Three Little Letters (aka: it’s Better to Know)

It’s time for us to talk about something with three little letters. Something you’ve all heard of, but many people are afraid to talk about.

No, not sex. *Rolling my eyes* Believe me, I am the last person you’d want to discuss sex with. It’s really not one of my strengths.

But it is related to sex. And the three little letters are an acronym. Today’s topic is HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million people are infected with HIV. And 15% aren’t even aware that they are infected. That’s 1 in 7 of you who are walking around with no idea that they are carrying a potentially lethal virus. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics

Don’t you think it’s better to know?

HIV used to mean a death sentence. Not even that long ago, up to half of those diagnosed with HIV would go on to contract AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Today, if HIV is diagnosed in time, those living with the virus can be treated with ART drugs (anti-retrovirals) to suppress the virus and help you to live a longer, healthier life.

HIV never even used to cross my mind. It just wasn’t something that had anything to do with me. In my entire life, I have had only 3 sexual partners. The first was my husband of 17 years. I naively thought that STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) don’t apply to married couples. I was totally safe. Protected.

Until my ex-husband began cheating with prostitutes.

The moment I learned about his misdeeds, I did two things. 1 — I stopped having sex with him forever. And 2 — I had my gynecologist test me for everything.

Because it’s better to know.

Note: HIV can be spread through semen and vaginal fluids, through oral sex, or blood, such as during a blood transfusion or by an infected needle.

My second sexual partner was an acquaintance of mine. We had a sexual relationship that lasted for months, and was, to the best of my knowledge, monogamous. We also used condoms. But still, after it was over, I got tested for STIs.

Because it’s better to know.

My third sexual partner was a man I met on eHarmony, whom I nickname “Z” on this blog. (He is also my final sexual partner, as I will never again have sex with another person). We lived in different cities, but we dated for a few months by telephone and text, as well as in person. I enjoyed every aspect of our relationship very much — including sex, which was surprising to me, given my past negative experiences.

After he broke up with me, it took me more than a year and a half before I worked up the courage to get tested. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was afraid, that there was even the slightest chance that he hadn’t been honest with me about his HIV-negative status.

But knowing your own status, I realized in the end, isn’t about your partner. It isn’t about how much you love him, or how much you trust her. It’s about your own personal health, and the ability to make wise decisions.

There are a number of ways to get tested for HIV. You can ask your primary physician, or your gynecologist for a test. (Remember — they are not there to judge your lifestyle!). You can visit a walk-in testing clinic. You can use a home sample-collecting kit, which you mail in for results. Or you can do as I recently did — use an over-the-counter oral testing kit called OraQuick, which costs around $40 and is available at Walgreens drugstores. Be sure to test at least 3 months after having sex, as there is a false-negative window if you test sooner than that.

If you are sexually active don’t know your HIV status, then it may time for you to test and get some peace of mind for you and your partner or future partners. Or for yourself, even if you are celibate, like me.

It’s better to know.

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The Price She Paid (a poem)

With a Yes, she married him

young bride in virginal white

starry-eyed lovers, high expectations

spawned from biblical promises

then…

Honeymoon tinged with blood

dripping with cold, wet shock of disappointment

while he writhed in ecstasy, head thrown back

high on new pleasure

she shrank beneath him

cringing at the sharp pain and burn

deep shame

falling short

eyes wide open at his kiss.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her. “My sexy wife.”

His own words spurring his hunger

while her stomach turned to gravel

bile filling her mouth.

Months stretched to years, a decade come and gone

while he filled himself

and she gave, and gave, and gave

an obedient faucet

succumbing to the painful act

his touch turning riverbeds dry

green grass shriveled, trampled underfoot.

She curled alone on her side of the bed

far from his gaze and wandering hands that always sought more.

“What do you want?” he asked

eager for her to know how to fix herself

(but not willing to slow his advance).

A wife must submit.

Her body belonged to him

the Bible said so, see?

What she wanted was to make it all disappear

to give him back his ring

to admit that it was all a mistake

to stop being beautiful. Hide her sexiness in sweatshirts and

dark rooms

but the more she said no, turned away, begged

the more his insistence mounted

determined to subdue his opponent

at any cost.

The word No came with steep price tag

Insults, accusations, financial withdraw

surveillance, imprisonment at home

“You have to,” he told her. “God says so.”

“Then fuck your god,” she snarled, finding her voice

and his fists pummeled her like angry rain.

The price increased.

He strayed

seeking out other females

paying for services

blaming her, taunting her

always her fault

because she said No.

If she had known

that marriage meant she would be his marionette

dancing on short strings of lust

CONSENT tattooed in blood on her forehead

even though his touch ripped her insides

and made her feel like less than dirt

made her hate being called “beautiful”

(which also came at a cost)

Then No

would have been her first word

her loudest word

long before his knee ever dropped to the ground.

Space Invaders (aka: A Touchy Subject)

A stranger hugged me yesterday. It was during the course of a group ELL conversation, and he was trying to illustrate some point. I stiffened, and patiently endured the awkward moment until the stranger pulled away. Later, he seemed to realize the faux pas he had committed and apologized profusely.

“It’s okay,” I assured him. But inside, I was thinking the opposite. It was really not okay.

I am not a hugger.

awkward-hugs

 

Not because I am cold and unaffectionate by nature. In fact, I am generous with hugs and cuddles with my kids, a strong maternal instinct at work. I offer the usual hugs and kisses to relatives or long-lost family friends when the occasion presents itself. But beyond that, I am not into being touchy-feely, preferring the safe virtual {{{HUGS}}} of internet peeps. (Even the obligatory handshake makes me want to reach for a bottle of hand-sanitizer, but that’s a different story).

Have I always been this way? It’s hard to say. I didn’t date at all in college before I met my now ex-husband. And when we married, I was the perfect gift — a chaste, untouched little Christian wifey. Just like that, I learned, my body was no longer my own. According to my ex-husband (and, apparently, the Bible), my body belonged to him, not to me. Translation: it was my wifely duty to do whatever he wanted, even when I didn’t like it or feel like it.

Unfortunately, I also learned that I hated sex. It was an always uncomfortable, mostly painful, rarely pleasurable event that I grudgingly accepted as my fate. The moment it was over, I couldn’t wait to scoot away to my own little edge of our king-sized bed, as far away as possible from the person who insisted on putting me through such torture night after night.

Okay, maybe torture is too dramatic of a word. But still, it was awful, and I hated it.

As the years passed, and nothing got better, I developed an aversion. Not only to sex itself, but to anything that might lead to it. That included kisses, hugs, and cuddling of any kind. But the bigger I drew my personal space bubble, the more my ex insisted on invading it. The more I expressed my discomfort with sex, the more he insisted we have it. The more we had it, the bigger my aversion grew. And so on.

Long story short, after seventeen years of yuck, I got divorced. (Happy ending).

But the aversion to being touched remains.

control yourself

I did learn, thanks to a fling with a guy we’ll call my “post-divorce experiment,” that cuddling, when it’s wanted, can be quite nice. However, something inside me freezes ice cold at the uninvited touch of another person. When other humans unknowingly step inside my bubble of personal space, panic boils up like a geyser, and I instinctively begin to search for an escape route.

So how do I avoid situations that may lead to the violation of my personal space? Maybe I should stop showering every morning. Maybe I could start a fashion line of barbed-wire accessories, and call it Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Or, more simply, avoid uncomfortable real life situations with strangers by staying home in my safe little cave, behind the glowing computer screen, where {{{HUGS}}} are totally acceptable.

virtual hugz

50 Shades of Terrible Writing (aka: Stop Biting Your Lower Lip!)

fifty shades film actors

Ooh, Mr. Grey…whatever do you plan to do with that tie?

Yesterday was the big day — the release date of one of the most highly anticipated movie trailers this year. That’s right — Fifty Shades of Grey has at last been made into an NC-17 film for our viewing pleasure. Fifty Shades of Guilty Pleasure. Fifty Shades of Smut. Fifty Shades of Oh-My-God-Is-That-Even-Possible? That adorable pair of fun-loving sex addicts will be portrayed by actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. (Oh my — is it just me, or did the temperature just spike a few degrees in here?)

Cue the giggling teenagers! Cue the feminist backlash! Cue feeding frenzy of housewives with longing in their eyes! Cue the scandalized conservatives holding angry picket signs in front of movie theaters across the nation!

The uproar surrounding the Fifty Shades film is unsurprising. After all, when the books first hit the shelves, they released a firestorm that had half the nation burning with desire and the other half burning with outrage. (Now I am giggling to myself, imagining a horde of Sarah Palin wannabes and male-bashing misandrists chasing down poor Christian Grey and attacking him with his own private stash of sex weapons).

Yes, I read Fifty Shades of Grey. And one of the sequels. For purely educational reasons, of course. 😉 And here’s the thing: these angry hordes have got it all wrong. You see, they are burning books over the issue of sex. Consensual sex between two adults. Yes, violent, wild, passionate sex. But still — two consenting adults. Yes, sadomasochistic sex, sex with riding crops and cuffs, sex with toys I have never even heard of before. But still, two consenting adults, behind closed doors (or elevator doors, at least), who are clearly turned on and happy with their choices. cuffs for the couple

Sex, control, and BDSM is not the thing that the world should be protesting. The thing that seriously sucks in the 50 Shades books is the writing. The books are filled with repetitive language, over-baked adjectives, and such unrealistic dialogue that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t meant to be a humor novel.

An example of a typical line from Fifty Shades: I can tell from his accent that he’s British. (You don’t say! Well, British accents have a way of cluing us in).

Another literary jewel: “Argon? It rings a distant bell from chemistry class—an element, I think.”

If not for the fact that I was reading on my Kindle app, I would have thrown the book across the room after that line. Seriously. Bad writing like this should be a crime. Forget protesting the upcoming movie — I should start an outraged literary group and lock E.L. James’ editor in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain to pay for exposing us to such filth (the bad writing, not the sex). Maybe I will. But first, I really should go and read the third book in the trilogy. Laters baby! little red riding crop