Wanderlust readers know that self-care is extremely important (read more about that here). But proper self-care is more than just adequate sleep and bubble baths—it’s caring for every part of you… And we mean every part of you.
So what do we mean by “sexual” self-care? For years, sexuality (especially for women) has been considered a taboo, and we’re here to change that. We spoke to Sustain founder Meika Hollender and asked what women, vulva owners, and bleeders can do to change the conversation surrounding sex and feel more comfortable in their bodies.
Learn to love (or at least respect) your period.
For decades our periods have been associated with shame and disgust. This has prevented us from creating a healthy dialogue surrounding menstruation and reproductive health, including how to care for cramps or investigate what’s actually inside your tampons.
After all, periods affect nearly half the population. They remind us that life is cyclical and are one of the first indicators when something is off with your body. (Not menstruating regularly? You may have PCOS.) Luckily, with brands such as THINX and Sustain, our society is finding innovative and practical ways to change the negative connotations we have associated with our periods.
There are dozens of ways to jumpstart a positive relationship with your period. If you’re not ready to sacrifice playtime during your time of the month, talk to your partner about period sex. Explore new methods—such as seed cycling or CBD oil—as a way to balance your hormones and ease cramps. Talk to your friends. Considering we pay more to have a period, it’s well-worth furthering the conversation.
Orgasm equality was Meika’s first response when I asked her what she thought I meant by “sexual self-care.” And by orgasm equality, Meika means advocating for sexual pleasure to be just as much a priority for women as it is for men.
Historically, our sexual education might be to blame for this disparity. While men were taught that sex was about pleasure, women were taught the act was for making babies and keeping the hubs happy. The first step of working toward orgasm equality is to learn about your body and understand what makes YOU feel good. Then communicate this to your partner. One awkward conversation can lead to a healthy, rewarding, and equal sex life.
Do your research.
Do you know what your condoms are made out of? What about lube, or tampons? These things literally go inside some of the most sensitive parts of you, so exploring their effects on the body is a good investment your long term health.
“What’s crazy is that the FDA doesn’t require tampon brands to disclose their ingredients—so for a product that is going inside one of the most absorbent parts of our bodies, a product we use around 12,000 of in our lifetime, there is traditionally no way for us to know what’s in these products,” Meika says. Most big brand tampons are made with non-organic, which is sprayed with toxic pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.
“These chemicals stay in the cotton in residual amounts, which are then exposed to the delicate and absorbent vaginal tissue,” Meika says. Condoms can also be laden with chemicals. Look for brands that are made from sustainable rubber plantations (like Sustain!).
If you’re using hormonal birth control (like the pill, patch or an IUD), be sure to A) have a doctor you trust and B) engage in a discussion about your needs and which birth control option might be best for you. When trying something new, tune into your body and make time for regular self check-ins. Are you feeling more tired, or anxious? Irritable? Note the side effects and consider your health when making big birth control decisions.
Caring for the earth is long-term self-care. What are the effects of your sexual-care products on the planet? You can make a difference by investigating how products are created, how companies’ workers are treated, and the impact the ingredients of your sexual care products have on the planet.
Another way to get started is to explore non-disposable menstrual products, like Diva Cups and period panties. If you’re a tampon loyalist, look into ones with plant-based applicators. Where is the latex from your condoms grown? It may seem like a hassle, but the long term benefits of environmental sustainability are well worth the investigation.
Start a conversation.
Meika also stressed the importance of a healthy dialogue surrounding our bodies. Conversation leads to action, which leads to a less judgmental and safer approach to sexuality.
“Start talking,” says Meika. “Talk to your friends, your partner(s), your parents, your doctors, your sister, just start talking. The more we communicate, explore what we like, and what we don’t, the safer and more pleasurable and satisfying sex can be.”
Be sure to check out Meika’s book, Get on Top: Of Your Pleasure, Sexuality & Wellness: A Vagina Revolution.
Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram.