9 Myths About Witchcraft That Modern-Day Witches Like Me Are Tired of Hearing

This article was originally published in Allure.

Are witches real? Well, have you ever had a vivid dream about someone, only for them to text you the very next day? Consider that your intuition was burning bright. When you’re overwhelmed and stressed, do you ever turn your bathtub into a cauldron by filling it with soothing salts, perhaps lighting some candles to further set the mood? That’s a self-love spell if I ever saw one. Or have you ever found yourself in an overly cluttered apartment thinking, “I just have to tidy up to change the energy in here”? Look at you, performing cleansing rituals.

Witches are real: They’re people who practice magick. Magick, which witches like to spell with a “k” to differentiate it from stage magic, is real too. The practice of magick is about raising and directing energy to fulfill your intentions, and if you haven’t noticed, witchcraft is in vogue. You may be wondering what in God’s (or the Goddess’s) name is going on, or even what you need to know if you’d like to practice witchcraft yourself. A very good place to start is by clearing up any misconceptions you may have about witches — here’s the truth about nine of the most common myths out there.\

1. Witches aren’t real.

Remember the evil witch from “Hansel and Gretel” who snatches up children to eat? How about Nicole Kidman’s sexy character in Practical Magic? There are lots of different kinds of witches presented in pop culture, but witches exist outside of films and fairy tales, as well.

In real life, you can be a witch and look just like yourself, no eating children required. So how do you know if you’re a witch? If you feel an urge to exert your will and get what you want (while fighting the patriarchy and practicing intersectional feminism, of course), you qualify. A witch is simply someone who is aware of their own power and puts that power into action. If that’s you, then congratulations, you’re a witch.

2. You need tons of training from established witches before you cast your first spell.

Researching and doing some homework is never a bad idea. If you’re looking for good starter resources, I recommend the website The Hoodwitch and the books Craft: How To Be a Modern Witch, by Gabriela Herstik, and Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, by Kristen J. Sollee. However, writing a spell does not require a coven, goat’s skull, and full moon, as fun as nights involving these can be. Performing a spell just means setting an intention and then conducting a ritual — be that lighting a candle or meditating in the bathtub — to fulfill it.

For instance, let’s say you want to wake up each morning filled with more self-love. Write an intention letter affirming how much you appreciate yourself as you honor Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. You can invoke the energy of any deity you personally connect with, so long as you show proper respect, but Venus is a great go-to for love spells. You can also work with an ancestor or inspired celebrity, like David Bowie (a personal favorite) or Rihanna. Light some pink and red candles, and take a bath while meditating on how loved you are. See? You’re doing magick. Simply writing out gratitude lists or repeating a mantra is casting a spell, as it means you’re injecting reminders of your self-worth into your life. Most witches believe that the universe is filled with energy. Casting a spell is just harnessing that energy.

3. Practicing witchcraft is expensive.

The upside to witchcraft’s recent popularity is that it’s becoming more accessible, and more people understand witchcraft isn’t synonymous with evil. It’s also allowed powerful witches to make money from their craft, which is demonstrative of the power of magick on its own. Some online shops are worthy of your money if you have some extra to spend. Witch Baby Soap, for example, sells lovely, vegan, cruelty-free beauty products infused with spells.

However, it seems like everyone is cashing in on the witchcraft trend these days. Do you need to drop $85 on Goop’s “8 Essential Crystals Medicine Bag” in order to engage in crystal healing? Nope. Sure, tools such as crystals, tarot cards, and incense can be handy in rituals and help sharpen your practice. But all you really need is yourself. You are the witch, you practice the magick, and you are more powerful than any crystal money can buy.

Before you blow your paycheck on overpriced accessories, simply begin sharpening your practice by adding daily meditation and learning to your life. The more you immerse yourself in witchcraft, the more you’ll notice that witchy tools are all around you: in your spice rack, your closet (hello, broomstick), and growing outside. Witches of all economic backgrounds have been practicing for centuries using the tools they have at hand.

4. All witches are female.

Whether you are male, nonbinary, trans, gender-nonconforming, or anything else, you can be a witch. It’s true that there is a beautiful history of women and witchcraft, in part because women have been historically silenced and have used witchcraft to tap into their power and subvert the system. Think of the term “kitchen witch,” which means a witch who flourishes in the kitchen: When women were told their place was the kitchen, some simply focused their magickal energy there. Ultimately, though, magick is genderless.

5. Your ancestors have to have been witches for you to be one.

Like many other communities, the occult world has problematic members who insist that to be a witch, you have to come from a magickal bloodline. Remember how messed up beliefs about “Purebloods” are in the Harry Potter series? It’s not OK to shame or exclude based on lineage in our world, either. Some people do have witches in their families, and when you’re looking for spirits to work with, magickal ancestors are a powerful choice — but so are any ancestors. If you come from a non-magickal family, aren’t close with your family, or have severed ties with them out of necessity, that has nothing to do with whether or not you can be a witch.

6. Hexes aren’t real.

Sorry if this scares you, but hexes, cast to inflict misfortune on others, are indeed real. You may have heard of “the rule of threes,” or the belief that performing magick with ill intent will come back to you three times, turning the ill intent on you. (The neo-pagan religion Wicca holds that “Three times what thou givest returns to thee,” which can be applied to positive magick as well.)

But the rule of threes doesn’t simply mean, for example, that if you cast a spell to steal someone’s man and you and said man get together, he’ll cheat on you exactly three times. Hexes like this usually entail bigger blowback: If you’re performing magick to cause harm to someone, you’re probably in a pretty nasty, dark place. You likely aren’t exuding positive, loving vibes, but swampy, malicious ones. And it doesn’t feel good to be a mean troll. Performing magick to release yourself of anger so you can move on after you’ve been harmed can be healing. Using your craft to hurt someone, meanwhile, often just ends up making you feel bad, not to mention that positive energy is simply more powerful. Work with the universe, not against it.

7. There are “black” witches, meaning evil witches, and “white” witches, meaning good witches.

Speaking of hexes, you’ve probably heard about “black magick” and “white magick.” Some people use these terms, but they probably shouldn’t. To start, they have racist undertones: Rituals that are mistakenly believed to be “bad” and therefore labeled “black magick” often come from traditions such as Hoodoo, which is traditional African folk magick. Generally speaking, magick itself isn’t simply “good” or “evil”: It’s a tool. We can all act selfish, jealous, and petty from time to time, and honestly, that’s OK. We have good sides that are loving, too.

Often, the best way to get in touch with your loving side (and then inject it into your magick) is to recognize that you’re human. Negative thoughts are normal. Instead of acting on them, perform a cleansing ritual, dance around or go to the gym, or take a long, hot bath to soothe yourself. All such acts can be magickal rituals.

8. You must join a coven to be a witch.

A coven is a group of witches that meets regularly to perform magick and rituals. A coven can be traditional, with 13 members and a highly organized initiation process, or it can be more laid-back and designed by you and your witchy friends. As witchcraft has become mainstream, covens have become more casual. Some people enjoy the responsibility and framework of performing magick with a structured group, while other people perform better as solo artists. By all means, form a coven if it’s appealing to you. But if magick is something highly personal that you do alone, that works, too.

9. Your witchcraft should be Instagram-ready.

Explore the hashtag “#witchesofinstagram” and you will see a plethora of pristine, perfect-looking altars, clothing, and crystals. Social media can offer camaraderie and inspiration, and aesthetically pleasing rituals — such as cleansing your space with herbs like sage — have value. But your practice doesn’t have to be camera-ready to be valid. In fact, many of the most powerful witches prefer to keep their practices secret and their altars private. (A note about altars: They’re basically just areas set aside for devotion. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on yours for it to yield rich rewards, and you’re allowed to be a little messy — IMO, Joanne the Scammer is totally a witch and “polished” is definitely not her brand.) It’s OK to look at photos for inspiration, but your practice only needs to reflect one thing: you.

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Are You Radical Enough to Be a Relationship Anarchist?

Read my latest for GQ. Illustration by Alicia Tatone.

When I first heard the term “relationship anarchy,” I found it infuriatingly pretentious. “Simmer…the fuck…down!” I thought. Anarchy is a fine and dandy concept, but let’s be real: Very few of us are actually living as imposed-authority-is-no-good anarchists, even in Trumpland 2018. Those who do identify as anarchists are too often leftist bros who had their girlfriend iron an anarchist patch onto their denim vests. Yes, I said it. So when I heard about relationship anarchy, I assumed these dudes had gone to Burning Man, learned about polyamory, and begun identifying as relationship anarchists as another way to use supposed self-reliance, leftist politics, and feminism to excuse their commitment issues and desire for multiple girlfriends. As I learned more about relationship anarchy, I came to see that it has its perks, even if the label is a little bit over the top. So, what does it mean?

RA uses anarchist concepts to deny hierarchy within relationships and forgo imposed expectations. Relationship anarchists don’t apply different values to their relationships: A relationship that is sexual doesn’t take priority over a relationship that is platonic. For a relationship anarchist, an intimate friendship, a sexual partner, and a roommate may all have equal weight and importance.

Additionally, relationship anarchists take things as they come and have no set expectations, unlike monogamous relationships and even most polyamorous ones: In polyamorous partnerships, there’s still an assumption that if you’re in love and partnered with someone, when you wake up tomorrow, they’ll still be there and accountable for you. Relationship anarchists don’t have that, but they’re not devoid of commitment. They just believe that all parties involved have total freedom and flexibility in what that commitment looks like.

Relationship anarchy is a label used by some polyamorous people, but not all relationship anarchists identify as polyamorists. “Hierarchical poly” is what most of us think of when we consider polyamory: In a hierarchical poly situation you have a primary partner, which is a relationship that may even appear monogamous to outsiders, but you also have secondary partners. “Solo poly,” in which all sexual partners are given equal standing, is probably the relationship format closest to relationship anarchy. However, relationship anarchy is not the same as solo polyamory, because RAs reject sex and romance as an inherent aspect of their partnerships (a solo poly person would probably not put their platonic roommate on the same pedestal as their sexual partners).

The term “relationship anarchy” was probably coined by Andie Nordgren, a Swedish activist who wrote the relationship anarchy manifesto in 2012. Nordgren explains that “love is abundant, and every relationship is unique.” Nordgren suggests that love is not a finite resource and asks you to “customize your commitments” and design your own relationship responsibilities based on desire rather than societal pressure. It sounds like it takes incredible trust, maturity, and a ton of work. But, then again, so do all successful relationships. I’m in a monogamous relationship, but I believe that we all have a lot to learn from the tenets of polyamory, from how polyamorists navigate jealousy to how they examine what binds you and your primary partner together beyond than sexual exclusivity (i.e. true love). And even if the name “relationship anarchist” makes your eyes to roll back into their sockets when you come across one on Tinder, you might be more of relationship anarchist than you think.

For instance: My boyfriend is my intimate partner, my bringer of orgasms, my trusted friend, and the person with whom I’m planning a shared life with. But I also have a best friend who lives next door to me and occasionally even spends the night in my bed, even though we don’t hook up. My other best friend is a woman I used to date and still love, but who is no longer a romantic or sexual partner. Likewise, my boyfriend has close and intimate friendships with people whom he was once sexually involved with. Despite our commitment to one another, we also give each another room for those other intimate relationships. Are we relationship anarchists tricking ourselves into believing we’re monogamous based on imposed societal structures?

The answer is no, but also sort of? In the relationship anarchy manifesto, Nordgren states: “Don’t rank and compare people and relationships—cherish the individual and your connection to them.” For many people, a commitment to a primary or monogamous partner best suits their desires and needs. Those people might read about “customizing their commitments” and feel that they have already done that by entering a monogamous relationship. But other people may read the relationship anarchy manifesto and feel like they’ve finally found a sensible way to balance all their relationships.

Whether you enjoy your relationships without hierarchy, or if you love the romance of committing yourself to one person who comes before everyone else, there’s one line from the relationship anarchy manifesto, in the section named “Trust is better,” that’s so soothing that I have to share it: “Choosing to assume that your partner does not wish you harm leads you down a much more positive path than a distrustful approach where you need to be constantly validated by the other person to trust that they are there with you in the relationship,” Nordgren writes. A toxic relationship trap many people fall into, which I am certainly guilty of, is assuming that my partner is going to betray me at some point. It’s a cynical, nasty, jealous place to be in. Could my partner truly love me, never wish me harm, and have my best interests in mind? That’s a really nice mindset. Relationship anarchists don’t disregard commitment; they just go about it very differently than monogamists do. Whether you think of your friends as being separate from your romantic partner, but not someone you’d walk down the aisle for (in relationship anarchy, it’s totally chill to marry a platonic partner), or want everyone to have the same power, imagine how healthy your relationships would be if you assumed that the people who loved us had our best interests in mind. Now that is radical.

3 Conversations You Should Have Before You Go Condom-Free

Another winner for GQ.com. Illustration by Cecile Dormeau. 

Many monogamous relationships grow from love. Many other, less lame monogamous relationships grow from a desire to stop using condoms. The DTR (define the relationship) conversation is a great time to talk about having unprotected sex, but the reverse is also true: A conversation about unprotected sex often leads to a conversation about Us. Physical sensation aside (going condom-free also feels fantastic for women), it’s a bonding experience. A newly condom-less relationship is cause for celebration. Forget wedding invites, start designing your invitations to your “we don’t use condoms anymore” dinner party. There’s emotional intimacy and a greater physical connection in becoming fluid-bonded, but that also means your genital germs are becoming your partner’s genital germs. For the sake of your relationship and the general public’s health, there are three conversations you must have before you toss out your rubbers.

1. Test Results

You have the right to do whatever you want with your body. You can get as many tattoos as you want and smoke as much weed as you want. Those things don’t really hurt anyone else, and they might even make you look really cool. But you gotta get tested. Talking about viruses and bacteria of the loins we may have picked up from sexual decisions past may make you squirm. The joy of being a grown-up is that we can drink beer, have sex, and stay up late, but the downside is we have to talk about the clap.

Worrying about your STI status is kind of like when you were a kid and you worried you’d get abducted by aliens. You probably thought you were the only freak kept up at night by that thought, but so was every other kid in the class. Rest assured your partner has not practiced perfectly safe sex his or her entire life either, so just take advantage of the mutual anxiety and say, “Let’s get tested, because I really want to make love to you without either of us having to stress about anything.” Skip the “I know I’m clean” route, without getting tested, because ya don’t know. It can also be a surprisingly romantic experience to get tested together. Go out for ramen after.

2. Birth Control

Some people think children are a source of love and joy, but I think babies are the most dangerous sexually transmitted infection of them all. They affect your lifestyle the most, they’re expensive, and they’re bad for the environment. I doubt you clicked on this article because you’re ready to become a parent, but if you have a functioning penis, you can make babies. Is she on the pill? Would a more long-term method be a better option, such as an IUD? Are you on the same page about reproductive rights? You don’t have to decide if you ever want to have kids there and then. Just check in with your lady lover with an easy “Are you happy with your birth control? Because as beautiful as our babies would be, I’m not there right now.” Offer to split the cost of her birth control. If she’s going to be the one dealing with side effects of hormonal birth control or the pain of an IUD insertion, it’s the polite thing to do.

3. Monogamy

Having sex only with each other, after getting tested and discussing birth control, is the safest way to bone without condoms—end of story. You just have to talk about it. If you know you’re into monogamy, say, “I’d love for us to only sleep with each other, how do you feel about that?” But that’s not always how it goes down. Some people prefer open relationships. If you’re non-monogamous but you want to talk about unprotected sex, say, “Hey, I trust you, so if you’re comfortable with it, I’d love to talk about us having sex without condoms.”

There are plenty of couples who agree to not use condoms with each other, but with anyone else. If you go this route, just please make sure that everyone else you’re sleeping with knows that you and your primary partner do it raw, so they can decide how they feel about that. Remember that some STIs, such as HPV and HSV (herpes), can still be transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, and that condoms only reduce the risk. Condom companies love to brag about how they are 98 percent effective, but that’s not factoring in human error.

 

TL; DR: If you’re in an open relationship, communicate with everyone and accept the risks before quitting condoms. If you’re monogamous, actually be monogamous. Cheating is always more trouble than it’s worth.

Yes, You Really Can Fracture a Penis — Here’s What That Means

It’s true! I wrote this for Allure.com. Image via Getty.

There are a lot of sexual myths out there, but doctors confirm that broken penises aren’t one of them. Remember when Lexie Grey supposedly broke Mark Sloan’s penis back when all our favorite characters on Grey’s Anatomy were still alive? Nope, Shonda Rhimes wasn’t making that up. While there aren’t actually bones in the penis, a penile fracture is a real-life injury. We spoke to several urologists to learn how it happens, what a broken penis looks like, and how to treat one.

What exactly is a fractured penis (often known as a “broken dick”)?

First, a quick refresher on what inside a penis can break in the first place: A penis contains two chambers of tissue called the corpus cavernosum, which fill with blood when the penis becomes erect.

Blunt force to an erect penis can tear the sheath surrounding these chambers (and even rupture the erectile tissue inside) so that the blood inside leaks out to other areas of the penis. If you need another visual, Alex Shteynshlyuger, a urologist in New York City, says to think of this covering less like a bone and “more like a sausage casing.” (Doctors, however, call the covering of the corpus cavernosum the “tunica albuginea.”)

How do penile fractures happen?

A penis can be broken during vigorous penetrative sex or through masturbation. When this happens during partnered sex involving a penis and vagina, “generally speaking, the penis will come out of the vagina and strike against the pubic bone,” says Leslie Deane, an associate professor of urology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

While a penis can fracture during sex in any position, research suggests that rear-entry positions such as doggy style may lead to penile fractures more often than others: A penis may be more likely to exit a vagina or anus entirely when thrusting from behind and then, instead of reentering, bang against something hard like the perineum. (If you’re an anal sex beginner, it’s important to take things slow — check out our anal sex prep tips right here.) Deane says penile fractures aren’t uncommon, and that he sees several cases a year. He adds that he observes higher rates of the injury around Valentine’s Day and that alcohol is sometimes involved.

What does a broken dick look like?

According to Stacy Loeb, an assistant professor of urology and population health at New York University, a penile fracture may be accompanied by a popping noise, a rapid loss of erection, and acute pain. “The penis may develop swelling and bruising, referred to as an ‘eggplant deformity,'” Loeb says. This means that the eggplant emoji isn’t totally off-base as a representation of dicks: It just looks like a broken one. Shteynshlyuger adds that some penile fractures lead to bleeding from the tip of the urethra and that patients may notice blood in their urine. If you’re having fun with a penis that suddenly “pops,” goes soft, and causes its owner immense pain, seek medical attention immediately. You might have a broken dick on your hands.

How is a broken penis treated?

Still reading? Good, because there’s some positive news: If treated, broken dicks stand a great chance of making a full recovery. Unfortunately, Deane says, surgery is required in most cases. While there are less severe penile injuries that can occur during sex, such as a tear of one of the superficial veins, the only way to know for sure what’s going on is to head to the emergency room.

It’s also important to do it fast: “Surgical repair of the tear usually results in good outcomes,” Shteynshlyuger emphasizes. However, “If a penile fracture is severe and not treated in a timely manner, it can lead to problems with obtaining or maintaining erections, [or] it may also cause scar formation in the penis and a condition called Peyronie’s disease, which causes curvature and deformity of the penis.”

After surgery to repair the ruptured “sausage casing” inside the penis, the recovering patient should be able to have sex again in about six to eight weeks, although Deane advises going slow at first. This doesn’t mean that wild, headboard-rattling sex is off the table after a penile fracture, but it’s not a bad idea for patients to ease their way back in.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Post-Hookup Etiquette

A must-read for men. Originally published at GQ.com. illustration by Cecile Dormeau. 

You’ve probably done a lot of research on what to do during sex. Which is to say, you’ve probably watched a lot of porn. But porn doesn’t teach you much about what to do after you’re done hooking up (usually in porn they just do more sex). When a new lady in your life invites you back to her place, there is post-coital etiquette you must follow to show that you are not only a good lover but also a decent human. So read on to learn how to politely dispose of condoms, when to head back to your place, and why you must text the next day—even if it’s just a one-night stand.

When can I go home?

To spend the night or not spend the night post-smashing is a personal decision. As an insomniac, I empathize with people who don’t spend the night after sex. Plus, I have cats. I don’t bring my Ambien with me or leave out food for my cats unless I want to marry you or, like, you flew me to an Airbnb in Paris. Try to make it clear, before you go home together, that you’re not staying over. If she invites you over but you know you want to sleep in your own bed, just say, “I’d love to come back with you, but I have to get up early for work and have trouble sleeping in new places. Do you mind if I don’t spend the night?” If you’re sincere, it shows. After sex, cuddle and bask in the afterglow. Talk. When your heartbeat has returned to resting and you’re both getting sleepy, say something like, “I had a wonderful time with you. I’m going to head back to my place now, but I’ll text you later.” Leave, and actually text her. Add a rose emoji.

What if I want to sleep over?

Ask her if she’s cool with it.

What if she has roommates?

Good for her, she sounds like a hardworking and self-sufficient woman without a trust fund. Her roommates are adults and they know the drill: You’re the boy who just banged their friend. Put on a shirt (yes, even you, you gym rat) on your way to the bathroom. Smile and wave. You can say, “Hi, I’m Pat” (or whatever). But don’t make it weird. Don’t try to be cute or chime in on what’s going on if they have Riverdale on. Just smile and pee (in the bathroom, with your shirt on). PUT THE SEAT DOWN.

What do I do with the condom(s)?

Don’t just yank the condom off and throw it on the ground like a child angry at a tie his mother made him wear to church. Definitely don’t flush it down the toilet, because that could clog her pipes (keep that for the bedroom, heh heh). Tie the condom up so your manly expulsions don’t spill everywhere, and throw it in the trash like an adult.

What if I want to take a shower?

If you’re a Virgo or a Catholic, you might be itching to shower after sex. But don’t bounce off to the shower the second you pull out. That will make your bedfellow feel like a used receptacle instead of a wanton sex goddess. Don’t shower alone at her place, either. It reeks of “I’m going home to my wife.” Why not extend the naked time and shower together? If you’re tuckered out, you don’t have to bone again, just scrub-a-dub-dub and then return to bed so fresh and so clean.

What do I do the next day?

Text her. Yes, even if it was casual. Yes, even if it’s a one-night stand. Why? Because intimacy is not exclusive to “serious” relationships. Casual sex, when done properly, is insanely hot and lustful but still intimate and respectful. You just have to be an adult about it, and understand that the person you’re boning is also an adult with thoughts and feelings. So text her to check in, to simply say you had a nice time, to ask if the hand prints from the spanking are still there, or to ask her out again.

WHY DO MEN LOVE SAD GIRLS?

I wrote this for Harper’s Bazaar. Image courtesy of Paramount. 

“You were so frail that you looked like you would just float away.”

My ex-boyfriend says he fell in love with me that day, as I sat saturated in sadness reading the Buddhist recovery memoir Dharma Punx, wearing a ripped Diane Von Furstenberg dress and the label of Major Depressive Disorder. The dress had torn during a date rape when I first moved to New York, but I continued to wear it years later because I loved it. And like some perverse attraction to dating a depressed girl, men flocked to me because of it.

It’s a trope that pop culture loves to depict (The Virgin Suicides, Prozac Nation, and Girl: Interrupted, among others). But for me, a bisexual and queer woman who at the time was primarily dating cis-gendered straight men, it meant a stream of partners being attracted to, and enjoying, my inability to stand up for myself: an excuse to sleep with a “beautifully fragile” woman who would not ask for much in return.

The fact that an aura of sadness can attract partners is not uncommon. On average, men find women with some psychological vulnerability more attractive, according to a 2012 University of Texas at Austin study which looked at the connection between sexual exploitability and sexual attraction. This is not necessarily problematic, explained clinical psychologist and relationship expert Barbara Greenberg, but it can become a substantial cause for concern for those experiencing severe suffering who may be less likely to protect themselves. This can often appeal to the wrong type of men.

Most of my lovers during this time didn’t know what to do with me, and I allowed those who loved and made love to me to treat me with limited deference. I later found out this can be a typical occurrence for people who are depressed. “A lack of respect can be tolerated when a person is down,” noted Dr. Greenberg. “They may not be aware of self-protection because they are so hungry for validation wherever they can find it. We are worried about the predators who come at it from a place of bad intention—a person who probably has either a narcissistic or antisocial personality, somebody who lacks empathy.”

Indeed, one of the most twisted guys I dated during my lowest was a man whose label read “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” He wore it loudly through lies, a lack of empathy, and eventually, verbal abuse. Those with mental disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorders and Antisocial Personality Disorder are especially eager to take advantage of someone who is depressed because it’s all about their needs. Diagnosis of personality disorders is controversial (it’s a bit twisted to tell someone that their personality is a disorder), but people with limited or nonexistent empathy certainly exist, in my experience.

Essentially, my radar for picking well-meaning partners was broken because my self-esteem had gone dry. Within the span of a few months, I was sexually assaulted (again), my parents divorced, and I left a long-term cohabiting relationship. I moved to Brooklyn and simultaneously gave up alcohol in an attempt to start over. But the combination of leaving a relationship in which we shared many mutual friends, and no longer socializing in bars, dissolved many of my friendships. The isolating side effect of depression didn’t make finding new friends easier. I hadn’t yet learned nourishing coping mechanisms; so rather than focus on healing myself through therapy, creative outlets, and new friendships, I poured myself into sexual and (questionable) romantic relationships with lovers who didn’t treat me with the care that I needed. The effect was cyclical. I would feel worse when a partner put me down or used me for sex, leaving me to seek validation in other men—and during this time, they were always so easy to find.

The other type of problematic partner one encounters while living with depression is the savior. In cinematic portrayals of love and depression, the sad girl’s partner usually has good intentions. They want to rescue her. The trouble is, you can set groundwork for a relationship dynamic that is difficult to unweave later, says New York City-based sex therapist Kelly Wise. When the depressed partner begins to recover and gain autonomy, the “savior” partner may find themselves uncomfortable with the new power balance.

Still, there are partners who genuinely care. However as my friend Ashley, who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder and wished only to use her first name, explained: “After a while, they give up. One of my exes broke up with me because he said I was bringing him down and he couldn’t handle my breakdowns anymore.” It took years before Ashley learned to avoid partners ill-equipped to deal with depression by being honest and upfront about her own situation.

Of course, dating with depression is very different when you’re in a long-term relationship than when you’re single. A reliable, committed partner will educate themselves about their significant other’s sickness (and yes, depression is a sickness, not a moral failing) and learn how to be supportive. Those with depression may experience it again in their lifetime, Dr. Greenberg reminded, which is why she advises being honest about your mental health history with partners.

A supportive community along with self-care during periods of depression can also help you tune into your needs, and as a result, sniff out the bad guys. With the support of friends, family, and sometimes therapy, you’re less likely to rely on unhealthy partners as a means of companionship. “You need to have your radar up, and if your radar is not operating properly then you need to operate on the radar of people who love you. Rely on the radar of your friends and rely on the radar of your therapist because yours is probably not as sharp when you’re depressed,” explained Dr. Greenberg.

Eventually, I got better and gained the self-realization and strength to untangle myself from unhealthy relationship patterns. I was able to heal through therapy, antidepressants, and the self-care of beauty routines. Perhaps most importantly, I built up friendships and community that provided love, support, and companionship without expectations of sex.

I know the demons I saw still exist, I simply now understand how to slay them. Recently, due to personal changes and the political climate, I, like many others, caught another whiff of depression. So I continue to work hard while making time for self-care, which for me, looks like splurging on a good massage followed by a night of reading, or watching Shonda Rhimes. As a single person, since many of my demons did arise from sexual assault and abuse, I now make sure to let lovers know when I need some time and space. And I’ve noticed that people with an honest interest in my well-being are very understanding when I express that need.

I acknowledge the part of myself that was once completely convinced that my existence was meaningless, however I’m also able to decide that even when living seems hard, the moments of joy make the moments of misery worth it. Believing in magic is more fun than believing in nothingness. And when it comes from a healthy place with worthy partners, having good sex and falling in love is one of the most delicious ways to revel in the joy of being.

An Ode to the Misunderstood Beauty of the Tramp Stamp

Please read this. It is important!

Originally published in Broadly, Photo by Evil Pixels. 

I faced backward with my legs splayed open like Britney Spears in her “Stronger” music video. Behind me crouched Tessa BX of Gnostic Tattoo, who was adorning my lower back with my 11th tattoo—colloquially known as a “tramp stamp.” Spears also has one; hers is a fairy. (I was getting a snake, based on a piece by one of my favorite artists, Alejandra Sáenz.) Much like Spears’ infamous 2007 meltdown (which in my opinion was a valid mental reaction to her circumstances and metal as fuck), the lower back tattoo is largely—and unfairly—viewed by society as trashy and even tragic.

Women in Western society began inscribing ink on their lower back in the late 1980s, according to Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman, tattoo historian and director of the Center for Tattoo History and Culture. “Due to lingering mid-century stigmas about tattoos, they wanted to get them in a place that was easily concealed,” she explains. Jill Jordan, one of the most well-known female tattoo artists to emerge in the 1980s, called them the “chick spot,” according to Margot Mifflin in Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. The trend crept into the early 1990s as more women started getting tattoos and by the mid-90s, the tattoo’s popularity soared due to an influx of tattoo magazines featuring models with lower back ink.

I recall growing up during this time and hearing men refer to the tattoo as a “target” or “bull’s eye,” insinuating it was the sign of a slut and that the bearer was “easy.” While I’m sure some women have gotten tattoos to lure lovers, body modifications from makeup to cosmetic surgery are choices women make to feel more powerful or comfortable in their body. “Tattoos appeal to contemporary women both as emblems of empowerment in an era of feminist gains and as badges of self-determination at a time when controversies about abortion rights, date rape, and sexual harassment have made them think hard about who controls their bodies—and why,” Mifflin writes. But our patriarchal society assumes women’s body modifications are less about their own agency and more about catering to men’s preferences, so women with lower back tattoos are simultaneously sexualized and shamed.

Selecting the image and placement for a tattoo is personal. It’s a decision rooted in reasons ranging from healing after sexual assault to simply wanting something pretty to adorn your body. In Bodies of Subversion, Jordan says that lower back tattoos are “a tremendously sexy and really flattering way to be tattooed—it just narrows your waist.” In The Witch’s Book of Power , professional witch Devin Hunter writes that the primal soul “sits within the lower soul of our being” and explains that in dharma, a concept with multiple meanings in Indian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, a “giant serpent known as Kundalini lies coiled within our root chakra, acting only out of primal instinct.” Kundalini deals with basic life energy, or prana, writes Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa in Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power .

I wanted a tramp stamp of a snake to commemorate a time in my life when I was unchaining myself from patriarchal restrictions like toxic relationships and finding my authentic self. The snake imagery and body placement represented my primal self and “living deliciously,” like Eve accepting forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The tail of my tattoo begins at the root chakra but the rest lies mostly on the second chakra, like all lower back tattoos. While the root chakra represents primal energy, security, and survival, the second chakra represents sexual energy (and is located by our reproductive organs). “That area is sacred; it’s called sacrum for a reason” says Ashlee Davis, a Kundalini yoga instructor and holistic health coach that specializes in helping clients that struggle with emotional eating and body image.

Before the boom of ’90s tramp stamps, 20th century examples of lower back tattoos could be found as early as 1937. In an article titled “Tattooing Among the Arabs of Iraq,” originally published in American Anthropologist by Winifred Smeaton and republished in The Tattoo History Source Book . Smeaton writes of a midwife from Al-Kadhimain (a Northern area of Baghdad) who he called “one of the best informants on the magical aspects of tattooing.” The woman, who Smeaton did not name in his ethnography, explained the practice of tattooing a small design of three to five dots on women’s lower backs “just above the buttocks” as a fertility ritual to ensure childbearing.

By 2000, when Spears and her fairy tattoo were owning a chair in “Stronger,” the tramp stamp began falling out of fashion, says Dr Friedman. “When low-rise jeans exploded around the year 2000, making these tattoos very visible, it clinched the association with slutty sexuality,” she explained. Mifflin writes that by the new millennium the “chick spot became the tramp stamp and lost its charm.” When I asked Dr. Friedman for a contemporary equivalent of a ’90s tramp stamp, she answered rib cage tattoos. While speaking with Tessa prior to my appointment, she said that one of the most popular tattoos for women is the feather, so the butterfly above the butt has given way to the feather on the ribcage.

“I have done fewer lower back tattoos than I have forearm tattoos or other places, but since I’ve grown up, that’s always been a stigma. It’s a ‘ tramp stamp.’ From someone that loves tattoos, both giving and receiving, I find it hard to have an opinion about the placement of a tattoo,” Tessa says. As she inscribed a snake on my lower back, it made me feel protected and powerful, and I wondered if Britney felt a similar kinship to her fairy. (I hope so.)

While I (and the rest of the tattoo community) strongly advise against getting a paramour’s name tattooed on your body, the rest is up to you. Good luck trying to shame me for my tramp stamp—my snake has charm, and the 90s are back in fashion.