Sex & Pancakes

No matter what your pleasure, get health tips with our sex column by Melissa Fuller.

  • Knowing the Baseline

    I started with a combined oral contraceptive pill, a.k.a. “the pill,” then switched shortly to the patch because it was harder to forget a dose.

    Eventually I developed rashes wherever I placed the patch so I switched methods again. And again. And again.

    Some pills gave me horrible mood swings, making me a completely different person on some days. One made my breasts swell two cup sizes and become painfully sensitive. One made my period last four months. Another made my sex drive disappear and eliminated the need for birth control altogether.

    By the time I was 24, I’d tried a different option almost every year but found myself no closer to getting it right. Despite being equipped with all the information I would need to find the right method, I couldn’t seem to make it work.
    I had been looking to treat the severity of my menstrual cramps, but that’s when it hit me—after being on one or another method of birth control for so long, I no longer had any idea how severe my menstrual cramps were, and was relying on a memory of what they were like a decade ago.

    So I decided to take a break from hormonal birth control. Most people will tell you it’s “out of your system” by three months, but I decided on a year-long break because I wanted to see what my cycle was like if it had enough time to fully regulate itself.

    What followed was an experience that has changed the way I relate to my body, my cycle and even my identity as a woman. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s true.

    I became highly aware of the way my body functions and it fascinated me to no end. I downloaded a cycle tracking app and obsessively entered every symptom I had. By six months I was able to identify patterns and know where I was in my cycle based solely on the symptoms I was experiencing.

    Huge pimple on my forehead? I’ll be ovulating in the next few days. Feeling absolutely gorgeous and full of energy? I’m ovulating. Hate how I look in everything I own? I’m getting my period tomorrow.

    My period also began to show its true self—it was much lighter and shorter than I had previously experienced. It never lasted more than four days, and most days all I needed was a pantyliner.

    I still had cramps, but they rarely lasted more than an hour, and I learned to identify when they were coming on so I could take a preemptive painkiller and avoid them (I recommend Aleve). I also noticed a pattern in which my cramps were less severe if I’d been exercising and eating less greasy foods recently, and this motivated me to take better care of myself.

    As awesome as some parts were, I’ll admit some discoveries weren’t so pleasant. My skin would break out at the same time every month, which was often painful and annoying. More and thicker hair began to appear in places I didn’t want it, like my arms and face (I’m not a werewolf, I promise).

    Both of these changes coincide with the drop in estrogen associated with going off birth control. Estrogen tends to reduce skin complexion issues and inhibit hair growth so going off can result in a sudden change that takes some time to even out.

    I also still experienced mood swings before ovulating. Still, they were easier to handle as I could associate them to a specific time in my cycle thanks to my tracking.

    After two years and much thought, I decided to return to hormonal birth control. It’s only been two months so far, so I still don’t know how it’ll turn out. However, I do finally have a strong sense of my baseline, which puts me one step closer to finding what works for me.

    We all have variabilities in our cycles and hormonal levels. Some women have a 25-day cycle, while others have a 30-day cycle. Likewise, some women naturally have lower or higher levels of estrogen and other hormones.
    While hormonal birth control methods can be awesome for certain reasons and people, they force everyone into a 28-day cycle and the doses of hormones are not tailored to your individual hormonal composition.

    Some women find themselves to be incompatible with this “one size fits all” approach to regulating their cycle, which can result in negative side effects like excessive mood swings and weight fluctuations.

    In evaluating what method is right for us, we take several things into account—the ability to take a pill daily, its effectiveness, the minimization of menstrual discomfort, etc.—but we rarely take into account the loss of our body’s natural cycle and how gaining an intimate knowledge of it before trying to alter it can help us better understand if a method is working for us or not.

    Check out next week’s Sex & Pancakes for a how-to on figuring out your baseline!
    Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook. Quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!

  • The Immaculate Contraception

    I’m looking for reversible male contraception that isn’t a condom. Are you aware of any that you consider reasonable for a young man in terms of cost, intrusiveness, danger and accessibility? Condoms reduce my pleasure and connection in sex. I want to be safe from unplanned conception without altering the health choices of a partner while still enjoying sex to the fullest and weigh how possible that is for me.
    —Condom Alternatives

    The short answer is no. Unfortunately, condoms remain the only option for reversible contraception for men.

    There are options currently under development, such as Vasalgel by the Parsemus Foundation. Your question might be related to the fact that many media outlets have been reporting this week about advancements in the development of this method in the United States.

    Vasalgel is a reversible alternative to vasectomy for men of any age. A vasectomy cuts the vas deferens, the tube that connects the testicles to the urethra and through which sperm passes before ejaculation.

    Vasalgel is a hydrogel that is injected directly into the vas deferens, where it hardens and plugs the channel, preventing sperm from passing through. To restore fertility, all that’s needed is an additional injection that flushes the gel plug out of the vas deferens.

    Vasalgel is currently being tested on monkeys, and clinical trials with humans will be the next step.

    While this is interesting and exciting news for the future, in the present there are no other options for reversible male contraceptives apart from condoms.

    While many people dislike condoms and feel they reduce pleasure and connection, there are a variety of brands, types and sizes of condoms that you could try to find one that works for you. Maybe a thinner or sensitive type of condom will do the trick.

    Lube can also make a big difference: try adding a drop inside the condom before putting it on, and using it generously on the outside of the condom to make penetration smoother.

    If you’ve already tried those options and are through with condoms, then your only other option for contraception is through the methods available to your partner.

    If hormones are a concern for your partner’s health, there are hormone-free or low-hormone options for women, such as the copper intrauterine device, the Mirena IUD or low-dose hormonal contraceptives.

    Unfortunately, these options leave you with little control over contraception; you may also not want to put the pressure on your partner to take on the responsibility of taking daily pills or having an IUD inserted.

    Ultimately, contraception is a joint responsibility and one that you can actively take on together. It’s not your fault that there aren’t more options available to men, but despite this you can still make contraception a team effort.

    You can look at all your options together and if the best option is one for your partner then you can still support her through that process.

    While there are many options, birth control methods for women still involve a lot of trial and error, but this process can be easier when not approached alone.

    I hope this information has helped even if it wasn’t the answer you were looking for. I wish there was a simple answer to the issue of accessible male birth control but it looks like we’ll have to wait a few more years for that to be a reality. On the bright side, it looks like we’re quickly approaching it!

    For more info on the male contraception options being developed, you can check out malecontraceptives.org and newmalecontraception.org.

    For more on Vasalgel, check out parsemusfoundation.org.

    Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook.
    Quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!

  • Consent Quickie

    Welcome to the final week of back-to-school quickies! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out the last two weeks for quickies on condoms and on-campus sexual health resources. This week will be a quickie on consent.

    In preparing for this week, I considered whether it’s possible to cover a topic as huge as consent in a quickie. Defining consent covers the basics, but this would ideally be accompanied by opportunities to put the theory into practice through examples of how to actively question, give or withhold consent, and how to recognize when someone else is doing the same. Working within the constraints of this column and believing that some education is better than none at all, I hope for this to be a starting point, not a replacement, for your further research and personal reflection.

    So, what is consent?  While the word might be new to you, the concept isn’t. In simple terms, consent is permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Consent is not only used around sex. Anytime you agree or disagree to go somewhere, to do a favour for a friend, to be examined by a doctor or anything else, you exercise your right to give or withhold consent.

    Consent is implicitly taught from an early age, such as when children are taught to ask before touching others or using items that don’t belong to them. What is really being taught is that one should ask for consent before acting in a way that could potentially cross someone else’s boundaries.

    Consent is present in most areas of our lives, but this column is going to focus on consent in the context of sexual activity with another person.

    The Canadian Department of Justice defines “consent to sexual activity” as the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question. Situations in which consent is not obtained include those in which:

    1) consent is expressed through the words or actions of someone other than the person, e.g. “Hey, my friend said she’d sleep with you!”

    2) the person involved is incapable of consenting to the activity, e.g. under the age of consent (16 in Quebec), drunk, high, sleeping, passed out, etc.

    3) a person abuses a position of trust, power or authority to induce another to engage in an activity, e.g. sex with your babysitter, teacher, parent, camp counsellor, etc.

    4) a person expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in an activity, e.g. they say no, they avoid eye contact, seem disinterested or uncomfortable, take a passive or inactive role, pull away, etc.

    5) a person, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses by words or conduct a lack of agreement to continue, e.g. a person says yes but after starting changes their mind—this clause highlights the idea that consent can be revoked at any time.

    With this working definition in mind, what does consent look like in practice? Consent means being told directly by your partner that they want to be fooling around with you.

    Consent is a ‘yes,’ a ‘keep going’, a ‘don’t stop,’ and an ‘I like that.’ Consent is enthusiastic, not hesitant. It’s not a “Yeah, I guess we can do that” but a “Fuck yes, let’s do that!”

    Above all, consent is respect. Respect for another human being’s agency and their right to refuse to do anything they don’t want to do.

    You can make sure you’re engaging in consensual activities through consent-checking—literally, verbally asking if you have consent. “Can I touch your ___?” “Is it okay if I ___?” “Do you want to keep going?”  “Is this okay?”

    For many people, verbally asking for consent is awkward, partly because it involves making yourself vulnerable to the possibility that your partner will say no. This, however, doesn’t mean that consent-checking is to be shied away from, because the things that make us uncomfortable are often the ones that hold the greatest potential for growth.

    For more tools and information on consent, check out consented.ca, visit the on-campus Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SGW, GM-300.27) or the Centre for Gender Advocacy (2110 Mackay St.).

    Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook. Quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!

  • Sexual Health Resource Quickie

    This week’s column is a quickie introduction to some of the awesome on-campus resources that can help you manage your sexual health. Sometimes the hardest part of needing help is figuring out where to go.

    Luckily, between the university and student groups you can find support in a wide variety of situations. Whether you’re looking for someone to talk to, want to get tested or just want to grab some free condoms, this list will get you there.

    First up, we have the Centre for Gender Advocacy. Offering free support and resources through its peer support and advocacy program, as well as safer sex and trans health resources, the Centre is worth checking out.

    They also offer an impressive range of programming, so keep an eye out for their workshops, speakers and film screenings.

    The CGA is one of the only two spots on campus where you can pick up free condoms, gloves, lube and dental dams. You can find them at 2110 Mackay St. or at genderadvocacy.org.

    Queer Concordia is a “resource centre and safe space for those who are queer, lesbian, gay, trans*, two-spirited, bisexual, asexual, intersex, questioning, allies or otherwise outside the cis- or hetero- norm,” according to its Facebook group.

    They hold awesome events and workshops and house an impressive library on queer and feminist topics. There too, you can always find free condoms, gloves, lube and dental dams just outside their office.

    You can find them in room P-102 at 2020 Mackay St. or by searching “Queer Concordia” on Facebook.

    Concordia Health Services is a resource you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. Finding a doctor or walk-in clinic without a six-hour wait can be a challenge in Montreal, but this student service has you covered.

    Sexual health-wise, Health Services offers free STI testing and pap tests, during which you can also talk to a doctor about birth control. Their confidentiality policy requires your signature on a Release of Information form before any medical and/or personal information or documents can be communicated with any other people, units or institutions outside of Health Services, unless required by law.

    Concordia Health Services can be found in room GM-200 on the downtown campus or room AD-131 at Loyola.

    Barely a year old, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre is the university’s newest resource. The SARC offers crisis intervention, advocacy, accompaniment, outreach and referrals to anyone affected by sexual assault and/or harassment.

    Whether you’re looking for support through a difficult time or just want to learn more about sexual assault, the SARC and its resources are there for you in room GM-300.27 on the Sir George Williams campus. For more info, you can always call 514-848-2424 ext. 3353 or email the SARC’s coordinator at jennifer.drummond@concordia.ca.

    While not necessarily a resource, if you have an interest in sexuality, you should check out the Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality minor.

    Drawing from several disciplines, the minor offers an impressive range of courses from different departments within the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Arts and Science.

    Core courses include HIV/AIDS: Aspects of the Pandemic, Intro to Sexuality Research, Social Construction of Sexuality and Queer Cinema.

    For more info, check out the undergraduate calendar or contact Program Coordinator Tom Waugh at thomas.waugh@concordia.ca.

    Finally, Sex & Pancakes is a weekly resource for sexual health questions and information. You can check out The Link’s blog for past topics and the S&P website for more resources or you can submit a question of your own!

    Check in next week for a quickie on consent!

    Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook. For more resources, head to sex-pancakes.com/resources.

    Quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!

  • Back-to-School Quickie

    The new semester has arrived and with it comes the return of Sex & Pancakes. If you’re a new student, welcome to Concordia! If you’re a returning student, welcome back!

    The first few weeks can be both exciting and stressful as you adjust to a new routine. Luckily there are many people here to help. While department staff and faculty take care of your academic life, and student leaders take care of your social life, I’m here to help you take care of your sex life.

    Every week you can submit your sexual health questions at sex-pancakes.com and I’ll answer them here. Since it’s the start of a new semester, I’ll be doing a series of Sex & Pancakes back-to-school “quickies.” These quickies will provide easy information to help you navigate your sexual health.

    This week I’ll be starting with a condom quickie! Seems pretty basic right? So basic, in fact, that many people have never formally learned how to use condoms. Those same people are often surprised to learn that condoms rarely break unless they’re used wrong, so if a condom has ever broken on you it’s pretty likely whoever put it on did it wrong.

    Here’s your chance for a review with some extra tips:

    (1) Check the expiration date and push down on the wrapper to make sure there’s an air bubble—this checks for holes or tears in the wrapper. (If you only have an expired condom, it’s still safer than no condom at all).

    (2) Push the condom to one side of the wrapper and carefully tear open along the opposite side with your hands (no teeth!).

    (3) Take the condom out and make sure it’s not inside out. The condom should look like a sombrero with a rim that rolls down easily. If it’s inside out, it will look like a tuque with no defining edges and rolling it down will be a challenge. (If you’ve placed it on the penis inside out, pre-cum may already be on the condom so it’s best to get a new one instead of just flipping it).

    (4) Pinch the tip of the condom as you place it on an erect penis. Pinching the tip removes any air pockets and leaves room for semen. Skipping this step is the reason most condoms break.

    (5) Use your other hand to roll the condom all the way to the base of the penis.

    (6) Use the condom!

    (7) Once you’re done, hold the condom from the base of the penis while pulling out to make sure it doesn’t slip off.

    (8) Keep holding the base of the condom snug around your penis while slipping it off to keep semen from spilling out.

    (9) Dispose of the condom in a garbage, don’t flush it! (There’s nothing worse than having to call your landlord to dislodge a used condom from your toilet!)

    Now that condom use has been covered, let’s touch on a related issue. Many people consider the responsibility of condom use to be exclusively on the partner with the penis, or the one penetrating. This is a common reason that many people never learn how to use them.

    It can be easy to take a passive role in condom use and assume that anyone with a penis knows how to use one, but everyone involved can be affected if the condom fails. So if you’re using condoms, it’s important to take an active role in making sure you’re using them well.

    Check in next week for some on-campus sexual health resources that include where to pick up free condoms, lube and dental dams on campus!

    Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook.

    Got a quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!