Staying Friends

Why does it seem so unusual to stay friends with your ex? I was just asked today “if it was awkward”…because I was in a relationship with someone who I loved for 8 months, and now, 4 months later, am in a relationship with someone else. I really don’t know what she was referring to. I didn’t tell her that I still communicate regularly with my ex. I didn’t tell her that my ex and his metamour (who I had the hugest crush on) came to my small birthday party, where my new boyfriend was also obviously a guest. I didn’t tell her that I gave my boyfriend advise about how to stay friends with his recent ex, completely based on my ex’s (very good) actions following the breakup. I didn’t tell her (on second thought, maybe I did let this one slip) that I was texting him about the new girl he started dating.

In the poly world, I think it’s common to remain friends following a breakup. Love does not need to be limited. Even if your love is over, there was still something about them that made you an important part in each other’s lives…why should that end with the relationship? Even if you don’t see them often, you can still exchange things you think they might find interesting, and catch up on occasion. I suppose there’s sometimes a chance of getting back together, but usually, the breakup happened for a good reason, and if the post-breakup interaction was handled well, it should create a strong friendship, not something to get jealous of.

In both the case of me and my ex, and my boyfriend and his ex (who he broke up with shortly after we started dating), the boyfriend was the one to initiate the breakup. In both scenarios (massively oversimplified), he just wasn’t “feeling the relationship” anymore. In both cases, all parties wanted to remain friends.

It took me a week or two to no longer be actively sad about it. I tried to text him as little as I could, but that was still quite a lot for a while. The main thing that was important was that he waited for me to initiate communication. He almost never would begin a conversation. Getting over him was on my terms, not his.

It took me about 2 months to really be over my him. I could have met him after a month, but that would have probably been too soon, and would have just extended the time it would have taken to get over him. I didn’t end up seeing him again until 3 months after we broke up. We just had a casual conversation for a couple hours. It was nice to catch up. I wanted to make sure we could still be friends; that I didn’t hate him, and I didn’t love him. I wanted to make sure I just saw him as a friend. I wanted to be able to invite him to my birthday party and have it still be fun. All turned out well. My birthday party was fun, and we keep in touch on a regular basis.

Why is it a weird thing to stay friends with your ex?

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Polyamory (vs. Promiscuity), STDs and Safer Sex

Great post about STI safety and poly!

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Herpes

In Ancient Rome, an epidemic of cold sores prompted Emperor Tiberius to ban kissing in public ceremonies. Today, cold sores still occur in epidemic proportions.

Herpes has become a bit of a cultural joke. Some sayings about herpes include:

“Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.” – Demetri Martin

“Unlike love, herpes is forever.” – Anon.

“It’s been said that 1 in 4 people have herpes, and everyone has 4 grandparents, so let’s be honest, your grandmother is probably a dirty skank.” – Jarod Kintz

“Fundamentalists never wonder why, if herpes is sent by ‘god’ to scourge ‘adulterers,’ whooping cough and measles weren’t purposely created to lambaste children.” – Fred Woodworth

Herpes have a variety of names; cold sores, fever blisters, “the gift that keeps on giving,” love warts, the herp, kissing disease.

There are actually 8 different Human Herpes Simplex Viruses.

#

Name

What is it?

1

HSV1

Typically cold sores around the mouth

2

HSV2

Typically genital herpes

3

HHV3

Chickenpox & shingles

4

EBV

Mono “the kissing disease”

5

CMV

Alternate cause of mono (mainly an issue with people with HIV/compromised immune systems)

6

HHV6

Roseola (disease in small children)

7

HHV7

Alternate cause of roseola

8

HHV8

Found in tumors in people with AIDS

There is currently a vaccine for HHV3, and HSV2 vaccine trials are currently happening in Australia. HHV4 vaccine is currently being researched at the University of Minnesota.

Herpes as we know it refers to HSV-1 and HSV-2. These two viruses have 776,000 new cases in the US each year. The virus damages the skin as it reproduces, creating sores that last about a week. The virus hides inside nerve cells between outbreaks. Some people are genetically prone to getting more outbreaks, and things like low immunity or stress can set off outbreaks. If you have one type, you are less likely (especially to get HSV-1 if you have HSV-2).

50-90% of American adults carry antibodies to HSV-1. If you are already immune, or having outbreaks in one location, it is unlikely, though possible to get outbreaks elsewhere, so wash hands after touching sores. People with active oral HSV-1 shed the virus in salvia about 5% of the time.

16-25% of the US population aged 14-49 has HSV-2 (1 in 5 women, 1 in 9 men). People with active genital HSV-2 shed the virus from the genital area 6-10% of the time with no symptoms. It is very unlikely to get oral HSV-2 from oral sex with someone with genital HSV-2.

Cold sores are usually on the lip (canker sores affect the inside of the mouth and are not caused by HSV). They can appear anywhere on the face, and generally have a warning period of red, irritated skin. Blisters form, rupture, and crust over before healing.

Genital herpes outbreaks are usually preceded by tingling in the genital region. Sores last 2-4 weeks and are sometimes accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Sores double the risk of transmission of HIV. Genital herpes van lead to miscarriages or premature birth and can be passed from mother to child and be fatal. The risk can be reduced by anti-viral medication and c-section delivery.

Sores can be tested with a cell culture or antigen test to determine if they are HSV. Blood tests exist (PCR, antibody tests), but aren’t recommended by the CDC unless there was a known exposure or if they are symptomatic, since false positives are common and no treatment is needed. The tests can tell the difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Ho or cold compresses, over-the-counter creams and pain medications can help with the symptoms of outbreaks. Antiviral creams (OTC or prescription) or oral antiviral prescriptions can reduce the length of outbreaks if used during an outbreak, or can be taken daily as suppressive therapy.

In order to reduce risk of transmission, don’t kiss, share toothbrushes, glasses or utensils, or perform oral sex while cold sores are present. Don’t touch the sore, or wash your hands afterward if you do. Take antiviral medications to reduce viral shedding. Condoms help, but only partially. SPF lip balm helps prevent cold sores.

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Putting Yourself First

In my own life, I am very determined, self-assured, confident, and a go-getter. I don’t hesitate to make the first move with someone I’m interested in. However, past date one, I tend to turn into a puppy on a leash, unsure where to go unless being led. This has caused problems in relationships probably more often than I’m even aware of.

Even if I’m not a dom, I need to stand my ground in relationships. I need to voice my preferences every so often. I need to not have the relationship get in the way of my professional life.

The Ethical Slut puts it very well,

A great many people do believe that to be single is to be somehow incomplete and that they need to find their “other half.”…We believe, on the other hand, that the fundamental sexual unit is one person; adding more people to that unit may be intimate, fun, and companionable, but does not complete anybody The only thing in this world that you can control is yourself – your own reactions, desires and behaviors. Thus, a fundamental step in ethical sluthood is to bring your locus of control into yourself, to recognize the difference between your “stuff” and other people’s; when you do this, you become able to complete yourself – that’s why we call this “integrity.”

When I am in a “lost puppy” sort of relationship, I feel like I, at least to a small extent, look for that lead outside of the relationship. I am a whole person, I shouldn’t NEED anyone. It felt weird to realize that my ex wasn’t there for me after he broke up with me back in June, but I realized, I don’t need anyone but me!

My new relationship is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Though I’ve dated a few subs before, he’s the subbiest of the subs, which puts me into a more dominant role. I generally lead the conversation, I generally pick the movie…and that’s not even talking about in the bedroom. This relationship, for once, doesn’t turn me into a puppy….well, in a way, but not the sort of puppy that is afraid to lead the way. It’s an interesting position, being in the leading role. It feels a little bit uncomfortable, but I think it is good for me, and I’m getting used to it, and really liking it! (Or maybe that’s just him :D)

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My Story of STI Testing

When I was little, I could never imagine having sex with someone before I went to Planned Parenthood with them and we got tested together. I was raised with good sex ed from my mom, and fairly good sex ed in school. I knew that condoms provided good but not complete protection.

I would have been shocked then to know that when I would become sexually active in college, I wouldn’t even mention STIs with my first few partners. I didn’t get tested between each partner, though I did get tested yearly.

The first few times I had unprotected sex, I was terrified of STIs, but not enough so to stop them from not using a condom.

As my number of partners has increased, I’ve started getting tested every 6 months.

Now, after 5 years, my sex count has reached the teens, and my unprotected count is more than a couple. Only more recently did I begin to habitually ask my partners about their testing status and past partners before I actually had sex with them for the first time. Though occasionally I did intend to insist partners to get tested, I never actually waited until they did. My new boyfriend, however, insisted on waiting until he was tested.

Today, was a first. I went with my boyfriend to Planned Parenthood for him to get tested (I was tested just a couple weeks ago). We knew his risk was very low, but we actually went through with waiting until we had test results.

We sat together in the waiting room, and I hung out with my clinic staff friends while I waited for him to come out. Yay for finally being responsible!

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The Poly Closet

Most poly people, it seems, are mostly hiding in the poly closet. I went to one poly meetup, and almost everyone said they were almost completely closeted. I try to be out whenever possible. I don’t necessarily give all the details, but I’ve told my parents, my old boss, and one of my coworkers at my last job.

I appreciated this quote on SoloPoly:

Usually this in couched in positive-sounding terms of not wanting to make others uncomfortable, not wanting to attract unwelcome prurient attention, not wanting to seem like your’re “advertising” sexual availability, or not wanting to sound like a strident, pushy activist. Which can be true. But regardless of the motivation, the end result is that by continuing to “pass” as mainstream, closeted people get to retain social status — or at least avoid scrutiny. Thus, like it or not, they end up reinforcing the very social norms they resent.

…Out people are the long-term insurance policy for any marginalized community.

I also liked this quote from the same post:

Part of what I expect in terms of outness is basic respect. I expect my lovers will not suddenly demote me, through words or actions, to “just a friend” if we’re out somewhere on a date and happen to encounter someone they know from another context. Personally, I find such behavior deeply disrespectful, and certainly not at all friendly. I’m not ashamed of myself or my lovers — and anyone who wants to share friendship, affection, intimacy, and sex with me had better not act ashamed of me either.

This post is also a very good take on being out as poly. While I try to be out as poly, it just hasn’t yet proven reasonable to come out to my extended family, or random acquaintances/coworkers who I know are conservative. Try as I might to make my social circles full of open-minded people, there are always places where you will have secrets. Since I do not have multiple “serious” partners, there is no reason to flaunt to my extended family that I sleep around a lot.

At my cousin’s wedding, the pressure shifted to me to get married next. All of the cousins on that side of the family are married (or separated/divorced, as the case may be). I don’t know if I want to get married. I do know that I want to continue at least some form of polyamory for the rest of my life. This may or may not ever come out to my extended family. I doubt they’d have MAJOR problems with it…but they would think it is weird, for sure. So for now, I’m keeping it to my parents, and the majority of my friends/liberal acquaintances.

However, the chances that any partner of mine will meet my aunt and uncle across the country are pretty slim. Heck, the chances they’ll meet the more local relatives is pretty slim too. When I do eventually find relationships that are lasting, where they do meet more than just my parents, I won’t toss them to the side. I also am as much of a poly activist as I can possibly be without absolutely breaking the limits of appropriateness.

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HPV

This summer, I gave a presentation at Planned Parenthood about HPV. I wanted to present about an STI, and the coordinator suggested HPV because of Michael Douglas. For those of you unable to attend, here is the information from my presentation.

Not too long ago, Michael Douglas came out and said his throat cancer was from cunnilingus.

The throat cancer, I assume, was first seeded during those wild middle years, when he drank like a fish and smoked like the devil. Looking back, knowing what he knows now, does he feel he overloaded his system? “No,” he says. “No. Because, without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus.” From what? For a moment I think that I may have misheard. “From cunnilingus. I mean, I did worry if the stress caused by my son’s incarceration didn’t help trigger it. But yeah, it’s a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer.” He shrugs. “And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.” Right, I say. OK. So what he is suggesting is that it all evens out? “That’s right,” says Douglas. “It giveth and it taketh.” (The Guardian)

…what? This quote was consistently misunderstood. Douglas meant this as a joke; that cunnilingus was enjoyable for him. But while we’re discussing HPV, let’s go further and really demystify this seldom understood STI.

In men, the most common cancer caused by HPV is throat cancer, and the chances of HPV developing into cancer is increased by smoking and drinking.

The slut-shaming culture we live in puts a huge stigma on STIs like HPV, even though 50-80% of the population will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime.

So anyway, let’s discuss the basics of HPV:

There are about 40 strains of HPV that cause cancer or warts. Types that cause cancer are called “high risk” and most cases of cancers (70% of cervical and vaginal cancers and 50% of vulvular cancers) are caused by strains #16 and #18. Types that cause warts are called “low risk” and 90% of cases of genital warts are caused by strains #6 and #11. 90% of cases of HPV clear without treatment within 2 years.

Image from thehairpin.com, “A scenic guide to your abnormal pap smear,” by Lola Pellegrino, RN.

The most important thing for women to do is to Get Your Pap! Most cases of cervical cancer are in women who haven’t had a pap smear in the past 5 years. Since widespread screening started in the 1950s, new cases have decreased by 60%. Women over 30 usually get two results: the pap smear (normal/abnormal) and the HPV genotype test (positive/negative). Anal tests also exist, but aren’t common. See The Hairpin article for more information about what these results mean.

So if you have an abnormal pap result, you will have one or more of the following tests and treatments. The doctor will usually do a repeat pap smear and/or HPV genotype test, just to confirm the results. Then, they will conduct a colposcopy.

A colposcopy is basically where a doctor looks at your cervix through a sort of microscope. A solution may be applied to the cervix that makes HPV-infected cells turn white. Biopsies of infected areas may be taken at this point. If the biopsies find pre-malignant growths, the doctor will perform a Loop Electrical Excision Procedure (LEEP). Usually, only local anesthesia is required, as electrical currents on loops cut and cauterize lesions. LEEP complications are rare, and most commonly affect future pregnancy.

So how do you protect yourself against contracting HPV, or if you have HPV, how do you protect your partners?

Your best means of protection is the vaccine. Females should be tested regularly. Unfortunately, there isn’t an HPV test for men. Use condoms, though be aware that they only protect about 70%. Check regularly for warts on yourself and your partners. Small cuts in the genital region increase the changes of transmission, so use plenty of lube! Lastly, keep yourself healthy as best you can.

There are two vaccines against HPV. Cervarix is so far only approved for females and protects against the most common cancerous strains (#16 & #18). Gardasil is recommended for males and females and protects against the most common strains that cause both warts and cancer (#6, #11, #16, #18). These vaccines have made a significant impact in the spread of HPV. From 2006-2010, warts rates decreased 56% (among all women) and cancer strains decreased by 50% (among teen girls). At current vaccination rates, the vaccines will prevent 45,000 cases of cervical cancer and 14,000 deaths. Yet the vaccine is still controversial (because parents believe it will increase sexual activity) and vaccination rates are only around 40%.

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