A Love Letter to Planned Parenthood

Dear Planned Parenthood,

When I was in 10th grade and my friends and I were beginning to discover the power of the blowjob, we heard rumors that this hot senior, who I’ll call Mike, had chlamydia. One of my friends had gone down on him and was scared she had the clap in her throat. I quickly drew out of a chart of our high school’s web of hook ups and concluded that if she had the clap in her throat, I most certainly did too. We were panicked and uneducated and couldn’t go to our parents, so we went to Planned Parenthood. None of us has chlamydia, but everyone was really nice, taught us all about chlamydia and safe sex practices, gave us a fuck ton of condoms, and we left feeling a little more grown up. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that first visit and what I learned about safe sex (they taught me a lot more than my high school was) helped inform what would become a career largely based on writing about sex.

Over a decade later, I still go to Planned Parenthood, now in New York City, for all my reproductive health needs. They do my annual pap and HPV test (although now it’s recommended only once every three years). They do my breast cancer screening, they answer all my anxious questions. They test me for STIs and HIV about once every six months (most people don’t go that often – but I am mega-OCD when it comes to my health). They also provide me with affordable birth control (as a freelance writer I’m on a form of Medicaid so it’s free) and give me heaps of condoms for free too (that shit’s expensive).

To get (extremely) personal here, I’ve (knock on wood) never contracted an STI or experienced an unwanted pregnancy, despite having a rather active sex life for over a decade now. Many people I love have, to no fault of their own, it just happens sometimes. STIs are sneaky and pregnancy is what women’s bodies were designed to do, so sometimes we get pregnant. Maybe I’m so used to taking pills for other reasons (lol), one more at the same time everyday is no biggie for me. But the whole damn reason I have access to the birth control and thus have never needed an abortion is Planned Parenthood! Thank you, Planned Parenthood. Why don’t more people talk about this side of it?  During Friday’s debate, Trent Franks, R-Ariz showed Congress a graphic poster of an aborted fetuses in Congress (I’d like to see a graphic poster of a 17-year-old child who lives in low-income housing giving birth to a ten pound kid after getting knocked up by her mom’s boyfriend. Then I’d like to ask Congress about the funds we’ll need to take care of her and her child, and if they play the “work hard and get a job” card to bitch about welfare, let’s talk about income disparity for women – especially women of color – and how we’ve created an education system and low employment rates following a crash caused by, guess who, rich white men, that more or less sets children birthed to such parents as the aforementioned 17-year-old up for failure and a life of crime, oh and if there’s time, we can talk about how much prison costs the taxpayers. End rant). Oh one more rant – do we show graphic posters of all the dead civilians (dead babies too) before approving war missions and drone strikes? Anyone? Bueller?

The legislation approved Friday would end federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, during which some time investigators will snoop around and see what they can find out to be true from those edited videos, basically. As a freelance writer, ending federal payments will directly affect me and my ability to love and fuck the way I want and I am outraged. Yet, I recognize my privilege. I’m a cis white girl with supportive parents and a Dad who is a lawyer. If something happened and I needed an abortion, they’d make sure I was able to see someone safe. I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of the women and families who need Planned Parenthood don’t have parents with the funds to step in in such a scenario.These politicians are using overtly edited videos for political gain, and imposing some condescending moral high ground that is completely unsupported by science pretty much because they think it makes them look cool to their Republican constituents and twisted version of God. It’s evil.

Planned Parenthood, I thank you for keeping me healthy, safe, educated, and not pregnant for the whole time I’ve been having sex. I love you, and I stand by you.


Sophie Saint Thomas


NEW FOR VICE – What Is It Like to Date When You Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

Originally published here.

Most people first encounter borderline personality disorder (BPD) on screen: It’s the condition behind Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction. It’s what Winona Ryder’s character was diagnosed with in Girl: Interrupted. It’s what Jennifer Lawrence may have had in Silver Linings Playbook, in which her character’s specific mental health condition went unnamed. The largely unfair stereotype that has emerged of BPD—partially because of some Hollywood portrayal—is that of a crazed, manic, uncontrollable woman.

To learn more about the condition, I spoke to Dr. Barbara Greenberg, who treats BPD, Thomas*, a 32-year-old who dates someone with BPD, and Karla*, a 29-year-old recently diagnosed as borderline.

*Names and details have been changed

VICE: So what is BPD?
Dr. Barbara Greenberg: It’s a personality disorder that’s really all about having very intense moods, feeling very unstable in relationships, and seeing the world in black and white—things are either all good or all bad. People with borderline feel empty, and they are always trying to fight off what they perceive as rejection and abandonment, so they see abandonment and rejection where it doesn’t necessarily exist. They’re so afraid of being alone, abandoned, or left, or people breaking up with them, that they sense it where it doesn’t exist and they need tons of reassurance. I think it’s one of the hardest personality disorders to have. And what’s really unfortunate is that there are males with borderline personality disorder too, but it’s the women who tend to get the label more frequently. I’ve always had an issue with that.

Do more women actually have it? Or is it a cultural stereotype that leads to more women being diagnosed for their emotional behavior?
I think it’s both. I think it’s primarily that women get the diagnosis because when women are upset, they get sad, depressed, and worried. When men have intense feelings, they act it out. They act it out in terms of anger, or hitting a wall, or drinking, or smoking. Women are wonderful torturers of themselves.

How does the fear of abandonment affect their romantic relationships?
When they are in relationships they get very intensely involved way too quickly. Men or women, whatever their [sexual preference] is, tend to really like [people with BPD] at first, because they are very intense, and very passionate. Everything they do is very intense—who is not going to be attracted to that? But then what comes along with it, a couple of weeks later, is: “Why didn’t you call me back immediately?” “Are you out with somebody else?” So [people with BPD] get attached very quickly, give [the relationship] their all, but then get disappointed very quickly. They start out thinking, “I love this guy, he’s the greatest,” but if he does a minor thing that disappoints them, they get deeply disturbed. Everything is done with passion, but it goes from being very happy and passionate to very disappointed and rageful.

How can that behavior affect someone without BPD?
Terribly, because most people aren’t trained to deal with it. They don’t even know that it exists. So eventually [people with BPD] do get rejected by partners because they’re just too intense. And it’s very hard for their partners to focus on other things in their life if their relationship is so demanding.

“Everything is done with passion, but it goes from being very happy and passionate, to very disappointed and rageful.” —Dr. Barbara Greenberg

Is there treatment available for BPD?
Absolutely. There is treatment and usually the women [seek] treatment because of relationship problems leading to depression or maybe self-harm behaviors. Dialectical behavior therapy has a tremendous success rate in treating borderline personality disorders because it basically teaches them a set of skills for them to handle their emotions. [Those with] borderline somehow have the message that every feeling needs to have an accompanying behavior. If [non-BPDs] are mad, maybe they’ll keep it to themselves. We sit with it. But borderlines initially can’t sit with any emotion that is uncomfortable. They have to act on it. So that’s one of the things they learn [to manage]. They learn in DBT how to deal with and sit with negative emotions without acting on them. It’s a very Buddhist zen-like treatment. They’re also taught to “walk the middle path,” like don’t look at a person as all good or all bad, a person is shades of gray. Bad people have good qualities and good people have bad qualities.

What advice would you give to someone who is dating a borderline and wants it to work?
If they want it to work they need to either be prepared to give reassurance: “I’m not leaving you, you’re safe with me.” Or they have to suggest that that person gets some therapy before being in a relationship. Or if it’s too much for them they should get out of there sooner rather than later.

So do you think there’s any hope for the borderlines after therapy to have a successful relationship?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. I really, really do. I’ve seen a lot of them get so much better, I love working with borderlines. Because their emotion is all there, and acting that way is all they know, and then when you show them an easier way to be, and to act, they see how much easier life can be. Absolutely. There’s hope.

VICE: When did your girlfriend tell you she had BPD?
Thomas: My girlfriend didn’t receive an official, medical diagnosis for BPD until a number of months in to our relationship, and the scenario surrounding the diagnosis itself was particularly unpleasant—as had some events which occurred in the months prior to the diagnosis which, considering things now, led to the diagnosis in the first place.

Before you knew the diagnosis, was there behavior that made you wonder if something was amiss?
Before her diagnosis with BPD, I understood my girlfriend to have some form of depression as well as social anxiety, which I believe she still may have in some capacity in addition to her BPD. She had grown up in—and was still living in—a particularly volatile and negative family atmosphere where she was treated quite badly. Frankly, witnessing that firsthand, I believe that if my girlfriend didn’t have some mental illness as a result of it then she’d be a true anomaly. However, many of her mood swings (which of course I can now link and identify with her BPD) before the diagnosis were difficult for me to understand, and for the most part, I assumed it was something to do with me being difficult for her to be with. I didn’t know anything about BPD before my girlfriend was diagnosed with it and certainly had no awareness that my girlfriend had it. I had no real idea of what BPD was before then.

“I see Borderline Personality Disorder as an illness about pain, fear, and struggling to cope with all of that.” –Thomas

How have you educated yourself on BPD?
Since my girlfriend’s diagnosis, I have done some considerable research on BPD, mostly as a means to better understand and to protect her. I’ve done research on the internet and read various articles.

What do you find to be the biggest misconceptions about BPD?
I think BPD is entirely misunderstood (if people are even aware of it at all) and sufferers are seen as “crazy” more than anything else. As a personality disorder, I think it’s seen in much the same vein as Antisocial Personality Disorder or even sociopathy and the likes of that, where it really isn’t comparable to those. There are a lot of nuances, complexities, and lines to be read through with BPD, but mostly I see Borderline Personality Disorder as an illness about pain, fear, and struggling to cope with all of that. It’s almost like a wounded animal, as I see it. But the common conception is just [that they are] crazy, which is an extraordinarily damaging misconception to those who suffer from it. They aren’t crazy, they’re hurting.

VICE: How have romantic partners reacted when you’ve told them you have BPD?
Karla: I am a picky girl when it comes to romantic relationships. I usually only have flings here and there, so I did not deem it necessary to let them into my mental world. One, however, did stick around. During these years I had suffered BPD unknowingly, and then knowingly. We dated on and off for about four years. He knew about my anxiety and mood depression disorders, diagnosed back in 2013 into 2014. When I told my ex-boyfriend Aaron* about borderline, he had zero clue of what it meant, or what it means to live with it or be close to someone who suffers in it. He did hours of research on borderline. Even before this, a year or two ago he had researched anxiety disorders to get a better understanding. It was impressive that instead of him running away in fear, it shed light on many aspects of the not-so-great parts of our relationship. Aaron helped himself comprehend how difficult it must be, and reiterated multiple times that was is in full support of whatever I needed at the time, as long as I was open with him, which I always was—perhaps to a fault.

How do your BPD symptoms affect your relationships?
My BPD symptoms affect my relationships with family, friends, and lovers almost all the time. It would be impossible for me to explain all of the ways my symptoms do, so I’ll give an example. One of my friends was having a get-together before we went to our favorite pub. It was a small party of about four girls and six guys. When I feel as though someone is secretly attacking me, I will get on the defense, become overly emotional, moody, and dramatic, and perhaps will call them out on it. In reality, [they] may have just not been aware whatsoever. In this case, I acted on my symptoms. It was not so much of a big deal as it was an embarrassment for me, to me. I doubt my friend had any idea. Some people with BPD label people as “good” and “bad” friends (black vs. white) when one small thing happens. I have unfortunately done this in the past.

Are you in treatment? Is it helping with your relationships?
I am currently in DBT therapy treatment. When it comes to relationships, I have certainly seen progress, but I cannot wait to see and feel more.

If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from Bordering Personality Disorder, learn more about treatment options here.

the-post-ssri-orgasmic-high sophie saint thomas

The Post-SSRI Orgasmic High

New for Broadly.

I have been on and off various forms of antidepressants since college. A class of antidepressants (Zoloft, Lexapro, and Prozac) called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) is often the first line of pharmaceutical treatment for depression and a safer and less addictive solution than benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin) for anxiety and panic disorders. The problem is, as if trying to date while depressed or anxious isn’t shitty enough, taking SSRIs, which work by blocking serotonin receptors in the brain so that levels of the chemical in the brain stay higher, can basically cause chemical castration.

“The current thinking is that serotonin and dopamine are something like the brakes and the gas when it comes to sex,” explains Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and the author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking. “Too much serotonin seems to make it hard to flip the switch over to orgasm. When women are in a lower serotonergic state, as when they are closer to their periods (PMS) or if they’ve taken MDMA the day before and are temporarily depleted, it’s easier to climax. When women take SSRIs, it’s not only harder to climax, but for many women, it’s harder to feel sexual pleasure or get horny. I have patients tell me they’re less interested in sex, their pelvis feels numb, or it’s nearly impossible to climax.” 

You get off the meds, and then you quite literally get off.

knew that during high school I would masturbate an average of three times a day, and while I had to use my hand to rub my clit sometimes, I also knew I had gotten off during oral, vaginal, and anal sex without using a vibrator. (There’s no shame in using a vibrator during sex; I think more women should. But what if you’re up against the fence at Williamsburg Waterfront and just don’t have it on you?) Yet when I was on Lexapro, a commonly prescribed SSRI, I did not know that girl. Sex became something I did because I knew I was supposed to, rather than because I felt my clit would explode if I didn’t have that hot man in me right this second. “I guess when you’re super depressed your sex life seems not that big of a deal, but when you’re a functioning human being and part of society again you’re like, ‘No, this is actually a pretty key thing that I’m missing out on,'” says Claire, a 29-year-old living in Brooklyn who has also experienced the SSRI chastity belt via Prozac. “I would have sex with the men I was dating because I thought, This is what you should do in a relationship, but it wasn’t really fulfilling. You kind of forget what sex is like. Then you go back [get off the meds] you’re like, ‘I remember!'” 

You get off the meds, and then you quite literally get off, which is exactly what happened to me when I finally weaned myself off Lexapro over the course of a month. Unfortunately, my sex drive came back just around the time my relationship was ending. My ex had often complained that he didn’t always feel we were on the same page sexually and he hated that he couldn’t get me off, so it was a shame he left just as my orgasms were coming back full force. 

“It would have been different. It definitely would have been different,” says Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist from the Kinsey Institute, when I ask about whether going off Lexapro earlier might have changed our sexual chemistry. “Orgasm is really important for a relationship. It makes you like the person! It makes you trust the person; it makes you want to be with the person; it makes you feel warmth towards the person; it evolved for very obvious reasons, which is to make you want to do it again to be close to somebody and hold somebody. When you’re hugging somebody and holding somebody, oxytocin is going up in the brain. Oxytocin is associated with feelings of attachment and calm, and right before orgasms there is a spike of norepinephrine and dopamine that is going to give you feelings of optimism, and energy, and focus, and motivation, and then of course after orgasm there’s a real flood of oxytocin again and that gives you a feeling of deep attachment to a partner. So there’s a reason that men want women to have an orgasm,” explains Dr. Fisher. 

Ross, a 32-year-old New Yorker whose girlfriend took 20mg of Lexapro, agrees. “You can understand it’s science, but it [was] still hard not to take it personally when I couldn’t get her off,” he says. 

Before I regale you with the joy that is the second puberty experienced when flushing all those nasty orgasm police pills out of your system, it’s crucial to note that they do save lives; quitting cold turkey without discussing with your doctor is a no-no. “Some people really need these drugs,” says Dr. Fisher. “They need them to get out of bed in the morning, to make the effort to go find a sweetheart.” 

However, this is not always the case. “Data shows that 70 percent of people who are on these drugs don’t really need them,” Fisher says. “They [get] back on their feet, and they [keep taking them] because they have the feeling of calm and stability, so they stay on them long-term. [But] when you stay on them, you can jeopardize yourability to fall in love and stay in love.”

Yes–there’s more than sex at stake here. SSRIs could be screwing up what humans are already very bad at: finding and maintaining a loving relationship. “If you aren’t interested in having sex, or you’re having less pleasure when you do have sex, it’s going to affect your relationships, obviously. There is even some suggestion that it affects whether women make themselves available for sex when they’re dating, or whether it can affect that angsty/horny feeling when you fall in love with someone,” says Dr. Holland. “Human female subjects on antidepressants spend less time poring over faces of potential male dating partners than the women who are unmedicated.”

SSRIs could be screwing up what humans are already very bad at: finding and maintaining a loving relationship.

Over the course of the month that I quit Lexapro, it felt like a sexual re-awakening. “My patients who have weaned off their SSRIs are happy to report they can climax more easily,” says Dr. Holland. “It’s nice to be able to enjoy sex again, and to connect with your partner on that physical, and often spiritual, level.” Skylar, a 28-year-old from Richmond, knows what the doc is talking about. After giving Zoloft a shot for anxiety attacks, she stopped using it because she decided she’d rather be anxious and having orgasms. “Within a matter of a few weeks I was back to normal in the sex department,” says Skylar. 

Claire, the 29-year-old Brooklynite who was on Prozac, concurs. “I noticed [my sex drive return] more when I was just masturbating by myself, because I [was single] at the time. [I would be] watching porn and using my vibrator and being like, ‘This is amazing!”’ 

While most women return to orgasm-land with a vengeance after being on SSRIs, however, some never come the same again. Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD) is a nightmare in reality, in which patients’ sex drives and functioning can take years to return to normal after being on SSRIs. Some patients never feel the same again.

“It’s frustrating that they haven’t found a pharmaceutical cocktail that can be so beneficial for anxiety without those side effects,” Skylar tells me. The good news is there is one antidepressant that can actually promote sexual desire and function: Wellbutrin. “Well, the makers of Wellbutrin don’t really cop to the mechanism of action of their antidepressant, only describing it as ‘non-serotonergic,'” says Dr. Holland, “but it seems as though [it has] an action that increases dopamine levels.

“For many of my patients, they are much happier with the effect of Wellbutrin on their sex lives, over the SSRIs,” Dr. Holland continues. “Wellbutrin can also help to cut appetite and improve focus and concentration. Where it’s weak is in treating anxiety, and especially treating obsessive symptoms. The SSRIs are much better for that.” Not to long after I stopped taking Lexapro, I tried Wellbutrin and had three orgasms during sex on my yoga mat–two clitoral, and one cervical, which until then I didn’t actually believed existed. (Thank you, makers of Wellbutrin.) I stopped Wellbutrin because, as Dr. Holland says, it sucks for anxiety, which is my main enemy at the moment.

After a fuck ton of therapy, quitting drinking, and developing a mindfulness practice (seriously), I’ve earned the bragging rights to say that now, sans SSRI or Wellbutrin, I’m just a little bit nuts. The renewed ability to orgasm is probably helping to keep me so fucking cheery, too. “Orgasms do create a bit of a ruckus with neurotransmitters and hormones,” Dr. Holland says. “In particular oxytocin and endorphins, though the endocannabinoid system may also be involved. They do help to relieve stress, obviously, which is likely therapeutic. And yes, there is a study showing that sperm, when deposited in the vagina, can have antidepressant effects. 

“Much of the brain even shuts down when you’re having an orgasm,” she continues. “It’s a very deep experience.”


My Shrink Broke Up With Me

Going back to the dark days in my latest for Broadly.

According to therapist-cum-speaker Dr. Julie Gurner, “A responsible psychologist will always make a referral if the client continues to need treatment elsewhere, but it is ultimately the client’s responsibility to follow through with that referral. An exception to the client taking responsibility for follow through might be if they are feeling unsafe (suicidal) or are compromised in some other way.”

Two years ago, on a hot New York Summer’s day, still drunk from the night before, I walked into my shrink’s office and told him I needed to quit drinking and wanted to kill myself. I’m not sure if it was as cohesively articulated as that, but rather a rambling about how high a sixth floor walk-up apartment is, various uses of a cleaver, and that Lenny Kravitz had jumped out of the audience to play drums at the show I attended the prior evening. Regardless of my exact words, my psychiatrist’s response was clear: “I am no longer qualified to treat you, and I must terminate this relationship.” My ex-shrink told me he would be in touch with names of doctors who would be a better fit, and I wandered into Washington Square Park, shielding the sun from my eyes.

The Summer of 2013 was brutal for me: a sexual assault, followed by an alcoholic bottom, a breakup, and my parent’s divorce–I was a suicidal nutcase. As it was August, my ex-shrink was going on vacation, so by the time he got around to calling me with those recommendations he promised, I was already in treatment with someone else, primarily because I was taking antidepressants and benzodiazepines, which were going to run out. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can involve seizures, so it’s something you don’t want to fuck with. “If the patient is taking medication, sometimes they will simply continue the medication under the supervision of the same psychiatrist, but their visits will be less frequent. This would all be an ongoing discussion with the patient,” says Amanda Itzkoff, MD.

I’m too crazy for a boyfriend right now, but am I too crazy for a psychiatrist?

Being broken up with by your shrink can be a brutal blow to the ego–it has you thinking “I’m too crazy for a boyfriend right now, but am I too crazy for a psychiatrist?” Flipping through old diaries from that period feels like stepping into a horrific rape scene that I’ve seen in a movie–there’s a fearful recognition, but I can’t believe I ever actually lived it. Back then; even I didn’t want to be around myself, so I don’t blame the guy for ending the client/patient relationship. But I was curious: why do shrinks break up with patients? Are they even allowed to do that? 

“There are guiding principles you should follow, rather than an official set of protocol,” explains Dr. Gurner. “In graduate school, the act of separating with a client is referred to as “termination.” A fair amount of attention is paid to how you separate from a client…because how we say goodbye and end our relationships is so important.

Often, a psychologist or psychiatrist will terminate a relationship because the patient is exhibiting symptoms they don’t feel qualified to treat, as doctors typically have specialties. A common occurrence of this lies among patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, as 10 percent of individuals with BPD successfully complete a suicide attempt. “Some disorders are certainly more difficult to treat, but I have not known of someone ending a patient relationship because of liability. The only reason I would see someone ending a patient relationship based on a diagnosis, is if they did not feel they could provide the specialty treatment required,” says Dr. Gurner. “Almost everyone I know has unfortunately had a client end their life, but none of them have ever faced legal action or fear that element of their practice.”

If the client is not committed to treatment, I would terminate our time together.

It may not happen often, but shrinks can be sued, which is maybe why my very handsome doctor felt I was out of his control. “Yes, therapists can get sued,” says Dr. Barbara Greenberg. “If the survivors feel that it was inadequate care. That’s why with all of your patients you have to access carefully for suicidality, or any predictors of violence, and you are responsible, and yes, you can be held liable,” said Dr. Greenberg. One of Dr. Greenberg’s specialties is treating BPD, so fear not Borderlines, there is indeed someone for everyone. “In my practice I get a lot of borderline personality disorders-I like people who are very energized who really need help; I find that stimulating. Substance abuse on the other hand, I might refer that person to see somebody else who had substance abuse as a specialty.” 

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but it has to really want to change it. An acquaintance of mine from high school was in treatment for alcohol abuse, and her doctor ended the relationship upon continuously catching her in lies about her drinking habits. “If the client is not committed to treatment, I would terminate our time together. People come to therapy for various reasons, but I would never accept a patient or keep someone as a client who was there at the wish of someone else,” says Dr. Gurner. 

If you’re suffering with substance abuse, please get some help. Find an AA meeting, or if you’re like me and don’t jive with the 12-steps, understand that there are other options. There’s the Buddhist recovery group Refuge Recovery, the science-based SMART Recoveryharm reductionayahuasca healingSatanism, honestly whatever helps you get your life together, I’m in support of.

Because we all really are different beautiful little fluffy fucking snowflakes, aren’t we? As with recovery, when seeing a shrink, it has to be the right fit, or it’s not going to work out. “There has to be chemistry. I call it the “relational bond.” If that bond doesn’t exist, you really can’t do good therapy,” says Dr. Greenberg. A cool thing for me about quitting drinking, is when I was drunk, I checked off all the boxes for probably dozens of diagnoses. When I stopped, it turned out I wasn’t insane; I’m just someone who absolutely does not mix well with alcohol. One spanking new fantastic shrink and two years later and I’m no longer drinking, and no longer suicidal. Maybe, if it continues to go well, the eventual breakup will be amicable. “The goal of any good therapy is separation, and that you’ve taught them how to manage their symptoms well enough that they don’t need you anymore. You hope for them every good thing,” says Dr. Gurner.


Is My Sex Life Emotionally Scarring My Cats?

I wrote this for Broadly. Image by Kat Aileen.

Dating is terrifying and breakups are agonizing, but thankfully humans have friends and the pharmaceutical industry (actually, cats have that too) to help us get through it all. I live with two marmalade tabby cats, Major Tom Cat (Tommy) and Mama Cat. You’ve got to be a very attractive person to lure me out on a Friday night when I could be home with them and a plate of nachos. Recently I went through a rather traumatic breakup and am back in the saddle (OkCupid). I know I eventually will be fine, but what about my cats? Are they doomed to a life of personality disorders and abandonment issues? To learn more, I spoke to Elise Gouge, MPH, owner of Pet Behavior Consulting, LLC and certified animal behavior consultant and trainer. I refrained from asking her about why Mama Cat sometimes tries to curl up on my legs when I’m using my vibrator, as I assume it’s simply because she wants a massage too.

Broadly: I co-adopted Tommy with an ex-boyfriend, who was a major part of his life until recently–how can divorce/break ups/the absence of one partner affect cats’ behavior?
Elise Gouge: Cats form strong attachments with their caretakers, and the loss of one or both can have a profound impact on behavior. It’s not uncommon to see grief behavior and distress such as vocalizing, searching behavior, restlessness, loss of appetite, changes in litter-box or grooming habits, and general malaise.

In the past month my cats have taken to licking and swatting me awake at night– is there usually any cause for this behavior other than wanting food?
Changes in behavior may be due to wanting more attention or needing more enrichment. If the cats were used to a certain level of activity, and that has now decreased due to one person leaving the home, they could be frustrated or stressed. The licking and swatting could be attention-seeking behavior or stress-related to the changes in the environment.

Can cats pick up on your emotions–in this case being very sad and hurts with lots of crying because you were dumped?

If you are single and bring different men home, can the influx of strangers affect a cat’s mental health?
It depends on the cat. If a cat is by nature a social and friendly feline, then meeting multiple people will be exciting and fun. If you have a cat with a more reserved or shy temperament, having multiple strangers enter the home will be increasingly stressful.

It seems new partners can almost make a cat jealous! Is this a thing?
The concept of pets feeling jealousy is widely debated by animal behaviorists and consultants. Some feel that pets absolutely feel jealousy, and others believe that jealousy is a term that carries a lot of negative stigma that should be separate from how we define our cat’s behaviors. It is true that if your cat is used to spending 100 percent of his time with you and suddenly another person is occupying your time and the cat now only has access to you 50 percent of the time, he will most likely show some stress behaviors.

For cats, vying for your attention through vocalizing, knocking things over, scratching, etc. can be common. From the cat’s perspective, he is simply doing things that result in the desired goal of getting more attention from you. If a cat (or any creature) does a behavior and it creates a desired result, the cat is going to do it more often. This is called positive reinforcement.

When cats watch people having sex–do they know what’s going on?
Cats would be sensitive to the smells, the changes in energy, the sounds and motion. Sexual contact, heightened levels of emotional or physical arousal, are all things that can impact a cat’s behavior.

My older cat Mama has now had two different “fathers” (ex-boyfriends of mine) do such changes–along with moving apartments–have a detrimental effect?It depends on the cat’s temperament. In general, cats are not fans of change. They prefer things to stay the same. Some are better than others in adapting and changing as the environment requires.

My cat has seemed to like some men more than others! Should I consider this information when deciding to get serious with someone?
If you are a dedicated cat owner and plan to have cats in your life for many years to come, then I would advise making sure you pick partners that share your love of cats. Your cat will be happiest with a person who is genuinely fond of, delighted by, and interested in him or her.

It depends on the cat’s temperament. In general, cats are not fans of change. They prefer things to stay the same. Some are better than others in adapting and changing as the environment requires.

My cat has seemed to like some men more than others! Should I consider this information when deciding to get serious with someone?
If you are a dedicated cat owner and plan to have cats in your life for many years to come, then I would advise making sure you pick partners that share your love of cats. Your cat will be happiest with a person who is genuinely fond of, delighted by, and interested in him or her.

death weed

Fertilizing Marijuana Plants, and Other Weird Ways to Decay After You Die

Read my latest for VICE.

When I die I want my body used as fertilizer for cannabis so my friends can smoke me. Please plant me in a calming Indica plant so I may reduce the anxiety I caused while I was alive: Sophie Saint Kush. Plus, it’d be good for the environment. Green funeralsare on the rise as an environmentally-conscious generation starts thinking about our wills. And with good reason: Traditional burial methods can take a serious toll on Mother Earth.

“Modern burial—by which I mean the burial of an embalmed body in a metal casket, which is then set into a concrete burial vault, essentially the standard funeral home send off—consumes vast amounts of resources and leaves a trail of environmental damage in its wake,” Mark Harris, former environmental columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of the book on green burial Grave Matters, and co-founder of Green Meadow Natural Burial Ground, told VICE. “A typical 10-acre cemetery contains enough coffin wood to build more than 40 homes and enough toxic embalming fluid to fill a small backyard swimming pool. Additionally, every year we divert enough concrete to burial vaults to create a two-lane highway running halfway across the country, and enough metal for caskets to annually rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge. Given those statistics, I’ve come to see cemeteries less as bucolic resting grounds for the dead than as landfills of largely non-biodegradable and hazardous materials.”

“Green burials are a healthy start to nipping our pollution issues in the bud. Also, you save money on not purchasing a casket or a casket,” said Amber Carvaly, a mortician and family advocate who has spent the last year helping build Undertaking LA, an alternative funeral service in Los Angeles.

Not to mention, embalming is disgusting. “During the conventional embalming process that happens in the United States every day, spiked caps are placed in the eyes to keep them closed, mouths are wired shut, blood and abdominal cavities are vacuumed out and all (I mean ALL) holes get plugged up with cotton to prevent “leakage,” Theresa Purcell, natural burial advocate and former president of the Trust for Natural Legacies, told VICE. “People spend so much money on these air tight Tupperware-like caskets trying so hard to keep nature out, but in that type of environment you are trapping the body with anaerobic bacteria and as the body naturally decomposes, gasses are released. The body then bloats and putrefies, sometimes causing the coffin to explode!”

Yikes. In search of a better way of decaying, VICE sought out some more peaceful, planet-friendly alternatives to exploding in a toxin-filled casket. (Some of our ideas were better than others.)

Use your body as plant fertilizer

“I think this is a great idea,” said Carvaly. “If you cremate your body all that is left is dry calcium phosphates, salts of sodium and potassium. It’s not really much in the way of nutrients. Once you are cremated you burn off most of what would be beneficial. However, you can choose a green burial and your body will absolutely benefit the surrounding plants and animals.” Some environmentally-friendly companies are already capitalizing on this idea. “I would definitely use a “tree urn” a new way that your body can literally help grow a forest,” said Albe Zakes, Global VP of Communications for recycling company TerraCycle and co-author of Make Garbage Great: The Terracycle Family Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle. “It’s much greener than being pumped full of formaldehyde and stuffed into a wood box treated with even more chemicals,” he told VICE. “Plus who knows if reincarnation actually exists, but you know for sure you will live on as a tree, providing shade, purifying the air and water, and maybe even making a home for a nice bird family!” Of my weed idea, Theresa reminds me: “How dank your death gets depends on if you can legally grow weed in your area.”

Get cremated and mixed into tattoo ink

What if your “I heart Mom” tattoo could actually contain your dead mom? “It’s been requested before. It’s a symbolic gesture,” tattoo artist JK5 told VICE. Some tattoo-lovers hope to have their cremated ashes mixed with tattoo ink so their loved ones can be tattooed with their body. “I’ve heard of this and it sounds awesome! I don’t personally know if this increases the risk of infection or anything like that, but if you can find an artist that can do it safely I say go for it,” says Purcell. Unfortunately, cremation may not actually be so green after all. “Cremation is a valuable option and absolutely better for the environment than modern burial practices, but the process of cremation requires a significant amount of non-renewable energy and emits toxins, like mercury, into our atmosphere. Still, it’s a good choice for you and yours. Just not as great for the environment as sometimes portrayed.”

Freeze-dry yourself like astronaut food

A choice better than cremation is promession. I learned about this method from my friend Grant, who once took me on a date in a cemetery. Promession is freeze drying—you more or less turn your body into astronaut food. “Promession rules,” agreed Purcell. “I first found out about this idea by reading STIFF by Mary Roach. Promession is the process of freeze-drying a body with liquid nitrogen and exposing it to ultrasonic vibrations until it disintegrates into particles and you are left with a dry powder about 30% of the original weight. Basically a form of compost that’s way more environmentally friendly than conventional burial.” Unfortunately, promession is not yet legal in the United States.

Use yourself as kitty litter

My friend Brooke wants to be cremated and used as kitty litter. “To achieve this you would need to fill out a Disposition of Cremated Remains form with your funeral home/crematory that says you plan on taking the cremated remains home and then doing NOTHING with them,” advises Carvaly. “Then you can do whatever you want with them after that. Wink wink. Legally you cannot put the remains in the litter, but… I doubt you’ll ever get caught.”

Get turned into a nice piece of jewelry

If human bones are already being made into art, why not make a cameo in the afterlife as bone jewelry? “My dream would be that when my time was drawing to a close I could go out into the woods, curl up under the trees, and let nature take it from there,” says bone jeweler Kaya Tinsman. “If I could find an artist or jeweler familiar with cleaning bones whose work I felt a connection to, I would love to have my bones used as art as a memento mori for loved ones left behind. Unfortunately, all of this is highly illegal right now.” The idea of “mourning jewelry” is one that goes back centuries. “For hundreds of years now the hair of deceased loved ones have been woven, twirled, and set behind a clear stone, such as quartz. I’ve thought about using my final living years making jewelry incorporating my own hair for the people I love,” Tinsman said.

Mourning jewelry is similar to Aboriginal mortuary rites, Purcell’s personal favorite burial ritual. “Bodies were placed on a raised platform, covered with leaves and branches, to decompose for months until just bones remained,” Purcell explained. “Those bones were then painted with red ochre and placed in a cave or worn by their family members.”

Get broken down into chemicals

One of the newest and coolest ways of body decomposition is alkaline hydrolysis. “This is where the body is placed in a chamber that is then filled with a mixture of water and lye. It is then heated to 160 °C, but at a high pressure, which prevents boiling,” explained Carvaly. “The body is broken down into its chemical components (amino acids, peptides, salt, sugar) in liquid form. The process takes about three hours. This is not legal in all states yet but I am sure that one day it will be.”

Donate your body to necrophilia…?

Some people would rather go out with a bang. My friend Marty says he wants his body donated to a necrophiliac. Would that work? “Oddly enough this would be the only one that would be difficult in accomplishing,” said Carvaly. “You could temporarily donate it, but you would really need to make sure that whoever has control over your body at the end of your life is onboard with it. It’s likely they could temporarily let your favorite necrophiliac have a go and then give the body back. Because at some point the state needs to know where that dead body went. I don’t really know of any bodies that slipped through the cracks and were never buried, cremated, or donated to science.” None of the death babes were into this idea. “Yeah, no. Sorry, Marty,” says Purcell. “Gonna have to try and visit the bone zone while you’re still alive.”

For more information about funeral rights and options visit the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Green Burial Council.