2Herpes!Ever notice the only time we hear herpes mentioned in movies or on TV is when it’s the butt of a joke? Genital herpes is an easy target for humor because it's not fatal and the people who suffer from this STI are not usually considered victims. Unlike HIV/AIDS, genital herpes is a relatively mild condition that does not usually warrant the seriousness or sensitivity that society grants fatal illness. Instead, genital herpes is understood to be a punishment, or something you "bring upon yourself." People with genital herpes aren’t thought of as victims; they’re thought of as sluts, monsters, lepers, or just stupid. When we combine these factors, people with genital herpes are obvious subjects for ridicule.About 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 people in the U.S. have genital herpes. That means there are currently over 51 million Americans with genital herpes right this very second. That’s more people than there are Latino Americans (46.9 million) or African Americans (37.6 million). What’s the likelihood all of those people are "sluts," or "deserved" to get herpes?Mind over Herpes – All of this leads to the conclusion that dealing with herpes stigma is the worst part about having genital herpes. In other words, the emotional effects of herpes stigma are much worse than the physical effects of the STI. I have even heard that some doctors advise against getting tested for herpes because if you aren’t having symptoms, the the risk of emotional devastation from a false positive is worse than the risk of delaying the diagnosis.Here are some things you can do:Add “people with STIs, including herpes” to your mental list of groups that face discrimination (like GLBT folks, people with disabilities, women, Muslims, African Americans, Latino Americans, etc). Recognize their struggle and support them when you see discrimination happening.Take a stand against herpes or other STI jokes that would make someone who has it feel ashamed or uncomfortable. Step in and say, "Dude, that’s not funny. How would you feel?"Pay attention to language. Pay attention to metaphors like monster, leper, and dirty or clean. Try to stop using them yourself, and try to get your friends to stop as well.Pay attention to stereotypes. Correct people when they try to say that being a slut means you probably have herpes, or that people with herpes are liars and cheaters.
3Virginity!Q: I'm afraid my girlfriend may still be loving her ex-boyfriend who broke her virginity. She has always proved that she loves me but I'm not convinced, even though she says she doesn't have feelings for him anymore. Is it true that ladies always have permanent feelings for men they first had sex with?A: No, it isn't. It's not always true for men either, nor is there a sound reason why it would be more true for women than it would be for men. As well, if women have a female first sex partner, or men a male first sex partner, there also is no golden rule or given about if any of us will have long-lasting feelings of any kind for that person or not.Let me clarify that: any of us, whether we have sex with someone we dated or not, whether if we did that was our first partner or not, may still have feelings for an ex in some way. We may even develop a new kind of relationship with that person and become platonic friends, instead.Having intercourse for the first time together alone -- or at any time, with anyone -- can't magically create a bond all by itself. The bonds we make with people really aren't about our bodies, but about our hearts and minds. Sex is one way to express our feelings physically while sharing pleasure, and can be one way to express or deepen our emotional intimacy, but it's still not the sex itself that creates an emotional bond.Sure, we might look back at certain sexual relationships or sex with other partners and remember that sex fondly (or not-so-fondly). We might even file times with someone else in our mental best-sex-so-far files. But that doesn't make sex after that with others somehow less important or rewarding, nor does it mean that we can't have sexual relationships afterwards which are of equal or greater importance.
4Reality CheckYou say:"I need to be a sexual partner to stay with me forever. Or at least for a very long time."Is that possible? Not forever, no. Being with a partner for a very long time is possible, but unlikely when you're in your teens and early twenties, especially the younger you are. None of us lives forever. So, we've got to cross forever off our must-have lists, even when things feel forever-y or we really want them to.Very few relationships span a lifetime, or even decades, especially those that start when we're young. In fact, if you're in your teens, whatever relationship you're in now will most likely last less than a year or two, maybe even less than half a year, especially if you're a younger teen. First romantic or sexual relationships rarely last longer than a couple years, and even lasting that long is very uncommon. As people get even a little older, moving from the earlier teens to the later teens and twenties, romantic and/or sexual relationships often tend to endure for longer periods of time. There are always exceptions, but they seem to happen for far fewer people than the number of people who feel sure their relationship is going to be lifelong."I need everyone to have an orgasm. Or, at least, for sex to be awesome for both of us." Is that possible? It's absolutely possible, it just can't ever be guaranteed (and often is a lot less likely whenever anyone feels and acts really desperate about it).It's safe to say that no matter what kind of sex we're having, with who, or at what time in our life, sex is always an experiment. In other words, we can never know for sure or guarantee that everyone will get off or even will enjoy themselves. Sometimes people orgasm and sometimes people don't, even when they're doing something they have reached orgasm from before in the exact same way as they did it when they got off the last time. Sometimes people have a good time and sometimes they don't, even when they're having sex with the same person, doing things they have enjoyed before.
5Reality Check You say: "I don't want to regret anything." Is that possible? Yes, but it's unpredictable, especially over time, and not something any one set of choices could ever guarantee.No one can make a universal list of what to do and what not to, of what sexual situations to pursue and which to avoid, to guarantee people won't ever experience sexual regret. Regret is always going to be a possibility.Regret is a tricky thing to predict or protect ourselves against, because we don't all want the same things and we're not all the same people. A situation one person will regret taking part in can be a situation another will regret not taking part in. Like we say a lot around here, sexuality and sexual choices are incredibly individual and incredibly situational. In other words, some things just aren't right for a given person, while for another person, those things are wanted and ideal. On top of that, regret is something people most often feel looking back in their histories when they have more life experience, or have become different people in some way than they were before. No one can ever predict who exactly they'll be or what they'll see as ideal ten, twenty or fifty years down the road.The best anyone can ever do is just to take the time to get a clear sense of what they -- not their best friend, their partner or their Aunt Mabel -- want and need (or recognize they don't have any idea, and chill out with sex until they do), have some idea of some of their life goals and their own values and ethics, check in with their true feelings, then put heart, head and that information together and evaluate sexual choices with all of that in mind. The you want to make those choices without compromising any of that you aren't seriously okay compromising.
6Healthy Relationships We respect each other's limits and boundaries.Everyone has limits and boundaries: the invisible emotional, physical and/or practical lines we draw between ourselves and other people simply because no matter how close we are to someone, we all remain distinct, separate individuals. Those limits and boundaries can be about things like how much time we have and want to spend with a partner, how much space we need for ourselves or with friends and family, about sex or our own physical space. Our boundaries and limits are also about the way we communicate (what words we use or what topics are just not up for discussion), how we manage conflict, about emotional or personal places we invite partners into and those we need to be off-limits, either at a given time or altogether or about objects or areas that we want to be ours alone, like a journal, a box of photos in the closet or our . Limits and boundaries are also about how much of our identity is about us as a member of a relationship and about how much is about us all by ourselves.We each get to be our own person.Being in an intimate relationship isn't about giving up our own lives or enmeshing to the point that we can't figure out what our own lives are without someone else; it's about sharing our lives. How much or how little we share will tend to do with what each of us wants, what a given relationship is like and how open we feel to sharing.We communicate.In order to be in a relationship, we have to be interrelating. We can't do that without communicating, especially without talking, be that with our spoken (or signed, if we or others speak that way) or written words. To develop relationships that become deeper over time we have to get deeper in our communication and refine how we communicate. If the way we communicate is either short or largely silent, or pretty much stays on a "What's up?" "Not much, what's up with you?" "Not much." level, it shouldn't be a shocker that surface-y communication typically results in a surface-y relationship. And if we amp up the relationship in other ways -- like making it sexual or making long-term commitments -- but don't also increase our communication, that's one way we can easily create or enable unhealthy relationships. Our body language and any way we relate physically are also kinds of communication, but they tend to be far less clear and a lot more open to interpretation than our words are.We know that people aren't fixer-uppers.Understanding and accepting that we're each our own person is also about our own responsibility and what we can control -- and should not be trying to control. While a relationship is a mutual endeavor, any of us are ultimately only responsible for ourselves and can only control ourselves. We need to understand that and also accept that about any other person we're in a relationship with. Healthy relationships aren't about people trying to bend someone else to their will to get what they want or be who they want them to be, or about trying to make someone be like us or be inseparable from us: they're but about people coming together and staying together because each wants to, creating something shared with the places we do intersect, understanding and accepting there are some areas where we won't.