Author Archives: SuzyKnew!

About SuzyKnew!

SuzyKnew! is dedicated to improving the sexual and reproductive health and sexual pleasure of women of color.

Fertility Friday: 7 Things No One Tells You About Menstrual Cups

This week SuzyKnew! shares one of Fertility Friday’s popular blog post and podcasts on menstrual cups by Lisa Henderson-Jack.

Have you ever used a menstrual cup? Let me tell you, they are amazing! So freeing. There were so many things that I loved about menstrual cups right off the bat. I fell in love with the idea of using a product that was made for women by women, I loved using a something that collected my period, instead of absorbing it, and I also felt that I was being rebellious somehow by not participating in the “sanitary napkins” shopping experience at my local drug store anymore. I would walk past the “feminine hygiene” aisle in the store and quietly laugh to myself thinking — HA! I don’t need you anymore, or something to that effect.

One of the huge benefits that I immediately saw after I started using menstrual cups was the cost savings. Instead of spending money every single month on menstrual products I spent my money one time and had a product that was not only more comfortable to use and more effective at collecting my period blood, but since it was a reusable product I was immediately able to make a positive environmental impact by reducing the waste that I was putting out into the world.

Even though I could write a 5,000 word ode to menstrual cups because, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE menstrual cups, and I’ve been using them for going on 15 years now, there are a few things that you need to know if you’re thinking about using them and haven’t tried them yet. If you’ve been using menstrual cups for some time now you’ll be able to relate to many of the experiences that I’ve had and I’d love to hear yours!

So here goes….the 7 things no one tells you about using menstrual cups:

1. At first glance they look kind of…BIG – Um yeah. When you get your brand new menstrual cup and take it out of the package for the first time it looks pretty big. This is definitely a subjective measure, and perhaps your experience was different, but I need to call a spade a spade here. Menstrual cups are at least 2-3 times wider than tampons. Even the super duper “torpedo tampons” (as I used to lovingly call them as a teenager). I’m pretty sure you could stuff at least 3 tampons inside an average sized menstrual cup. My first thought was — where the heck is that supposed to go?

2. There is a steep learning curve – If you thought you were going to buy a menstrual cup and your first experience using it was going to be super easy and wonderful prepare to be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll eventually have that amazing experience with the birds singing and the amazement from using such an effective and comfortable product, but it doesn’t start out that way.

You’ll likely have at least one day where you feel the cup poking out of you all day if it slips down too far, especially if you’re still figuring out just how far up it really has to go. Once you’ve gotten the hang of how to insert it properly, you’ll get to that wonderful stage where you don’t feel it at all.

Using a menstrual cup is nothing like using a tampon. Most tampons come with applicators, and those applicators allow you to get away with not ever really having to touch yourself. You can use tampons and never have to put your fingers inside your vagina. You can disconnect from the whole experience altogether, but with a menstrual cup there’s no way around it. You’re hands are going in. Possibly further in than they’ve ever been. You’re charting new territory here, and any ideas you had about how long, wide or big your vagina actually is will likely be proven wrong within the first few hours of using your cup!

3. They leak…sometimes – I don’t believe for a second that I’m a unicorn. I can’t be the only one. With that being said, my periods have always been heavy, and that definitely plays a role in the leakage. I fill an entire cup on at least 2 separate occasions during my period, and FYI, when your flow reaches the top of the cup it starts leaking. With that said, I’ve also experienced some degree of leaking even when the cup isn’t 100% full. I’ve experimented with different cups, but even so I’ve found there always to be some degree of leaking involved in the process. Although this is a drawback, I found the leakage situation to be much worse with tampons, and I only experience leakage on my heavy days. As for a solution? I use my cup along with my handy dandy Lunapads washable panty liners, and voila! Problem solved.

4. The first time you use it it will probably feel horrible – I hinted at this above, but I’m giving it it’s own bullet point here. The first time I ever used a menstrual cup I couldn’t figure out how to get it in far enough, and it kind of stuck out all day long. It was rubbing against my vaginal opening all day, and let’s just say it wasn’t a particularly comfortable or enjoyable experience. BUT — and this is really important– it was totally worth it!

Don’t get discouraged if your very first period with the cup isn’t super smooth and easy. Trust me when I say that it’s part of the process. Push through. Expect the first period or two to be a bit dicey. Figure out how to insert the thing correctly. Remember that you can’t feel it at all when it’s in the right place. And to take one step further, if you really do find it uncomfortable there are a plethora of different brands that come in different shapes and sizes. Don’t give up! You’ll find the cup that’s right for you. It’s out there. And you never know, maybe you’ll surprise yourself and get it “right” on your first try.

5. Menstrual cups are way more comfortable to use….once you get the hang of it – If you are or were a tampon or pad user, I believe you’ll love menstrual cups. If you’ve used tampons before then correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve probably experienced the lovely feeling of inserting (or removing) a dry scratchy tampon on one of your light days? When the tampon isn’t soaked, and it just feels wrong when you pull it out? Or worse, you try to pull it out and it doesn’t move…because it’s so dry. Since menstrual cups are designed to collect rather than absorb, this is an issue you’ll never have to face again. Simply rinse your cup and insert – and you’ll never experience that uncomfortable dry scratchy feeling you get with tampons. When it comes to pads, I’ve never been a huge fan of that slippery slimy feeling I get when I use them. You might say that perhaps I’m not using the “right ones”, but either way it’s just not my favorite experience. Again, menstrual cups for the win!

6. Your period is really red, bloody and not completely liquid – If you’re wondering “geez Lisa…tell me what you really think”…fair enough, I’m not exactly known for dancing around the point. When you use a menstrual cup you actually see your period. This may be the first time you’ve ever had the opportunity to see how much you really bleed, what your blood really looks like, and really get the point that your period is what happens when your endometrial lining is shed.

Your period is made up of blood, tissue, and endometrial secretions. It really gets at the point that your period is absolutely not that “blue colored liquid” we see in those creepy menstrual product commercials. You may also come to appreciate how ineffective tampons really are at collecting your menstrual fluid. Once you see what’s really coming out of you, you’ll discover what all the “fuss” is about when it comes to menstrual cups. They are designed to collect your period, and that makes way more sense when you see what’s actually coming out of you!

7. You’ll feel a strange sense of satisfaction every time you walk past the “feminine hygiene aisle” – It’s probably silly to some degree, but using menstrual cups makes me feel kind of like a rebel of sorts. Like I’m rejecting the system and challenging the status quo. Menstrual products are expensive, uncomfortable and bad for the environment.

You can just google “menstrual products landfill” or “how many pads will I use in my lifetime?” to find out how much subscribing to this consumerist model of period management negatively impact’s the world. Just take a moment to think about how much waste menstrual products generate on a global scale. And to make matters worse, these are products that don’t necessarily biodegrade. That means they just sit there for thousands of years and clutter up our beautiful world…but I digress. Environmental rant over.

In addition to the environmental impact, what about the impact on your wallet? How does it feel to know that someone (probably male) is profiting from your natural bodily functions? I’ve often wondered why menstrual products aren’t free and available in every public washroom like toilet paper? Menstrual cups are reusable and sustainable. You pay for this amazing product once, and you are able to rely on it for years. Like 10 or more if you choose. The cost savings over even a 5 year period are formidable, and the experience as a user is much more positive.

All this is to say that I feel a lovely sense of satisfaction whenever I walk past the “feminine hygiene” aisle. Like I’m giving the metaphorical finger to the for profit menstrual product industry. Frankly the phrase feminine hygiene pisses me off a little. It’s a normal bodily function. Why don’t they just label the aisle “pads/tampons/panty liners”? Why is there all this unnecessary secrecy and shame around menstruation? Having periods doesn’t make me “unhygienic” thank you very much, but I’ll leave that discussion for a future post.

If you loved this blog post, I recently released an entire podcast episode on menstrual cups! Click here to tune in.
Now I want to hear from you! Have you used menstrual cups before? Did you like them? What was your experience like? Were you able to find one that works for you? Are you “converted”? Or do you prefer regular tampons and pads? Please share your experiences in the comments clicking here to get to the site!

Is A Threesome For Me? ASK JANICE

Dear Janice: I really hope you can help me with my problem. My boyfriend of 2 years wants me to have a threesome with a mutual female friend of ours. She’s game, he’s game, but I’m not. At all.

I’m not a prude by any means. I personally don’t have a problem with people having threesomes if that’s what they want to do. In fact, under different circumstances, I might even be down for a threesome. But I don’t want to do this.

My boyfriend keeps bringing it up, trying to change my mind. Even the mutual friend has brought it up to me. I feel like they’re putting all this pressure on me to do something I don’t want to do.

I love my boyfriend and don’t want to lose him over this. Should I just go ahead and participate in a threesome to keep my man happy? What should I do?

Please help.
Sincerely,
Happy with Just the Two of Us

Three friends relaxing at the beach.

Dear Happy,

First of all, you should NEVER do anything sexually that you don’t want to do. Period. Full stop.

That said, I understand your quandary. On the one hand, you want to keep your man and make him happy. On the other hand, you’re not feeling a threesome. So, what should you do?

You did say that under different circumstances, you might be down for a threesome, but you didn’t elaborate. So my questions to you are:
1. Under what circumstances would you be down? Maybe you could counter-offer with a scenario you would like. That way, your boyfriend gets his threesome, but it’s in a way that you like, too.
2. Would you be down with a different woman? Maybe it would be easier for you if the third person was a stranger? The partner he suggests is a mutual friend. I could see how that might be a little awkward, especially if you all run in the same circles. A stranger or at least someone not as well-known to you both might be easier to handle in the long run.
3. Would it be better for you if the third person were a man? I know a lot of straight men aren’t cool with the idea of sharing their woman with another man right in front of them. And a lot of straight men also worry about “crossing swords” with each other. But if this scenario is more appealing to you, maybe your guy would be cool with it.
4. Would you be more into it if you and your boyfriend weren’t so serious? You did say that you’ve been with him for 2 years, implying a certain level of commitment. Maybe if you two weren’t as serious, you might be more inclined to share him with another woman. If this is the case, you need to express that to your guy.

Since you said you’re not opposed to threesomes in general, there must be a reason why you don’t want to do it with these two people. It could be for the reasons I listed above, or it could be something else.

Whatever the reason for your not wanting to engage in a ménage-a-trois with your boyfriend and this mutual friend, I stand by my original statement: you should NEVER do anything sexually that you don’t want to do.

Also, you might want to ask a few questions, yourself. Like, why is he so insistent on having a threesome with this particular woman? And why is she so insistent? Is there some reason they’re both pressuring you?

I think you need to dig a little deeper, Sister. I see red flags all over this one. But still, you should stand your ground. If you lose your guy over this, then he wasn’t the one for you.
Good luck.

About Last Night – By Sophia Ned-James

Passion in bed

His phone rang just as he was kissing his way down my body. Perfect timing, I thought. What a fitting end to a pretty shitty day.

“You gonna answer that?” I asked with an attitude, bracing for an end to the blinding pleasure his tongue gave me.

“Nope,” he said, glancing up at me. I was a little surprised by the intensity of his gaze. “I’m a little busy right now.”

“But aren’t you expecting a call from your boss?” I asked, gently grabbing his head before he could lower it again.

“I said,” he paused and grasped both my wrists with one of his strong hands. He removed my hands from the side of his head and continued

“I’m a little busy right now. So please, Sophia. Lie back and relax, Baby. Let me do this.”

I quickly complied and before I could protest further, he’d worked his way down to the place between my legs that he’d already claimed so long ago. As usual, he took his time and started off slowly, giving my tender clitoris a chance to harden and grow in his mouth. He licked and sucked, gradually pulling me into his rhythm, his pace.

I moaned when the tip of his taut tongue hit that one spot, his spot, on the side of my clit. Royce* has gotten so good at reading my body, he knew exactly when and how to tease that spot to make me wetter. As usual, it worked, and soon I was moaning and writhing to my own rhythm.

One of his hands held onto one of my hips, limiting my movements in a way that was both frustrating and erotic. His other hand crept up my body and grabbed my breast, tweaking my hardened nipple once, twice, and a maddening third time. I arched my back to give him better access, and he responded with just a little more pressure from his tongue.

He continued to tease my nipple with one hand while his tongue and lips worked their magic. He slid his other hand under my ass and gave it a good squeeze. Somehow, he managed to both squeeze my ass and use his thumb to tease my pussy which, combined with the way his tongue lashed at my clit, drove me right to the brink.

I tried to grab his head, to hold it in place so that I could get to where I so desperately needed to go. But he thwarted my efforts, moving his head just out of my reach. This meant his mouth abandoned my pussy and I groaned in displeasure.

“Shhh,” he whispered, kissing my inner thigh. “I’m gonna let you cum, Baby. Just not yet.” He paused for my response. When I had none, he continued. “Are you gonna let me take my time, Sophia?”

Gritting my teeth in frustration, I nodded. “Good,” he said, kissing my thigh again, only a little higher this time. “Now where was I?”

He slid both hands under my ass and raised my hips off the bed. Leaning closer, he licked and then kissed my thigh again. Only this time, he was closer to his target.

“Was I here?” he asked, his deep voice teasing. He kissed me again, even closer. “Or here?” He kept repeating this all while licking and kissing the entire area around my pussy, but never actually touching it.

It was too much to bear. I needed his lips and tongue back on my clit where they belonged. But he was hell bent on making me wait for it.

Unable to help myself, I reached my hand down, hoping to give myself some relief. Royce gently, but firmly moved my hand away. “I thought you said you’d let me take my time,” he chastised, his deep voice rumbling. I could feel his breath on my pussy. It tickled.

Again, I didn’t answer him. All I could do was moan in protest. I both hated and loved when he tortured me like this.

My silence didn’t go over well. Before I knew it, Royce flipped me over onto my stomach and smacked my ass just hard enough to sting, but not hard enough to hurt. I almost came right then.

“Your man asked you a question, Sophia.” Now he was lying beside me, his warm breath on my ear as he slapped my ass again. “Are you going to let me take my time or not?” Hmm?” Another smack, this one a little harder.

“Yes,” I moaned. My voice cracked a little, and I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding my breath.

“That’s better,” he crooned. He stroked my bottom softly and said, “Now lift that ass in the air for me so I can lick my pussy from behind.”

While Royce took my sensitive love button into his mouth, he somehow managed to stick his finger in my pussy, while he simultaneously played with my butthole. It felt so good I couldn’t stop myself from moaning loudly.

“Yes!” I begged. “Right there! Please … don’t stop!” Royce didn’t stop. He sucked harder and stroked faster. Feeling the pressure build, I thrust my pussy harder onto his face. My hips seemed to have minds of their own because I was no longer in control of my movements.

I thrusted, and he sucked. I rocked back and forth, and he stroked. I may or may not have begged him to go harder and faster, but he did so anyway, sending me careening towards that sweet abyss.

My orgasm tore through my body like a typhoon. I think I screamed his name, but I can’t be sure. That’s because all my senses seemed to fail me, except for the sense of touch. All I could do was feel, and it seemed like every single nerve in my body was on fire.

It was one of those long-lasting, intense orgasms, too. The kind where you squirt a little, and end up panting afterwards.

It was exactly what I needed.

I don’t know how long it took me to catch my breath and come to my senses. But when I did, Royce was lying on his side next to me, propped up on one elbow, watching me. His expression would have seemed smug under any other circumstances. But he had every reason to be proud of himself.

My clit was still twitching with the aftershocks when I managed to say, “Damn! That was incredible, Baby.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. No let’s get some sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”

“But don’t you want me to …?” I started, reaching my hand towards his massive, hard dick.

Royce shook his head. Then he leaned over and kissed me softly on my lips. “Tonight was all about you,” he whispered. Immediately, my eyelids got heavy. He continued, “I can wait until morning. You had a rough day and needed that. So let’s get some rest and we’ll continue this tomorrow.”

I slept like a log that night.

*Royce isn’t my man’s real name. I keep that info to myself to protect his privacy.

Fertility Friday: What Does A Healthy Menstrual Cycle Look Like? The Menstrual Cycle As The 5th Vital Sign

Lisa Hendrickson Jack

Colleen Flowers is a Fertility Awareness Educator who loves teaching women and couples about their reproductive health from a holistic perspective. Colleen graduated as a Justisse Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner in 2012 and she has been working tirelessly in this field ever since! Colleen founded Flowers Fertility in 2011 where she teaches classes and offers private consultations so that women can better-understand fertility awareness charting, and improve their chances of conceiving or avoid pregnancy naturally.
In today’s episode, Lisa interviews Colleen about the menstrual cycle. Colleen takes us through the parameters of a healthy menstrual cycle, and why it is important to chart your menstrual cycles not only for birth control and conception but also for overall health and screening for potentially serious illnesses. Colleen talks about what to look for in a healthy cycle, how to know if your cycles are out of the normal range, and when to seek support from a health practitioner if you have concerns about your menstrual cycle.

Click here for the podcast and more.

 

Falling Off A Cliff – By F. N.

Thoughtful woman sitting on bed at home in the bedroom

It would be impossible to convey how many weeks it has taken me to write this article… the wash of anxiety every time I contemplate it; the bubbling in my tummy as I strategize how I will start, where I will start and what I will say.

Let’s start here: That sentence you just read? I’ve rewritten it three times. I took out the words “terror” and “shame” because I don’t want to sound dramatic. I decided against “trembling,” “nauseous” and “dreading” because I don’t want to seem like a weakling. The truth is my tummy isn’t bubbling. It is in knots. Because it’s easy to write about sex, relationships and reproductive health. I don’t have any baggage about what’s between my legs. Just the 500-ton tire iron I carry in my head. And the words I’m always so ashamed to say out loud.

*Deep breath* I suffer from clinical depression. The bad kind. The “can’t get out of your bed for days except to pee and nibble at stale crackers so your stomach doesn’t eat itself” kind. The “don’t answer calls, texts, smoke signals, knocks on the door, messages from Jesus, Beyonce or Maya Angelou” kind. The “don’t brush your teeth or shower till you have to go to therapy” kind (therapy is once a week, so you do the math). The “spend months weighing the most considerate way to commit suicide so you don’t leave the person who finds your body with a lifetime of nightmares” kind.

The kind black people don’t really talk about. Even now, when we say we’ve broken the silence around mental illness.

I’ve realized that we discuss self-care:

     Go to the spa so that the daily wear and tear of being a black woman doesn’t make you lose your mind.
     Go to church and hear the Word when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.
     Get your girls together, light candles, drink wine and lift each other up.
     Do yoga, eat well, get enough sleep, process historical trauma, yada yada yada.

But, somehow, we rarely have an honest dialogue about Clinical Depression, Major Depressive Disorder and the illnesses that make it into the DSM-V. We don’t create the spaces where people can share their truth and we can all acknowledge that sometimes life breaks your brain. And no matter how many Thursdays you spend telling a well-meaning woman with an LCSW about your complicated yet joyful childhood, or how many mornings you shovel a handful of pills into your mouth, your emotions don’t do what you tell them to, your thoughts are thick with darkness and every step you take is like trying to swim in molasses.

Yet, according to the CDC, there are about a million black women with major depression in America. For those who deal with abuse, trauma and PTSD there’s a higher incidence. For those who deal with chronic pain and health issues there’s a higher incidence. And the truth is it is impossible to talk about reproductive health as if it’s separate from mental health; as if the ability to know your body, accept and embrace it, explore your sexuality, make your own reproductive decisions and advocate for your rights doesn’t hinge on being able to function without a cloud of despair surrounding you.

But we try to.

We act as if serious mental illness is a spilt drink which will evaporate if we just ignore it. We overlook major depression because the world tries to kill black women and then tells us how inspirational we are for being strong enough to withstand the assassination attempts. And we buy into it. We don’t have time to be broken; black girl magic doesn’t color-coordinate with being pitiful. A fabulous twist-out can’t carry sadness in it, melanin and melancholy don’t live on the same block. Shit needs to get done.

So we do it.

We don’t receive the tools to recognize a brain when it’s breaking. We just tell ourselves we’re in our feelings, even as shit gets heavier and heavier. Nobody tells us that sadness is tripping off a curb; depression is falling off a cliff. Until there are too many of us at the bottom of the ravine.

So I’m typing this article, between sobs. Dreading the moment when you read it and whoever you pictured me as wilts, into some weaker, pitiable person.

But I have no choice but to write these words. I owe it to all the women who walk among us in silence, backs bent under the heft of stuff they are too scared to reveal…

The sistas whose libidos are so low from the blanket of grief they are wrapped in that their relationships are suffering and their chests are tight with fear…

The ones whose sex drives are suppressed by the antidepressants they are hoping will shake the blanket off — and who now have to reconcile the functionality the drugs are supposed to provide, with the anxiety over what havoc the chemicals might cause…

I write for the sistas who can barely make it to work or pack a lunch bag but who’ve told themselves that what they don’t do for their man another woman will — and who open their legs, burrow somewhere inside themselves and go through the motions because they can’t afford to lose one more thing…

And for the sistas who have every bit of sex they can, and drink desire like a drug, because being touched is the only thing that fights the voice telling them there is nothing to live for…

This is for the sistas who can’t find any way to love their bellies, thighs, stretch marks and saggy boobs right now because they themselves are flattened by pain…

For the sistas who haven’t been on top of their reproductive health because every ounce of their energy is used up by breathing in and out…

Hold on, sis. I see you. I feel you. I am you. The dark is deepest before the dawn.

F.N. is an internationally recognized author of fiction and non-fiction. She alternates between Accra and Washington, DC. 

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Lessons From The FLOTUS

A few days ago, the first lady of the United States (FLOTUS) gave her first sit-down TV interview. When she was asked about whether the stories of the Donald’s infidelity bothered her, Melania stated, “I’m a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do.”  What was conspicuously missing in her list of roles is “wife.”

When the ABC News’ correspondent pressed further and asked the FLOTUS if she loved her husband, Melania replied “We’re fine.” The FLOTUS did not say, “Yes. I love my husband.” The FLOTUS did not say, “Yes. I love the Donald.”

You know that’s right.

Many said the FLOTUS showed confidence during the interview. But, Suzy says the FLOTUS looked hurt and resigned… but determined.

Besides. What’s love got to do with it?

Lest the never-ending, rapid-fire White House scandals make us forget that it was only a few weeks ago after the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by a White House insider claiming that Trump was amoral and inept, when an outraged Donald’s first response was he could only trust his children. Not his family. Or, wife and children. But, he could only trust his children.

Ouch!

Yes, Ladies. It happens.  The men we marry or chose to be with can turn out to be real vipers. Part-time or full-time. We may know from the get go they’re no good but we chose to be with them any way.  We’re not perfect. We may have some bad motives or conflicted thinking ourselves. (Look at Melania in her African interview wearing an insulting colonial pith hat talking about #BeBest to Africans. Really?)

Our relationships may be more about money, status, sex, children, security, family or a whole bunch of other things and for a bunch of reasons –  other than love. And, it can be hard to face this harsh reality, especially when we’re humiliated.  Melania provides us a few lessons:  When we are humiliated because of our men or partners we need to hold our head high. We need to carry on and focus on other parts or our lives.

Beyond these lessons, we do have to figure out where love fits in our lives and relationships even if the FLOTUS may not be there yet. Accepting a fake relationship or poor treatment from a spouse is accepting a life with unrealized potential.  What role are we playing in a relationship gone wrong? What issues do we need to address before we can have a relationship based on love? After all, life has everything to do with love.

Photo courtesy of People Magazine

 

 

Fertility Friday: 5 Ways To Have Better Sex

This Friday, SuzyKnew! shares with you Fertility Friday’s suggestions on how to have better sex.  As someone who works one-on-one with women to understand their menstrual cycles and fertility, Lisa Hendrickson-Jack has a lot of insight into what makes sex better. She states:

What I’ve noticed is that the more I pay attention to when my clients are having sex in their cycles, the more I see a few troubling trends. One is how common it is for women to struggle with orgasm, vaginal dryness, and/or pain with intercourse, and another is the tendency for couples who are actively trying to conceive to only have sex during their fertile window. I’ll often see couples who stop having sex for the rest of their cycle after they’ve confirmed ovulation. Can you relate?

Far be it from me to tell you what your sex life should be like, but I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that I have your best interests at heart.

Sex is an amazing thing, or at least it should be, but only if you give it the time and attention it deserves. It’s pretty easy for sex to fall to the low end of the priority list the longer you find yourself in a relationship with someone, and especially when things get busy; but as I’m sure you can appreciate, when the sex starts falling to the wayside it can have a negative impact on your relationship overall.
If you’ve been trying to conceive for several months or even a year or more, then I’m guessing that your desire to have a baby has at least partially hijacked your sex life. What was once a carefree, fun, and stress reducing activity has now morphed into a purpose driven timed activity that feels more like a chore than a pleasurable trist after a long day of work.

I want to take a moment to honor your feelings around this. Unless someone has walked in your shoes and they really know what it’s like in their bones to try month after month to conceive with no avail, then they really can’t imagine how difficult it has been for you during this time. But even so, sometimes you need a gentle nudge from a friend who cares about you to encourage you not to let all of the magic go out of your sex life. So that brings me to a few things you can do to heat up the sex in your life. I mean, you’re having sex anyways right? May as well make it fun!

Click here to read Lisa’s 5 ways to have better sex

Power & Control: My Night Of Terror – JANICE

The first hit woke me out of a deep sleep. Stunned, it took me a few seconds to register what was happening. Beyond the ringing in my ears, I could hear a familiar voice, shouting angry words I couldn’t quite understand. Then he dragged me out of bed and slapped me, knocking me to the floor. I finally opened my eyes.

The only light came from the adjacent bathroom. Even in the semi-darkness of our bedroom and not fully awake, I could see how dangerous he looked with his clenched fists and raging eyes. I was terrified. And then it got worse.

That night, more than 27 years ago, the man I loved beat me for the first time. We’d been living together for about a year and half at that point, in a one-bedroom apartment near one of the city’s prettiest parks.

I don’t remember when I came to understand that jealousy was at the root of his rage, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. An ugly, twisted jealousy had lurked beneath the surface of our relationship from the beginning. In hindsight, there were several red flags throughout the relationship that foretold that beating. I just didn’t see them for what they were. Or I ignored them.

We met when I was in my mid-20s, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low because I’d stopped getting treatment for my depression. I was also lonely and tired of having one failed relationship after another. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a textbook target for an abusive personality.

Then I met HIM. We were set up by his cousin, who was dating one of my best friends at the time. He immediately stood apart from the other guys because he was really into me right away. That was the first red flag I ignored.

He fell fast and hard, and took me right along with him. At last, here was a man who made me his only priority from the start. With him, I was the smartest, coolest, most beautiful woman in the world! He was sweet and charming, and no one had ever treated me better.
His over-attentiveness was the opposite of what I was used to. In my previous relationships, I’d always felt like more of an option than a priority. That’s why, when more red flags popped up, I ignored them.

It’s sweet that he’s so possessive, I told myself. He must really love me!

The first major incident occurred a few weeks after we started dating. He flew into a rage just because I had a phone conversation with an ex-boyfriend. He ripped the phone out of the wall and flung it across the room. I know it’s crazy, but at the time I was more worried about my roommate’s phone than my own safety.

It shames me to admit this, but I actually liked his over-the-top reaction! I thought it proved he loved me, and so I happily promised to cut all ties with my ex. I know now that his behavior and my reaction to it were the genesis of the sickness that would consume our relationship. And it led to one of the worst nights of my life.

The night he beat me, his face was twisted with a rage I’d never seen. I almost didn’t recognize him, he looked so deranged.
Somehow, I got to my feet. He hit me again, which surprised me because I honestly thought he was done. I tried to get away from him, but he was too fast. Plus, he had the advantage of surprise. He grabbed me and hit me again, even harder.

I’d never been hit like that in my life, by my parents or anyone. I’d never even been in a real fight! For the first time in my life, I felt real terror and pain.

I fought back, though. All these years later, I’m still proud of how hard I fought back that night. Once I knew he was really trying to hurt me, I hit back. I kicked back. I even hit him over the head with an empty liquor bottle like they do in the movies!

It’s funny what we remember about traumatic events. While parts of that night are blurry, I still clearly remember that empty bottle. It was a gin bottle, and it was useless against his rage.

He got more vicious. He punched and kicked me all over the apartment, forcing me into survivor mode. I remember protecting my face and head.

Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, or IPV) is abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetuated by one intimate partner against another. It’s not just physical assault and battery, but also includes sexual assault/rape and psychological, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse.

IPV is so pervasive, a woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States. While men are often targets, 85% of abuse sufferers are women. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, color, age, class, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, socio-economic status, education, gender identification or geography. Still, nobody ever thinks it’ll happen to them.

I certainly never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t grow up with domestic violence. My father never raised his voice, much less his hand to my mom, my sister or me. A social worker who spent most of his career advocating for abused and neglected children, my father didn’t even believe in spankings!

On the other hand, my abuser saw his step-father beat his mother often, which was another red flag I ignored. His parents had long been divorced and married to other people by the time we started dating. We spent a lot of time with his father and step-mother, who were always good to me.

I only met his step-father and mother once, though. And that was enough for me, because his step-father was clearly a cruel and bitter man. Unfortunately for me, he was also the man who raised my boyfriend, since his mother got full custody in the divorce. So my abuser spent much of his childhood in their toxic home.

Even though he harbored deep resentment towards his step-father for beating his mom, my abuser still continued the cycle. Many children who grow up in violent households end up becoming abusers or abuse sufferers, themselves.

Anyway, as good as those early days were, the beating that would change me forever wasn’t the beginning of our troubles. Before that first punch ever landed, he’d already established a pattern of power and control that was actually harder to recover from than the bruises he inflicted.

His jealousy soon included all my friends and family. He resented any time I spent with anyone other than him. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I slowly started isolating myself from my loved ones to avoid conflict.

He was really insecure, which manifested itself subtly through emotional bullying and manipulation. For example, he was intimidated by my college-educated family and “bourgie” upbringing. Conversations would turn ugly the moment he felt outmatched intellectually. He’d pout and whine if I read books for any length of time. And he always found ways to disparage higher education, once referring to libraries and colleges as “buildings full of lies”.

I dumbed myself down to protect his ego and avoid conflict. I even stopped talking as much, lest I prompt an argument. Normally a talkative social butterfly, I actually got quiet. I didn’t even recognize myself! He bullied me into dimming my own light so that he could shine, and I let him do it to keep the peace. After all, I loved him.

The isolation was the worst, though. He never explicitly forbade me from seeing my family or friends. But as soon as I returned home from seeing them, he’d pick a fight. He was especially ornery if I came home happy, even admitting that he hated the idea of me having fun with anyone other than him. Eventually, it just got easier to stay home rather than risk his foul moods.

Isolation is an abuser’s primary tool, and another major red flag I ignored. Remember, back then I saw the world through the lens of my low self-esteem and untreated depression, so I couldn’t recognize his manipulation. Besides, it all happened so gradually, I didn’t even notice it.

Between blocking his blows and begging him to stop hitting me, I finally figured out what triggered his violent tirade that night. This was the early ‘90s, before cell phones and the internet made communication effortless. My best friend had moved across the country, from Detroit to Seattle, for a job. Between the time difference and long distance rates (remember those?), we didn’t talk as often as we wanted. Letters were fine, but we missed talking.

I think it was her idea to start making tapes instead of writing letters. One of us would record ourselves for 30 minutes (one side of a cassette), and then send the tape to the other via snail mail. Then that person would listen, flip the tape, record a reply and mail it back.
That night, he found a tape that I’d made but never mailed, where I vividly described sleeping with this really hot guy from my past. As this was for my best friend’s ears only, I got very explicit.

Back then, most of our music was on cassette tapes stored in our entertainment center. Somehow, the tape that never got sent to Seattle made it into our combined music collection. He often went to bed later than I did, and would sit in the living room listening to music through headphones so he wouldn’t disturb me.

That night he heard me describe my night of passion in great detail. It didn’t matter that I’d made the tape long before I even knew him. It was my voice, directly in his ears, talking about having great sex with another man.

I know this because he stopped hitting me long enough to grab me by the hair, throw me onto the couch and force me to listen. Then he started hitting me again.

Why didn’t I run out the door and leave? Why didn’t I scream for help? Why did I stay in that apartment, crying, begging and apologizing?
By this time, I was a mere shell of my former self. Between my untreated depression and months of his bullying and manipulation, I couldn’t think clearly. Besides, it was the middle of the night and I was only wearing a t-shirt and panties.

Anyway I did try to leave, but he caught me and threw me against the wall. Hard. I remember seeing a smudge of my blood on the wall near our front door, and being shocked. I don’t remember what part of my body was bleeding, but it wasn’t my face. Miraculously, my face barely showed signs of the attack.

Things are a blur after that.

I don’t know when the beating ended. The next conscious memory I have is of us lying in bed. I know he cried and apologized. I know we had sex, and that I was both ashamed and relieved that my body still responded to him.

But even as I quietly accepted his touch, I was planning my escape. I still loved him, but I had to go. I left the next day, taking only a few clothes and necessities, and fled to my parents’ house across the border in Canada.

By far, even worse than the beating was the deep shame I felt telling my father what happened. I had to look into the eyes of the man who’d raised me, and tell him that the man he never liked anyway had beaten me. The look on my dad’s face when I lifted my shirt to show him my bruises still breaks my heart to this day.

The only time I felt worse was when, a few months later, I had to tell my father that it happened again.

Yep. After all that, I went back.

I’m not proud of that fact, but I’m not alone. Most survivors leave an average of 7 times before leaving for good. Thankfully, it only took me one more time to leave forever.

After a blissful period the experts call the “honeymoon phase”, he hit me again after flying into a rage about yet another guy from my past. This beating wasn’t as bad, though. For one thing, I was wide awake so I saw it coming. Also, I didn’t really fight back. I didn’t even cry! I just ducked and covered my head. But that was it for me.

This time, I planned my escape more efficiently. Some friends helped me pack up all my stuff while he was at work. Thanks to my boss’ influence, the police were waiting with me when he came home. They couldn’t arrest him for hitting abuse (no witnesses or bruises, this time), but they got him for driving with a suspended license and threw him in jail.

I never talked to or saw him again.

I was lucky. I could easily leave because we weren’t married, we didn’t have kids, and I had my own money and somewhere to go. Far too many women aren’t so lucky.

That’s why I continue to write about IPV and advocate relentlessly for survivors. That’s why I share my story, even though parts of it still fill me with shame. I raise my voice for those silenced by violence, shame and fear. I do it to offer hope and encourage anyone suffering to hang on until they can get help.

And I do it so that I can continue to heal.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time, day or night.

ASK JANICE MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL, PART 5 GOD BLESS 4 EAST – HOW YOU CAN HELP

“We all got here from different places: some came voluntarily (like me), others came involuntarily. Some came after suicide attempts, some after a ‘really bad day’. Most of my fellow patients’ stories are unknown to me, and that’s ok. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter how we got here, just that we are here and that we all want to get well enough to leave.” Journal Entry, August 27, 2018, 10:00 P.M.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

As much as I tried to focus my journal entries on me and my own problems, the writer in me couldn’t help making notes about the different people I met during my stay on 4 East. From the staff to the patients, I met some really interesting and fine people. I could write ten different books on their lives, alone.

Take Gia*, for example, a tiny, white, soft-spoken bundle of energy who struggled with depression and profound loneliness. Her loneliness got so bad she attempted suicide. Gia described her family as fractured and distant. She said she had no friends, beyond a neighbor who was willing to care for pet while she was in the hospital.

To me, Gia seemed smart, funny and engaging. I couldn’t imagine why she didn’t have lots of friends. But she didn’t even have anyone close enough who could bring her more clothes to wear (she only had the clothes she was wearing when she was admitted). She did have a good visit with her brother before I left, so I’m hopeful that her life will change for the better.

Then there was Nigel*, a quiet, 21 year-old Latino with a sweet smile. I felt very maternal towards him, probably because he’s the same age as my son. I have no idea what brought him to 4 East, but he’d already been there two months by the time I arrived. There were rumors about him threatening his brother, but Nigel steadfastly refused to answer any questions about why he was there. He did disclose to me that he’d been a patient on the Unit back when he was 18 years old, so he was very familiar with the place.

There was also sweet Elsie*, the songbird of the Unit. 21 years old and white, Elsie had a pretty, clear, soprano singing voice, and she often walked the hall singing. She usually sang pop songs, but could do any genre justice. She was the first person I met when I arrived on 4 East, and she kindly showed me the ropes. Elsie was a self-proclaimed drug addict and alcoholic. The rumor was that she’d overdosed before being admitted, but I never asked her about it. Elsie was one of my favorite people and I cried a little when she was discharged two days before me.

In a funny twist to the story, there was a romance brewing between Nigel and Elsie. I’m not sure the Behavioral Services Unit is the best place to start a relationship, but they were both so sweet, it could actually work.

One of my favorite patients was a married, Black man in his mid-40s named Mario*. He was insightful and funny, and a great listener. Mario was also a fellow writer, having written a book about his time in prison.

Mario watched a lot of television during our free time, but was always available to just sit around and talk. He disclosed to a few of us in Group that his wife had a fall and miscarried their first child together (she has children from a previous relationship) at seven months while he was on 4 East. He harbored a lot of guilt for not being with her when it happened.

Timmie* was a Black man with blue eyes who arrived on 4 East two days after me. He was in his mid-30s and a transplant from the South. He had that Southern charm going for him that immediately endeared him to everyone. Timmie told us that his attempt to jump off a freeway over pass brought him to our Unit, but he had a lot of medical issues as well. He’d previously been in a horrible car accident and ended up with chronic pain and a lot of metal in his body. His initial struggles on the unit were about the many medications he had to take, not only for his mental health, but for his pain, as well. Seems our doctors had switched his meds against Timmie’s will. Even with his pains and struggles, he was a delight to have around, always so sweet and fun.

One of my favorite nurses was Rachel*, a chocolate, salt & pepper, natural-haired sistah who won my heart the first time we met. She was doing the daily “check-in” with me, asking how I was feeling and if I was having suicidal thoughts, etc. During our all-too-brief chat, she told me that she was intentional in choosing to work on this particular Unit. “I could be doing anything as a nurse, but I chose this. It’s hard work, but worth it. I’m determined to help more people that look like you and me get the help they need. I want to raise awareness in our community so that we can get rid of the stigma of mental illness and treatment.” A woman after my own heart.

My absolute favorite nurse was Jeffrey*, though. Jeffery was a low-key, handsome brotha, with a bald head, goatee and a “panty droppin’” smile. Jeffrey was so smooth, you didn’t hear him coming. One night at snack time, I was trying to finagle an extra granola bar to go with my sugar-free cookie. Jeffrey sidled up to me and said, in that low-key voice of his, “You can’t have that. You’re diabetic.” He then proceeded to coach me through healthier snack choices.

On the day of my discharge, Jeffrey approached me as I was walking the hallway with restless energy. “We’re going to have to delay your release,” he said, looking solemn.

“Oh my God, why?” I asked, tearing up.

Then he smiled slyly and said “I’m just not ready for you to leave me, yet.” We had a hearty laugh and went our separate ways, with me thinking “Lord, if only I were 20 years younger”!

Jeffrey was the nurse who officially discharged me. He wasn’t supposed to be, but I was getting so impatient to find out exactly when I could call my son to come get me because I couldn’t get any answers from anyone else, he simply took over and made it happen. “Go eat lunch,” he said. “And by the time you’re done, I’ll have everything ready for you.” He was true to his word.

Leaving the Behavioral Health Unit was harder than I thought. In a mere seven days, I’d come to care deeply about both my fellow patients and the staff. I deeply respected everyone I encountered on 4 East, because regardless of their role (patient or nurse or tech or doctor), everyone had a place and a purpose.

Inpatient mental health treatment isn’t for everyone. But it was exactly what I needed. I proudly stand by my decision to ask for help because I’d allowed my illness to affect my life for far too long. Before my week on 4 East, I couldn’t even imagine a future for myself. I was waiting for the courage to die, yet I knew I really wanted to live.

Thanks to the doctors, nurses, techs, psychiatrists and therapists who treated me, and thanks to the effective medications I now take, I’m doing better than I have in years. The fog of depression is finally clearing, and I’m filled to the brim with hope.

One day I’ll be on the other side of this thing called mental illness. Until then, I’ll keep working to get better. I’ll also keep doing my part to raise awareness and erase the stigma surrounding mental illness and treatment, especially within the Black community.

If you’re wondering how you can help keep the conversation about mental health going, here are a few simple things you can do:

1. Make sure your church, group, or club includes mental health programming. For example, if your church’s Health Ministry does not include mental health programming, you can lead the charge by inviting mental health professionals to come speak.

2. Use your social media platforms to spread the word and raise awareness. The more we talk about it and post about it, the more we will normalize these discussions. Normalizing this topic will encourage more people to get the help they need.

3. Contact your local hospital to find out how to make donations. Then donate new or gently used board games, books, puzzles, puzzle books, and coloring books. Patients have lots of downtime, and if your hospital’s Unit is anything like 4 East, these items are in short supply.

4. Be gentle and kind to the people you know who struggle with mental illness. I know it’s hard to love someone who’s sick. I know it takes a lot to deal with the mood swings, erratic and even violent behavior, etc. But your kindness and understanding will go a long way, especially if you can convince your loved one to get help.

Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.

“The souls who pass through this Unit are brave warriors in the fight for mental health and stability. Some of us will make it. Some of us won’t. I pray my fellow travelers on this bleak and harrowing journey come to know peace in whatever form that takes for them. And I hope they find joy. God bless us all. Even the Bully. Especially the Bully. God Bless 4 East.” Journal Entry, August 27, 2018, 10:45 P.M.

*All names (patients and staff) have been changed to protect the privacy of the souls I encountered on 4 East, which is the floor where the Behavioral Health Unit is housed in my local hospital.

ASK JANICE MENTAL HEALTH SPECIAL, PART 4: SOMEONE LIKE ME – I’M SUCH A HYPOCRITE

How I Sought and Received Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

Click here for Part 1: I’m not okay

Click here for Part 2: I’m just happy to be here

Click here for Part 3: The Bully of 4 East

“Friends keep calling me ‘brave’ for doing this … but I believe I have it easier than most. I have supportive friends and family who made taking this step easier. I’m so blessed to have such a strong support system. Almost makes me wonder how I could even get so low. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Even someone ‘like me’ with all this love and support, can get so low.” Journal Entry, August 25, 2018, 11:45 P.M.

One night, during our 9:00 P.M. snack time, I started chatting with a really cool nurse named Dino*. He was about my age and we had slightly overlapping backgrounds growing up in Detroit. As we played the “do you know so-and-so” game, I could actually see the shock on his face as he started to put the pieces of my life together: I went to a well-known, all girls, Catholic high school, then to a Big Ten university, where I pledged one of the largest Black sororities in the world. Finally, unable to contain himself, he blurted, “With your background, what the heck are you doing here? This must just be a bump in the road for someone like you”.

“Someone like me”, as if my upbringing somehow protected me from having a mental illness. As if middle-class, college educated, Black sorority women don’t sometimes need inpatient mental health treatment. To Dino, I was an outlier patient. I didn’t fit his idea of who a patient on 4 East should be.

Dino’s response bothered me. When he said pretty much the same thing again a couple nights later, I gently reminded him that even “someone like me” needs help, sometimes. I wasn’t feeling very gentle when I chastised him, though. I was angry.

His response is exactly why more Black people don’t seek treatment when they need it. There’s this notion that Black people don’t have the luxury of having mental health issues because we’re too busy just trying to survive. For Black women in particular, there’s the expectation that we’re “too strong” to need help; we’re too busy taking care of business to be bothered with therapy; or my personal favorite, we turn our problems over to God, so we’re fine.

This archaic attitude is killing us! Our steadfast refusal to face the fact that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness runs rampant in the Black community is literally killing us. So is the notion that therapy is for “other people”. We need to de-stigmatize mental illness and treatment, and start getting the help we need.

Black women need more safe spaces to not be ok. Because sometimes our “not ok” is different from other people’s “not ok”. To quote the late Bebe Moore Campbell, “Your blues ain’t like mine”. Our unique experiences at the crossroads of race and gender aren’t like anyone else’s. That’s why we need to create and sustain more safe spaces just for us.

But, I digress.

The bottom line is the old, tired trope of THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN is dangerous. Yes, we are strong. But contrary to popular belief, we aren’t impervious to pain. To only judge our strength based on the pain we can endure is to deny us our full humanity. To only see us as “strong” is to deny us our full humanity.

That’s exactly the point of my advocacy. Mental illness affects EVERYBODY, regardless of class, education, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. The fact that “someone like me” seems like such an anomaly to a seasoned professional like Dino proves that there’s still a lot to be done in terms of awareness and stigma, particularly among African Americans.

I know I’m not the only Black, college-educated, sorority member who needs mental health treatment. My being such a rarity on the Behavioral Health Unit means there far too many people “like me” out there suffering in silence.

As passionate as I am about erasing the stigma of mental health in the Black community, you’d think I’d be more compassionate about anyone seeking mental health treatment. Sadly, I’m not. This realization was a humbling, yet necessary experience, and it involved Barb the Bully.

Barb acted up and out on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes, she was so violent and disruptive, security had to be called to the Unit to subdue her. I even saw the police once.

One such incident occurred one morning while we were in Group. There were about six of us meeting that day, and we were in one of the group rooms with our door closed for privacy. We were about ten minutes into our session when we could hear yelling and screaming in the hallway. The only words I could make out were profanity-laden threats to cause someone physical harm.

It was Barb, of course. I don’t know what precipitated her outburst, but it got ugly fast. Through the window on our closed door, we could see other staff and armed security running down the hall towards the nurses’ desk. After a few seconds, the screaming suddenly stopped and all was quiet.

A patient named Jimmy*, who’d been on 4 East, against his will, for almost two weeks by the time I arrived, said “I bet they sedated her and chained her to her bed again”. I didn’t take him seriously, though. Jimmy was given to hyperbole and loved to talk smack about any and everybody. (He was actually much cooler than that description made him sound.)

Anyway, after Group, as I walked down the hall to my room, I passed Barb’s open door and looked inside. Sure enough, she was lying prone on her bed, dead still, with her eyes closed. And to my surprise, her ankles were bound to the bed with what looked like leather straps. Jimmy was right.

The image of my nemesis strapped to her bed shook me to my core. For one thing, it creeped me out in a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” kind of way. I mean, I had no idea this kind of thing happened on this Unit! I was shocked.

Also, I was so busy resenting Barb for her toxic behavior that I failed to recognize not only her humanity, but the fact that she was a patient on 4 East, just like me. For all my “she’s beneath me, so I’ll just ignore her” and my holier-than-thou “a bully is a punk-ass who hasn’t met the right person” attitude, I failed to see the obvious: Barb and I were both mental patients on 4 East.

I further realized that for her to be so toxic and disruptive, she must be in immense psychic pain. Like me, she was sick. Just because my sickness didn’t manifest itself the way hers did doesn’t mean she wasn’t as deserving as I was of care. She deserved healing as much as anyone else on the Unit. And she deserved to be healed with compassion and dignity.

I don’t doubt that the staff took appropriate measures to diffuse the situation with Barb. I trust their expertise and experience, and believe they did the right thing. In fact, she had to be sedated and restrained on two more occasions before I was discharged. But for me, that first time seeing her knocked out and tied down was an eye-opening experience that forced me to face my own hypocrisy.

Here I was, this so-called advocate for mental health awareness, being judgmental and petty when it came to Barb. I actually believed she was beneath me. How hypocritical of me! I wrote in my journal, “I’ve been such a hypocrite – advocating for the mentally ill in my writing, all the while hating on her”.

Facing my own hypocrisy was a revelation. It made me take a long, hard look at how I perceived and reacted to other people, and what I saw wasn’t always pretty. I’d treated Barb as badly as others treat Black women – I’d used her pain against her, and denied her humanity in the face of that pain. I’d deemed her beneath me without any regard to her circumstances.

Someone like me, indeed.

I later journaled, “I am no better than anyone here. We are all sisters and brothers in this mental health fight. May we all prevail.”
*Names of patients and staff have been changed to protect their privacy.

END OF PART 4. STAY TUNED FOR PART 5, THE FINAL INSTALLMENT.