Not only do we all usher in a new year today, but 2008 marks the start of our 10th year at Scarleteen. Holy moley! I've got some plans a'brewing for some anniversary festivities throughout '08, but I'd like to usher in the year with you with a few ideas for some great resolutions to consider adding to your own lists.
• Get tested. If you've been or are currently sexually active, and have not yet started getting at least one full STI screening every year, make this your year to step it up and start. Take a look at the current poll we've got up on the front page of Scarleteen right now, which is pretty much in line with what sexual health experts find when it comes to teen and young adult testing. Most young people who are or have been sexually active have NOT been tested, and of those who have, very few do so as a habit. Too, as most sexual health clinics will also attest, far fewer men than women get tested (the average is usually that for every ten gals who get tested, one guy does). As of right now, the poll shows that of just over 200 sexually active male respondents, over 75% have never been tested, and less than 5% get tested every year; of 275 sexually active female respondents, just under 50% have never been tested, only around 20% get tested every year .
Lack of regular testing -- combined with a lack of consistent latex barrier use -- are a big part of why sexually transmitted infection rates among young adults are so high. Denial doesn't help: so many young people are sure that they or their partners can't be one out of the one of every four young people with an STI, or have a feeling that when a partner has said they've been tested, they probably haven't, but deny that suspicion to themselves, hoping they'll just get lucky.
I get that getting tested can be scary, especially the first time when you can't know that it's really a pretty mellow endeavor. Heck, the first time I ever got tested was in the early 80's when I couldn't look up anything, anywhere, on what to expect, and we had to wait an excruciating length of time to get results back. So, I get scary! I also get that it can seem like it's just better not to know. But it's really not. Most STIs are very easily treated, and will only create long-term health problems (including public health problems) or serious complications (like pelvic inflammatory disease) when they go undiagnosed and untreated. Even if you've picked up one of the STIs which is not curable or easily treatable, knowing as soon as possible lets you find out all you can do to manage the STI and best protect your health and that of your partners. It's also a pretty big bonus to get tested and get that feeling of being seriously in charge of your own sexual health; to know that you're bringing real maturity to the table when you tend to your sexual health.
Still scared? If you haven't been tested, chances are that most of your friends haven't either, so why not make it a group outing? You can all go, provide emotional support for each other, and then go do something fun afterwards. Have a sexual partner who also hasn't been tested? Get tested together: if you're looking for a way for two people to show commitment to each other in a very real way, it doesn't get more real than doing something together which shows a genuine concern for the health and well-being of you both. Already been tested? Offer to go with a friend who hasn't and be their support.
• Demonstrate compassion for people who aren't you. In a general way, that means becoming more aware of your own (and we all have it) internalized sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, looksism, ableism, classism. When it comes to sexuality, you might want to keep an eye out for if and how you judge other people based on their sexuality (or what you assume to be their sexuality) or sexual choices. For instance, if you tend to class women into who is a slut and who is a prude, toss that rubbish out with last year's trash. Devaluing people based on sexual reputations, gossip or their choices is for small-minded folk, not for the likes of you. If you feel like you're morally superior because you have sex with a partner you've been with for a year, but your best friend is inferior because she had sex with her partner of two weeks, see that thinking for what it is and work on dumping it: only we can figure out what OUR own best choices are, and they aren't always the best ones or the right ones for someone else. If you make assumptions about someone's sexuality based on how they're dressed, the color of their skin, where they live, who they hang out with, remind yourself that the only way we can know, for real, about someone's sexuality is when we really know a person and they talk to us honestly and openly about it, and without fear of our judgment. If you tease others about their sexuality in any way, give it a rest: teasing is often what people do when they're uncomfortable with a certain subject, and it often tends to result in making someone else feel really bad, all because you're uncomfortable. And when we look at the bigger picture, a lack of compassion for others -- when it comes to sex, when it comes to everything else -- helps keep up a lousy tradition of our whole culture being sexually unhappy and unhealthy.
• Make a wish list for your sexuality. Sound silly? Well, if it's not silly to make a wishlist for material items you want to fill the vacant hours, I can't figure how it would be to make a list about a huge part of yourself.
It can be really easy to get caught up in what partners want, the way the media and culture defines sexuality, the way any of us were reared to think about sexuality in general and our own sexuality, and in one area of our sexuality. It's a pretty big thing, and something that pulls from so many areas of our lives, and with all the outside static, it can be powerful to simply sit and write down what you wish for your own sexuality. Maybe you want to pay more attention to parts of your body you or partners have been ignoring, or make peace with parts of your body you've been unaccepting of. Maybe you want to mentally explore your sexual fantasies more. Maybe you want to come out of the closet and really start seeking out same-sex partnership. Maybe you want to have more time dedicated to masturbating. Maybe you've made some poor choices -- partners that haven't been good to you, sex that puts you at a high risk of pregnancy or infection -- and want to make better ones. Maybe this year you need to look into a better birth control method, improve at setting limits and boundaries, or just accept who you really are sexually, full-stop.
Is something standing in your way of having your sexuality be as positive as possible? For example, are you ditching safer sex and birth control for sex that might feel good during (though only if you can forget to be worried about the possible consequences), but leaves you feeling freaked out and terrified later? What can you do to make things better for yourself?
Whatever your wishes are, write them down somewhere, just for yourself, and acknowledge your own wants and needs when it comes to your sexuality as important, valuable and well worth investing your time and energy in.
• Do something... about sexual violence, or a lack of inclusive, comprehensive sex education, or homophobia or sexism or limited availability of needed birth control, abortion or sexual health services. Pick something that's really important to you and act up. Make a pledge to DO something. For example, if there isn't a GSA at your school, help get one started. Date rapes happening at your university and being treated like that's nothing to lose sleep over? Write an editorial or a letter to the editor of your college or city newspaper and speak out in larger places where more folks can hear you. Maybe you could create a pamphlet or flier to distribute about sexual safety and boundary-setting. Costs of birth control skyrocketed at your campus, or are there little to no sexual health services for students there? Organize a student protest. No comprehensive or inclusive sex ed at your school? Address the PTA or school board. Have you or someone close to you been victimized sexually, or due to gender, race, sexual orientation or sexual behavior? Don't stay a victim: stand up for yourself and others by reporting hate crimes or harassment and demanding accountability and justice. If you're in your teens and twenties, you've got more energy now than you likely ever will, and you're of a strongly underrepresented group. This isn't the time in your life to be timid, it's the time to bring all of that powerful, intense and creative energy to the table and make some noise! Older folks are supposed to be scared of and intimidated by you, remember? Righteously rebel.
• Start talking with your partner! Forgive my sounding crude, but before any one of us is really ready to open up our legs, we've got to be able to open our mouths. If we can't talk about it, we probably shouldn't be doing it. Almost every day, we hear from people who want tips on how to make sex better, thinking that it's about this special hip twist, or that special tongue move, when really, the best sex tip of all, always, is about moving your tongue in the way that makes words come out, and using your ears to listen to your partner. Sure, a lot of sexuality is innate, but when there's someone else involved, we can't pick up on their stuff by osmosis: we've got to ask and listen. And if we can't communicate with someone decently, sustaining a healthy, safe and mutually enjoyable sex life with them isn't very likely. If you want to start one new thing this year that is the most likely thing you can do to guarantee a satisfying sex life, all you really need to do is to get seriously gabby with your partner.
• Stop being a body bully. If your body image isn't in a good place, chances are that you're probably bullying your body on a regular basis: calling it names, pinching and poking it, putting it down, subjecting it to starvation or torture, or wishing it harm. Pledge to give your body a break, and by doing so, your self-esteem a much-needed shot in the arm. No body likes a bully, and being one won't make you feel or look better. Treating your body with respect, acceptance, love and healthy, balanced care is treating your SELF with those things: treating it poorly is treating YOU poorly. Even minor changes when it comes to being kinder to yourself in this regard will usually net you noticeable results. When you love your body -- no matter what shape or size it's in -- it's more likely to be as healthy as possible, and you're more likely to feel better about it. Everyone and their uncle makes promises of losing weight this time of year, so don't be a lemming and a slave to the scale. If your body is in need of a healthy makeover, by all means, make some changes to feed it better and give it more time and room to be active and in motion, as well as to get needed rest, but all of those things are gains, not losses, and none need to result in even a one-pound difference on the scale to leave you feeling physically and emotionally better. You don't really want to lose your body, after all: you want to aim to live in harmony with it. So, you gotta wish it peace, not peril.