Vaginal Discharge 101

My boyfriend and I had sexual intercourse for the first time. We used a condom, and 1 day after I showered I saw that a bit of sperm-looking liquid was coming out of my vagina, but I don’t know whether it was discharge or sperm. It was only a little bit, and it didn’t smell at all.

Scared Spouter

Dear Scared Spouter , 

Vaginal discharge is a topic that is often overlooked and underdiscussed, especially when it comes to sex, so I’m happy to give you some more information. Discharge, also known as “cervical mucus,” or secretions from the vagina, occurs as a natural part of the vagina’s “self-cleaning” process and serves, in part, to remove dead cells and bacteria from the vagina. As you have probably noticed, the amount and type of discharge you have can change throughout your menstrual cycle. Typically, you may notice that your discharge is tinted brown or red towards the end of your period, clear, stretchy, and fairly thin during ovulation (about halfway through your cycle), and more white or creamy during the other times of your cycle. This is most likely the discharge you noticed after having sex with your boyfriend. This type of discharge is normal and healthy, especially if it has a mild (or no) odor, doesn’t have any chunks, and doesn’t cause your vagina any discomfort. During arousal, whether through masturbation or partnered sex, you probably notice more “arousal fluid” coming out of your vagina, which may be clear or white. This is simply to provide extra lubrication to your vagina, to make penetration (by a toy, finger, penis, etc.) more comfortable. Many folks don’t find this secretion to be enough lubrication on its own, so adding lube is always helpful!

In general, if you notice a strong or unpleasant odor, a chunky consistency, or discomfort — such as pain, itching, or burning — associated with your vaginal discharge, this could be a sign of a bacterial or yeast infection, and would be cause for consulting  your sexual healthcare provider. These infections often have causes other than sexual transmission, including the use of antibiotics or estrogen-based birth control, especially if you are consistent about practicing safer sex. 

I’m glad to hear that you and your boyfriend are practicing safer sex by using a condom – that’s helpful even if you are monogamous or if you use a non-barrier method form of birth control. The best way to prevent both pregnancy and the spread of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is the use of a contraceptive, such as a birth control pill, intrauterine device or vaginal ring and a barrier method, such as an external or internal condom. Condoms are an effective barrier method when used properly — checking the expiration date and making sure the condom packaging isn’t compromised can offer peace of mind as well as bolster protection against pregnancy and STIs. As long as your boyfriend wore a condom while ejaculating, there is almost no chance that any sperm entered your body. It is much more likely that the discharge you noticed was just natural vaginal discharge. Since the purpose of vaginal discharge is to clean the vagina, it’s consistency or color can change after sex, even if no semen — the fluid that carries sperm — entered the body. If any type of lubricant or spermicide was used, whether from the condom or from a bottle, it could cause a change in your discharge while your vagina cleans itself out. This could be why you noticed a possibly unfamiliar type of vaginal discharge after having sex. 

Finally, it is completely understandable to feel nervous about pregnancy or STIs even when you know that semen couldn’t have entered your vagina, especially if you are newly sexually active. The prospect of pregnancy and STIs can be  scary, and it can take time to become confident in your contraceptive / protection methods, even if you know logically that they are effective.

If you have further questions or want to learn more about sexual or reproductive health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from Scarleteen, Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic.

Fearful First-Timer: Managing expectations of doing well in bed

Dear Sexpert,

I’m a virgin, and my new partner is very much not a virgin. I want to have sex with them, but I’m really worried about being a disappointment in bed, and I’m constantly apologizing when we’re together. How can I feel more comfortable and less worried when being physical with them?

— Fearful First-Timer

Dear Fearful First-Timer,

First, it’s important to acknowledge that virginity is a social (and often heteronormative) construct that is narrowly defined. Most colloquially, virginity refers to not having engaged in penetrative sex. But in practice, losing your virginity can mean anything, from engaging in activities involving the genitals for the first time to engaging in sexual activities with a new partner. 

Whatever virginity means to you, it is totally normal to go through feelings of nervousness or anxiety around engaging in something new. Sex is often portrayed idealistically in media, where each partner intuitively knows what to do and how to make their partner or partners feel good (without any communication), and everyone reaches a climax. Especially when one partner has more experience than the other, it is understandable this could create more nerves or pressure that there is some sort of expectation you need to live up to. The truth is, though, that sex is a learning experience, and with each person being different, it may take some experimentation to figure out what sorts of things your sexual partner or partners (and you) like. That is completely normal, and there is no need to apologize for it! 

Sometimes these sorts of anxious feelings or pressures to be perfect in bed can be rooted in the idea that everyone else in college is having sex or knows what they are doing. On Princeton’s campus, there are lots of folks who have not had sex. The ACHA-NCHA III survey conducted at Princeton in 2020 reported that 44 percent of undergraduates had never engaged in oral sex, 53 percent had never engaged in vaginal sex, and 88 percent had never engaged in anal sex. Similarly, according to the The Daily Princetonian’s annual frosh survey, only around 30 percent of incoming students the last three years reported having sex prior to coming to Princeton. You are not the only one going through these first-time experiences, and learning is completely okay!

Other times, worries can arise from uncertainty surrounding the physical experience of sex. Sex doesn’t always happen seamlessly: consider that penetrative vaginal sex may cause discomfort to people with vaginas due to disruption of the hymen. For people with penises, erections aren’t always maintained. And penetrative sex, both anal and vaginal, can also cause discomfort if the body is tense or if there is insufficient lubrication. These (and many other) physical experiences are common and manageable — e.g., plenty of foreplay and lube (if in combination with a condom, use a water based lube!) can help with vaginal or anal lubrication, and keeping tabs on nerves by working on communication can help with erection duration and a more relaxed physical body. Know that tons of people have had sexual experiences that didn’t go perfectly according to plan and have continued on to enjoy pleasurable and fulfilling sex lives. 

The most important thing to do to feel more at ease is to create a space where there is an open line of communication. This means a place where you feel comfortable voicing your feelings, talking through boundaries, etc. This line of communication is important for any sort of sexual activity, whether it’s your first time or your 100th. While having this conversation may sound intimidating, a respectful and supportive partner will be open to these sorts of talks and will want to make sure you feel open to expressing your desires and feelings as well. Have you talked through what your partner’s expectations, hopes, and desires are — and what yours are? Sometimes, when boundaries and feelings around sexual activities are not discussed, ambiguity can generate more nerves. Clearing up any ambiguity can help you feel more comfortable and can make sex more pleasurable. These conversations are best done during a time when you are hanging out and comfortable, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Before engaging in sexual activity, make sure you are looking out for your sexual and reproductive health. The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be significantly lowered through the use of a barrier method (e.g., external condom, internal condom, dental dam). If getting pregnant is a possibility, be sure to use a contraceptive method as well (note: condoms are the only contraceptive method that reduce risk for STI and pregnancy). For more information on how to properly use any of these barrier methods, here are some tips from the CDC. If you have any other questions regarding sexual or reproductive health, you can make an appointment with a sexual health provider through MyUHS

I hope this helped ease some of the nervous feelings surrounding having sex for the first time. Remember that all sex is a learning experience, especially since each person has desires that differ from others’ and that can evolve over time — the learning never stops! The most important thing is to have honest conversations with sexual partners so you can create a space with an open line of communication.

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Daily Princetonian’s Annual Frosh Survey, and Princeton’s implementation of the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III.

Date Dreamer: Finding love in college

Dear Date Dreamer,

Starting college opens you up to so many opportunities to try new things and meet interesting people, so it can be quite an exciting time! The possibility of exploring a romantic relationship adds another layer of emotions and questions about what to expect in this new environment. Perhaps you are excited about opening yourself up to your first romantic relationship, or maybe you dated in high school and want to see what college has to offer. Whatever the case, when entering this opportunity-filled environment and thinking about all the new people you are going to meet, it’s understandable that you might think about meeting someone you could eventually marry. 

It’s great that you are taking some time to think about approaching relationships before entering one, because it gives you space to think about what you want. You may be coming in with a whole set of expectations for dating and finding a partner with whom you can have the perfect relationship (i.e., free of conflict and effortless, etc.). After all, these kinds of relationships are shown in TV shows, movies, and social media all the time. You may have even had your relatives ask about your love life and make assumptions about things. This can cause you to put some pressure on yourself and bring on feelings of anxiety on what your relationships should look like or might make you feel that looking for a partner and getting married should be your priority.

Unfortunately, it can also feel like if your first relationship in college isn’t perfect, then maybe you never will get your “happily ever after.” Realistically though, there are many ways and places to find a long-term partner, and college is just one possibility. 

That is not to say that you cannot find a long-term partner in college. Princeton and other colleges host a big concentration of people with common interests and future goals, and it is not unusual for people to marry their college partner. Some students use surveys like DataMatch and Marriage Pact, normally released in the spring semester, to connect with potential partners (or just make new friends!). However, the fact that it works for some people does not mean it has to be how you find your partner. It can be helpful to ask yourself what being single or in a relationship means to you, especially at this point in your life, and maybe even make a list of what qualities you look for in a partner. Spend some time reflecting upon where you got these ideas, and if they are in fact what you are looking for. Knowing what you want in a relationship helps improve communication and contributes to relationship satisfaction for all partners involved. 

It is equally important to think about and respect the wants and needs of your partner (or potential partner). Relationships, especially committed ones, are an investment and serious time commitment when on campus, and not everyone wants to or is ready to enter one. People may also be looking for different kinds of relationships — open vs. monogamous, casual vs. committed, sexual vs. non-sexual, romantic vs. aromantic. Whether you have figured out what you want or are still thinking it through, make sure you communicate your hopes and expectations clearly before entering the relationship, so that you can be on the same page as your partner. Check out the UMatter website to explore more elements of healthy relationships.

If you are looking for a relationship that involves sexual activity, you may want to seek out University Health Services with any questions you have or to learn about protecting your health and safety. You can make an appointment with a Sexual Health and Wellness (SHAW) provider through MyUHS. As a first-year student you will also have the opportunity to participate in the Safer Sexpo, a peer-facilitated interactive FYRE program on sexual and reproductive health and wellness in your residential college. You can also make an appointment for an individual counseling session with CPS on MyUHS if you would like to talk through your relationships, as well as your personal wants and needs.

Remember, college is a time of change for many people. It can become overwhelming to try to make friends, get acclimated academically, find social groups, and discover activities you like, while also trying to find a romantic partner. Trying to focus on these activities first can allow you to get to know yourself, so that there’s more space and time for relationships later. In your first year of college, try not to put pressure on a relationship. Instead, focus on finding things you can enjoy on your own, and let a relationship with a partner happen naturally.

— The Sexpert

Tentative: Previously had sex with an undergrad in a class I’m teaching

Dear Sexpert,

I am a grad student and I had sex once with an undergraduate student, but we never saw each other again. I am teaching a course in the fall and saw this student has enrolled in the class. What should I do?

– Tentative TA

Dear TA,

It shows good judgment that you are questioning whether these previous relations (albeit brief) may impact your teaching role, and are being proactive in managing the situation before interacting with the undergraduate student.

As discussed in this Sexpert, graduate student/undergraduate student relationships can create a power differential. Even though you are no longer involved with the undergraduate student, there may be a perceived or existing conflict of interest, not to mention a potential awkwardness in seeing one another.

Regarding what to do about the situation, the first place to start would be with policies of the institution. At Princeton, Rules and Procedures of the Faculty of Princeton (Ch.V. Sec.C.) Consensual Relations with Students states that “Relationships which pre-date either this policy or the role at the University which causes the conflict must also be disclosed promptly to the parties’ respective department chairs and to the Dean of the Faculty.” Additionally, these procedures recommend that “Any member of the University community who is uncertain about how a power asymmetry may impact a relationship or adversely affect the community should contact the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, or the Office of Human Resources.”

This indicates that you should speak with your department chair, and/or the Dean of the Faculty (depending on which you feel more comfortable starting with) about this potential conflict of interest. You need not go into the specifics of the relationship but just share generally that you have previously had sexual relations with a student who is enrolled in the class you are teaching this fall. There may be a number of ways to handle the situation, including swapping you to a different section of the class being offered.

Best wishes,

The Sexpert

what you should know about menstrual cups

I saw an email about groups on campus giving out free menstrual cups, and I was curious about trying one out. I like the idea of having a more sustainable option compared to tampons or pads, but I’m worried about it being messy or uncomfortable to insert or remove. I was also thinking about getting an IUD soon and was wondering if the menstrual cup would interfere with it. 

– Curious about Cups

Dear Curious about Cups,

Menstrual cups are a great alternative to pads and tampons and definitely worth trying out if you think they might be right for you! Not only are they more sustainable, but they can also be a super cost-effective option compared to pads and tampons. If you take advantage of the campus initiative, your cup will be free and could last you up to five years with proper cleaning and care! If you buy one later, it will cost anywhere from $6–40 depending on the brand that you chose, meaning you’re still spending less than you would on tampons or pads over several years. 

Lots of brands make menstrual cups, and they are typically bell-shaped and made of flexible, medical-grade silicone. Unlike pads and tampons, the cups do not absorb blood but simply collect it. This means it will need to be emptied about every 6–12 hours, depending on how heavy your flow is. If you are interested in tracking your menstrual fluid volume for personal or medical reasons, menstrual cups are a great choice. For many people, menstrual cups can be changed less often than pads or tampons, making them a convenient option! Furthermore, compared to tampons, menstrual cups also have the advantage of reducing period odors.

To insert your cup, you will need to fold it. There are many options for how to do this and lots of online tutorials showing different folding styles. If you are nervous, you can watch videos and/or practice folding your cup before you go to insert it. Don’t be afraid to try a couple of different shapes to find the one that works best for you! Once inserted, simply twist the cup using the stem at the bottom to create an airtight seal against the vaginal canal. If inserted properly, you shouldn’t feel the cup, and it shouldn’t leak. If you experience any discomfort, calmly remove the cup and try again. You can also use lubricant or water on the rim of the cup for easier insertion.

If you are still concerned about the insertion of your cup, you can explore different menstrual cup sizes. The size you choose may be dependent on your age, your anatomy, and whether you have given birth vaginally. Many companies sell small, medium, and large cup sizes and will have specific information to guide you in selecting the appropriate size for you! The size you select may also impact how frequently you have to change the cup. 

Mess when removing the cup is definitely a common concern and worth considering if you choose to use a menstrual cup. To remove the cup, simply pull the stem down slightly so that you can squeeze the bottom of the cup to break the seal. This is crucial for an easy and painless removal. Pull down to remove the cup and empty it into the sink or toilet. 

Ideally, you should wash the cup with gentle soap and warm water after each use. If you are in a shared or public restroom, this can be a challenge. Many companies sell wipes that can be used to clean the cups inside of the stall. If you are in a pinch, you can wipe the cup out with toilet paper and reinsert, but try to avoid doing this after more than one use and wash thoroughly afterward. 

Luckily, because they can be changed less often, you may be able to avoid changing them during the day. If you want privacy, change your cup and wash it with you in the shower! Obviously, menstrual cups are not ideal for everyone, and if doing this would make you uncomfortable, it might be worth sticking to other options. 

If you do decide to get an intrauterine device (IUD) as contraception, you probably shouldn’t use a menstrual cup. The suction of the cup creates an increased risk of dislodging or removing your IUD. However, if you still want to use a menstrual cup with an IUD, you could potentially lower your risk of IUD dislodgement by going to your healthcare provider and having your IUD strings shortened. Furthermore, it is important that you are careful when removing the cup and always break the seal before pulling it out. 

If you have any further questions or specific concerns about menstrual cups, Sexual Health and Wellness providers at University Health Services are there to help and can provide you with specific advice. You can make an appointment by calling (609) 258-3141. 

– The Sexpert

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/features/menstrual-cup-iud

https://putacupinit.com/

https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/menstrual-cups-vs-tampons-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-cup/

https://store.lunette.com/blogs/news/how-to-clean-menstrual-cup-in-public-toilet

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/how-do-i-use-tampons-pads-and-menstrual-cups

https://beyouonline.co.uk/blogs/news/how-do-you-fold-a-beyou-menstrual-cup

Safer Sex during COVID-19

I can’t wait to see my partner again in person!  We’ve kept it going virtually, but it’s been so long since we’ve been able to be together that it’s the first thing I want to do when we return to campus.  Is there a safe way to have sex during the pandemic?  Will we be violating the social contract if we do?  And where will we be able to find condoms on campus?

  • Chomping at the Bit

Dear Chomping,

This year has been so difficult for us for so many different reasons, including not being able to see our partners and connect with them like we long to do.  Not being able to be with our friends, family and sexual partners is one of the many painful things we have endured.

Unfortunately, and as you probably already expected, even when you return to campus, you’ll need to wait just a little while longer. Sex needs to wait until your Arrival Quarantine period is over to avoid spreading the virus.  All of us coming together from many different and sometimes distant locations is a highly risky period for transmitting the virus.  Following the Arrival Quarantine protocol and staying physically apart until you get notification your quarantine is over will help us get the semester off to a safer start.  If too many cases happen during the arrival period, then we might have to stay physically apart even longer, because rules may become even stricter for people on-campus in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

So safer sex under the Social Contract is waiting for that Arrival Quarantine period to be fully complete for any and all partners. You should also know that the Social Contract does not allow for either off-campus students or people not associated with Princeton (like students at other universities for example) to access the dorms. So, you won’t be able to host a sexual partner on-campus unless that person is also another on-campus student. We know that’s a bummer for many of you; it’s a bummer to even have to write it. But for this short semester, it’s how it’s got to be.

As you’ve probably already discovered, there are sexual activities that you can do during the arrival quarantine from the safety of your separate sleeping spaces.  Solo sex/masturbation with or without toys is always a good option.  Your partner can get in on the action virtually or even with toys that let them play from a distance via an app. Maybe even consider buying a toy for your partner and vice versa? 

Once the arrival quarantine ends, the safest sexual activities will continue to be solo sex/masturbation or virtual sex (via phone, Facetime, Zoom, etc.).  COVID is spread through saliva and mucus from the mouth and nose.  It has also been found in feces and semen and so, it may be spread through those as well, though more research is needed. There’s no evidence of transmission via vaginal fluids yet. Even with the testing and adherence to all the public health guidelines that you will do, there will always be a risk of transmitting the virus when close enough to someone else to have in-person sexual activity. That’s why we call it “safer” (not safe) sex!  This virus is highly transmissible and it’s not always possible to say how or when someone got it. (Also a good reason not to stigmatize or blame people who have the virus or ask them how they got it.)

If you do engage in in-person sexual activities after Arrival Quarantine, it’s best to only have one partner and agree to be monogamous with each other for the time being. When engaging in sexual activity, wearing a face covering (even though it may seem really weird – we get it), avoiding kissing, and washing hands thoroughly before and after sex will help prevent the spread of infection as will the usual barrier methods (condoms, dental dams, etc). Speaking of barriers, if you want to get external/male condoms from University Health Services, give them a call at (609) 258-3141 to see when you can come by to get some (don’t just show up).  You can also go to CVS (when not in quarantine or isolation and following all public health guidelines), or order from your favorite online Black-, female/femme-, or queer-owned sexuality shop for barrier methods.

During the semester, skip sexual activity and stay physically apart if you or your partner feel unwell or have felt unwell recently. If your ongoing or potential partner is in either isolation (gotten a positive COVID test) or in quarantine (has been possibly exposed to COVID), no matter how hot they are, you both need to wait until the full isolation or quarantine period is up to get together. Violations of isolation or quarantine are a really big deal, public-health-wise. Again, try sexting or virtual chatting to build up anticipation. Let’s not make COVID-19 a sexually transmitted virus on our campus.

Right now, it’s more important than ever to discuss what feels safer for both of you in terms of sharing bodily fluids before taking off your clothes or your face covering. Research shows that feeling safe and comfortable with a partner makes for a better sexual experience, so have these first hard conversations, over text or DM if it makes you feel more comfortable. You may want to ask when were you and your partner last tested for COVID or for HIV or other STIs? What does safer sex look like for you during COVID, both physically and emotionally? Do you want to kiss? Does one of you have a medical condition that increases your risk of complications from COVID?  Let your partner know what will make you feel comfortable and cared for. You can find tips for communication here

  • The Sexpert

Resources:

https://uhs.princeton.edu/health-resources/sexual-health

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/covid-19-new-coronavirus/covid-19-and-your-sexual-health

https://bit.ly/39G9KJR  (“Introduction to special issue on sexual health risks and assessments.” Contains a COVID-19 sexual health risk assessment.)

porn, relationships, and confusion

Dear Sexpert,

I just found out that my boyfriend prefers a certain type of porn a few months into our relationship. When we first started dating, I asked him and he lied to me repeatedly saying he has never watched porn. What he’s into isn’t bad, but it is different than what I was expecting. Is it a red flag that he lied to me when I asked the first few times?

– Confused Viewer

Dear Confused Viewer,

Watching porn is fairly common, and can be a healthy part of sexuality. Unfortunately, it is also very stigmatized, and many people avoid talking about their habits and views surrounding porn for fear of being judged negatively. Watching porn is common among both people who are single and those who are in relationships; in fact, in a large study of people in relationships, 85% reported watching pornography in the last six months (Psychology Today). Some people who watch porn consider it a part of their sexuality that they would like to share with their partner(s); others consider porn something they like to enjoy only by themselves, or something that should be kept private. Others may also prefer to involve porn in their sexual relationships only after becoming comfortable with other types of sexuality together. How someone chooses to watch and talk about porn, if at all, really depends on the individual’s preferences and comfort level. However, let’s talk more about the dynamics surrounding your and your boyfriend’s interactions with porn.

It seems like what you are most concerned about is not the porn itself, but the fact that he lied to you, and that it might be a bad sign. While it’s ultimately up to you how you assess the fact that he lied, it makes sense to consider the bigger picture and reasons he might have done so. Porn is still considered very taboo in society; people have varying viewpoints on the ethics of porn in general, and especially about specific types of porn or the fetishes/fantasies represented in them. Many people who watch porn don’t talk about it with friends or partners, perhaps because they believe it is something to be kept private or they fear adverse reactions. One possibility is that your boyfriend worried that you would disapprove of his watching porn, and was embarrassed or hesitant to tell you. Something else that might contribute to this is myths about gender surrounding porn. It’s a mistaken common view that porn is something only viewed by men. In fact, in the study of people in relationships, 73% of women (vs 98% of men) had watched porn within the last 6 months (Psychology Today). If you don’t identify as male, the mistaken conception that your gender indicates your interest in porn may have contributed to an assumption on your boyfriend’s part that porn wasn’t something you would be interested in or approve of. Also, porn is notably very different than real life sex. It’s scripted and performed for the enjoyment of the viewer, and very often does not portray realistic (or healthy) sexual encounters. You said the kind of porn he watches is “not what you were expecting”; from that, it sounds like what he is into might not be something that’s part of your current sexual experiences together. It is possible some people, like your boyfriend, might be worried that sharing with you what porn arouses him would seem too different from what you do together sexually. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality; some people’s sexual fantasies are not things they would really want to do in real life. Your boyfriend might have been worried that you might assume he wants your sex life together to be like the porn he watches, or that he wants something different. Finally, it is possible that your boyfriend was worried you might consider his watching porn a violation of the boundaries of your relationship, and hoped to conceal it from you.

With all of these possibilities, and possibly more, it seems like the best thing to do would be to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend. It’s likely that a lot of what led to his lying was miscommunication and mistaken assumptions. An open conversation about porn, your sex life, and your relationship could bring clarity and reassure him that what you most want is that you are both honest with each other. Approaching the conversation with an open mind can assure him that you won’t judge him, and allow you to understand the motivations behind his withholding his porn usage from you. It is up to you from there to decide, ideally in conversation with him, what to do going forward. Lying is never a positive in a relationship, but it is not necessarily a red flag. It might instead be a sign that the two of you need to work on having more open communication. However, if it turns out that he withheld his porn usage from you because he thought you would consider it a violation of your relationship, then this might be a more serious issue to consider and talk about. Lying to avoid acknowledging the breaching of boundaries in your relationship is a red flag. If you do consider watching porn to be a violation of these boundaries, it might be best to clearly establish your boundary and ask him his opinions. Your partner should always respect your boundaries and what you are comfortable with, but porn is often a non-talked-about “gray area”, especially in otherwise monogamous relationships. Being clear with each other on your feelings is important going forward.

Porn can (within limits) be a healthy part of one’s sexuality within any relationship status. However, stigmas against watching porn can often cause feelings of shame that result in a lack of communication surrounding porn, including with one’s partner(s). It is completely reasonable to be upset that your boyfriend lied to you, but it is important to have an honest conversation with him about your feelings surrounding his lying to you, porn, and your relationship. From there, it is up to you to assess with yourself what boundaries to set and changes to make in the future, as well as how you feel about his lying to you once you know why.

Best of luck!

– The Sexpert

Resources:

https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-talk-to-your-partner-about-porn-according-to-a-sex-therapist-1 0 248693 (an article about how to talk about porn with your partner, as advised by a sex therapist)

global trotter: Sexual health care abroad

Dear Sexpert,

I want to go abroad this summer but I am concerned about receiving sexual health care abroad in a more conservative country. I am also gay going to a country where gay relationships are generally not accepted. What should I do?

-Global Trotter

Dear Global Trotter,

Whenever travelling abroad for internships or vacation, you should always consider your health and safety. It is important to have a plan in place in the event that you become ill or injured while traveling. It’s great that you are learning more about how to keep yourself healthy and safe before traveling.

Sexual health resources vary between countries and if you require sexual health care while abroad or if you expect that you will need specific sexual health services while abroad, it can be useful to know what resources are available in the country that you will be traveling to before deciding to go there. If you travel with a University-sponsored trip such as for an internship through the International Internship Program, the Streicker Fund, the Global Health Program, or the Princeton Environmental Institute, or for thesis research funded through University sources, you are automatically enrolled in International SOS, which is an international emergency medical assistance and insurance service. International SOS will be able to connect you to accredited, English-speaking doctors in the country and will often be able to connect you to LGBTQ+ healthcare allies at your request. Before traveling, consult with representatives at ISOS either by phone or email to inquire about the medical resources available and if you should be concerned about any security risks. They will be able to let you know if they recommend that you travel. If you find yourself needing medical attention abroad, you should contact International SOS for assistance regardless if it is a general medical concern or a sexual health concern.

If you are planning to travel internationally to places other than Western Europe and Australia, it is recommended that you make a Travel Health appointment with University Health Services 4-6 weeks prior to international travel to learn about country-specific risks and precautions and how to stay healthy while traveling. During this appointment, you may also ask your medical provider questions related to sexual health concerns or services while abroad. If you take medication such as birth control or PrEP, let your provider know so they can guide you through the steps needed to acquire enough drug for the duration of your trip.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to also consider the social climate, local laws, and norms around sexual orientation and gender identity within the country that you wish to travel to. Before your trip, advisers at the Office of International Programs (OIP) can discuss options with you. OIP’s website also resources to help you navigate identity in other countries, including a geographic map of sexual orientation protection and criminalization laws by country. You can also email the LGBT Center (lgbt@princeton.edu) to discuss some pre-departure safety considerations or to get in contact with other LGBTQ+ identified students, who have studied abroad in your host country, to learn from their experiences.

Different cultures may also perceive gender identity or sexual orientation differently. For example, while you might be more easily seen as “gay” at home, locals in your host country might read you as straight. Additionally, you may have to decide whether and/or how to “come out” to your new social circles while abroad. Or how to safely find community with other LGBTQ+ folks in your host country.

If on University travel, you are subject to the host country’s laws, as University travel policy states that the University will not provide any legal services to students arrested while traveling abroad. In some countries, being gay is considered illegal and a punishable crime. In other countries, being gay is legal but not as socially accepted (i.e., may be met with hostility). You may be able to travel to extremely conservative societies by “hiding” your sexuality but it is important to consider the emotional toll of doing this. If you are concerned about this, reach out to Counseling & Psychological Services at McCosh Health Center to discuss your concerns, and to talk through support options while abroad.

Remember, there are a ton of campus and online resources to support you in navigating this decision. Consulting with International SOS, University Health Services, Office of International Programs or your specific program, or the LGBT Center should be able to help you make an informed decision about where to travel and how to maintain your health and safety.

Safe travels,

The Sexpert

Here are some additional resources:

U.S. State Department LGBTI traveler information: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelers-with-special-considerations/lgbti.html

https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/lgbtq-study-abroad-safety-issues

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA World) – https://ilga.org/maps-sexual-orientation-laws

https://case.edu/lgbt/sites/case.edu.lgbt/files/2018-04/lgbt-study-abroad-guide.pdf

Information for this article provided by Global ProgramSystem – Princeton University, LGBT Center, Office of International Programs and University-Sponsored International Travel regulations.

Campus sexplorer: is it okay to have sex in public spaces?

Hi Sexpert,

My partner and I have made a bucket list of places to have sex before we graduate. We were thinking of places like Frick, Frist, and Firestone. Do you have any tips for us?

-Campus Sexplorer

Dear Campus Sexplorer,

Thank you so much for your question. People have different preferences in regards to where they choose to have sex. While some may prefer having sex in a private place (or a traditional space like a bedroom), some may prefer having sex in a more public place (and are even aroused by the excitement of potentially getting caught). Others are open to all options. Wherever you choose to have sex is up to you but there are several things to take into consideration when selecting a location. First, it is important to take into consideration the attitudes of other people. While you may enjoy having sex in Frick, students, staff, and visitors do not necessarily want to be involved or witness your sexual act.

From a legal standpoint, it is also important to keep in mind that it is illegal to have intercourse or sexual activity such as oral sex in public places (N.J.R.S. 2C:14-4). If caught, you could be charged with a misdemeanor which if found guilty may remain on your permanent record and you may be placed on the sex offender registry. Even if you have sex in a car in a secluded place at night, that is still considered public sex in almost all jurisdictions. Although sex in a public restroom stall with the door closed is out of public view, most state decency laws prohibit sex in public restrooms. Dancing or grinding on each other is not considered a violation of the law but oral and manual (handjobs) copulation is considered sex and you can be charged with public indecency even if the genitalia is not visible. Having sex in a public place at Princeton is also considered a violation of Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities and you may face additional disciplinary action by the university if caught (RRR 1.3.3 “Sexual Misconduct”).

While we do not condone illegal behavior, if you choose to engage in sex acts in more public places, consider times when it might be less populated, like late at night or early in the morning. Or look for places where you can lock the door. This way you are less likely to get caught, or to be inconsiderate to the people around you.

It is completely understandable if you are aroused by the danger aspect of public sex. If that’s the thrill you’re looking for, you could try having sex in your room with the blinds open, as a safer way to experiment with exhibitionism without getting caught. You can also fantasize aloud with your partner about what you want to do in public to get your engines revved up, but then take it to a private place to play it out.

Ultimately, when deciding a place to have sex always remember to remain respectful of your community members and ensure both you and your partner feel comfortable, consent to all activities, and practice safer sex.

Best,

The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by NJ State Legislature, Princeton University’s Rights Rules and Responsibilities, and Criminal Defense Lawyer.com

Sexpert topic round-up: seeing healthcare providers over the holidays

Hi Readers,

Heading home for the holidays can be a great time to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider(s). Check out previously posted articles about different health-related screenings, switching birth control, and starting PrEP. We hope this is a friendly reminder to talk to your healthcare provider(s) about any health-related concerns you may have and about preventative care options.

-The Sexpert

Fluid Detective: Cum or Discharge?

Dear Sexpert,

Basically, my boyfriend and I were in bed. He was going down on me while simultaneously fingering me. When he was doing that I felt like something was going to be released but I thought it would be squirting. My body did become a little tensed up and my muscles felt stuck. When we finished having intercourse, he said that there was some liquid that has flown down my vagina. He thought it was cum. I have a history of white discharge, but this one seemed a lot more liquidy. I don’t know if I came or if it was white discharge. Could you help me out? 

-Fluid Detective 

Dear Fluid Detective,

For people with vaginas, ejaculation is a topic that’s widely contested, infrequently researched, and often misunderstood, so I’m happy to provide you with some information.  Let’s start by distinguishing between orgasm/coming and “squirting.”  Orgasm can occur from oral or manual stimulation of the clitoris, as well as vaginal penetration.  Although the physiological and emotional responses associated with an orgasm vary from person to person, an orgasm is associated with contraction of pelvic floor muscles (the muscles located under the uterus, bladder and bowel), intense pleasurable sensation, and the release of hormones, endorphins, or fluid.  Some people experience altered states of consciousness, changes in  breathing or heart rate, or feelings of warmth.  Therefore, the sensation of tense and tightened muscles you described could have been an orgasm!

As mentioned, orgasm may or may not be accompanied by the release of fluid.  A literature review published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2013 found that 10-54% of women have experienced orgasm accompanied by release of fluid.  Limited research suggests that this release of fluid,  sometimes known as “squirting”, has been associated with a specific area on the vaginal wall called the G-spot.  The G-spot is a sensitive area behind the front wall of the vagina located between the back of the pubic bone and the cervix.  When stimulated with penetration of a penis, fingers, or other object, some women report a gush of fluid rushing from the urethra.  Recent research has found that this fluid, produced by the Skene’s gland near the urethra, is similar to that produced during penile ejaculation–minus the sperm– and may contain urine.  The fluid is generally odorless and can be clear or milky.  Fluid from “squirting” is not to be confused with arousal fluid or vaginal lubrication, which is a common physiological response to sexual excitement.  During arousal, an increase in blood flow to the genital area pushes fluid to the surface of the vaginal walls.  This lubrication allows for smoother penetration of the vagina.

Due to the broad range of sexual responses and experiences with orgasm, there is no way to tell whether the liquid you are referring to was an experience with “squirting” or vaginal lubrication. Experimenting with G-spot and clitoral stimulation by yourself or with your partner could give you a better idea of your body’s physiological responses and the range of orgasmic experiences that are possible.  For clitoral stimulation with the mouth, be sure to use a dental dam to lower risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  For stimulation of the G-spot via penile penetration, use a condom as a physical barrier method for STI and pregnancy prevention, or other form of birth control to prevent pregnancy, if you know your partner has tested negative for STIs.

If you have further questions or want to learn more about sexual health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

-The Sexpert

References:

  1. https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/g-spot
  2. https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/male-and-female-orgasm-—-different-0
  3. https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/getting-wet-cervical-fluid-vs-arousal-fluid-vs-discharge
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23634659%20

 

Risky Business: Consuming Ejaculation

Dear Sexpert,

I hang around in the evening with friends and we sometimes have some beer. We were hanging recently and we all got a McDonald’s. I was with three guys and we were fooling about and they ejaculated into a shake and got me to drink it. I was like Eew at first but when I started drinking it I quite liked that they were all focused on watching me and the attention I got. I couldn’t taste their stuff and it was fine. Is this risky? I’m guessing they may want to try it again soon.

 -Risky Business

Dear Risky Business,

Let me start out by saying there’s no single definition as to what “risky” sexual behavior is. For example, risk can refer to the likelihood of getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), your personal safety during an encounter, your comfort level and how close the encounter came to any personal boundaries you may have, or to potential social or interpersonal impacts of a sexual encounter. Additionally, some sexual activities can be legally risky or illegal. While legality, and the risk of getting pregnant or contracting an STI can be somewhat objectively interpreted (through the known effectiveness of different types of contraception and knowledge of your partners’ and your own sexual history and STI test results), your comfort and safety regarding a sexual encounter have to be interpreted through your own feelings. Let’s address each aspect of risk of your encounter in turn, but remember that many of the aspects solely rely on what you want to do sexually, and what you consent to.

First, you cannot become pregnant through drinking ejaculate (or through oral sex, for that matter). However, you can still contract STIs through contact with bodily fluids (i.e., blood, semen, vaginal fluid). Many of the most commonly spread STIs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes, can be spread through oral contact with ejaculate. Without knowing the STI statuses of your friends, you were potentially incurring risk for STI transmission. Engaging in oral play is safer with use of barrier methods (e.g., condoms) and/or confirming negative STI status of partners involved.

Consent by all parties, and trust that your partner(s) will abide by the limits of your consent, is crucial for any sexual encounter. Consent must be affirmative (“yes, I want to do this with you”), specific (“I want to do ___ with you, but not ___”), ongoing (“I am still okay with what we’re doing”), and uncoerced. If someone pressures you to do something until you give in, that is not consent freely given. Additionally, if someone is incapacitated (due to drugs, alcohol, or mental or physical incapacitation), they cannot give consent. By your description of the encounter, it is unclear whether you fully consented to the activity, or may have felt pressured into it. You said that you were initially uncomfortable with it and it also sounds like you had not discussed ahead of time what you were going to do, and what you were comfortable with. If this is the case, it could suggest that future encounters with these friends are risky in the sense that they may again not listen to and respect your wishes. I encourage you to reflect upon how much you trust them, and whether you are comfortable with what happened and/or feel confident that you can be honest with them in the future about your boundaries.

Legality also factors into the risk of this experience. From your question, it sounds like you may still have been near the McDonald’s and in public when this occurred. In many states, including New Jersey, public sex acts are considered misdemeanors, and depending on the state and manner of the offense, they can count as sex crimes. It’s legally risky to have any kind of sexual encounter, including exposing one’s genitals, in public (N.J.R.S. 2C:14-4). As well, if you were drinking beer in public, this violates restrictions on public consumption of alcohol, and also underage drinking laws if you or any of your friends are under 21. If you were in a car at the time, it is also illegal to have an open container in a motor vehicle, and it is dangerous (and depending on age and level of impairment, possibly illegal) for anyone to drive after consuming alcohol. Finally, keep in mind that consent requires full competence; people who have been drinking to the point of incapacitation cannot consent.

Finally, it’s important for you to think about what exactly about your encounter you liked, and whether you want to repeat it. It sounds like you may have liked the way your encounter made you feel (paid attention to) more than you liked the encounter itself. If this is the case, consider whether you were actually happy and comfortable with what you did, or whether you were only comfortable with it because it had an emotional pay off. Doing things you’re not comfortable with sexually for an emotional payoff may leave you feeling cheated if you do the act and don’t get the reward. Don’t be afraid to consider other things that may make you feel the same way, like planning an event for your friends or finding another outlet for social exploration.

There is no sexual activity that is ultimately “good” or “bad”, but each has varying risks associated with it. In the case you described, there are many possible risks: contracting an STI, engaging in illegal acts, and/or of having your consent or boundaries violated. However, all of these can be prevented or addressed with some forethought. Consider the questions posed in this article, and if you still want to talk to someone about your sexual health, your feelings surrounding sex, or your thoughts on your emotional and physical needs, you can make an appointment with a counselor at Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS). McCosh Health Center also has STI testing, or can refer you to an outside testing facility for any of your friends that may not be students.

Best wishes,

The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by UK’s National Health Service and NJ State Legislature.

Don’t Test Me: Virginity Testing

Dear Sexpert,

My parents are very adamant about me abstaining from sex until after college.  Whenever I come home, they ask if I am still a virgin. I am sexually active, and I’m afraid they will find out I am lying.  Is there any test that can be done to confirm a woman’s virginity?

–Don’t Test Me

Dear Don’t Test Me,

First, let’s explore the term virginity.  Although it is widely believed that one “loses their virginity” after the first instance of penetrative intercourse, the concept of virginity is a heteronormative social construct.  A first sexual experience can encompass a multitude of different forms and personal, cultural, or religious significance. For some, the loss of virginity might include engaging in any form of sexual activity involving the genitals (e.g., oral or manual stimulation), engaging in new sexual experiences or activities with a current partner, engaging in sexual activities with a new partner, or having an orgasm.

Virginity testing has a controversial history here in the U.S. and around the world. I’m not sure what your cultural background is but you can find out more information about some cultural practices here and here.

Beyond being heteronormative, the emphasis on women’s “virginity” is a form of gender discrimination. The social expectation that girls and women remain “virgins” is based on stereotypes that female sexuality should be restricted until marriage. Virginity testing, or gynecological examinations looking for the presence of an intact hymen (a thin membrane that completely or partially surrounds the entrance of the vagina) have been popularized in many cultures.  Breaking of the hymen can occur through other non-sexual activities (e.g., using tampons, biking or horseback riding) and also may not result from penetrative sex.

In 2018, the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) called for the global elimination of virginity testing.  According to the WHO, there is no evidence that the appearance of female genitalia can indicate a woman or girl’s history of sexual activity. Beyond being a medically unnecessary process, virginity testing is oftentimes humiliating and painful for a woman.

I hope I’ve clarified that there is no anatomical indicator of virginity.  No one will ever be able to find out about your sexual experiences through anatomical indicators, and no one has the right to perform a vaginal examination without your consent. Additionally, rest assured that your medical care is confidential– in that your providers cannot share your medical information with your parents without your written consent.  If your parents’ restrictions are causing you distress, you may want to consider talking to a counselor (at Counseling & Psychological Services or outside of the University) – they can help explore possible conversations to have with your parents regarding your autonomy or ways to manage your feelings about navigating this tough dynamic.

If you have further questions about virginity, or sexual health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

-The Sexpert

Information regarding virginity testing provided by National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Postthe World Health Organization and The Telegraph.

Forgetful

Hi Sexpert;

I’ve been on birth control the past 2 weeks, being new to it, I’ve either missed a day or taken them hours late numerous times. I’ve had unprotected/no pull-out sex about 5 times this week, including today which was my original ovulation day (before I started BC), am I at risk for pregnancy?

-Forgetful

Dear Forgetful;

Thank you so much for your question! With our busy lives, forgetting to take an oral contraceptive method of birth control (i.e., the pill) happens to lots of people. It is great that you are making efforts to reduce your risk of pregnancy by using contraception; however, not taking it consistently while engaging in unprotected penetrative sex can increase your risk of becoming pregnant.

Birth control pills like many other forms of contraception are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you use birth control pills perfectly, meaning that you take it every day at the same time, it is over 99% effective. In reality, the pill is 91% effective because people are not perfect and forget to take or miss pills. If you forget to take the pill more than two days, the chance of ovulation (when a mature egg is released from the ovary and has the potential for fertilization) increases, meaning your risk of getting pregnant also increases.

How soon birth control takes effect after starting it depends on what kind of birth control you take. Combination pills (containing estrogen and progestin) can take anywhere from five to seven days after the first dose to become effective depending on when you begin taking the pill. Progestin-only pills, also known as mini pills, are effective after two days of starting the pill. During this time, it is best to use a second form of contraception such as an internal or external condom to prevent pregnancy. Progestin-only pills are really most effective if you take them at the same time every day. If you take the progestin pill three or more hours late, it is recommended that you use a backup-method for the next two days. If you are taking a combo pill and miss a day, you can take two pills the next day to get back on schedule. If you miss two or more consecutive pills anywhere in a combo pill pack, a backup birth control method, such as condoms or a diaphragm, is recommended for seven days. If you are unsure of which kind of birth control you are taking, ask your primary care physician, gynecologist, or a provider at McCosh and they will be able to provide more information regarding the effectiveness of the birth control you use.

If you are concerned about being pregnant, it is best to take a pregnancy test which can be purchased at the University Store, CVS on Nassau Street, or at McCosh Health Center. If you have any questions regarding how to use a pregnancy test or which one to purchase, feel free to make an appointment with a provider at McCosh.

If you choose daily birth control as your preferred method of contraception, is it very important that you take the pill every day to ensure its effectiveness. Missing just one day increases your risk of becoming pregnant. Setting a daily alarm or opting for a text reminder service can be helpful. If you continue to miss pills, it may be advisable to speak to your healthcare provider to discuss other contraceptive options, such as an intrauterine device (IUD), birth control patch, implant, or shot – which are sort of “set it and forget it” methods. If you are ever in doubt in regards to the effectiveness of your birth control or if you want to explore other options of contraception, speak to your primary care provider, gynecologist, or a provider at McCosh Health Services. You can make an appointment online at www.princeton.edu/myuhs.

— The Sexpert

Information on birth control provided Planned Parenthood, WebMD, and Bedsider

 

 

A Division of Peer Heath Advisers, Princeton University @princeton_pha