love

Are Some People Just Slapping the “Poly” Label on Their Cheating?

This article was originally published in Playboy.

Image courtesy of Playboy. 

“I’d been spending time intimately with someone on multiple occasions when I learned he had a girlfriend,” says Melissa Vitale, a New York City-based publicist. He said that his relationship was open and that he was “ethically non-monogamous.” As it turned out, Vitale’s lover’s girlfriend was not aware that he was sleeping with others under the false label of ethical non-monogamy. “I later found out that he was full of shit. He’s just a small man who cheats on his beautiful girlfriend,” Vitale says.

New York magazine reported in 2017 that 20 percent of Americans had practiced polyamory at some point in their lives. As a side effect of the normalization, are more people not only misusing the term, but using it as an excuse for bad behavior—therefore stigmatizing non-traditional relationships and stomping on the hard work advocates have done to help normalize such relationships in the first place?

Anyone who has spent time on a dating app recently has likely noticed a rise in people identifying as ethically non-monogamous and polyamorous. The Latin translation of polyamory is “many loves,” and polyamorous people don’t just have sex with, but date and love more than one person. Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy, but the two words are not interchangeable. Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for open relationships formed on consent, trust, and honesty, and includes polyamory, swinging, and relationships in which a couple is emotionally exclusive but occasionally sleeps with others.

We see non-monogamy within “monogamous” relationships in the common practice known as cheating. Some people who cheat get off on the secrecy and sneaking that accompanies seeing someone behind their partner’s back. “Sometimes people get off on lying, that is their fetish,” says sex therapist Dr. Denise Renye. If you’re in an open relationship and wish to integrate secrecy into your sexual encounters, you can consensually negotiate that with your partner. “Most things are possible as long as consent is present. If the consent is not present, this completely clashes with the principles of ethical non-monogamy,” Dr. Renye says.

However, some folks seem to have attended Burning Man once, learned the word “polyamory,” stuck it on their Tinder bio, yet continued to date in a manner that involves non-consensual lies and secrecy. When they’re called out, they throw up their hands and say, I told you that I was poly! “They are attempting to sugarcoat their cheating styles. I do not necessarily think that people always know what they are talking about,” says sex educator Jimanekia Eborn.

Some folks, such as Vitale’s lover, may use words like “ethically non-monogamous” to cover up bad behavior. Others may simply be brand new to the poly lifestyle and in need of an education. “Do you even know who you are? Or do you know what kind of relationships actually work for you? You can also be hurting yourself in the process,” Eborn says. If you’ve serially failed at monogamy, it’s an exciting time when you learn about other options. You may feel eager to update your dating profile and embrace a new lifestyle. However, first, you have to do your research. To start, what kind of open relationship do you want? Do you want a relationship with a “primary” partner, with an option to sleep with other people? Do you want to date other people? Or do you want to be “solo poly,” in which all partners are on an equal playing field, and there’s no hierarchy?

Zachary Zane, a New York City-based writer, dated a woman who identified as poly, but did not live by its principals. “She would start dating someone new and completely forget about her previous partners. While all of us in the poly world cut a partner some slack when they start dating someone new and are in the midst of NRE [a poly expression for new relationship energy, or the giddy rush of joy you experience when you first start seeing someone], she never seemed to get over the NRE—until she found someone new and then forgot about her previous partner(s) all together,” Zane says.

It does not feel good to have a partner drop you the moment they meet someone new. You can avoid such misunderstandings by taking the time to think about what you’re truly looking for: one partner, multiple partners, or just multiple partners until you fall in love? Polyamory means many things to different people. For some, their relationship format changes depending on circumstance and partner(s). For others, it remains rigid and feels more like an orientation.

“A lot of us have been trained from the mainstream model to not ask tough questions about what realistically are you looking for, what are you available for, and what does your model for this kind of relationship look like?” says sex-positive psychologist Dr. Liz Powell. If you’re in a period of your life in which you want to be poly, but feel you may end up in a monogamous set-up one day, one argument is that it’s better to just identify as single. However, as long as you’re honest, you can identify however you want.

The plus side to identifying as open or poly, even if you may not always be that way, is the transparency. If you tell multiple partners that yes, there are others, and no, it won’t just be you right now, you don’t have to worry about hurting feelings with false pretenses. However, if you’re dating other poly people, you do have a responsibility to talk about what that word means to you. While it can be flexible to you, it may be a lifelong lifestyle to another, and vice-versa.

Any relationship, but especially relationships that involve more than two people, demand honest communication. That communication must begin with yourself, so you can clearly express your needs to other partners. That being said, dating is messy, and it takes trial and error to know what works best for you. The hard truth is, that while yes, there are some bad apples intentionally misusing words like “poly;” hurt feelings, learning curves and miscommunication are part of all relationships—including ethically non-monogamous ones.

“We’re reaching a point culturally where there are enough people being non-monogamous that folks are starting to use that label inappropriately, and that’s going to happen with any label,” Dr. Powell says. There’s a term known as “poly preaching,” which refers to poly people taking on an enlightened attitude that they date the way that humans are meant to—that it’s more intelligent than monogamy. While that is true for some, it doesn’t mean that poly people don’t mess up. And they should be allowed to.

“I think non-monogamous communities sometimes like to think of themselves as these like beautiful utopias full of enlightened people, who never have relationship drama. They only have relationships made completely of love and free of jealousy and fear. And that’s just not real. I’ve been non-monogamous on and off for 18 years, and I still have issues sometimes. We are all imperfect, messy humans,” Dr. Powell says. The key to being an ethical messy person, and not a harmful one, is honesty.

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AN ODE TO OUR BRAZILIAN SEA CAPTAIN

This was originally published in Off Assignment.

When I was a child, I spent my weekends on my family’s speedboat until it sunk in a hurricane and was gone forever. We lived on an island in the Caribbean and would all board the boat, my dad acting as the captain. We spent our days in search of the perfect beach. I remember the bounce of the boat against the waves as we drove faster and faster. The motion of the boat against the ocean imprinted into my body, and even after I got home, and went to bed, I could still feel the currents in my body as I fell asleep.

About two decades later, you took me to an island in Brazil. When we got to the house we were renting, and I saw the view, I sobbed. The Caribbean child in me felt cheated. I thought I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world. But the view from what was our home, for a brief moment in time, was so beautiful I didn’t know how to process it. Everything felt amplified, from the magnitude of the rocks that met the sea, to the depth of the ocean I knew existed, containing an imagination’s worth of creatures. In the distance was an island, that I’ve heard of on nature documentaries, where only snakes live. Even researchers and the best scientists are scared to go there. I began to cry. I didn’t know such beauty could exist. When the sun set, which we watched from a volcanic rock, that hurt to sit on and buzzed with mosquitos, I learned that even the cockroaches glowed at night, like fireflies. Even the coarseness of the rock and the cockroaches I found magnificent. I now know, that while views from Brazilian islands are indeed one of a kind, what made this moment in time so beautiful was that I was there with you.

You asked me what I wanted to do while on the island, and I told you that I wanted to go on a speedboat. You said yes and made my dreams come true. As a child, after our boat sunk, I didn’t know the next time I would get to ride on a speedboat in paradise, but you made it happen. You were very good at making me believe in the impossible.

The boat we rented for the day came with a captain. He was young, Brazilian, and reminded me of my childhood friends. While I moved to New York, so many people I grew up with stayed in the Caribbean, working today as speed boat captains, driving around tourists. The captain barely spoke English, and neither of us spoke Portuguese. We sat in the back of the boat. I snuggled into your lap, and you put your arms around me. The boat captain took off and sped, sped, sped, and I felt the impact of the boat hitting the waves again, but this time I was with you. I was so happy. Life can be so cruel I often wonder how any of us get through it. But every now and then, if you’re very fortunate, you have a day like we did in Brazil on the boat with the sea captain. The real sting is not from the mosquitoes, but that when you’re there, you don’t realize just how lucky you are.

As the sea captain drove us along the coast of the island, every time he passed a beach, he pointed, to ask if we wanted to stop there. We shook our heads until we reached the first beach that you couldn’t get to by land. It was a tiny inlet, with dark caramel-colored sand, so different from than the white sand tourist beaches lined with beach chairs. But it was exactly what we wanted.

We had a plan to make love on the secret beach. We wanted to make love in a place we’d never be again, that most humans don’t even know exists. We wanted to consecrate the day. So, when the sea captain joined us in jumping off the boat and swimming to the sand, we were annoyed. There were huge, lush, green trees of the jungle all around. The swim into the small beach was cold, as the salt water mingled with the cool fresh water coming from a stream that cut through the beach. There were mosquitoes everywhere, giant ones, with suckers so big you could feel when they bit and penetrated your skin.

You and I swam through the spring water. We walked with careful balance along a fallen tree trunk. The brown beach, with the fresh water spring cutting through it, opened up into a jungle filled with mysteries (I envisioned tree snakes) and you could spot some spiders on the rocks that jutted out here and there. It wasn’t the most comfortable beach, with cold water and plenty of mosquitoes, and it was obviously ruled by nature, not by humans. You could tell people rarely visited it. While we kissed in the cold water, too in love to mind the bug bites, our sea captain went on his own exploration. He seemed as taken and mystified by the secret beach as us. He walked into the jungle, he stopped to examine plants, and other than the occasional eye contact, nod, and a smile, he left us alone to be in love. I no longer resented him for joining us and ruining our plans to make love, because I felt glad that he too appreciated the magic of our beach of choice.

Eventually, it got too chilly, the bug bites were too intense, and it was time to swim back to the boat. Before we left, I found a sharp stick and carved our names into a rock. I wonder if they are still there. On the ride back to town, I put myself back in your lap, and we watched the sea captain. When other boats passed us, he seemed to know their captains and raced with his friends. He was having fun. To us, it was our day, but he made it a day for himself as well, and I admired that.

When he dropped us back off at shore, it began to storm. The portable credit card machine the boat rental company used wasn’t working, so I waggled my fingers over it pretending to cast a spell. The machine started working, and you told me I was magic. Is magic real? That day I believed so, and I seemed to make you believe in magic as well. Ours was a love so unique it only could exist if magic were real. The sea captain got back on the boat, sped away, and we’ll never see him again.

Many moons later, I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, either. That day turned to storms, and so did we. Unfortunately, days like the one with the boat captain only glow in full force when compared to the darkness that follows. We left Brazil. Me and you, the white girl from the Caribbean and the Syrian man, came back to America. I know I will never understand how difficult it is to be a Syrian living in America, and for that, I am sorry, for all the times I couldn’t give you what you needed. People we loved died. Literal bombs fell in your country. I survived a shooting while visiting my hurricane-stricken homeland, and I understand compared to you, even to visit to my childhood places left in ruins is a luxury. Depression came back. I hurt myself. You hurt me. I disappointed you. And then when I needed you most you ended it, but not for lack of love. Pressure, obligations, and hard truths piled up and up until something had to give, and that was us.

You shattered my heart, and I found myself spinning, wondering if the magic and the love was just a dream, an illusion, and escape from reality. I hated you. I hated the day with the boat captain and the rock still standing with our names on it because I couldn’t have it again. I wish I could twirl my fingers and fix the world like I seemingly fixed the credit card machine. I can’t, but I can choose to continue to love you, even when I have no idea where you are, and think fondly of the cock-blocking sea captain, and imagine what all those snakes are up to on their own private island. All the reasons you gave me are sensible ones. But I keep thinking of those rebellious snakes, who in a world in which humans rule everything, managed to take over their own untouchable island, and I wonder why couldn’t we.

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.

What to Say When Your Girlfriend Gets Cosmetic Surgery

Read my sexy lips.

This article was originally published in GQ. Illustration by Cecile Dormeau. 

Recently I got lip fillers. I did it for myself, not “for a guy,” and my new lips look great (they look like my usual lips, but fuller and with a little Cupid’s bow). But when I told the men in my life what I was up to, they didn’t really know what to do with it.

From Donald Trump’s sexist tweet about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s supposed facelift to Rob Kardashian’s bizarre social-media meltdown about Blac Chyna’s plastic surgery, there are a lot of examples of how not to speak to and about women who elect to get cosmetic procedures. Maybe you’d be stoked if your girlfriend announced that she wanted to get work done. But you might also feel apprehensive, especially if your lady is planning a nose job or a breast augmentation, more drastic procedures that require anesthesia. You respect her and you love the way she looks already, and that’s beautiful. But when she brings up getting work done, give her the benefit of the doubt: Trust that she’s put thought into this and done her research. If all she wants is a little Botox or lip fillers, chill. Ask her why she wants it done, and listen. Express your thoughts and concerns, but at the end of the day, it’s her body and her choice. Ultimately, you should support it. It might end up turning you on.

Don’t be like Donald and Rob—here’s what to say and do to be supportive each step of the way:

Before: Don’t Overdo It

“You’re beautiful just the way you are,” is at its core a supportive sentiment, and an important (albeit Bruno Mars-y) one. However, if your partner is telling you that she wants work done, please don’t undermine her intelligence and right to choose her own aesthetic by defaulting to praises of natural beauty. I, for instance, already have pink hair and eyelash extensions. Whenever a dude waxes poetic about how lovely I’d look if I let the pink wash out and opted for my natural brown hair, I feel like he’s undermining my decisions. I don’t feel like myself with long brown hair, I feel like myself with a messy magenta bob, damnit! The same goes for getting work done. When I first announced that I was going to get lip fillers, one guy said something mean about how I “just wanted to feel better about myself.” Well, in a sense, yeah—I wanted them because I enjoy feeling hot and powerful and I like how they look. Please don’t patronize me, or any woman, by assuming the desire to get work done is to fill some soul hole. Respect that this is my body, my choice, and my money, and if I want some Lana Del Rey-esque pouty lips, then that’s up to me. Don’t assume or say anything that infantilizes a woman’s choices about her body. And for fuck’s sake, don’t say something plain mean like “that’s gross,” because I know you follow Kylie Jenner on Instagram.

During: Be There in Person or in Texts

If your lady is getting something done that requires anesthesia, such as a nose or boob job, it might be nice to go with her, but injections are so quick that it’s not necessary. If you can’t join her on her beauty expedition, encourage her the day of and check in throughout in a supportive—but not annoying—manner. She’s about to experience a teeny bit of pain. Feel free to ask her, “Does it hurt?” and then laud women for having such high pain tolerance. Sitting in a comfy chair in Dr. Dara Liotta’s pristine Manhattan office, I loved getting my lips done. I have ten tattoos and enjoy BDSM so I may not be the best judge of pain threshold, but injections are truly no biggie. If you’re curious and want a fair comparison, I went to the dentist earlier that week and that sucked a million times more. Dr. Liotta’s office was sexy. Getting work done really does feel sexy, so totally amp that up—either verbally, if she allows you to accompany her, or through texts. Ask her things like, “How you holding up, champ?” or joke around about celebrity sightings. Truly the best things you can say during the procedure are words of encouragement, such as: “You got this! You’re going to look even hotter, if that’s possible.” Those newly plumped lips will reward you.

After: Give Her Soup and Space

If you want to score all the points after her procedure, bring her things like delicious soup, frozen yogurt, and ice packs. Snuggle up with movies or a House of Cards binge-watching session. Know that she may not be able to continue a conversation because her lips are sore. And if she wants space, give her space. Regarding lip augmentation, it takes a day or so to go from swollen to sexy—for other procedures it can take a lot longer. You know in High Fidelity, when John Cusack talks about his girlfriend’s plain cotton underwear “hanging on the thing,” and how there are parts of intimacy that aren’t inherently sexy? John Cusack fantasizes about other women, knowing that they too probably have cotton panties, but he only sees them in lingerie. Your girlfriend might not want to taint the sexy intimacy with this moment of puffy-lipped un-sexy intimacy. If you are allowed over to watch her attempt post-procedure ramen slurping, make sure she’s comfy, and if you make any jokes about how she looks puffy, do it with love. And then, yes: Please let go of any hang-ups you might have, and enjoy her beautiful newly plumped lips, which she elected to get done just because she wanted to. Since you’ve been so supportive of her choices you get to have fun with those suckers!

Kitchen Witches Are Brewing Lube for the Bedroom

This article originally appeared in VICE Broadly.

In the intersection of kitchen witchery and kink, magical women are brewing balms, ointments, potions, and lotions, which they bring into the bedroom for BDSM purposes and in lieu of mainstream oils and lubes. While Judeo-Christian traditions carry shame around sex, pagan traditions celebrate it, as many view sexuality and spirituality as one of the same.

“Sexual intimacy can be used as a ritual representation of the fertility of Earth and Goddess when celebrating the cycles of seasons; as a spontaneous reaction to psychic energy either during ritual, meditation, or spell work; or a consenting form of kink as energy play between two or more people,” says Arwen, a 23-year-old Neo-Druid from Orange, California.

Considering the overlap between sexuality and spirituality, it makes sense that self-identified witches are combining nature with their sex lives. “My work with salves is a big part of my life,” says Gg Irkalla, a 29-year-old artist from Olympia, Washington. “A few years ago, I was part of a sacred whore temple wherein there were bowls of coconut oil. It’s terrible for toys and condoms, but amazing for everything else—especially massages, healing work, and skin health.” She defines witchcraft as “not tidy maypole ceremonies in someone’s backyard in the suburbs, while Enya plays timidly in the background. It’s hashish, opium, Adderall, cocaine, anal sex, BDSM, sex work, sorcery, ordeal, and holy rage.”

Stepping outside of the magical lens, kinky people use plants through figging, the act of placing of piece of ginger in an orifice. “[Figging is] often used in D/S [dominance and submission] dynamics and as part of other aspects of intense sensation play, as it creates burning sensation,” explains Dr. Michael Aaron, a NYC-based sex therapist and author of the upcoming book Modern Sexuality. “Some folks’ fetish involves molding it into butt plug shape; it’s important to have some form of handle to retrieve it.” (He advises keeping figging confined to ass play due to the vagina’s particular pH balance.)

When using any essential oil that can cause burning sensations, it’s important to dilute the oil to prevent skin damage. “You definitely need some sort of carrier oil. It could be a sweet almond oil, or a fractionated coconut oil, whatever kind of scent draws you in. There are good things like sesame oil, grape seed oil, wheat germ oil—the list goes on,” says Sheeba, a 31-year-old energy healer from Portland, Oregon.

While drugstore brands such as KY sell warming oils, many women are more interested in a natural and homemade concoction. Sheeba recommends cinnamon oil, which creates a burning sensation and holds an association with the goddessesVenus and Aphrodite. In her own BDSM scenes, Sheeba often uses thieves oil, a blend of clove, lemon, rosemary, cinnamon, and eucalyptus, as part of CBT, a.k.a. cock and ball torture.

“We used thieves oil on the top of [one of my sex partners’] penis and around the head. I have this really mean clip that fit all the way around the tip of his penis,” Sheeba says. “Some of where his extreme pleasure comes from was from that extra sensitivity from the oils and that constriction.”

For cooling oils to soothe oneself after BDSM play, Arwen enjoys a concoction of Calendula, a healing oil associated with love, blended with olive oil for both aftercare and massage. “Steeping Calendula in olive oil in the light of the sun imbues the chemical compounds and energy of the plant to create a healing oil to anoint during ritual or to soothe the body after impact play,” Arwen explains to Broadly.

Other magical women, such as crystal healer Katie Manzella, turn to aloe, coconut, and CBD oil for sex. “When I make love, I find the aloe vera plant to serve as a wonderful way to enhance the experience. Usually I don’t need its assistance, but it’s always fun to work with plants to make life more magical and healthy,” Manzella says. “Coconut and CBD oil is wonderful too!”

Lube has other important mystical uses as well: It’s important to remember it when integrating stone magic into your sex life. Vanessa Cuccia, the creator of Chakrubs, a line of sexual wellness products made from 100 percent mother crystal, recommends using coconut oil when using a rose quartz dildo. “Especially when somebody is making it themselves, I think that makes it more special,” Cuccia says. “When you’re making it yourself—that work that’s going into it, that you’re going to appreciate so much more.”

Coconut oil comes with one downside, however. As Irkalla mentioned, the oil is not latex friendly. If you’re looking for an organic lube to use with condoms, stick with something like Good Clean Love.

Simply creating your own massage oil or BDSM tool from plant ingredients found in your home can make you feel like a crafty kitchen witch, but the true magic is the power and healing that takes place when sex and spirituality meet. “Whatever you are doing can be seen as spiritual no matter how kinky it is, as long as you’re understanding that what you are doing is sacred,” Cuccia says.

When consulting with clients interested in Chakrubs, she will work individually to find the right crystal catered to individual healing. “Bodies carry a lot of hurt, trauma, and loneliness,” Irkalla says. “Sacred sex is a vital tool for addressing these issues.”

Why Do So Many Women Feel Sad After Sex?

Repost of an article I originally wrote for Mic Connections. Photo courtesy of Mic/Getty Images.

The last time I cried after sex was during a summer fling I wasn’t totally into, about a year and a half ago. The sex was consensual, but all of a sudden, while he was on top of me, my flight-or-flight instinct kicked in. I had to ask him to stop before tears came.

This wasn’t a first-time experience. I live with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by sexual assault, which means I sometimes have panic attacks during sex, which can sometimes end in tears. But according to a paper recently published in the journal Sexual Medicine, I’m not alone.

According to the study, nearly 46% of the more than 230 women polled have felt depressed after sex at some point during their lives. These women reported feeling symptoms of PCD, or postcoital dysphoria, which is marked by “tearfulness, anxiety, agitation, a sense of melancholy or depression or aggression,” according to the Independent. Of those women, 2% said they felt that way after every time they had sex. And although 20% of the women polled said they had experienced sexual abuse in the past, which led to them developing mental health issues down the road, many of those surveyed didn’t report having a preexisting condition like PTSD to explain their symptoms. 

Why the hell are so many women feeling sad after sex? The PCD study had some obvious flaws. For instance, the results were collected through an online survey, and the sample size included predominantly heterosexual women. But this is not the first time researchers have tried to link sex to sadness in women. A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health found one-third of women said they felt depressed even after satisfactory sex.

Jerilyn, 27, is one of them. “Even when I was single, the post-sex depression morphed into a different shade of empty. I always attributed it to the fear of being abandoned,” she told Mic. “I started to wonder if something was being taken from me every time I had sex, even though I enjoyed the act itself.”

Researchers theorized this post-sex dysphoria was caused by hormonal shifts after orgasm. But according to sex and relationship expert Logan Levkoff, the reason might have less to do with biology and more to do with how women’s sexuality is viewed in modern society.

“I think it’s important to remember that if you grow up not feeling empowered by your body, if you feel guilt and shame about sex, if you’ve been taught that your needs are less important than a man’s needs … [it’s not a] surprise that some people wouldn’t feel great after sex,” Levkoff told Mic.

According to Levkoff, part of why women might feel down after getting laid is that their needs weren’t met in bed, a phenomenon linked to how our culture teaches women about their sexual desires. While many men believe that women can achieve orgasm via penetration alone, according to one study, about 75% of women need some form of clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm.

If their partners aren’t interested in paying attention to their desires, it’s no surprise that women would feel frustrated or emotionally drained after sex. “I think that the take-home message has a lot to do with how we learned about sex [and] how we feel about our bodies,” Levkoff said.

Playing into stereotypes: Possible causes of PCD aside, it’s worth noting that the study could be interpreted as perpetuating the idea that women are more biologically predisposed than men to becoming emotionally attachedto their partners after sex. (That notion was quickly debunked by a study from Concordia University, which found men and women process both love and sexual attraction in pretty much the same way.)

The idea that women are more likely than men to become sad or depressed after sex also inherently endorses the stereotype that women just aren’t really into sex at all. While numerous publications have said otherwise — in fact, a fertility app survey from earlier this year determined that many women would prefer to be having more sex than they’re currently having — the stereotype of the sexless housewife in a frumpy nightgown snapping, “Not tonight, honey,” at her poor, neglected husband still persists.

For this reason, many women don’t buy into the PCD study, insisting that they feel just fine after sex. “The only time I ever feel negative emotions after sex is if it was a one-night stand and I didn’t practice safe sex,” Meredith*, 24, explained. “Maybe guilt the next day, but no, I’m never sad. I love sex.”

Ehris, 22, is also skeptical that women have a biological predisposition toward post-sex depression. “I’ve experienced [sadness after sex] before. But I don’t think that it needs to be pathologized as a problem experienced predominantly by women,” she explained. “I’ve had and heard of partners of both sexes and a variety of genders who have felt melancholic after sex.”

Ehris brings up an important point: PCD isn’t exclusive to women. Men too don’t always feel awesome after sex. “We certainly don’t talk about it as much,” Levkoff said of PCD in men. “And that’s the one thing — this study sort of stereotypes, ‘Yeah, women really aren’t interested in sex.’ I don’t want this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that’s a bad paradigm to put out there.”

hormonal quirk or a sign that something’s not quite right: An orgasm can be one of nature’s most powerful drugs. When you have sex, the release of hormones in your brain can cause some funny reactions, from making you want to snuggle into your partner’s armpit to making you cry uncontrollably for no apparent reason. The occasional bout of post-sex sadness might be a sign that something isn’t right in the relationship, but it might also just be an odd quirk of nature and nothing more than that.

That said, if you consistently feel sad and depressed after having sex, it’s worth asking yourself why and reevaluating your partner selection. While it might sound obvious, who you’re having sex with plays a major role in how you feel about it afterward. Levkoff said it’s wise to check in with yourself and make sure you are comfortable with your partner and that there are no unaddressed, underlying issues preventing you from enjoying the encounter to the fullest, even if you’re just looking for a one-night stand.

Ultimately, it’s important to have sex with someone with whom you feel safe, “and by safe I mean respected, trusted, cared for,” Levkoff said. “It might not even be a monogamous romantic relationship. If you feel like this is someone you are connected to and who respects you, that certainly impacts [your feelings afterward].”

Jerilyn experienced PCD for years before she started dating her current partner, a longtime friend of hers. They’ve been together five months, and Jerilyn said she is finally enjoying sex in the way she thought she was meant to.

“This is the first time in my life that I have not had some form of postcoital depression. The only reason I get sad is if he falls asleep and I want more,” she explained. “Sex is finally what it should be for me, which is primal and passionate, and no longer something that provokes that overhanging, ambiguous sensation that something isn’t right.”

I’ve dealt with a lot of my PTSD-related issues, and like Jerilyn, I am now with a partner with whom I feel safe. I no longer feel sadness or anxiety after sex. Instead, I feel a lovely, Ativan-esque sense of calmness.

*Some names have been changed and last names have been withheld to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.

How to Date a Rape Survivor – Latest Article for VICE Broadly

Originally published in Broadly.

We’ve all got baggage. Adding an extra layer to the muddled waters of dating is the highly common and formidable post traumatic stress disorder that can arise from a sexual assault. For me, help came through medical cannabis and a partner down to go down on me while I watch Planet Earth and sip valerian root tea while listening to the calming voice of David Attenborough. RAINN estimates an average of 293,066 Americans (age 12 or older) are victims of sexual violence each year, so it could happen to you or your partner as well.

“Chances are very good that they will date a sexual assault survivor because the rates are so high,” says psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg. “When you are dating or having sex with somebody, you’re interacting with them on the same level which they were violated. So that makes it so tricky.” While all relationships, individuals, and healing processes are different, there are certain general things one can do when dating a survivor of sexual assault.

First and foremost, believe them. “When people tell you their stories, believe them,” says Dr. Greenberg. “The likelihood of someone making that up is probably very, very low. Listen and believe them, and don’t feel like you have to fix things for them, or that you can fix things for then…Let them speak.” In other words, shut the fuck up a bit and let them tell their story – in their own time. “If you love someone, or even if you don’t love them and you’re just trying to have a positive sexual experience with them, you need to let them really sort through it at a pace and level of detail that’s comfortable for them,” says Emily Lindin of The Unslut Project and UnSlut: A Documentary Film which explores sexual shaming, including interviews with the family and friends of Rehtaeh Parsons. Parsons was a 17-year-old Canadian student who reportedly hung herself after sexual bullying resulting from photos that surfaced of her alleged gang rape.

When it is appropriate to chime in, it’s important to ask the right questions. “The right questions are not: ‘What happened? Where did you get touched? Where were your parents? Were you drunk?’ Not any accusatory or judgmental questions. Don’t ask about details, ask about triggers,” says Dr. Greenberg. It’s important to go over triggers to prevent a survivor from having to relive an experience. A trigger is something that can remind you of the assault and cause flashbacks. It could be anything from seeing someone on the subway with a similar tattoo to your assaulter, or hearing a word or phrase they used during the attack, or being touched in an unintentionally similar way. It’s shitty for everyone when during sex you’re trying your hardest not to spiral into full panic attack because your boyfriend accidentally did something that surfaced flashbacks from your assault, and it’s also really frustrating to have to listen to them whine about how usually they are so great at getting chicks off with the exact move that’s causing your flashback.

When dating a sexual assault survivor, sometimes you just have to be patient and learn not to take things personally. “This is a tough one, but you really have to work on not taking it personally. Because it’s due to the trauma and not you,” says Dr. Greenberg. “You have to be patient. You’re going to learn how to be gentle, to avoid the triggers, and how to make it a safe and lovely experience. And be forgiving… as they trust you more, things will become easier.”

For some women (and yes – men can be sexual assault survivors too) you’re dealing with persistent old scars that just don’t want to fade. For others, like Kara*, who survived a rape in the past month, her and her boyfriend Jon* are having to navigate triggers bubbling up from a very fresh wound. “What’s so disheartening is that she’s blaming herself, and that she’s responsible for it, or maybe she didn’t do enough stuff,” Jon told me. “I have to encourage her that it’s not true.” The root keeping Kara and Jon strong is that, when they discuss her rape, he remains respectful and reminds her of the number one rule – it wasn’t your fault. Period. “He’s been really helpful, because I’ll sit here and get upset and blame myself and he actually reasons with me,” says Kara.

“When we brought [Kara] to the emergency room, she was covered in bruises, like big hand print bruises,” said Jon. “She [said] ‘I don’t know maybe I didn’t do enough… I bruise easily,’ and I was like, ‘We wrestle, all the time. In bed.’ I’ll put my butt on her face to fart on her. And I was like, ‘You try really hard not to let me fart on you, don’t you?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, I try my best.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah every time we wrestle you’re trying really hard, but you’re not left with any bruises on you. So when you were in this struggle obviously you were fighting very hard not to leave these bruises.”

As Boyfriend of the Year as Jon seems, he understands that to get through this, Kara will need to see a professional trained in treating assault victims. “He’s been trying to get me to talk to a counselor, which, I will…” says Kara. In order to encourage her, Jon said, he “bribed her with a kitty.” “He did, he’s like you can get a kitten…but you can’t talk to it like your counselor, you have to actually go. It’s a really tiny kitty I think it will help just to take care of something. Putting the love and energy into it,” said Kara.

“You’re going to need to go to therapy and see a crisis counselor – as soon as possible. Because the sooner you see a crisis counselor the less likely you are to get post traumatic stress disorder. They found that with trauma victims are helped immediately they’re much more likely to have a positive outcome,” explains Dr. Greenberg. The healing from a sexual assault is a lifelong process. Even with patience, respect, and time, surviving a rape is something you have to carry with yourself for the rest of your life. Yet, you’re still you. You still want to drink herbal tea while your boyfriend eats you out, or you’re still are going to have to smell your boyfriend’s smelly farts. Life stops for nothing.

“Acknowledge that it is a really important part of their history, [and let] them know that you’re ready to listen when you’re ready to talk, and that you respect them,” says Lindin. “I think it’s important to remember that sexual assault survivors don’t stop being adult humans because they went through this.”