“Should I be worried about weight gain?” my college friend asked me over noodles and dumplings. She was just starting birth control pills and we were discussing Loestrin. I had never been on birth control myself. 

“It might be weight gain, but typically it’s water retention. The first four months are sometimes rough,” I said between bites. “But this might be a good chance to discuss a pregnancy plan so that you and your boyfriend are on the same page.” 

“Yeah, that’s something I’ve thought about, especially since Plan B scares me. I’ve heard you can only take it twice in your life.”

I shook my head. “God, no. A friend of mine has taken it more than twice, but probably not more than twice in a month–and definitely not twice within a week, or else it might counteract itself.”

She looked at me, awed. “How do you know all this?” she asked. 

In the past five years, I’ve talked with friends about the pros and cons of different birth control options. I’ve discussed age gaps and romantic boundaries. I’ve talked about how kinks can be safely acted out. I’ve held more than one friends’ hand through pregnancy tests.

But I’ve never been in a Facebook-defined relationship. I’ve never gone all the way with sex. I don’t own a sex toy. Sure, I’ve dated but among my friends, I’m the least personally experienced. And yet, I’ve become some of my friends’ go-to person on love and sex advice. 

I’ll be the first to admit that the whole situation is strange. There is a dissonance in talking about issues where I have little to no personal experience. But if anything, it’s forced me to educate myself in ways that I might not have otherwise.

One of my friends calls me ate or “big sister” in Tagalog, but I didn’t have an “older sister” figure to give me advice on love and sex. I remember my concern over this seemingly mysterious area of life, when I was in high school, watching the TV series Bunheads. In one episode, the characters start dating and one of them demands they meet at the library for research. “I’m an intelligent woman, and I will not have ignorant friends,” she says. At 16 years old, I certainly felt called out. Was I ignorant? (Answer: Yes.) It also didn’t help that my high school’s sex-ed course failed us and by the time I got to college, I was clueless. 

College pushed me to educate myself—but not in the way that you might expect. In my freshman year, I was interning for a literary agency in New York, reading submissions for books. That year, we received a lot of memoirs and autobiographies, and almost every other author wrote about their relationships and sex. In fact, one memoir was from an author who worked as a professional dominatrix.

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Immediately, I went from knowing almost nothing about sex and romantic relationships to reading about emotional labor, boundaries, and kinks. At first, many of those books shocked me. Even my manager at the agency was sometimes taken aback by the details that some of these submissions described. To some measure, I became desensitized to the shock of these topics. But on the other hand, it taught me to not be judgemental towards these intimate parts of people that, like the literature and books we worked with, yearned for connection.

Moreover, my experience of reading so many stories about people’s lives and relationships made me into the type of person that others felt comfortable talking to and sharing this aspect of their lives. With every conversation, I’d share what I knew and I’d learn more from them as well. But if my friends were coming to me for love and sex advice, I wanted to be able to help them. So, following in the steps of Bunheads, I began to educate myself.

I read books like The Ethical Slut or Peggy Orenstein’s two-part, Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex; listened to podcasts such as Unexpected Fluids or The Sexually Liberated Woman; followed blogs such as Simply Oloni and research from the Kinsey Institute. Even if I wasn’t in a relationship, I needed to learn about healthy communication, different types of abuse and navigating polyamorous relationships

Even if I wasn’t sexually active, I needed to learn about safe sex, hygiene, and sexual behaviors. As my friends discovered their sexuality or started sex work, I felt the need to learn about those issues as well. 

As uncomfortable conversations about love and sex can be, it’s made me a better listener and a better friend. I like to think that when I eventually find myself in a relationship, I might be more prepared.

Maybe I won’t make the same mistakes, or maybe I’ll just be able to recognize them when they inevitably happen. But what I do I know for sure is that I have friends who are willing to sit, listen, and give me advice too.

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https://thetempest.co/?p=157762
Helena Ong

By Helena Ong

Editorial Fellow