relationships

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!

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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.”

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.

Love,

Sophie Saint Thomas

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?
Absolutely.

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.