Entries by Melissa Fuller
The end of another semester has arrived, and with it comes the last Sex & Pancakes of the year.
Before you all run off to exams and freedom, I wanted to leave you with the answers to a few common questions I’ve been receiving.
You might already know some of these, but when it comes to sexual health, I’ve found that things tend to fall between the cracks, so we can all benefit from a little repetition!
1. What’s the deal with testing?
Testing for STIs is recommended approximately every three months if you’ve had a new sexual partner or unprotected sex.
This is the typical timeline because some STIs can take time to become detectable after an infection. For example, HIV can take three to six months to show up on a blood test. However, if you’re experiencing any STI symptoms then it’s best to get tested right away.
It’s also good to know that not all standard STI testing covers everything. Sometimes they only scratch the surface by testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea along with a visual examination of your genitals for any abnormalities. It’s always good to ask what’s actually being checked if you have specific concerns, and to have a blood test to cover more bases.
You usually want to get tested between partners because it can be helpful to know when an infection happened. It’s rare that people knowingly pass on an STI, so the partner who passed it to you might not know about it and may not plan on getting tested anytime soon.
2. Do I need to get a Pap test every year?
I recommend it if you’ve got a vagina. A Pap test is a simple preventative procedure that could save you a lot of trouble by checking if you have any abnormal or precancerous cells caused by HPV—a virus that has been on the rise among young Canadians. During a Pap test, a swab sample is taken from your cervix and is sent for analysis for any irregular cells.
A Pap test is an easy but important step in cervical cancer prevention because early detection can make all the difference in the development of the virus. If you’re going annually, which is the standard recommendation, you’re more likely to detect something early.
3. How do I get the morning-after pill?
You can get emergency contraceptive at any pharmacy in Quebec without a prescription. Head to the prescription counter for a short consultation with the pharmacist and you’re good to go!
The pill can be taken within 5 days of the “incident,” but the earlier the better for effectiveness. The pill is covered by ASEQ health insurance (the CSU plan), as well as most other private plans. If you’re on a parent’s health insurance you can pay for it instead, if you’d rather keep it off the plan’s records and from your parents.
4. Where can I get free condoms?
Lots of places around the city! On campus you can stop by the 2110 Centre or Queer Concordia. Off campus you can stop by Head & Hands, AIDS Community Care Montreal or any CLSC. Most CEGEP and university health services also provide them for free but unfortunately Concordia Health Services isn’t one of them (hint hint).
Well, that’s it for this year! I’ve loved answering your questions every week, so thank you for sending them in and keep ‘em coming! Be sure to also check out the Sex & Pancakes blog to find more answers, posts and links to sexual health related stuff, as well as a handy Montreal Sexual Health Resources guide with many of the places I refer to in this column.
Good luck on exams and I hope you get your fill of sex & pancakes—the real ones of course.
STI testing & Pap tests: Concordia Health Services, Head & Hands, CLSCs
Free condoms: 2110 Centre or Queer Concordia; off campus: Head & Hands, AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM), CLSCs
For contact info and more resources at sex-pancakes.com/resources
What do you think of hickies? Are they bad, are they tacky, should they be hidden, are they healthy? I’m curious.
I really can’t think of hickies without being reminded of a somewhat traumatic teenage memory. My ballet teacher had a not-so-fun ritual for when any of us showed up to class with a hickey: we’d have to stand alone in the centre of the room while everyone watched and do whatever jumps she requested while “Love is in the Air” played.
Needless to say I only made that mistake once.
The neck is one of the most accessible erogenous zones and a hickey can be a sort of sexual status symbol, so it makes sense that they would be pretty popular among teens.
I remember hickies being an expected thing teens got out of make out sessions. Parents and adults never even seemed really shocked by them and, unlike anything else remotely sexual, I don’t remember them ever being associated with a sense of shame.
I think the teenage association is also where some of the stigma around them in later years comes from though because there’s an implication that they’re something you’re supposed to grow out of.
People don’t just tease you or make you do a silly dance in a room full of smirking girls like they used to. The older you get and the more professionally geared your life may be, the less socially acceptable visible hickies become.
Still, despite any negative perceptions, the neck is an erogenous zone with lots of sexy nerve endings, so it’s bound to feel awesome when someone caresses, licks, bites or sucks on your neck at any age.
In terms of whether or not they’re healthy, hickies are really just bruises caused by the bursting of capillaries—the smallest blood vessels under the skin. They’re often not even as bad as a bruise you would get from something else, since these vessels aren’t actually that hard to burst.
While it may not be the best idea to cover yourself head-to-toe in them daily, you’re not doing any significant damage by getting a few hickies now and then.
Whether they should be hidden or not really depends on if the person wants them to be seen. Sometimes part of the pleasure comes from the mark left behind and from someone else knowing you were getting hot and heavy.
Hickies can be a sort of trophy, a reminder of what you did the night before—the same way some people who enjoy more aggressive sex like showing off the bruises or marks they get from it. I think if someone feels that way about their bruises and/or hickies then they should show them off and feel no shame.
Some people may also like the feeling of getting a hickey but not the hickey itself, so there are some ways to speed up the healing process. The most obvious is doing what one usually does when hurt—ice the spot.
Some people also recommend what’s called “the toothbrush method,” gently rubbing the hickey with a hard-bristled toothbrush to break up the pool of blood and stimulate circulation. I suggest just covering it with makeup or a scarf and patiently waiting out your weeklong love bite.
Finally, I don’t think hickeys are tacky, but maybe you do, and really neither of us is wrong. Like many sexy things, hickies are simply a matter of personal preference and people should feel free to do what they want without any shame!
Submit your questions anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook.
Need some extra help? You can always contact Concordia Counselling & Development at 514-848-2424 ext. 3545 for SGW and ext. 3555 for Loyola.
Got a quick health question? Call info-santé at 8-1-1 from any Montreal number.
When you say the words “abusive relationship,” many people’s first thoughts turn to abuse of a physical nature.
Years of awareness campaigns and public service announcements fill our heads with depictions of yelling matches ending in hitting or someone covering up bruises with makeup.
When I was a teenager, I even remember being told, “If you get hit, you leave” as a sort of relationship guideline to help us recognize abuse.
This really only reinforced a very limited understanding of what abuse could look like. I’ve since realized that no one ever gave us a guideline for how to act if someone made you cry, scream, called you names and/or destroyed your will to live without ever laying a finger on you.
A new awareness initiative has popped up on campus called Love Doesn’t Hurt, with the aim “to educate students on the signs of emotional and physical abuse and to aid survivors on their healing journey.”
The distinction Love Doesn’t Hurt has made in acknowledging emotional abuse is important because recognizing, accepting and leaving an emotionally abusive relationship can be much harder than people may think. They’re often really subtle and hard to recognize, understand or even explain until you’ve been there yourself.
It’s rarely ever as simple as just leaving. I know from experience—I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for months before I even realized it.
I wasn’t a kid, it wasn’t my first relationship, and I wasn’t dumb or weak. I just didn’t recognize it because it was subtle and no one had ever taught me about emotional abuse.
My partner was possessive and controlling, but he didn’t start out that way. The change was gradual and reached a point where he became irritated anytime I expressed interests or goals that didn’t directly involve him.
When I wanted to see friends without him, he hid his anger in comments like, “But I love you so much that I want to spend every moment with you.” He demanded all my online passwords because it was integral in showing that I “trusted” him.
I was blamed for his depression and often called “insensitive” for not doing my part in preventing him from lashing out.
This all started months into the relationship and caught me completely off guard. Leaving wasn’t easy because there was a ton of emotional manipulation, harassment and refusal on his part to actually acknowledge the breakup.
I changed my number twice and considered moving just so I wouldn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder every five minutes. Months later, I got a letter in the mail describing our future children and how we would move past all this silly stuff because he wouldn’t live without me.
I was terrified and even had moments where I thought, “Maybe it’s safer to just stay.” In the end I got out of that situation because I had a supportive friend and a great drop-in counselling clinic.
Accessible resources are essential in these situations: it’s one thing to know you’re in a bad place and to be told you’re not alone, but it’s another to know what support is actually there to see you through.
Unfortunately this is an area where I feel the Love Doesn’t Hurt campaign falls short, despite what I’m sure were great intentions. While the Facebook page includes resources like a checklist to help you tell if you’re in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t have much in terms of helping you if you realize you are.
I’m really glad that awareness of relationship abuse has been finding its place on campus, but campaigns too often fall into the trap of negatively contributing to the dialogue surrounding abuse and assault by pinning the responsibility for ending it entirely on the victim.
Awareness is great, but it just isn’t enough anymore unless it’s paired with concrete steps that people can take if they actually realize they’re in the situations described.
There are many crisis hotlines and support services available in Montreal, so let’s share as many of them as possible to spread not only awareness, but also knowledge of the tools available to people who need them right now.
Share one or more of the resources in the sidebar and if you know any that should be added, send them in or comment online!
Concordia Counselling & Development:
514-848-2424 ext. 3545
2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy:
514-848-2424 ext. 7880 (peer support, advocacy and referrals)
Head & Hands:
514-481-0277 (counselling services for 12- to 25-year-olds)
514-935-1101 (24/7, free, anonymous and bilingual)
514-737-3604 (phone and face-to-face listening service, referrals, counselling)
Each of these services can refer you to other resources if necessary.
Submit your questions anonymously at sex-pancakes.com.
The HBO television show Girls often receives mixed reviews. People either love it or hate it—and I’ve yet to make a decision.
I do think the show, which recently wrapped up its second season, has started some important discussions, but I often find myself wishing that its creators would take a firmer stance on the troubling issues they raise.
For instance, in the show’s March 10 episode, there was a scene involving sexual assault. If you saw the episode, you might be wondering, “What sexual assault?” And that’s exactly the problem: it wasn’t framed properly.
To recap, the characters Adam and Natalia recently started dating and have only had one sexual encounter. In that encounter, Natalia clearly tells Adam that she is “ready to have sex now” and asks him if he wants to as well.
From there, she outlines her boundaries, telling him exactly what she does and doesn’t like. He says that he likes how direct she is with him, and we see a near perfect and pretty adorable example of consent.
However, in the final scene of the same episode Adam brings Natalia to his apartment and soon thereafter demands that she get on all fours. Looking unsure of herself, she obeys. She is then ordered to crawl into his bedroom, where he throws her on the bed and performs oral sex on her from behind as she cringes and vocalizes her discomfort.
Adam then forcefully penetrates her and says, “You really like me?” before turning her around and ejaculating on her chest as she vocalizes, “No, not on my dress,” pulling her own dress down to reveal her breasts now covered in his cum. Natalia sits up looking violated and says, “I don’t think I liked that.”
It’s one of the most complex and realistic scenes of sexual assault I’ve seen aired on television. Remember, the majority of sexual assaults are committed by people known to the victim, and they’re often more subtle than the vision many people have of someone physically struggling and screaming.
I felt shock and shame during the scene. While these are very valuable and important things for a show to address and to make its audience feel, there definitely should’ve been a trigger warning.
The bigger problem for me came when I later looked up articles on the episode and found most people framing it as “a misunderstanding” or “bad sex,” making excuses for Adam’s behaviour and wondering why Natalia didn’t just say no—all while avoiding calling the act what it actually was: assault.
It’s worrisome that so many people don’t seem to recognize the difference between “bad sex” and sexual assault.
It was a while before I found someone—Marianne, a writer for xoJane.com —asking, “Why is the responsibility on her to say no instead of on the initiating partner to secure a yes?”
Consent is not a responsibility to say no, but a responsibility to obtain an uncoerced, sober, participatory and continual yes.
Some people call this situation “grey rape,” meaning it’s in the grey area of rape and thus hard to define and enforce. But the legal definition of consent couldn’t be clearer in expressing that silence doesn’t mean yes and that consent can be revoked at any time.
If you’re unsure if you have consent, directly ask your partner if they’re okay with what you’re doing, notice if they’re avoiding eye contact or seem uncomfortable. Everyone should learn to recognize the non-verbal cues of someone having a terrible time.
The following week’s episode of Girls failed to address the issue in a concrete way. Adam and Natalia have sex again, but on her terms. She identifies her boundaries, stops Adam when he goes too far and makes sure he understands her clearly—something he doesn’t seem to like very much.
Later, in the climax of the episode, Adam runs to Hannah’s rescue in a grand, loving gesture, helping the audience cast aside what he did last episode and rebuild a positive view of him. After all, he only sexually assaulted a disposable character we were never meant to feel for in the first place.
I’m disappointed with how the creators don’t seem to recognize the power they have to take a stand against sexual assault and help others learn to recognize it.
While I enjoyed the previous week’s Girls episode for its emotional complexity, these issues are why I’m not so sure I’ll come back to it next season, and why I hope those of you who do will think critically about the supposedly “empowering” show you’re watching.
Submit your questions anonymously at sex-pancakes.com. For sexual assault support and resources contact Concordia Counselling & Development at 514-848-2424 ext. 3545 or visit agressionssexuelles.gouv.qc.ca.
I’m a 21-year-old female. I’ve been with my boyfriend for over a year now. I was a virgin before we became sexually active and petrified about getting pregnant. I took birth control pills, used condoms and, if I was ever nervous, I would get the morning-after pill—pretty neurotic, I guess. However, once we hit 6 months, we tried without the condoms and honestly, it felt amazing—to the point that I only orgasm without the condom! Neither of us has any sexually transmitted infections, but how effective are the pills alone, really? My friends shame me for not using a condom anymore, but I’m very regular with pill dosage.
I’m not here to shame you, just to give you some facts. Safer sex practices are very personal decisions that only you can make for yourself. My goal is to provide you with accurate, non-judgmental information to help you make your own informed decision.
First off, I think it’s important to understand pregnancy and how the pill works. Here’s a simplified explanation.
Once a month, during ovulation, an egg is released from the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tubes. This takes several days, and this is when you’re most fertile because fertilization happens in the tubes.
Meanwhile, ovulation triggers the building of the uterine lining in preparation for an egg to be implanted in the uterus and causes changes in vaginal mucus to make it friendlier to sperm.
If an egg doesn’t get fertilized, the lining sheds itself, and you get your period. If the egg is fertilized, it reaches the uterus and implants itself in the lining, resulting in a missed period and pregnancy.
Hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, provide a daily dosage of one or both of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These hormones trick your body into thinking it’s already released an egg so that you never release an actual one. No egg, no pregnancy.
Progestin also thickens the vaginal mucus and alters the uterine lining, making it hard for sperm to get past the uterus or for an egg to implant itself, if it does get fertilized. Depending on the pill’s hormonal content, the process involves one or all of these steps.
While a condom is the only effective protection against both sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, the pill is considered up to 99.9 per cent effective against pregnancy when used properly. Proper use means taking the pill at the exact same time every day to maintain the hormonal dosage and prevent the release of a real egg.
Individual success and failure rates can also depend on how your body reacts to the pill’s synthetic hormones. Other medications can also lower the effectiveness of the pill, so it’s important to ask your doctor about medications they prescribe to you.
You mentioned that you’re STI-free. However, you should know that it’s extremely difficult to be certain about that unless you’re getting regularly tested. Some STIs can take up to six months to show on tests; some won’t result in any symptoms and can be present for years before someone shows a physical symptom.
It sucks, but people also sometimes cheat or lie about their sexual past. I would still recommend getting STI tests and pap smears regularly.
Generally, it can be hard to know the exact level of effectiveness, but taking the pill properly plays a major role. As with any safer sex practice, the decisions you make are personal and relate to how much risk you are comfortable taking on.
The risk for pregnancy while on the pill is actually considered low. Still, someone has to make up that 0.1 per cent of women who do get pregnant, even though they are consistent with their pill popping. It’s important to talk about it with your partner and discuss what you would do if you became pregnant.
I really hope this helped clear up some of your questions, and feel free to write in again if you have more!
Submit your questions anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook. Need some extra help? You can always contact Concordia Counselling & Development at 514-848-2424 ext. 3545 for SGW and ext. 3555 for Loyola. Got a quick health question? Call info-santé at 8-1-1 from any Montreal number.