tested and know their status and you know yours, you would be okay to not be tested, assuming they are being truthful.

You also must wait two weeks after sex with a new partner to be tested. If you get tested sooner than that your results could be inaccurate.

Getting STD tested seems overwhelming and scary, and maybe even a little shameful or dirty. There is absolutely NOTHING shameful or dirty about prioritizing your health and the health of your partners. It is truly so simple and not a big deal, and if you find you do have an STD, that isn’t shameful either. It’s treated with antibiotics just as any other infection might be. Have fun out there and be safe!

CDC guidelines