Dear reader, I'm going to go out on a limb here and make myself a little bit vulnerable with a personal confession. Or rather, since confession makes it feel like I'm about to plop myself in the middle of a teen fiction plot, let's go with personal truth. Here goes: Unlike almost every other person I know in my age bracket—guys and girls alike—I didn't have sex for the first time until after I graduated college. Sure, I had boyfriends and flings and dabbled in other intimate practices, and it's not that I had specific moral pull preventing me from having sex, I just simply hadn't found anyone I really wanted to do it with. Of course, even though I knew I shouldn't feel weird or different about being a virgin at 20-something, I couldn't help feeling like an outsider.
Fast-forward past college graduation, moving across the country from Minnesota to San Francisco for my first job, and then a year and another new job later to Los Angeles, I had a lot going on. There's a lot of self-growth and self-learning that occurs as you sever those strong ties with where you grew up and dependency on your family, and create a brand-new life for yourself. Suddenly, which I'm sure many of you relate to, I was violently thrust into this confusing and daunting orb in which each and every day consisted of just trying to figure it out—from my financial well-being to car troubles to dating to forming and managing new and old friendships. And, oh yeah, within my first few months of moving to L.A., I finally had sex. And remarkably, it was so much less complicated than I had thought it would be. Until, of course, it wasn't.
Since my first time, which was roughly one year ago exactly, I've had sex with two additional people. (So yes, my magic number is three ATM.) And while there hasn't been one thing (or person for that matter) that I've regretted, it's definitely been an interesting adventure as I've meandered my way through the L.A. dating scene. I've had to figure things out and reflect and learn as I go, and, again, even though there's absolutely nothing I regret, per se, the road hasn't exactly been a straight line either. More importantly, I know I can do better when it comes to some of my habits surrounding my sex life. For instance, there's almost always at least a little bit of intoxication involved, I haven't seen a condom even once, and, like many of us, that heat-of-the-moment feeling has definitely influenced my actions more often than I would have predicted.
So, after acknowledging to myself that I wanted to shift some of my behaviors this year, I thought I would get some extra insight and validation from an expert, Patrice Harold, MD, director of minimally invasive gynecology at Detroit Medical Center's Hutzel Women's Hospital. Ahead, four unhelpful habits I'm giving up this year to have a healthier sex life. Keep scrolling!
Habit 1: Find Some Condoms
Despite the dronings of basically of every health professor ever, I haven't seen a condom in the near vicinity of a horny boy since my sophomore year of college. I mean, where are they? In their absence, I have been asked by guys if I'm on birth control, and every time I've had sex with a guy, they've pulled out. According to my personal data, and after consulting numerous co-workers, friends, roommates, etc., it seems that birth control and the ever-so-not-dependable pull-out method have become the main means of protection. Of course, there is definitely a glaring issue here in that neither method will 100% protect you from pregnancy, and neither will even come close to protecting you from contracting an STI. Eek.
Apparently, guys in their 20s and early 30s aren't into using condoms, and after I did some research, I've officially discovered this isn't a weird statement about my particular orb of acquaintances. According to this article posted just days ago on Cosmopolitan, the absence of condoms is kind of an epidemic. Here's a quick synopsis of their findings: Only about 30% of men used a condom the last time they had sex, 20 million Americans are projected to get an STI in 2019, and 50% of men said they've never ever used one. Of course, it's not all on the men, and as women, it's time to speak up on our own behalf. Because that STI statistic? Scary.
According to the same article, 33% of respondents only use a condom when a partner insists, but 72% say they'll respect a partner's wishes to use one. So let's start some dialogue, shall we? Personally, I've always been too nervous or self-conscious to bring it up, and, to be completely honest, I have been more worried about ruining the moment than any potential consequences down the road—so not healthy and something I'm definitely looking to change in 2019.
"The ultimate unhealthy sexual practice is not wearing condoms," affirms Harold. "I encourage all of my patients to carry condoms with them at all times, therefore, they can never get into a situation and not have one available." Word.
2. Have Open Dialogue With a Partner Before Sex
"I also encourage my patients to have an open and honest conversation with a potential partner before engaging in intercourse," Harold adds. Again, this is something that hit home with me personally. Even though I've never had sex with someone I didn't fully want to have sex with, I'm naturally a tad timid, and I've always been nervous to broach potentially intimidating conversations with my partners that would involve discussing our sexual history. And, as horrible as it may sound, I've avoided the STI talk purely due to the fact that I'm scared to make my partner uncomfortable or put them on the spot. Again, another ultimately unhealthy habit I know I need to remedy.
"I always recommend to my patients that they are tested for all STIs and supply a copy of their results to their partner," says Harold. "And they should ask their partner to do the same."
3. Drink Less
I actually am pretty comfortable with my drinking M.O. Truthfully, I don't drink that often—not even weekly—and most of the time I'm pretty good about limiting my intake. Whether I'm going out out or casually grabbing a drink with friends, my sweet spot is one to three drinks depending, of course, on the day of the week and my ultimate plans for the night. However, once every so often, I go a little bit rogue (hey, I'm only human), and that's when the trouble starts. Even though I've never actually had sex after one of those Shit, I went overboard scenarios, in reflection, I've almost always imbibed to some degree before having sex with a partner. Of course, there have been exceptions, but it's a worrying pattern I've become aware of and most definitely something I'd like to shift in 2019.
After all, the more impaired we are before engaging in sexual activity, the less likely we are to use protection, have the important open dialogue we mentioned above, and be fully cognizant of what—or who—we're about to do.
4. Only Do What Feels Comfortable
"I always inform my patients that whatever two consenting adults do behind closed doors is acceptable," shares Harold. "That said, you should never consent to practices that cause you pain or distress. For instance, if a woman experiences vaginal dryness, water-based lubricants are helpful, although just be wary of some of the oil-based lubricants or lubricants that have flavors or are scented, as they can sometimes be irritating."
In other words, it's great to feel open, excited, and uninhibited with your partner in the bedroom, but remember that you don't have to try something new or something that may feel intimidating just because it excites your partner. Again, I don't feel personal shame or regret for anything I've done with the guys I've slept with, but in hindsight, I know that I need to care less about being the girl who's game for anything and more about what I truly want, need, and feel comfortable with from my relationship. Let us remember, the choice is just as much our own, and when and if we decide to try something, say, a little kinky, we should be 100% on board and utilize whatever might be necessary (ahem, lube, as per Harold's suggestion) to ensure the experience is pleasurable for everyone involved.