Summering Safe and Sound
Here in the hemisphere I live in, we're into the swing of summer. Ah, summer, my personal favorite season. I love the sun, the warmth, everything blooming, the energy, the spirit of the season. As an alternative educator all my life, though, I miss out on that thing where teachers get summers off (though I've also known few teachers in the public sector who could afford to take the summer off, anyway), and as the Executive Director and lead educator at Scarleteen, I really don't get downtime. Summer is and has always been our busiest season. Eh, so it goes.
It's also the time of year when we tend to see the most new users coming to us because they're in a crisis or a panic, or are just really, really feeling down in the dumps. I'm a lot more concerned about those of you in that space than I am about my feeling occasionally ripped off of a summer vacation. We know that the idea of summer as a happy, carefree time for all young people doesn't square with the reality that for plenty, it's not, whether that's about tough stuff happening, or about having experiences that aren't negative, but are just super-challenging.
With that in mind, here are a few tips and things to think about as you get into (or grapple with) your summer groove:
If you're doing any partying this summer, party safe. Potential legal issues aside, we all know that when we're partying, particularly if that involves any kind of drugs or alcohol, that it can be pretty easy to cross the line from letting go a little to things winding up really out of control, sometimes to the point where people get hurt in very serious ways, whether that's about alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses, injuries, or sexual or other assaults or abuses. Around sexual assault and other kinds of intimate partner violence specifically, it's important to be very aware than even when just booze is part of the picture, the rate of abuse or assault goes up exponentially. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics, Alcohol and Crime, documented (1998) that two-thirds of victims of intimate partner violence reported that alcohol was involved in the incident, and that perpetrators of violence had been drinking in an estimated 45 percent of cases and their victims had been drinking in 20 percent of cases. In 2002 alone, over 70,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault in the U.S. (Hingson, R., Heeren, T., et al. "Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18-24." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 63)
When drugs or alcohol are on the scene, we've just got to know that while they may make us feel like we can be more relaxed, they're actually reasons we need to be more vigilant and mindful of our safety and the safety of others.
If you're hanging out with people you don't know well and trust -- it's pretty common to find oneself in or around new social circles when out of school -- bring someone with you who you do know and trust well, and you can look out for each other. Looking out for each other means helping each other to avoid being harmed, but also helping each other to avoid doing harm. Looking out for each other can also involve helping each other to stay moderate in your consumption of any substances, rather than binging or otherwise going overboard. Make a pact with whoever your party is that if either one of you seems like you're getting out of control or someone else seems to be aiming their out-of-control towards you, you'll help get both of you out of there, and to a safe space, ASAP. Don't forget that you, like everyone else, also always have the option to just opt out of parties where there's drinking or drugs, which can be a particularly smart choice if you don't feel confident about dealing with the tough stuff that can happen in those situations or don't have anyone you know will have your back, without question.
Avoid choosing to get sexual with someone when you're intoxicated in any way, especially someone you don't already have some kind of solid history with where you know you both can do a good job looking out for one another and have a good sense of each other's boundaries and nonverbal consent and nonconsent cues. If you're feeling the sexy vibes and want to pursue some kind of sex with someone in that situation, the better bet is to just trade numbers then, and connect again later when you're both sober. Not only does that help keep you safe, it also helps you avoid choosing to be sexual with someone who seems awesome and amazing when you're blitzed, but in the light of day, without the beer goggles, is the last person on earth you'd want to get down with.
Want extra tips on partying safely? Check out the following resources for some helps:
- SafeParty from UC Davis
- Tips from South Australia's Children, Youth and Women's Health Service
- MADD's Safe Party Guide
Summer can mean having more time where your parents or guardians aren't around, which can often mean more private time. For sex. It's great not to have any kind of sex in a five-minute rush or a back-of-the-mind panic around people coming home, but just because you might finally have the chance for some real lone time doesn't mean that's what you or a partner are ready for, or what's right right now, just because you have more space and place for it.
So, know what else you have extra time for? Opening your mouth. Communicating clearly, openly and well with current or potential sexual partners. Asking each other the big questions, and making sure that your sex life isn't just about feeling things out with your hands or other body parts, but also about feeling things out in hearts and minds, together. Take advantage of that extra space for talking more about sex instead of just having more sex. Not only does more communication tend to result in smarter choices and less STI, pregnancy and iffy emotional risks, it also tends to result in better sex that people enjoy a lot more. Part of talking more is about protecting each other from the crummy stuff, but it's also about nurturing the fun stuff, about communication that expresses what you've been enjoying, what you want to explore, and all the positive ways you're feeling. feeling tongue-tied? We can help.
Our users also often voice that during the school year, finding the time or space to get the sexual healthcare they need can be tough. So, how about taking advantage of the extra time during summer for that? If you're already sexually active make sure you make time this summer to get up-to-date with STI testing, other preventative care, and with your method of contraception if you need one. If you're not sexually active now, but think you might be soon, how about scheduling en educational visit with a sexual healthcare provider to find out ahead of time what you need to know to make your own best choices and be prepared to be sexual while still reducing your risks of unwanted or unhealthy outcomes? Need help finding a provider? We can help with that, either through our youth services database here, or can give you one-on-one help via our message boards or text service to find someone you can access and afford near you.
Remember, you also have some extra time to get the sex information and education that you need. So, that thing or issue you feel like you don't know that much about, or aren't sure you have the right information on? That occasional rainy day is a time when you can really take time going through a site and resource like this one.
Grand romance...stuffed into five minutes. If we do get involved in a summer romance (or lustmance, or both), especially if we're away from home, or the other person is, it can be easy to feel like we have to try and cram things that would part of a longer relationship into a very short time, or rush into things because we worry the opportunity we've got is the only one we have. It can feel sometimes like we need to have or create the Cliff's Notes version of a relationship.
By all means, if you feel good about being spontaneous, and you and whoever else is involved can have things move a little faster than usual while still feeling prepared, emotionally and practically, to deal with that and the outcomes, it's not like there has to be anything wrong with a taste of the whirlwind. Just be sure that you do try and check in with yourself and the other person often and thoughtfully, rather than getting too caught up in the flow. There's always time for talking and negotiating, and if and when there's not, that's often the signal of a bad-news scenario you'll probably regret, rather than the makings of a lovely, wistful summer memory. The really good stuff in life rarely is something that won't wait when we need to wait or feel like we or the other person would feel a lot better if we did, or like what we'd do in a hurry would be a lot more fun and beneficial if we slowed it all down some.
Need some help with that? We've got a piece that can help you out.
Sex couldn't possibly be more boring than this. Oh, sure it could.
You don't need me to tell you that sometimes life is boring, and that it's easier to get really, really bored if you're out of school and don't have anything, or enough, to do. Sometimes that winds up resulting in having sex because we're bored.
Often, that tends to be a pretty crummy motivation to have sex, no matter how old people are, and one that often results in sex that isn't that exciting, either, or which we wouldn't otherwise choose if we were not So. Very. Freaking. Bored. If and when we feel apathetic and super-whatever about life, we can also wind up taking some sexual risks we'd rather not, too.
This is just another place to check in with yourself and someone else. If you or they seem or feel like you're settling, just accepting sex because it's there and nothing else really is, or besides being sexual time spent together is a total yawner, find something ELSE to do that isn't so boring, something that engages you, that you earnestly feel passionate about. Once you do that, you can review a potential sexual situation through clearer eyes, eyes without the murky, milky haze of nothing to do. And then if you do choose to be sexual, still, chances are good it's not only going to be safer and sounder, but also a lot more interesting, rather than just one more thing to feel bored with.
Summer lovin'...when it's about everyone but you. Speaking of summer romances, maybe it's not you having one. Maybe it's your best friend. or a few of your friends, Or, good gawd, all of your friends. Except you. You might feel lousy about that, both because they seem to be having such an amazing experience, and because on top of that, you've wound up with less to do and experience yourself this summer with your friends all tied up in romances.
We're not going to say that can't suck, because it really can. But do try and keep it in perspective, and remember that falling in love or in list aren't the only great adventures out there or ways to have awesome life experiences in summer or at any other time. In fact, when those are our only great adventures, it makes for a pretty blah life, usually with pretty blah people.
Figure out ways you can also get immersed and engaged in something great that really makes you stretch this summer, whether it's some travel, a summer job or volunteer gig (if your folks are paying your rent, take advantage of a time in life when you can work for free and thus, do anything you want!), or starting or finishing a creative project you can give loads of time to, whether that's starting or joining a band, making a zine, building a website, taking a self-defense class, constructing the world's largest sand castles, or forging a new trail in some nearby wilderness. Even just getting outside, without any real purpose or great aim, sure beats the alternative of not doing anything else at all but feeling lonely. It can also make getting through next winter feel like less of a drag.
If you're looking to meet new people for potential relationships, many of those things are also way better ways to do that than being the perpetual third wheel of your best friend and her girlfriend or sitting in your room being bitter and pissed.
If you're looking for volunteer opportunities or internships, here are some organizations we really like, and some resources to help get you started (we also can always use volunteers, too!):
- The Feminist Majority Foundation's database of feminist jobs and internships
- Amnesty International
- The ACLU
- Habitat for Humanity
- The YWCA
- Do Something
How did last year go for you as far as having the kind of support and community you need? Summer can be a good time to set yourself up now to be better supported for the summer and the coming school year, and a good time to get help if we're stuck with anything in life, or struggling with things that we just don't seem to be making any headway with on our own. So, if you know you felt like you didn't have squat when it came to, say, LGBTQ community and backup last year, use some spare time now to find out what's around for you that you can use. Did you grapple with depression or anxiety last year? Why not talk to your doctor or community center about counseling resources while you have some extra time so that you can better enjoy the rest of the summer, and walk into the school year feeling more able to deal with it right from day one. Not sure what your new college offers in terms of any kind of support resources? Do some research now, before you go, so you know what those resources are before you need them in a pinch. Summer can be a really great time to take care of ourselves and feel great about it.
Don't forget: we're always available to help you, and not just in crisis, but with ways to help prevent being in crisis in the first place. We're glad to help you think through sexual and relationship choices carefully and with some extra perspective. We can help you better communicate your wants, needs, limits and boundaries to new partners or potential partners. We can help you figure out if a given kind of relationship or sexual situation really fits who you are, where you're at right now in your life, and if it does or doesn't seem likely to really fit what you know you want and need. We can also help you tweak things a bit when those relationships or situations seem mostly good, but when you know or get the sense that you or a partner want or need something a little different or extra for everything to shift from good to great.