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Internalized Sexism: My Experience Getting Botox for Migraines

By: Claire Armstrong

In the summer of 2019, I started having headaches every day. Sometimes I could function as usual, sometimes I had to stay in bed in the dark with an ice pack for days on end. My primary care physician referred me to a neurologist, who diagnosed me with migraines. She prescribed an anticonvulsant pill also used to treat migraines. It made my fingers tingle, made soda taste weird, and made my depression worse, but did nothing to improve my headaches. Next, we tried Ajovy, a medicine I injected myself with each month. Again, no change. I started resorting to Advil PM to knock myself out when the migraines wouldn’t end. My neurologist decided I needed an MRI. The scans showed white matter lesions on my brain, consistent with chronic migraines. My neurologist told me the next step was to try Botox. 

I was desperate for some relief, but upset at the prospect of getting Botox. And it wasn’t because I was scared of having 20 needles stuck into my head, face, and neck, although I wasn’t thrilled about that either. My real issue was the stigma I had attached to Botox. I had never wanted to be one of “those women” who alter their bodies for cosmetic purposes. I had planned to age “gracefully.” I understood the pressures on women to conceal signs of aging, but I still judged women who resort to Botox or plastic surgery to do so. 

I still think there is power in resisting the patriarchal expectation that women can never age. But I regret judging women that make the choice to get Botox. And the fact that I internally stigmatized getting Botox, even for medical reasons, shows that I was allowing misogynistic ideologies to color my own thinking, just in a different way. Had anything other than the botulinum toxin been injected into my body, I would have had no problem with it. I knew getting Botox for medical reasons was different than getting it for cosmetic reasons. I knew that. And still, I was ashamed of getting it. 

The patriarchy doesn’t just pit men against women. It also pits women against women, and women against themselves. My own attitude about Botox was not only judgmental of other women; it was potentially harmful to me. I needed Botox, but I resisted getting it. I judged myself like I judged other women. My desire to resist misogyny meant that in a twisted way, I fell prey to it. I was reluctant to undergo a medical procedure that I really needed because I thought it made me a weaker woman. Getting Botox has helped me tremendously. I still get migraines, but they aren’t constant like they used to be. It was the right decision for me, and it is for many others, too. I hope I will remember that next time internalized sexism rears its ugly head inside of me.

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Honey, I Shrunk My Tits: My Experience with Breast Reduction Surgery

By: Sai Siddhaye

In December of 2020, I underwent breast reduction surgery. After years of loathing my body and desperately wishing to change it, the tipping point came at the beginning of quarantine, when having no distractions from my body became overwhelming. My bra size was a 32F, which–as those educated in bra sizes will know–is uncomfortably large. My intense back pain, abysmal posture, and painful marks in my skin left by bras, which were constants in my life for so long, became unbearable. 

On top of all this, my already unhealthy body image was worsening in isolation. I had always resented my big chest, viewing it as something keeping me from achieving dainty femininity, but being quarantined and not having to perform gender made me realize how much I disliked having to cosplay femininity at all. It became clear to me that I was simply wearing inauthentic femininity as a façade to fulfill my expected social role, rather than acknowledging my inherent androgyny. Letting go of my gender performance revealed that the disconnect between my hyperfeminine curves and my authentic gender presentation was the source of many of my bodily insecurities. With even more discomfort and distress focused on my chest, I fantasized endlessly about getting breast reduction surgery, believing it was a faraway dream only accessible to celebrities and the like.

Remarkably, it was TikTok that came to my rescue. I happened upon a video of an ordinary woman describing her breast reduction and waxing poetic about all the good it did her, laying out the process and encouraging others to look into it. She spoke about her experience without the judgement that usually surrounds cosmetic surgery. What had seemed so out of my reach suddenly became much closer to me. 

I am very privileged to have access to health insurance, which made my process much easier than it would have been otherwise. After consulting my doctor and discussing the pros and cons of reduction mammoplasty, I was sent to a surgeon to iron out the details. The process of getting an insurance claim for my surgery was, as expected, a series of rather expensive hoops to jump through. My surgeon was very helpful in helping me game the system, so to speak; she recommended that I appeal to my insurance company from the angle of alleviating physical pain rather than body dysmorphic disorder to get the best possible insurance claim, and made the process simple and stress-free. After getting referrals from specialists and attending physical therapy sessions to ensure that mammoplasty was the best course of action, I was ready for surgery. 

My surgery took about 6 hours, and after an overnight stay at the hospital, I returned home sans-breasts. For the first few days, I did nothing but sleep and eat, sluggish as I was from the pain medication and residual anesthesia. This was probably for the best, as the swelling following the surgery was remedied by drains hung from my bandages like grotesque chains, which were just as distasteful as they were medically useful. This was probably the most unpleasant part of my recovery process. Though I began to heal surprisingly quickly, my incision scars were raw and painful for many weeks. In fact, the first time I was allowed to shower after the surgery, the sight of myself stitched up like Frankenstein’s monster–combined with my low blood pressure–was enough to make me faint right onto the bathroom floor. 

I’m now approximately two months post-op, and since I hit the one-month mark it has been smooth sailing. My incisions are still sore, but I can move normally and don’t have to wear gauze anymore. It has also been a year since I took my first steps towards my breast reduction, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Taking control over my body has been an empowering experience that I strongly encourage everyone to experiment with.

My experience with cosmetic surgery has taught me two big lessons: repairing your body image requires more than changing your appearance, but making the choice to change your body should absolutely not be stigmatized. I am so much happier with the size of my chest now; I have far less back pain, moving around has become easier, and looking in the mirror is far less unpleasant. But changing my body has not fixed my issues with gender and body image. That is something I have to work on every day, and takes much more time and effort than surgery does. Regardless, if it weren’t for the stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery (especially mammoplasty), taking these steps to feel more comfortable in my body would have been so much easier. It is worth analyzing why our culture vilifies body modification, because unpacking it will give countless people the freedom to heal. 

To anyone considering breast reduction surgery: my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am immensely grateful that I was able to have this experience. I strongly encourage you to speak with a medical professional and see if it is the right step for you too.

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A Brief Discussion on the Neglect of Mental Health Education in Schools

By: Shellsea Lomeli

The importance of physical health has been drilled into us since we were children. From being forced to run laps in elementary school P.E. classes to sitting through a lecture about STDs in the eighth grade, schools have prioritized the promotion of a physically “healthy” lifestyle for students. Based on my personal experiences in public school, the same agenda was not given to another vital component of students’ health : mental wellbeing. 

The point of this article is not to depict physical education and health as being unimportant. Clearly, keeping your body strong and well should be a priority. Having physical education classes throughout grade school is, in theory, a good thing. However, P.E. classes should not be the extent to which health is discussed with students. Nor should they be operated in a way that puts young people at risk of developing body image issues that can become detrimental to one’s mental health.

While the concept of mental health encompasses a lot of different things, I want to specifically discuss the way in which physical health is prioritized in school can be detrimental to mental and emotional wellness. My experience with P.E. in middle school was surrounded with numbers and measurements of my body and it’s ability. How long did it take you to run the mile? How much do you weigh? What is your BMI? These were all measurements of ourselves that we were forced to expose in a very public setting where anyone in class could see and use to compare bodies and abilities with one another. 

For many, the days students had to weigh themselves and record it was just another Tuesday. But for people like myself who have struggled with body image issues for years, stepping on a scale while an entire line of classmates watched and waited, was absolute hell. If schools still want to collect students’ Body Mass Index (BMI) scores for surveillance and screening purposes, although there is great controversy on whether this measurement accurately measures physical health, this collection must be done in a better way. There should be a way that promotes privacy and decreases the likelihood of young people becoming at risk of developing weight related mental illnesses such as eating disorders. 

Making changes to how physical education is conducted in schools is just the beginning of promoting mental health among students. If mental health is just as important as physical health, which I argue it is, then shouldn’t there also be some sort of educational platform that is geared towards mental health education in particular? In the same way that we are taught how to take care of our bodies through eating well and exercising, students should be taught how to take care of their minds. 

In my twenty-one years of life, I have learned so much about how to lose weight and strengthen my muscles but I still struggle on figuring what to do to maintain or improve my mental health. Searching up a ten minute abs video on youtube is something I do without a second thought yet watching a meditation video seems almost taboo to me. While I cannot blame the entirety of this issue on my grade school education, I strongly believe that my hesitation to discover ways to better my mental and emotional wellbeing stem from not being introduced to these essential activities in my youth. 

Obviously, it has been years since I have taken a grade school P.E. class so I cannot attest to how schools approach mental health education now. I hope educators are beginning to realize the importance of familiarizing students with taking care of all parts of themselves, not just their physical being. I hope improving mental wellbeing becomes something that is easy and less stigmatized for this new generation. Finally, when we were not exposed to it at a younger age, I hope that my own peers are beginning to realize the importance of taking care of your mind just as I am. 

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No Wanking Way: Masturbation and Shame

By: Flora Oliveira

I always viewed sex as a two-person thing, and now when I try to do it on my own it’s not as enjoyable.”

. . .

Debby shines through her most honest self. Our conversations on sex were never few or far in between, but rather a topic we shared much comfortability. During this interview, Debby shared her experiences with an effortlessness, noting that she has grown in her comfort of discussing sex not only with others but also while around others. Although she mentions she struggled throughout her adolescence, Debby is striving to be the best medical professional she can be while breaking many of the traditional rules she is expected to follow. After being asked, she also noted that in her youth she received formal sex education in 7th grade and biology class but like others noted, it was fear-based (STD focused) and not sex-positive or LGBTQIA+ inclusive. Undeniably true to herself, in all her intelligence and brilliance, Debby demonstrates that although one can be comfortable with these conversations, it may not translate to one’s comfort with their own bodies. In her interview, she dives deeper on her perspective and experiences with masturbation.

. . .

How do you define your sexuality?

I would say I’m like 95% straight and 5% whatever the fuck because I feel like no one’s really 100% anymore, right? Sometimes I see girls and I’m like “oooo” but they’re usually masculine. I always wonder is my attraction just because of their masculinity? I don’t know, really.

How did you come to define your sexuality?

Trial and error. Like in high school I went through a phase. I know a “phase” has a negative connotation, but I think it was necessary. I say that as it’s not something that I ended up settling on, but it’s something I had to try for myself.

How do you define your gender? How did you come to define your gender?

I am a woman (she/her). That’s one thing I never really questioned so it’s just always been that way for me.

What did your virginity mean to you if anything?

It had different meanings and meant different things to me [throughout] my life. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. I knew the first person wasn’t going to be last but now I wish I had taken it more seriously. Now, I understand why people say to save it. You really don’t get it back, but I don’t think it’s as important or as serious as people make it out to be because that makes people scared. I do think you should take it seriously, and not give it away willy nilly though.

Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality/gender/ or expression of sex?

No. Nobody told me I had to be straight. My family is not religious, and also not that educated about LBTQIA+ like that, so there was no discussion in general. I was just free to think what I wanted with who I surrounded myself with outside of family. I wouldn’t say it was limited. If anything, what did limit me was my social awkwardness; otherwise, no limits.

What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?

Damn… I don’t know man… I wish I just knew everything sooner. I think that would’ve made it easier for me to make a smarter decision on who I did it with. I think it would’ve been different if I just knew more about the sex in general. I would have made a more educated decision which mine was not.

What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?

I’ve always had a thing about arms. Like nice toned arms, but not like muscly.

What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not) that you’d like to talk about?

I had sex on a hiking trail. We saw this treehouse zipline thing and decided it was a great spot to do it at. I also had sex in a public bathroom in baseball field but because it was gross, I didn’t touch anything. It was on our bucket list, and we did it just to say that we did. It was over in 10 minutes.

I feel like it was a fun thing to do. That’s the thing, sex doesn’t always have to be intimate. Especially if you’re in a relationship with someone and it’s someone that you trust, it really, truly, can just be for fun– another bonding experience to add to the list.

What do you wish you knew more about (sex-specific)?

I wish I knew more about masturbation. I always viewed sex as a two-person thing, and now when I try to do it on my own it’s not as enjoyable. It’ll never match up to having it with another person. It’s not sad but I feel like I’m missing out. I feel like that’s just how it is for me. I think it would have been nice to know things in general as a girl because I still don’t prioritize getting checked out. There was no dialogue about it whatsoever, and now I feel naturally uncomfortable to go to the gyno or doctor, even though I am an adult. I know sex-ed’s a thing in school, but I think lack of sex conversations and lack of [adequate] sex-ed creates more stigmas. Even having gone through sex-ed, I don’t feel comfortable going to the doctor. I didn’t find out about UTIs and yeast infections until recently. I thought yeast infections were explicitly caused by sex, but it isn’t; we don’t get taught that. That just makes things more complicated and you become so uncomfortable you can’t talk about sex. Growing up I always thought about going to go get checked out, but I never was comfortable asking my mom since I thought yeast infections were tied to sex. I couldn’t tell my parents because I thought there would be questions. I think it should be more of the normal thing to do, and even now, I know people who are sexually active but think home remedies work. They were also never taught correctly and couldn’t ever talk to people about it.

Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?

I feel like I’m as normie as it gets. I used to and still think it’s more intimate to have oral sex than penetrative sex. I don’t know if that’s weird or not…

When I first had sex I just wanted to have [penetrative] sex. I didn’t want to do any of the pregame stuff before sex because I didn’t know him that well. I don’t know, I always thought that was kind of weird.

Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative, why, or why not?

Yeah, because it is. I’ve only had sex with a guy, and I identify as a girl.

How do you care for yourself whether before, during, or after sex?

I don’t. Some people always shave before, and I don’t give a fuck. I just shower and brush my teeth before, and after.

Is there any advice you’d give to others?

I would say make sure it’s with someone you know a little bit. It’s not just a trust thing but you don’t want to be vulnerable to someone you don’t know. I feel like it’s more enjoyable with someone you know to some degree. I feel like casual is fine but if you really don’t know someone, it may not be as enjoyable if you really don’t know the person. Just be safe.

Have you ever had sex for items, money, etc.?

This is going to get a little serious, but it wasn’t explicitly said that we would do this for this. It was more suggested in there like you’ll do this for something (maybe). I don’t think it should be that way, especially if it’s like the situation I was in. I don’t think you should have sex unless you really don’t mind and want to. You should be having sex for your own enjoyment, and then later if you don’t mind and you really want money, lunch, whatever then that’s fine. I feel like if that’s how you start, you’ll always view it as an exchange.

. . .

To all my readers and interviewees this is an open letter to y’all:

Masturbation is completely, unequivocally NORMAL. Masturbation is a version of safe sex. Whether you choose to dip your toes (or fingers) into the water, it is all completely your decision.

I want to emphasize that we often stigmatize everything we think must be private, but masturbation doesn’t have to be a single person thing.

Until recently, I also stigmatized masturbation. *Shocking, right? *

NOT!

From a very young age, and I mean YOUNG like a toddler young, most of us are taught that touching our genitals is evil, forbidden, and even shameful. But what we did not know is that masturbation is healthy and actually a part of every child and teen’s development.

From an early age, children learn to pair good sensations with their genitals. Believe it or not, children learn to explore their bodies like they explore most things — by rubbing, touching, or pulling on it. There are actual ultrasounds and research to show that even fetuses do it in utero (learn more here  or here). If the thought of everyone masturbating in their parent’s tummy doesn’t prove masturbation to be normal, I don’t know what else to tell you.

Just kidding, here’s a few more reasons it’s perfectly normal and awesome:

Masturbation can be a great way to learn what’s best for your body. Masturbation can help you find out what you like or do not like so that you can tell your partner, get specific toys, and/or find a good lube for yourself. It also has health benefits. It relieves stress, period cramps, pains, and for some it brings on orgasms (study on this here)!

According to a study published on Insider, daily masturbation can benefit your heart. In folks over the age of 65, masturbation has been shown to lower hypertension and rapid heart rate (link to Insider HERE). It has also been noted that after orgasming, folks stated their skin cleared, their sense of smell improved, and research also shows that their stress, anxiety, and depression levels lowered (research for this HERE).

Now, even though both you and I know that masturbation is normal and good for our bodies, we still must acknowledge the social stigmas and implications that exist around masturbation. It is essential that within an adequate discussion of sex education, stigmas and discomforts are addressed. Masturbation and discussions about  masturbation have always been treated as a shameful act within our society. Masturbation is often not discussed, labeled as “dirty” or “gross,” and it is definitely not included in our current sex education. Often conversations regarding masturbation surround ideas that masturbation causes mental health issues, leads to sexual inadequacies, or simply is sinful.

These myths are ingrained in our society in part because of how society polices bodies, but also because of the medical attitudes and origins of masturbation. Western culture adopted the idea that sex was impure unless done for the purpose of procreation or a man’s enjoyment. That positioned male pleasure at the center of sex, while it positioned family and purity at the center of women’s relation to sex. This ideology coupled with medicine was seen as having adverse effects as early as the 20th century when doctors attributed a women-only disorder named “hysteria” to symptoms such as outbursts, frustration, nervousness, and any form of sexual desire. Essentially, women who did not center their whole lives around calmly cleaning the house, praising the husband, and raising the children, were defined as dealing with “hysterical paroxysm.” And the so-called cure-all? Doctors forcefully stimulated these women until they orgasmed and stopped acting in such ways.

Early discussions on masturbation were common for men– they were acceptable. But when it came to women, it was seen as a sin, a symptom, and/or a disease. Ingrained in our society was the idea that masturbation is only acceptable at the hands of men. Even now, we see these ideas around masturbation being reinforced with stigmas and myths.

For a bit more fun, I asked my audience on Instagram to share with me what myths they had been told about masturbation, and here were the results:

Masturbation gives you Herpes.

It would cause your full body to blister.

“Me time” would cause your genitals to fall off.

Playing with your genitals would give you STDs.

Masturbation would stunt your growth and hormones.

Masturbation would make hair grow in between your fingers.

The elbow bump on your arm would grow significantly every time you masturbated

It would cause you to go blind 

And my favorite of all time…

Orgasms are finite. If you use them you lose me.

Just for those of you considering using these funny myths with your children: DON’T.

This is not how you teach people about masturbation! As we have seen, such myths and stigmatization around masturbation causes folks to create a bad relationship with it, even though it is completely normal. Shaming is not a form of protection.

As we have seen per my last article, shaming only causes youth to take more risk, increases STD probability, and can lead to self-harm. We should all know how to safely and privately masturbate without shame, fear, or misinformation.

There is nothing wrong with masturbation, there is nothing wrong with being familiar with your genitals, and there is certainly nothing wrong with getting regular genital checkups. In light of finishing this article, I challenge you, my reader, to combat the shame we feel around masturbation. Go tell everyone you know how healthy it is, how it relieves stress, and how there are no adverse side effects to masturbating.

Or you know, you can just go spend some time masturbating too.

Whatever floats your boat. Thanks for reading!

. . .

New York Times “Why Is Children’s Masturbation Such a Secret?”: HERE 

Research on child development and masturbation: HERE

Sexual Behaviors in children: HERE 

Planned Parenthood on masturbation: HERE