This article was created in partnership with Rainbow Health.
It’s hard to date safely during the ongoing pandemic — and often, it’s hard even just to start the conversation about how to do so. Asking those kinds of questions requires vulnerability and courage — and that’s assuming that there are equally vulnerable, courageous, and informed people around to answer those questions.
That’s why we were so thrilled to partner with Rainbow Health to host a virtual workshop on COVID-19 and queer sexual health last week. Hosted by our very own Sex and Dating Editor, Ro White, along with a handful of expert panelists from our partners (Eli Wright, Chandler Daily, Taylor Chambers, and Zarra TM), the workshop explored a huge range of topics, from HPV, to crushing on a coworker, to having sex for the first time.
And the best part? The questions all came from YOU, our readers! Thank you for sharing your curious minds with us. Read the transcript below!
Ro White: Thank you all for being here. If you haven’t gathered already, we’re going to wait a couple more minutes for folks to join before we officially get started. So you’re just witnessing our chitter chatter, in this moment. But thank you for being here!
Why don’t, just… just for fun! For folks who are here, why don’t you let us know in the chat where you’re tuning in from? I think that’s always fun. I’m in Chicago. If anyone was curious.
Eli Wright: Cool. I’m in Minneapolis right now, but my heart is still in New York, so. There we are. I’m from New York, so.
Chandler Daily: (chuckles)
Ro: Got it. Nice.
Eli: Shout-out to anyone from New York.
Ro: We’ve got some people in the chat from Boston, and from Houston. Vancouver.
Eli: Oo, nice!
Ro: Seattle. Okay, we’re really, like… taking the whole nation here.
Taylor Chambers: Also in Minneapolis here. And my heart is in Houston.
Eli: Oo! Love that. (chuckles)
Ro: Well, I would say that my heart’s in my hometown, but I’m from Indiana. So like, I don’t…
Eli: Oo! No. Don’t go there.
Ro: I don’t associate! Are any —
Chandler: I was just —
Ro: — in Indiana?
Chandler: I was just at a backyard party in Minneapolis with a person who lives in Minneapolis and a person who lives in Oakland who both realized that they went to the same high school in a suburb in Indiana at the same time?
Eli: That’s weird. That’s —
Chandler: And it was, like, they were both in high school, like… 25 years ago?? And they were like. (laughs)
Ro: Oh my gosh.
Eli: That’s like magic right there. I love it.
Chandler: It was a queer meltdown moment.
Eli: I bet.
Chandler: One of them had to lie on the ground for a while, to wrap her head around it!
Eli: (chuckles) Perfect.
Taylor: I love the meltdown emphasis, ’cause that would have been me, too.
Eli: Me also. Especially ’cause I’m a queer elder. I would have been flat out.
Like, no, no. Uh-uh.
Chandler: (chuckles) Right.
Ro: All right, Anya is asking us to get this party started! So, this is us officially starting the event! Thank you so much to everybody who is here, and got to witness our fun chit chat at the top.
My name’s Ro. I’m Autostraddle’s Sex & Dating Editor. And this event that’s happening right now is brought to you by Autostraddle and Rainbow Health. So I want to say, thank you SO much to Rainbow Health for collaborating with us on this. I am stoked. And thank you to Anya from Autostraddle for putting this together. I am very, very excited.
I want to let you know before we get started, this event is live captioned by Corvyn. Shout-out to Corvyn. There is information about how to access the captions in the chat. That has just been shared by the Autostraddle account. And I will also tell you with my voice: You can go down to the bottom of your screen, where it says “closed captions,” click the little arrow by that, and then click “show subtitle,” and then you should be able to access those captions, no problem. If you do have any technical issues on your end, please drop that in the chat, and we’ll do our best to take care of that.
AND! Before we do intros to our panelists, I want to say thank you so much to everybody who submitted your questions in advance. We got a ton of questions. We’re all really excited about them. And we’re going to do our very best to get through as many as possible. We did get a lot of questions, and we have limited time? So, we might not get to every single one? But again, we’re gonna do our best. So, please be patient with us while we try and do that. And please be patient with me while I try and watch this live chat! Because you are totally welcome to ask follow-up questions and clarifying questions in that chat as we go.
I THINK that’s all of the introducing that I need to do. So, let’s do some introductions. I can start. As I’ve already told you, my name is Ro. My pronouns are they/them. I’m Autostraddle’s Sex & Dating Editor, and then when I’m NOT doing that, I spend a whole lot of time writing about sex and teach pleasure-focused sex education classes for adults of all genders and orientations. So… this is my jam. I’m super stoked to be hosting this. I’m mostly going to be leaving the question-answering up to our panelists, but I might pipe in here and there if I’m feeling super enthusiastic. Let’s get some intros for other folks. Can we start with Chandler?
Chandler: Sure! My name is Chandler, and my pronouns are he/him/his. I’m a sex educator at Family Tree Clinic. I’m fairly new at Family Tree Clinic, but I’ve been a sex educator for a handful of years now. Coming from more like the pleasure-focused world, doing sex toy retail in Minneapolis, and moving into my work at Family Tree Clinic where I’m teaching classes in schools to youth — like, young kids, adolescents, and then also parents. So yeah!
Ro: Thank you, Chandler. Ah, let’s pop on over to Taylor.
Taylor: My name is Taylor. I use they/them pronouns. My role at Family Tree is sex educator. Primarily focused in like correctional facilities for youth. That’s my main focus. And, coming from a background of, like, peer-focused sex ed, and education. That world? I’ve been at Family Tree for a bit over a year now. And, it’s a great time! Really enjoying working with youth, and connecting, and just… learning more myself everyday.
Ro: Thank you very much, Taylor. Let’s go to Eli.
Eli: Hey there! I am Eli. I am… they/them. On any given day, I might be he/him, but. So that’s where I am with that. Rainbow Health, I direct their behavioral health clinic. It’s been around for about three years. It got going, full force; then the pandemic happened. And then I came in, and so now we’re really putting some different kinda wheels on that thing. We see mostly LGBTQ clients. Harm reduction, for substance use disorders. We do not pathologize people. We work with people long-term and try to meet their needs… whatever that might be determined to be BY the client. So that’s me!
Ro: Awesome. Ah, Sabrina, did you wanna say anything?
Sabrina Leung: Sure. Hi, everyone! My name is Sabrina, and I actually… can show my face for a little bit. (chuckles) I am also at Rainbow Health. I’m the marketing design specialist, but I am also part-time working for the COVID line team, as well. So we provide COVID vaccines and boosters throughout the State of Minnesota. And, that’s a little bit about myself. Thanks for being here.
Ro: Thank you, Sabrina. We have one more panelist who is on the way, but they’ll be tuning in a little bit late, so I’ll have that panelist do their introduction later on. For now… okay. Anya does not need to say anything apparently. So NO introduction from Anya. But know that Anya is working very hard behind the scenes. (chuckles)
So I think we can dive into the questions. And panelists, feel free to just pop in when you’re inspired to speak? You know, it doesn’t have to be a one question per panelist situation; I think everybody has great, different perspectives to offer here.
So here’s our first question that we got from a reader! The question asker says: How can I best protect future partners from genital HSV-1? I tested positive recently and have been scared to have sex again even when I’m not experiencing an outbreak. It’s hard to know that, even after disclosing and educating partners, there’s still a chance they could get it through asymptomatic viral shedding.
So this is the first of many questions about HSV-1 and HSV-2 that we got. Who wants to answer this one?
Chandler: …I think I’m, I’m feeling hesitant, because the person — the, the panelist who isn’t here yet expressed a lot of passion about talking about HSV-1. So I was wishing that they could answer this, but. I suppose I can start, and then hopefully they’ll be able to share some wisdom, too. ‘Cause there are — there were a number of questions that people had about herpes!
Ro: That totally makes sense, and we can always come back around to this one. Just share a little bit for now, we can pop on back.
Chandler: Yeah. Totally! I guess my big-picture answer to… The tough thing about herpes is, over and over again, when you kind of like ask people what is hard about having herpes, it’s all about the stigma and talking to future partners about having sex and your herpes diagnosis? So it really makes a lot of sense, and I really empathize with this question-asker. That they’re feeling worried about that; I think that’s, like, almost universally a worry that people have after a recent diagnosis. So. I guess I would first just tell them that they’ll find ways to, like, come to terms with diagnosis, and that it won’t feel this hard forever. And that they won’t feel this scared, forever. And that there’s also a lot of community, and a lot of really rad, community-driven peer education, about herpes. And like, empowerment about having herpes, out there in the world. And there are other people who are thinking about these things. So I guess those are my big-picture answers. ‘Cause it sounds like this person tested positive really recently and is having like a lot — like, more an emotional response to the prospect of kind of having to, having to deal with this in like a social and emotional way.
I mean, Taylor and I were just talking to our coworker about herpes earlier today, and. She was kind of saying, like, every time I talk about herpes, it’s like…! It’s really hard to not get it. Because this person is asking like how to best protect future partners, and. I’m guessing that they know that there are a lot of… That herpes is not just transmitted by fluids; it’s also, it’s like skin-to-skin contact. So there’s not any — there’s not like any foolproof way to prevent two people from transmitting herpes back and forth. Except for, like, not taking your clothes off, during sex. And if you wanted to do that, that would be like a fine way of preventing transmission. But also, that… HAVING herpes? Like, from a medical perspective? Is not… that problematic? For most people? The thing that people find problematic is like the socioemotional stigma and aspect of it. So. I guess that’s — like, if the person can maybe think about like reframing THAT as the thing that they’re like worried about, more so than the transmission. ‘Cause that ends up being something that you don’t have all that much control over.
Eli: I think from a mental health perspective, it’s about scripting?
Eli: About getting a line of progression in your head: What do I want to say? What do I want to share; WHEN do I want to share it? And dealing with that stigma. So that it comes across as, gee, I have a cold! So therefore, I wanna take some precautions and maybe share that with someone! I have a cold right now, eh, you know, I don’t know what you think. But it’s that whole societal sort of thing, it’s like, ooh, herpes! So it’s like, I’ve done something wrong to get this, and a really old-school way of perceiving that. And to deal with that internalized shame and stigma surrounding that. And really, become empowered! There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s like anything else you might have.
Ro: Right. Thank you both so much for those perspectives. Folks, if you hear background noise while I talk, it’s the tornado sirens. (chuckles) Because there’s a tornado warning in my area. So apologies for that, and hopefully that’ll end soon, and hopefully I don’t have to take shelter! But you know. Virtual events are always really exciting!
Zarra, welcome! Thank you so much for being here. I know you JUST got here, but if you’re feeling settled and ready to go, I’d love to hear an introduction from you? Name, pronouns, your area of expertise?
Zarra TM: Yeah, for sure. Sorry, I had a time zone mixup. My name’s Zarra. I use he/him and she/her. And I worked in the past as a sex educator. I’m trans myself, and I’m disabled, so I’ve worked specifically in those sort of categories? And then now I work with Rainbow Health, doing, ah, HIV testing, Hep C testing, and syphilis testing, as well as sort of sexual health education. So happy to be here.
Ro: Thank you so much for joining us. We were just looking at our first question, about herpes. We have quite a few here? The second question, I’ll just give the general gist, is someone is asking how they can best protect themself from herpes. It sounds like they’re wanting to know… not just about the logistical side of that? Of, like, what types of protection to use, perhaps, but also like how to TALK to partners about that. So who wants to jump in?
Zarra: I’m happy to start it off. So, I’m assuming the question you guys discussed before this was about the individuals personally experiencing…? Yeah! So, I don’t know what sort of answers were given to that, so forgive me if this is redundant, but, Some things you can talk about with your partner are… if they are willing, able, interested in using a medication like Valacyclovir or Valtrex? Those can minimize the frequency you have outbreaks, as well as minimize the amount of shedding between them. So that’s something you can talk to your partner or partner’s partner about, if that’s something they’re willing or interested in doing for themselves. And then it’s important to remember that condoms and dental dams, while super helpful, don’t necessarily themselves prevent getting HSV? Whether that’s just because you are in contact with the other skin around the genitals or the other skin around the body. And so it’s important to remember that, especially if somebody is having an outbreak, not to have sex during that time. Because if you’re having sex during an outbreak, even if you are not interacting directly with the sores yourself, there’s more of that shedding happening around that area. So those are sort of some of the prevention methods you can engage in.
Ro: Does anyone have any thoughts about barriers? Like dental dams, or there’s a new product called Laurels that I think recently got FDA approval, that’s like a dental dam except it’s more like underwear. Anybody wanna share thoughts on those, tips about using those?
Taylor: I like the idea of… instead of using a dental dam… gloves? If you cut off the fingers, and like cut out the sides? You can, like, insert a thumb. If the person has a vulva. And that’s a little bit more stable? That’s just an idea, of like, if you wanna use a barrier. I feel like a dam is not as secure. I’ve given that idea to many people, and people seem to like that idea a lot. So. Yeah.
Ro: Thank you very much! I’m gonna move on to another question. So, Zarra, just to catch you up: I let all of our viewers and listeners know that we’re going to be trying to get through as many of the questions as possible, but we might not get to everything and we might have to skip some stuff, but we’re going to do our best here.
This next question is a communication crush question. This person says, I have a crush on my colleague, and I feel like she might like me too. However, I feel like there’s a fine line between appropriate flirting and workplace sexual harassment. Any advice on how to navigate a workplace crush? We work together often on a small team.
Taylor: I feel like this question is so difficult! I feel like I’m usually a proponent of… pardon me if this is too frank. But like, not shitting where you’re eating? (chuckles) I just think… that some people might find it okay, but some people don’t? It’s always good to check in with HR, and look into what your specific job’s rules around like coworkers dating is? And like to follow those to a T, always? Maybe you wanna, like… I think it’s important, like before you start like, openly flirting with them, to become friends, outside of work as well. I wasn’t sure like how much of that has already happened. But knowing that like, okay, this isn’t just like a work friendliness thing; this is more than that, is like, an important step to move forward.
I think knowing, like, what your rules are in your workplace. Hanging out with them outside of work. Making sure, like, you know… it’s flirting? And like, being semi-clear about that. Like, when you feel like you are ABLE to do that? And THEN proceeding? With, like… becoming in a relationship! Or like, whatever that — you want that to look like for you? IS the next best step.
Ro: Yeah, I also wanna add that I think it’s… it’s really important to note, in addition to your workplace policies, in addition to making sure that you’re keeping the flirtation OUTSIDE of the workplace, in an outside-workplace relationship, that you DO pay attention to any power dynamics at play. I don’t know what exactly the relationship is between these two coworkers, if one of them is somebody’s boss or is in a higher position. That really complicates things. And if you are the person who’s in a position of power, then… it’s — there’s a WHOLE lot more to consider, if you are developing a romantic interest in another employee.
Eli: I think the other thing that I hear is the, the term “small team.” And so you’ve got a really small team dynamic, and then you have something in the underneath — something flirtatious. And I think that’s tough for the whole team! Like, what do they DO with that? What’s THEIR consent structure around having that happening? Socially or relationally? I think it’s a tough sell in a lot of ways!
Ro: Does anybody else have anything to add to this question before we move on to the next one?
Awesome. Okay. Here’s our next question. This person says that since starting hormonal birth control a couple years ago, their libido has decreased a lot. And they say now my partner, who was usually the one to initiate intimacy, is under intense stress because of their graduate studies and now ALSO has a decreased libido. We’re very sexually compatible; we still enjoy sex once we do get going, and frankly we’d both benefit from orgasms right now. But I need advice on how to get started when the natural urge to initiate sex isn’t quite there. So, they want to know how to get sexual intimacy started when it takes this person and their partner a little while to get going.
Chandler: I love this question. Because it feels like it’s starting from such a positive place, of like, both partners. I guess we only get one person’s point of view, but recognizing what the dilemma is before them, and like, wanting to meet it with creativity. And my first couple thoughts are, like — I mean. Kind of the background, I’m like, I’m wondering if your — if your sex drive is important enough to you to look into changing your birth control. Which is not me saying that I think that SHOULD be important enough to you or that SHOULD be your priority. But oftentimes, doctors do NOT consider sex drive to be important? So it can really downplay or lower libido as a negative side effect? So we’re left feeling like… I’m just supposed to deal with whatever this doctor gave me?
And so, yeah! I mean, I just wanna say that before I address, like. It might be worth looking more into your different options?
But then… ideas for making sure that there’s space for sex in the relationship. A lot of people have a LOT of success with scheduling sex. Or scheduling intimacy. I think, people often have a knee-jerk like, oh, that wouldn’t feel hot, or like that’s gonna be really like awkward, or boring, or make me feel weird, or make me feel pressured? But a lot of couples have — like, long-term couples have a lot of success. Like there’s a lot of documented success of that really helping people.
And then, in addition to that, looking at your sex life with a little bit of a scientist’s key. And being like, what are the things that HAVE led to sex in the past? What kinds of moods, or activities, or emotional intimacy — is it like, after we eat together? Or, after I rub their feet, and sometimes that leads to sex? Looking at the things that HAVE led to sex? And if scheduling sex feels too much — like too much pressure? To schedule… THOSE things. Or like, schedule intimacy time. And then if it leads to sex, it leads to sex, or if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But to like set that time aside. If your body isn’t making the spontaneous… signals. To make it in your calendar, so this time is set aside.
And then just to keep a spirit of experimentation, and a little bit of, like, science-y mind. Experimenting with… what’s working, and kind of looking at it from a point of view that’s you and your partner, together? Like, looking at the situation.
Ro: Thank you, Chandler. Does anybody else have anything to add to that question?
Eli: I think of focusing on the romance rather than the sex? You know, and really getting in touch with who you are, and your relationship. And realize, for at least one partner, this period of time, it’s time-limited!
Eli: It’s stress-related. This is not gonna go on forever; let’s just enjoy one another and not have huge expectations of one another. And set some new… trends for one another! Try some mindfulness; try some stress reduction. Try doing something new, and something that creates some curiosity!
…try pornography! You know, stuff like that! Really jazz it up a little bit!
Zarra: Yeah. The other thing I was gonna add is that, especially… if your libido is sort of, you’re both sort of having that fluctuation? You know, talking about and exploring like, okay, I’m having a moment where I’m experiencing, my partner isn’t necessarily experiencing it? And talking about what your interests would be, and how you could work with that together? Like what would be your boundaries around that, what would you be interested in engaging with. You know. And, finding a way also to then play into the moments where one of you DOES have that feeling? So that way, also, you’re still having that connection, and that sexual connection that is clearly important to you? Without feeling you both have to be in the same place. But obviously still having all those boundaries and consent and things that make you still feel, you know, safe and good.
Ro: Thank you, Zarra. Does anybody have anything to add before we move on to the next one?
All right. I’m going for it. This next question says: Please tell me EVERYTHING — a tall order — about queer trans safer sex with HPV. This person says, my doctors have been zero help on the queer sex aspects of having this diagnosis and I want to make sure I’m playing safe. If I have it and a partner does it — or, if I have it and a partner does not, can I pass it if I’m going down on them? And how can trans women get tested for it?
What do we have to say about HPV?
Chandler: I have so much to say about HPV! (laughs) Yeah, doctors are very often very little help with the — HPV transmission — has not been studied, adequately, at ALL. In any other context from like penis-vagina sex. So, all of the kind of like ideas about how transmission happens — because it can happen in so many different ways; it’s all skin-to-skin. But like. Is it more likely with this, or more likely with that? That all hasn’t been studied. So, I just want to validate that you’re — that I totally believe that your doctors have not been helpful and not been able to like get into the details with you about it? But there are some answers to your questions!
So, to my understanding, the virus does live in particular parts of the body. So it’s not like endemic, throughout the body. So I don’t think that you could pass it through performing oral sex on a person. ‘Cause that’s not where it’s living in your body. Because it’s shedding from the place that’s like having — that, that you have the HPV. So that’s, I guess, one piece.
Trans women can get tested for HPV — or, anyone can get tested, anally, for HPV, is I guess what I wanted to say. So you can get an anal Pap smear. It’s not very commonly done, so it might be something you have to advocate for? And those things are done by colorectal surgeons. It’s not surgery, but those are the doctors who would focus on it. I don’t know a TON about that aspect, but I just want to say, people with penises can get tested for HPV; people with neo-vaginas can also get tested for HPV. It’s a different thing, but… those tests CAN happen.
And I think, with HPV, because of medical homophobia, and heterocentrism, and… all of those things, there’s kind of a “who cares” attitude. And so, I think people find that they feel to self-advocate a LOT. And like, ask multiple doctors, ask multiple times, ask in writing. Ask them to ask their peers. Which is, which is really hard! Because not everyone feels like they have access to doctors who’ll respond well to that, but. It is worth, like… I think when you push, then I think you can sometimes get better care, in this area.
Anyway, I wanna answer other aspects of the question. So, you and your partners make sure that you have the updated version of the HPV vaccine. So, depending on how old you are, you may or may not have been offered the vaccine — or, you might have gotten the earlier version of the vaccine, and the newer version protects against more strains. You can get it even if you’re positive — even if you’re already positive for one of the strains that, that it protects against; you can still get it to protect against the other strains. Getting the vaccine can help clear HPV, if you already have it. And make sure your partners have it, too. So the newer version is Gardasil 9. You can get the newer version even if you already got the older version. You can get it twice. And you’ll be protected against more strains. And, most people usually clear HPV! Including the kinds that can lead to cancer. So, continue to get tested, and… like continue getting new Pap smears, and. It’s very possible that you could clear, clear the infection.
Dental dams. There ARE non-flavored — there are NO non-flavored, non-latex dental dams. It’s bananas. But you can use Saran Wrap. Or a glove, as Taylor was saying. Or non-latex condoms. And those would not have any flavoring on them.
And then, the last piece of the question: Does the skin-to-skin transmission mean that I can’t snuggle naked with people? What about scissoring? I definitely want to address that, because there is kind of a real… because it’s only studied in this kind of like PIV way? It’s kind of hard to say; it depends on what you mean by naked snuggling. Because I think genital-on-genital contact would be mucous membrane tissue. That would be what I would consider like the highest risk activity, for HPV, kind of depending on the bodies involved. But unbroken skin, on like non-mucous membranes, on like thighs, I think that would be a safer activity. Using gloves; covering sex toys. And limiting the the virus shedding is — it is skin-to-skin. But it’s in fluid, too. So limiting the mucous-membrane-on-mucous-membrane contact.
But yeah! I hope that… helps.
Zarra: Yeah. Really quickly — that was great. I would just add, you mentioned the non-latex condoms. So, you can always take a non-latex condom and cut it. Like cut the tip off and cut it and make like a rectangle or a square, to use as a dental dam.
Taylor: And just one tip about advocating for yourself in a medical situation? You can, like… you can have doctors write their refusal to do something in your medical chart. Which they mostly likely do NOT wanna do. And then that can also help you get what you want. Asking them to like, okay, you refused to help me obtain XYZ service. Can you please document that in your chart? And give me a referral to someone who CAN give me that? And they most likely don’t want to do that. So then, they’ll most likely help you.
Ro: Thank you! Thank you all for that really thorough answer. I’m gonna move on to the next question. This is from a person with a vulva, who wants to be nonmonogamous, but they have no idea how to explore their sexual — or, how to ensure! Their sexual safety while having multiple sexual partners who also have vulvas. So, I think we’ve, we’ve touched on dental dams a little bit already. Does anybody want to say more about that? Or just about… safer sex in general? Talking to partners about it. Other types of safer sex techniques that maybe aren’t barriers?
Taylor: (clears throat) I think, for this question, I’d be open to talking about the non-monogamous aspect of it, and like having multiple partners. I think a lot of people think that, when you’re nonmonogamous, that like… you don’t have the option to fluid-bond with a partner, if that’s something you’re interested in. But I also think fluid-bonding is complicated, given like couple privilege. Just like other barriers that can get in the way of people wanting to, like… Not use safer sex materials, in their sex? That doesn’t really sound like what this person’s asking, and I just wanna, touch on that. I think it’s just a good policy, if you ARE having multiple partners, to get tested regularly. I’m sure that’s on this person’s mind already. But like, I think I’ve seen a lot of success with plans in mind, and getting tested with a partner, and like they’ve said that’s a fun experience for them. So I’ll take that at face value.
But I also think that… just because you’re nonmonogamous, that like, you CAN have safer sex, and it’s not something that you can’t necessarily accomplish? I think, with testing, with using safer sex materials, with having conversations — sorry, my cat is in the background. (chuckles) having those conversations upfront and outright with people is the best way to, like, achieve safer sex, with multiple partners. You can’t do any of this stuff if you’re not talking to people. And like, having conversations about like… what are THEIR practices, and like how are they keeping THEMselves safe. And having like — not necessarily, not like rules, because I think RULES in nonmonogamy can come across as encroaching on someone’s autonomy and themselves. But if you’re having multiple sex partners, having a baseline of people who are just on the same wavelength of mitigating risk. Or like what that risk looks like for y’all. ‘Cause I think with a lot of this stuff, there’s so much shame, and just like, shitty talk! About people who like, have STIs. They’re just germs! Like. Germs happen! People get sick! This stuff happens! And so whether or not that’s something you’re comfortable with, or not comfortable with, I think that’s something that needs to be discussed, with the partner. And like, can be medicated, a lot of the time.
Ro: Does anyone else have anything to add to that?
Zarra: I was going to say, I would just quickly add — regardless of if you have vulvas or not, if you’re using sex toys, just being really cognizant of sanitizing those well, and really thinking about how many partners you’re using the same sex toys with? Because, again, just with certain STIs, and also generally other bacteria and all sorts of stuff, if you’re sharing that between partners, it also makes it more likely that something will, you know, potentially be spread, or potentially cause issues for more than one person. So, just something else to keep in mind.
Ro: Yeah. I’ll, I’ll throw in that, ah, some sex toys are made out of nonporous materials, which are easy to sterilize. So, like glass, stainless steel, silicone. If you’re not sure what material your sex toy’s made out of, it might be safest to put a condom over it to protect it, when you use it with partners. Just in case, because porous materials can harbor bacteria over time. And then your toy might get a little gross over time, too. So just to keep the toy safe, and to keep yourself and your partner safe. It’s a good practice.
Chandler: I really appreciate what Taylor was saying of like, germs are germs. And like, there are many risks that we take in the world that seem like very reasonable risks that put us… in the line of germs. And other people’s germs, and other people’s bodies. And sex is one such thing. But, for some reason, kind of there’s a presumption that we all should be, like, eliminating all risk from our sex. And that that’s like the responsible thing to do. But really just like, getting — making sure you’re educated about what, what activities can transmit what things. How do I feel? How much is it worth it to me to not get that thing? How terrible would it be if I contracted that? Do I really want to avoid it at all costs, or do I feel like I could deal with that? And then make your decisions about what you want to do accordingly. And as long as your toy is nonporous… Almost anything you can get from sex, cannot live outside of the body for a long time. Like, yes, clean your sex toys. But like, sex toys aren’t in a different category of like object from any other household object, in terms of like how dangerous they can be, necessarily. So. And, neither are our bodies. So, like, we carry our bodies with us everywhere.
So yeah. I guess just thinking about the, like, things that are in front of you. What is it worth? What choices do you want to make, and what’s worth it to you?
Ro: Thank you for that, Chandler! Let’s move on to the next question. This question is… foolproof tips! On how to achieve tribbing. I love that they prefaced it with “foolproof.”
Chandler: (chuckles) They maybe identify as a fool.
Ro: Who wants to talk about tribbing?
I can hop in. ‘Cause I think sometimes people get… confused about tribbing versus scissoring. And we use those words interchangeably. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. But, I think most of the time, when people are talking about scissoring, they’re talking about genital-on-genital contact. And then when we’re talking about tribbing, we’re talking about genital-on…! Whatever body part contact. You can trib ANYthing. And I also think most of the time when people say tribbing, they’re talking about vulva contact on a body part? But I really think it can apply to anyone? So, if you’re someone who likes grinding; if you like all-over genital pressure. You can achieve that on a partner’s thigh, on a partner’s… breasts, on a partner’s ass, on a partner’s arm. Like. On their boot. Truly, you can get as… kinky and wild as you want with it, as long as it is comfortable for both you and your partner. I don’t think there’s a, there’s a foolproof tribbing method that works for every single person? Because, everybody’s body is different, and everyone’s partner’s bodies will be different. So it’s really about what feels comfortable and pleasurable for you, and. Don’t be afraid to get weird! Like, maybe it’s really fun to grind on a wrist. Like. You might not see that in porn very often, but you can certainly try it! Ah. Anybody else have stuff to add about tribbing, while this storm rages in the background? I don’t know if you can hear it, but it’s very, ah, very wild over here. (chuckles) (there was some slight wind noise, like against the mic, or thunder in the background)
Okay, looks like we’re ready to move on from the tribbing.
Chandler: Oh, I do have something to say! I was just giving a pause! I really appreciate everything you said. Bodies are full of different surfaces, and holes. Like, we have ear holes, belly buttons, ass cracks, in between toes; there’s lots of different surfaces that our bodies have. I was going to say… I think pumping can be fun for people? In, like — especially, especially if you’re trying to achieve genital-genital contact, and like trying to make that… like, more arousing? Using, like, a clit pump. To increase both like the size and sensitivity of your genitals. Or like sensation gels or oils or some things like that. Can be fun, I think. And then just adding lube? Especially like an oil-based lube, or a silicone-based lube — if it’s not genital-genital contact with already lube that the bodies are making. But like, using oil-based or silicone-based lube, or just straight-up coconut oil or something like that, on the body to increase both the sensitivity and… like, the… lubrication! Or like, the friction-free feeling.
Ro: Thank you, Chandler! I’m going to read the next question. This person says: I’ve never had sex with another person before. Just wondering if any — if you have any advice or wisdom on things you wish you had known… the first time, or in advance of having sex for the first time.
Zarra: I really wish I had known that it was okay to say “I’m nervous”? Instead of feeling like you have to just feel nervous inside, and you can’t like voice that? I really wish I had felt like it was okay to be like, “I’m nervous.” And just like… put that out there? Instead of just being like, oh my god. Like I gotta be cool and I gotta play it cool. ‘Cause then you’re…! It won’t, like, ALLEVIATE your nervousness! But at least then you’re not feeling like you need to try to hide it, or anything like that.
Ro: I wish — oh, go ahead, Taylor.
Taylor: Oh! I was just going to say, in one of their follow-ups, they said I feel like it’s a basic human thing that I haven’t done yet. And I just wanna say that, like, it’s not really a basic human thing! Like it SEEMS like it should be? And like, yes, we come from animals, and we have this like animalistic part of us? But like, it’s not very basic! And like, it takes a lot of communication to get there. To where it feels natural and normal. And it makes me sad that this person feels like that. And I would just really encourage them to think about the different ways that, like, they can incorporate sex in their lives. Like they talk about how they have a really great sex toy collection, and I love that for them? And I hope they continue to like explore their body, and explore themselves. And like, think about how they want to incorporate someone into that! I think it could be a good idea for them to, like, look up like one of those cheesy yes-no-maybe lists! And like talk with someone who… they DO have a connection with, and see like, hey! Like. Do you wanna do this together? And just like talk through that! ‘Cause that’s fun; that’s sexy; that’s cool! I feel like, in thinking of sex, people think it has to be this one, like, specific way? And I just really encourage them to like figure out what, what sex should — could look like for them. And focus on that. Focus on what THEY want from sex. ‘Cause that’s the only sex that matters.
Ro: That’s great advice. I wanted to add that any time you have sex with a new person, you have to learn that person’s body. And so it’s ALWAYS a new experience, every time. So, we get a lot of questions at Autostraddle from people who… have never had sex before, and they’re wanting to have sex with someone who’s very experienced, and they’re nervous about that difference in experience. And so I always like to remind those folks, like, that person is learning your body, too, as you are learning theirs. So. If you don’t wanna disclose that it’s your first time, you don’t have to? And they might not even notice. Because you are two new people having sex with each other for the very first time.
I’m gonna move on to another question, unless — did anyone else have a burning thing to throw in there?
All right, here we go. This is a longer question? I’m gonna do my best to summarize it. So this person says: How do I look out for people who will fetishize me and/or create a fantasy version of me? They said that they experience folks with yellow fever for their Asian features, trophyizing their past accomplishments, fetishization of their disabilities, their gender expression. So. They’re saying that this happens to them a lot. These people who are… seeing a fantasy version of this person that doesn’t feel authentic to them. And they are wanting to know — to me, it seems like they’re asking what red flags to look out for, to avoid these kinds of people? Ah, who wants to jump in on that?
Taylor: Well, I WISH there was a way to like see people’s red flags. Before you got involved with them. But I don’t know if that’s a possibility…! (sighs)
I would encourage this person to be the most authentic version of themselves. ‘Cause when you show up authentically, people see you. People can then decide, like… whether or not it’s someone they want to be around with. And I think that, with this question in particular? There’s this dynamic of fetishization, and wanting to show up, like fully as yourself, but kind of not feeling like that’s a possibility, right? I would just really encourage that person to connect like to their personal values. What THEY see as being important to them. And whose opinion really matters to them.
I think a lot of the time, like, we get messaging from so many outside sources, about how we’re supposed to show up in the world. And when we take the time to connect to our values, and what’s important to us, and the people that you want to see — to see us fully? Then we can get a little bit more clarity on like whose opinion matters to us, really. And I think that’s really important. Especially when like you’re dating and like having sex with people. Especially as a person of color. Especially like living in these bodies that are so marginalized, and so … so taxed. The idea of like being able to, like… decide, for YOU. Who is important, to YOU? And like, whose opinions… matter, and DON’T matter? And like what words we want to use for ourselves, and how we want to show up in the world. Is really an empowering thing.
And I would just encourage this person to get as much empowerment, from whatever source that they need that from. I think that it’s really difficult to feel this way. And the more that you can do to connect to yourself, and like, what makes you feel good… And never straying from that, is probably the most important thing you can do.
But also, like! Fuck the haters! Like, screw everyone else who is like trying to define you, and like to… put their baggage ONTO you. Like that says WAY more about that person than it ever could about you. And I think you hear that a lot, but like really soak — let that soak in. Like, it really means way more about that person, and like the person that THEY are, than it ever could about you.
Zarra: Yeah, I know we’re running low on time, but I just wanted to jump in and say, like. Coming from the perspective of somebody who’s felt that way about being disabled, I think sometimes it’s really common to feel like you need to fall into traps of just like explaining, and explaining, and explaining. And hoping that eventually, if you keep explaining…? Whatever it is will start to dissipate? And I think that it’s important to feel, like, this is something that I don’t need to justify; this is something that I don’t need to explain. This is something that I don’t need to continue to, you know, navigate with you as like a compromise? Especially when it’s something about your health, or who you are fundamentally as a person. And just like, it’s really hard NOT to fall into that, especially if it’s somebody that you care about? But something that I think is, is really important to feel like you can leave.
Ro: Thank you both so much for that. I think we have time for one more question. Let’s do this last one here! This person wants to know, do you have recommendations for how to stay safe when seeking out sexual interactions virtually? Especially as a queer kinky person. Anybody wanna start? Jumping in on that?
I can start — oh, go ahead.
Taylor: Oh, I was just going to say an app suggestion. A lot of my friends have had a lot of success on Feeld, with two E’s? Yeah. I also think that, you know… just being yourself, and like making sure you have a safety plan in place. You’re sharing your location if you’re going somewhere. Letting people know where you are. Just like all the basics of like online dating, and you’re following them. Go ahead, Ro.
Ro: Yeah, I’ve heard great stuff about Feeld, as well. And I do want to let this person know, you know, anything that you put on the internet, send through a phone… it will exist in the cloud for eternity. So, that, that feels like an important thing to be aware of. To just be… you know. Doing a risk assessment, for yourself. If you are sharing any information about yourself with people, or sharing photos or videos. That that IS a risk you’re taking. You can certainly get to know people, a little bit better, before you take that step with them. To develop a little more trust. But at the end of the day, like, we… we don’t have control over where things are gonna end up on the internet. So that’s just a really difficult thing. About being our… queer, kinky, sexy selves online. So, keep that in mind. Especially like depending on whatever your profession is. If that’s something that will really bite you in the ass later? Then, like… think long and hard about it. It’s, it’s REALLY terrible that people have to make those choices and think about those things? We should ALL be able to be our adult selves, on the internet with other adults. But, unfortunately, some employers don’t see it that way.
Anybody have other information that you wanna share?
Zarra: I would just say, in a really practical sense, like again, like the basic things that Taylor said, like. Don’t share — you know, your location, all these things. And also just being really aware of, like, if you’re interacting in circles? Like if you’re on Reddit or whatever community, and it’s like, Minneapolis community! Or San Diego community! Just be aware that, depending on the size of your city, these are also people you might run into in person, at some point? Especially if you’re just interacting online. And thinking about how you would feel about that, and how you’re sort of prepared to handle that. Because that is unfortunately — or maybe fortunately! — a reality that can happen. So just something else to think about.
Ro: Well, we are at time. So thank you so much to everybody who’s viewing and listening, and everybody who asked questions in advance. I appreciate that so much. And thank you to Rainbow Health, and thank you to Anya, and thank you to all the panelists here. I’m so stoked that we were able to do this. And I hope that you all had a good time. If you wanna read the transcript later on and revisit any of this information, that’s gonna be published on Autostraddle’s website sometime next week. So keep an eye out for that. And I THINK that’s… everything I need to say, in conclusion! So thank you all so much! I’m not in charge of ending the Zoom. So I’ll just wait! (chuckles) Until someone else does that!
Chandler: Thank you both for having us.
Ro: Oh, and thank you to Corvyn for captions!
Ro: I hear you’re super fast. All right. I think Anya’s going to end the Zoom, ah, and we can all… leave individually? As we wish! So thank you all so much. I hope you all have a great night.