Health News Gender Race The World Policy

Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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Health Care Mental Health Health The Vulvasation Wellness

Don’t forget to advocate for yourself when it comes to your Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love and Health exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I only recently found out about Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) despite being a person who’s welcomed a certain monthly visitor into my uterus since I was 11-years-old.

PMDD is a more chronic and severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that often results in psychological symptoms such as irritability, anger, fatigue, moodiness, insomnia, paranoia, difficulty concentrating, and more.

Other PMDD symptoms include respiratory, eye, skin, and fluid retention problems such as allergies; infections; vision changes; ankle, hand, and feet swelling; and acne as well as gastrointestinal, neurologic, and vascular symptoms like nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fainting, easy bruising, muscle spasms, and painful menstruation.

What’s frustrating about any and all of those symptoms is they can easily fall under a variety of different disorders like bipolar disorder, depression, thyroid condition, and anxiety, making PMDD hard to diagnose for some people with periods.

I’d also like to add that PMDD feels even harder to diagnose because people with periods have been told over and over again that our menstrual cycle will make us overly emotional. Modern Family is but one example of media turning this experience into a joke, and it feels like yet another way for patriarchal societies and men to dismiss women and people with periods.

My own periods usually arrive after an onslaught of cramps, breakouts, and mood swings—typically high highs and low lows with a spattering of extra irritability and sensitivity thrown in just to keep things spicy. When I was 18, I decided to go on birth control. After just one month of being on birth control, I noticed that the specific brand I was using amplified my mood swings and even made me depressed. This can be common for many people, and I quickly asked my doctor if we could try out a different brand.

A few weeks ago, I emailed my doctor because the pharmacy gave me the wrong brand of birth control. I knew it was a brand that exacerbated my period symptoms because of my past experiences. But I have to admit, I felt silly having to say to my doctor, “I need a different birth control brand because I know this one makes me moody.” And I was annoyed at myself for feeling silly about drawing attention to real concerns. Adding fuel to the fire, my doctor never followed up with me; she simply emailed the pharmacy and the problem was resolved.

But is the problem resolved? Should my doctor have looked into whether or not I’m one of the estimated 5.5% of women who develop PMDD symptoms in their twenties?

The MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health notes that PMDD can be distinguished from other mood disorders because of its cyclical nature. Typically, symptoms will occur during the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle and there will be a grace period in which people with PMDD don’t feel any symptoms at all. The Center suggests helping your doctor confirm the diagnosis by charting your symptoms daily.

When diagnosed with PMDD, there are a variety of treatments, including lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication. The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD) also offers resources for those with PMDD.

I’m disappointed that people with periods aren’t always taught about PMDD. Because many of the symptoms are psychological, I feel like there should be more awareness around this disorder; but because many of the symptoms are psychological, I can’t say I’m surprised many people don’t know more about PMDD. Emotional women have long been discredited and overlooked by society—unless they’re being used as the butt of a joke. And these biases have often been reinforced by those in the medical industry.

Thankfully, the IAPMD is helping to raise awareness of this disorder, encouraging people with periods like me to advocate for themselves in their doctor’s office.

If your period is painful, mentally and/or physically, there could very well be a medical reason for it, and you deserve to know that reason.

I encourage everyone to take care of themselves. In your doctor’s office, this could mean being bold and advocating for your needs.

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Health Care Mental Health Health

Here’s how you can use mood tracking to manage PMDD symptoms

Anyone who has had the lovely luck of menstruating knows that it brings many weird symptoms with it. Like really weird. From boob pain to headaches to constant nausea, the list goes on. And likewise, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is equally awful to experience. But have you heard of premenstrual dysphoric disorder? I’d bet anything you probably haven’t, but you should. It’s very similar to PMS, but it tends to be more extreme. PMS on steroids might be a way to describe it. 

Like PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) occurs before your period. It can be anywhere from one to two weeks before, and the symptoms should usually die out around two days into the period. The disorder brings bouts of depression and anxiety, which are more extreme than those found in PMS, and it affects around six million people worldwide. But here’s the real kicker, it tends to show up more commonly in people who already have depression and anxiety, usually making their symptoms worse. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

I have PMDD myself, and I can attest to the fact that it makes life miserable. My symptoms tend to show up around a week and a half before my period, and it’s usually more depression-related than anxiety. I feel a sudden loss of interest in everything happening around me, extreme fatigue that leaves me unable even to attempt the chores or activities I plan, and a deep, dark state of sadness and hopelessness that looms over everything I do. 

I will say that I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding most of my symptoms, but for a long time, that was what kept me from discovering that I had PMDD. In fact, I had to research and figure it out on my own. My doctors knew about my symptoms, I talked to a counselor regularly about my troubles, but no one cared to help me look much deeper. Figuring it all out was an accident and then a google search.

It all started when my counselor asked me to start tracking my moods to help us figure out what might trigger my depressive episodes. At first, it seemed ridiculous. How would knowing my moods help me with depression? My moods were low during depressive episodes, and I knew that already. But her approach was different from what I imagined. She had me install an app that would allow me to log my moods multiple times a day and the activities completed during that time. She thought there might be a pattern related to my daily activities that could solve the depression.

She was right, and there was a pattern. It’s just not what she expected, and for a long time, she and I were confused because neither of us could see it. Then one day, while I was lying in bed, my sister asked if my period was coming up. She pointed out that I get tired and moody right before my period. And I decided to double-check that, opening the app I use to track my cycles and comparing it to the data on my mood tracking app. 

It clicked for me then, but my counselor still didn’t buy into it, and my doctor was in denial about it as well. So I was left to solve things on my own. The most common ways to deal with PMDD involve specific birth control pills or depression medication. But due to some other circumstances, neither of those were options I wished to pursue, and instead, I decided to use this mood tracking idea to help me manage my symptoms. 

One of the critical factors in my symptoms is the loss of appetite, which quickly leads down a slippery slope of losing energy for everything else in life. And tracking that, alongside my mood, usually helps me see if I’m coming up at that time of the month, allowing me to put plans in place to ensure I eat consistently and keep up my energy. Seeing my mood lowering and noticing that I’m finding less joy in activities also allows me to prepare ahead to get most of the crucial tasks out of the way and put systems in place to ensure I can have help on any other tasks as they come. 

It’s been a lifesaver to know that I can now sort of predict when my mental health will slip and be able to handle things. Of course, it’s not perfect. There are days where I get slammed with depression out of nowhere, and my schedule falls apart then. But when things clear up just a little bit, I still have plans and routines that can help me get on track again.

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Health Care Health

A woman discovers she has two vaginas—but why did it take her doctors 25 years to realize it?

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I was today years old when I discovered a person could be born with two vaginas.

It was a typical Thursday night for me. I was swiftly approaching too many hours spent scrolling on TikTok when I stumbled upon a now-viral video posted by TikTok user @britsburg, Brittany Jacobs. Like most stitched TikToks, the video started with a prompt: What is something a doctor completely ignored you about when clearly there was something wrong? Jacobs immediately claims, “I’m about to own this!”

And own it she does. Jacobs goes on to reveal she was born with two vaginas. This is actually a rare genetic condition known as double uterus or uterus didelphys, which means a person is born with two uteri and potentially two cervixes as well. Typically, a baby’s uterus originates from two small tubes called Mullerian ducts that eventually fuse together while the baby is still in its mother’s womb. With uterus didelphys, however, the tubes never fuse and instead remain divided by a thin membrane.

Pretty cool, right? Well, not exactly.

Jacobs explains that every month, she experiences two painful periods, heavy bleeding, and painful sex. When she was pregnant with her son, she only carried on one side. The only reason she found out about her condition is because a nurse noticed it when she was giving birth to her son.


#stitch with @omqgabbi HOW DO YOU NOT NOTICE THAT LIKE WHAT. #UD #BiggerIsBetter #ShowerWithMoxie #uterusowner #womenempowerment #momsoftiktok

♬ original sound – Britsburg

My first thought after watching this TikTok a few more times was how did the doctors not catch this earlier? As a 25-year-old woman, Jacobs has technically been going to the doctors for 25 years, including gynecologist and obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN) visits. The side effects she listed should have clued her doctors into her condition long before she delivered her son.

But this isn’t actually all that shocking when we take into account how modern medicine often fails minority communities.

Historically, medical institutions have long upheld racism and sexism. This deadly combination has culminated for hundreds of years and put many BIPOC in danger. Black women especially are often taken advantage of and dismissed by practicing doctors to this day, with many Black women going on TikTok to discuss why doctors need to do better.


#stitch with @omqgabbi consistently failed by doctors #fyp #doctorfail #listentoblackwomen

♬ original sound – Meikoshi

In fact, doctors’ implicit race- and gender-based bias has put many Black women in jeopardy. The medical industry’s malpractice has contributed to horrible statistics like 40% of Black women being more likely to die from breast cancer compared to white women and Black women being three times more likely to suffer from severe complications from childbirth than white women—both of which could be lower if proper care had been provided by medical professionals.

While egregious facts like these have roots tracing back throughout U.S. history, it’s important to note that “history” doesn’t always mean very long ago.

In the 20th century alone, federally-funded programs included forced sterilizations of immigrants, people of color, including 70,000 Native American women, poor people, unmarried mothers, people with disabilities, and the mentally ill. And, like most of American racism, this practice carried over into the 21st century. Between 2006 and 2010, California prisons authorized the sterilization of 144 female inmates, a majority of whom were Black or Latina.

Let’s say Jacobs did share her ailments with her doctors prior to her pregnancy. Even then there is still the possibility that her doctors dismissed her pain because she’s a woman.

In the 19th century, “hysteria” was often used to “diagnose” women and force them into mental institutions. At the time, it was perfectly okay for husbands to admit their wives to these institutions without the women’s consent. Postpartum depression, infertility, masturbation, and homosexuality were also reasons women were placed in mental institutions.

It’s important to know this history, wrought with the trauma and pain of racism and sexism because we need to be better about holding the medical industry accountable.

I think one of the reasons why we as a society have failed at this is because of doctor dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, The Good Doctor, House, and more—all of which can be viewed as the medical equivalent of Brooklyn Nine-Nine cop propaganda.

Doctor dramas often show medical professionals going the extra mile to deliver care to their patients. For example, Meredith Grey has been suspended, fired, arrested, and jailed throughout her story’s 17 seasons. She usually faces these consequences because she broke rules in order to help save her patients.

But doctors outside of dramas are not always known for having this same level of dedication. Many of my friends and coworkers struggle with chronic illness and have shared stories about having to convince their doctors to take them seriously and administer a diagnosis.

In addition, people with disabilities reportedly receive inferior health care because less than 20 percent of medical schools teach their students how to talk to patients with disabilities. Furthermore, patients with disabilities are often otherized, which adds a psychological toll for these patients who are already having to advocate for and even explain their medical care to their doctors.

Though we’re told to trust our doctors, this is often easier said than done for many communities. Women of color, especially Black and Native American women, and people with disabilities face discrimination in the medical industry every day, with many people struggling for years to demand proper medical treatment. If our doctors don’t see anything wrong with that, then they are part of the problem.

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Feel-Good Sexuality The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love Advice

Five reasons why masturbating is good for women

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

When most of us think of masturbating, we usually think about a hormonal teenage boy watching a sleazy porno that is probably degrading to women in some way. This stereotype has some truth to it as about 70% of teenage males masturbate.

On the other hand, only about 50% of teenage females report masturbating. Besides the obvious benefit of masturbating (orgasms), there are many benefits to masturbating, especially for women. 

1. It strengthens the pelvic floor muscles

Women are encouraged to do Kegels to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles by keeping the pelvic floor muscles active. Similarly, masturbating strengthens the pelvic floor by keeping the deep muscles working and in shape. It also activates the body’s orgasmic functions i.e. vaginal lubrication to ensure that your body is capable of having sex later on. 

2. It’s good for your mental health

Orgasms increase blood flow throughout the body and cause an influx of endorphins throughout the body. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that our body naturally produces in small quantities. They are natural painkillers and can produce a euphoric effect, which is why orgasms feel so good. Hence, masturbating is known to be a stress-reliever and a reboot for our minds. 

3. It will boost your libido

Masturbating is known to boost libido and make people more confident in their bodies and sexuality. Because masturbating is (usually) a solo activity, you are in complete control over your own body and can easily figure out what you like and don’t like. This can lead to a much better sex life and more bodily autonomy during sex. 

4. It’s safe during COVID-19 

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has completely changed the way we interact with other people, which includes sex. Because it is generally better to avoid having sex right now (unless it is with a partner you are quarantining with), masturbating is a good alternative to maintain a healthy sex life. Because it is a solo activity, there is no risk for contracting COVID-19 through it. It’s also impossible to get pregnant through it, so you don’t need to worry about birth control when masturbating!

5. It can help you sleep better

If you struggle with insomnia (the inability to fall asleep at night), masturbating might help. Because orgasms release natural “feel-good” chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins, they can make one more sleepy and relaxed. It’s more difficult to sleep now than ever due to our immense dependence on electronic devices that emit blue light

While women masturbating is not as well-established or socially accepted as men masturbating, it is a completely valid and natural form of sexual expression. Women have been taught for centuries that sexual desire is “unnatural” because sex should only be procreative.

In fact, the vibrator was invented by a doctor in the 18th century as a way of curing “hysteria”, a disease that women were known to experience.

We now refer to “hysteria” as sexual frustration and “cure” it by orgasming. 

Each and every one of us is entitled to our own body’s integrity, and sexual pleasure falls underneath that umbrella.

So don’t be ashamed to love your body a little bit more while we’re in quarantine (and after)! 

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Sexuality The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love Advice

Let’s talk about sex baby and South Asia’s problem with it

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I’m 15 years-old when I realize I can’t identify my body properly, mostly, because I’ve discovered I have clitoris and I don’t know what it is. I will go on to spend the next two years of my life ignoring that particular body part because I think that something’s wrong with me. I would only figure out what it is years later as an adult woman. But the real question is why did no one around me talk about sex?

Before this diatribe starts, I would like to give some context to the South Asian, particularly the Indian problem with sex. I was born to an Indian family from a Southern state called “Tamil Nadu” to two slightly conservative but overall liberal Tamil Christian parents. My upbringing was a weird mismatch of culture, ideas and traditions due to my maternal side being heavily Anglicized. I was expected to be liberal about Indian ideals, after all, my family moved to the desert nation of UAE in the 90s, because they wanted us to have better opportunities.

I grew up enjoying liberties that perhaps weren’t the case with fellow Tamil or Tamil Christian girls. We spoke English at home, played records by Western 70s and 80s musicians, notably ABBA, the Beatles, Elton John et al. But for all the liberties we experienced, there were still some lines we never crossed, my parents would firmly stick to the fact that we were South Indian and there were certain things expected of South Indian women (especially those from Tamil Christian backgrounds).

What further reinforced this notion was my place of residence – I grew up in the UAE which at it’s base, is an Islamic nation. While the country itself was liberal in comparison to all its neighbors in the region, school was a conservative place. I studied with boys till the third grade and after that, we were segregated in true Indian private school tradition, because that’s when we realized that our male classmates are men. And here’s where it begins to get weird.

Sex education in Indian schools, especially private Indian schools are abysmal.

I say this with confidence because I’ve never been taught sex-ed and no, I don’t count that one time my tenth-grade Biology teacher speedily taught a class full of teenage girls the reproduction system. It was an awkward experience, and we all felt like we were breaking some unspoken universal taboo.

Most of my sex education, funnily enough, came from reading the Bible because it detailed laws on what believers should and should not do. It took me a very long time to understand what each law meant because I had no idea how everything worked. I was quite sheltered growing up and under the impression that you only get pregnant if two people of the opposite sex slept in the same bed.

Not my finest moment, but I had no teacher to tell me otherwise.

The only person who gave me “the talk” or a version of it was my elder sister, who fed me second-hand information about sex to me from her friends, while we did our homework and then, never spoke about it. Of course, a lot of the things I was told, were factually incorrect but that’s how limited our resources were. We had blocked websites due to the country’s censorship laws, and if you wanted information, you’d have to read an encyclopedia or just ask someone you know.

We weren’t encouraged to talk about sex or understand how our bodies worked. We never spoke about male and female interactions – at least, we didn’t talk about them in the way we should have because that would have made all the difference.

If I had to go back to all the times I’ve awkwardly looked away from the TV when things get heated between the hero and the heroine in their “love scenes” and when I mean love scenes, I mean those scenes, where the heroine is having her belly caressed sexually or having her neck sniffed by the hero because Indians are really strange about showing two consenting adults touching. It’s easy to see why we’re uncomfortable. We’re conditioned to deny ourselves pleasure.

It’s not that Indians aren’t having sex because they most definitely are. India ranks third worldwide for being porn consumers and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re consuming porn now more than ever. So why are we so shy talking about it with our young people?

Don’t people think that we would benefit from educating people on consent, sex and how their bodies worked? Don’t people think that our society would be infinitely better if we all had useful sexual education?

Well, I do and in the words of the Salt-N-Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex.”

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Sexuality The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love

I can’t have sex. Here’s what it’s like

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I was twelve when I first heard the word “hymen” in a sexual education class. It was advertised as a “vaginal cloak” that would be broken the first time a girl would have sex.

I’m from Texas and therefore received abstinence-only sex education. Virginity was a woman’s virtue and a ~prized possession~. 

Personally, I never bought into the idealization of virginity because sex was always irrelevant to me. I wasn’t waiting until marriage, but I wasn’t planning on doing it in high school either. Little did I know that not only did I not want to have sex, I biologically couldn’t have it.

I was confident in my decision to not have sex until I found out that it was never my decision; my body had already decided for me. 

I realized that my body was averse to any form of penetration.

I could never use a tampon or handle any form of penetration without excruciating pain. It was almost as if my vaginal muscles would slam shut at the thought of it. I chalked it up to being nervous and spoke to my doctor about it.

For years, she told me that I was probably just nervous and should opt for thinner tampons. Despite using the thinnest tampons on the market, I still couldn’t get them in. 

Eventually, I realized that my body was averse to any form of penetration, not just tampons, so there had to be another reason for my pain. Finally, my doctor confirmed that this was abnormal and referred me to a gynecologist this summer.

When I first realized how severe my problem was, I thought it was vaginismus (an involuntary spasming of the vaginal muscles in response to a fear of penetration).

I refused to leave my room for three days and mentally spiraled while trying to figure out how I was going to cope with the idea of never being able to have pain-free sex.

Going to a gynecologist at a young age only exacerbated this as I did not like being poked and prodded by a doctor, especially vaginally. After a painful gynecological exam, I was diagnosed with a hymenal abnormality (microperforate hymen).

I had a lot of abnormally thick tissue covering my vaginal opening with an opening about the size of a sesame seed for menstrual blood to come out of (nothing could go in). Surgery (hymenectomy) was my only option to remove the tissue.  

Eventually, I underwent the surgery and was fortunate enough to receive a hormonal IUD at the same time. While my recovery was gruesome, I was optimistic about finally being able to use tampons and have a normal sex life. Unfortunately, I was in over my head. I felt like I was being cut in half during my gynecological follow-up appointment.

The severed nerve endings from the incision site were angered by the surgery, so penetration was still unbearably painful. She suggested that I start vaginal dilator therapy to condition my vagina to relax and habituate to the sensation of penetration. While dilators are tube-shaped medical devices that increase in size, my body perceives them as giant wooden stakes.

The only thing more painful than having to undergo vaginal surgery and dilator therapy was having to explain all of it to my conservative, Indian mother.

Sexual health is still taboo in India, especially for unmarried women. Often, society treats the vagina as a holy space that should not be entered until marriage by a woman’s husband.

My mother had never heard of a dilator and was traumatized after hearing about what she interpreted as “medically-prescribed masturbation”. Thankfully, she is more progressive than most Indian mothers and was somewhat supportive of my surgery because it was medically-necessitated.

Currently, I am three months post-operation and I am still working on dilation. While I cannot have painless sex yet, I have worked my way to the 4th dilator out of 8. This is tremendous progress for my body considering that I couldn’t handle a finger 2 months ago.

I have been able to use marijuana extract (CBD) formulated for sexual use to subdue my vaginal and vulvar nerve endings into relaxing enough to allow for certain forms of penetration, or as my friends like to say, I get my vagina high with vagina weed

While my vaginal journey has been traumatizing, it’s also forced me to confront a culturally tabooed part of my body. Prior to surgery, I couldn’t even say the word “vagina” without blushing.

Here I am now, telling the whole world how I get mine stoned every night. 

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Mental Health Sexuality Love + Sex Love

My anti-depressants affected my ability to get turned on

It first started with porn. I wasn’t able to get turned on in spite of watching my collection of hot people going at it with each other. I stopped experiencing desire despite watching Christian Grey in Fifty Shades Freed, and Eyes Wide Shut did absolutely nothing for me. With time, I realized how my anti-depressants had affected me.

I have been struggling with depression for a long time and had been prescribed anti-depressants since the first time I was diagnosed. I have continued therapy and my tryst with pills simultaneously. The pills contributed to me getting up every morning which was a very good sign at that point. So, I popped them every day without fail. They helped uplift my mood, and somehow helped me manage my mood swings.

My therapist and my psychiatrist both managed to not get me addicted to my pills. Once you start relying on a drug to make you feel happy, it messes with your ability to smile, makes you doubt your happiness when you actually are happy. My drugs were my saviors, but my therapist was incredible enough to make me not doubt my increased endorphin level. However, there was a huge cost to my physical well-being along with the emotional one. I started dating only a few months after I started regularly having my pills. I went out with my then boyfriend a couple of times and it started getting serious. We kissed each other and took things slow. And, then I stopped getting turned on.

My inability to get aroused after watching porn could have been chalked off to circumstantial problems. But, when my partner started touching me I failed to feel the way I used to feel before. I was not only not aroused, I wasn’t even interested in the sexual aspect (which is weird because I love sex). Thinking it was a momentary issue, I decided that I would tried again later and eventually feel the usual ‘part and parcel of the mood’.

I did indeed start getting aroused but they were frequent spells, and not continuous lapses. I blamed it on stress, because I was absolutely serious about my then boyfriend and we had connected emotionally. Wasn’t emotional intimacy the gateway drug to pleasure and orgasm?

This affected my mental peace. I was a young girl and I wasn’t getting turned on, what was wrong with me? I stopped feeling sexy and started doubting myself. The only good aspect of this scenario was that I had a therapist I could count on, the non-judging breakfast club variety. I decided to elaborate my problems to her, because I mean I wanted to have sex! And lo and behold, my young self thought the problem was because of me! I was not getting in the mood, or even responding to being touched in my most pleasurable areas. Thankfully, she found the answer to my problems.

My goddamn anti-depressants were affecting my sex drive! My Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) were gradually reducing my pleasure quotient and affecting my ability to orgasm as well. Because I am living in India, my psychiatrist did not inform me about this particular negative effect of my pills.

Nobody openly talks about sex where I live so yeah, it is difficult. But, I finally understood why my lady parts weren’t being as vigorous as they used to before I started my pills.

Yes, I needed mental peace but what is mental peace if you can’t perform sexually or feel erotically charged? I am a sexual being, and I love to have sex, and I’m not ashamed about it! However, the fact that the only pills that helped me get up in the morning were affecting my problems getting into bed with the guy I wanted to really pissed me off.

This was a trade-off, I could continue with my anti-depressants and not get turned on easily, or I could rely solely on therapy and try to get back on track. Slowly, I did stop using my pills and I did get my va-jay-jay back on track but that ‘slowly’ indeed took a lot of time. I changed partners in the mean time because I could not make myself be with someone and let him sacrifice his sexual wants for my lack of desire.

This made me want to dig deep into the whole spectrum of having anti-depressants messing with getting turned on. I discovered I wasn’t the only person who was alone facing this problem. A host of other people have been having similar problems like me.

This goes out to all of you who had to compromise on your sexual health for your mental well-being. You shouldn’t have to do one without the other.

My fellow people, your sexual health matters as well.

So, find a good psychologist and try to solve this curious anti-depressant problem.

I helped solve mine, and currently I feel great (well I am getting better with my depression).

You owe yourself the pleasure of feeling great as well!

Editor's Picks Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I feel like a feminist failure because I fake my orgasms

I am an unapologetic feminist. I always have been, my dad nurtured me into becoming a no-nonsense feminist in a relatively misogynistic household. Therefore, I have been vocal about everything starting from intersectionality to the sexual health of women. Thus, when I had to fake my orgasms I started feeling like a fraud.

I have solely been vocal about my wants and desires. Undeterred by almost everything my family could throw at me, I learned to express myself in a space where my opinions weren’t welcome. Therefore, I started speaking up against brown body shaming and brown racism. Unfortunately, things changed when I got into a relationship.

I was super young and we thought we were in love. We did share an incredible emotional intimacy and were friends before we started dating. I could tell him everything that came into my mind and he appreciated both my quirks and my kinks. Thus, we moved slowly and steadily into a more physical platform.

Full disclosure, I love sex! I adore everything about touch and sexual intimacy. The thought of pleasure drives me insane and I have always been very vocal about the wants and needs of women. Women need orgasms, deserve every soul-sucking luscious bit of it. Unfortunately, when it came to the conversation of my orgasm I chickened out.

I moaned and he got excited and I had to continue fake-moaning

I did love the touching and the kissing. Honestly, they did turn me on, but only to a certain extent. I had given myself more pleasure than I had received in the uneventful relationship I was in. It wasn’t extremely serious, but emotional intimacy? That was incredible. I thought the sexual aspect would have matched up to the bonding we originally had but no, it didn’t.

So, when it came to the actual deed, I moaned and he got excited and I had to continue fake-moaning. And thus, I ultimately ended up faking the orgasm. Yes, I was turned on but no way had I reached the climax. I was ashamed to admit after it all happened and so I kept quiet. I knew he would understand but I also felt he would feel sad. And I didn’t want him to feel sad, if that makes sense! So, this continued more than once, and I couldn’t climax at any instant. Believe me, when I pleasured myself I felt like a Goddess but just couldn’t even feel the iota of satisfaction I felt when I was with him.

This series of dishonest moments made me feel like a hypocrite, which I technically was. I have always asked women to speak up about their wants and desires and ridiculously could not even speak frankly with the guy who had supposedly loved me. I thought I had failed as a feminist, and felt ashamed of myself.

This affected me a lot. Being a feminist is what I am, it is essentially one of the most important parts of my being. I felt I had not only let my feminist self down, but also had disappointed myself. I was the woman speaking about female sexuality and vocalizing about orgasms for women all around me. Unfortunately I couldn’t even apply my advice to myself.

Later, after I had broken up with my then boyfriend, I told him how he hadn’t really pleasured me. I realized he had become upset, but he was mature enough to keep that aside and talk to me as a friend. We had ended on good terms and he still remains one of my closest friends. He told me how I had always been a type-A personality wanting everyone to like me. Probably that had affected my psyche and instigated me to lie. He knew I knew he loved me, but he knew I always wondered if he liked the kind of person I was.

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I realized I owed not just myself but my partner the truth as well. It was indeed a learning curve for me where I doubted myself constantly. I doubted my identity as a feminist and I doubted my ability to be hardcore honest. But, you learn your lessons from your greatest mistakes and regrets. So currently I know how to talk to a partner about my sexual needsand about how and when I don’t orgasm. They deserve the truth as much as us.

You are never a perfect feminist, but you can keep trying! And I try my hardest to not fail even if it is tough for me. I have learned it isn’t just about being vocal about issues but trying to accept hard truths in real life as well.

So, don’t fake an orgasm. Just tell it to your partner and clear it up so you don’t have to remain orgasm-less or make yourself cum because I honestly know and love my vagina the most!

Health Care Love Life Stories Wellness

A Youtube channel empowered me to love my vagina and tackle my ingrown hairs

If you’re anything like me you can spend hours upon hours on the internet…watching pimple popping videos.

I can’t even begin to explain the pure satisfaction I get from watching blackhead after blackhead carefully removed from someone’s nose, back or armpit. For me, it’s another kind of visual ASMR, and I’ll never get over getting how amazing it is to see someone’s skin cleared in real-time.

So there I was watching pimple popping videos with my boyfriend; a woman was removing what we thought were blackheads from some mysterious surface of the skin (the camera was very zoomed-in). Suddenly, the camera jostles and moves out of focus, flashing the screen with…lips? Vaginal lips!

We were both shocked, to say the least, and a little embarrassed, but I was also extremely…intrigued. I just couldn’t fathom that someone was out there putting vaginal extractions on the internet. Turns out the facilitator of this video was a black woman named Jada Kennedy. She works out of St. Louis, Missouri at a waxing facility called Waxpert Lofts and she’s the brave soul who happily uploads videos of her extracting blackheads and ingrown hairs from vaginas. I was honestly bewildered but completely fascinated by her work. I just had to know more. 

I found her Youtube channel and started watching all her old videos; they were phenomenal. This woman is funny, kind, and so completely honest. She maintains the anonymity of her clients and does voiceovers talking about the wildest topics ranging from how to properly cleanse yourself (she’s seen way too much poop while waxing people) to hilarious waxing stories like someone’s first time getting a wax or people who have literally kicked her in the face. She even tells stories of her own embarrassment like being woken up by her own fart during a massage. Her videos were making something that I found so completely embarrassing, so much fun.

I’ve had ingrown hairs since I was about 13 when I made the horrible decision to start shaving. Like many women, I felt the shame from society for having a “hairy vagina” and recklessly went about fixing that immediately, completely unaware of the risks.  Now after over a decade of shaving, Jada Kennedy is finally teaching me how to properly take care of my body and love it too.

She constantly speaks about ingrown hairs and how they should be normalized. She talks about how so many of us deal with them, no matter our hair type, but because it’s such a taboo everyone suffers in silence. Our bodies are shamed in so many ways, and it’s time we reclaim every aspect of it from our weight, our age, our skin, AND our private areas. Her words ring so true to my ears because I remember the first ingrown hair I ever got, I cried because I thought it was herpes. I mean it was an extremely painful bump on my vagina, what was I supposed to think. It’s not like people are out here giving comprehensive sex education.

I was so scared to ask my parents to get me tested because I knew they would think I was having sex and slut-shame me. I felt like a nasty modern virgin Mary. I had never had sex but instead of a baby Jesus, I had an STD. I had no one to turn to so, my mental health spiraled until I finally found something on the internet about ingrown hairs.

There’s literally no reason I should’ve gone through that.

Jada Kennedy’s channel is ensuring that other people don’t have to go through what I went through. She’s making sure that people feel empowered in their bodies and have the best tips for taking care of them. She teaches you how to understand different pores and how your hair may grow to cause ingrown hairs. Some people can simply just exfoliate more if their hair grows along the skin or they can start getting waxed more regularly which destroys the follicle and lessens ingrown hairs over time. Her clients recommend and trust her so much that some of them are fine showing their faces. I 100% recommend the video of her guy friend getting waxed for the first time, completely hilarious.

My pimple-popping obsession literally led me to a gold mine and allowed me to get rid of the needless shame I’ve carried with me for years. She’s improved my skin, my mental health, and my sex life. No longer am I afraid to let a boy go down on me because he may think I have an STD. I’m confident in my body and just the normal things that happen to it. I recommend you watch her channel because if you can’t be free of ingrown hairs, you can at least free yourself of the shame.

Reproductive Rights Love + Sex Gender Love

Pakistani culture still shames women who love themselves – but rewards the men who attack them

Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of rape/sexual assault

Talking about sex within a Desi setting is still a taboo. While so many writers have written articles, there is still a massive problem with addressing it within communities and having normal conversations around the subject. For safety, this is a conversation that needs to be had. Everyone needs to be aware of consent, different types of birth control and the possibilities of STI’s and STD’s.

Let’s talk about Qandeel Baloch, who was murdered in Pakistan for being the very thing that Pakistani men hate: a sex symbol. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay if they’re having sex with multiple women and asserting dominant sexual behavior, but God forbid that a woman exercises her right to do the same in public.

There’s even this belief that Desi women loving and accepting their sexuality can lead to rape culture acceptance. Rape culture has been at the forefront of countries across the world for many years. The very definition of rape culture is that rape or sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes.

Why should anyone live in a world where the concept that you could be violated so violently is acceptable? Qandeel was killed as a result of being open about her sex life and her own sexuality. Yet the Imam that she had sex with is free to live his life despite the fact that his actions lead to someone directly being harmed.

Sex is still viewed as a shameful part of life and something that should only be shared between a husband and wife. There is a refusal to acknowledge that these conversations need to be had. Without it, many people do not know how to deal with sexual health effectively.

Sex is a normal part of life and sexual health is so important.

Human beings are on this earth as a result of sex, so it should not be something that people cower away from when bought up. There need to be open conversations, where stigma is detached, and people can be open about they feel about all of the stipulations that come with sex.

It is important and necessary to educate young minds so they’re not disillusioned or incapable of dealing with their sexual health.

According to Express Tribune, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s health department in Pakistan records shows at least 6,853 patients with STDs were registered by July 2015. Between 2011 and 2013, K-P saw 28,865 patients with STDs. The newspaper reached out to health professionals in their pursuit to find out about STI’s in the country, only to be rejected by all of them. This just shows how even medical professionals do not want to be attached to the stigma of discussing sexual health.

This is the 21st century. It is simply not good enough.

Groups such as The Gulabi Gang, are vigilantes that fight against violence against women.

One of their most known cases was when a 17-year girl was raped and instead of the rapists being arrested, the victim was. She was gang-raped by people who hold positions of power within the Indian legislation system, so they went to the police before she did and filed a warrant for her arrest. Her father went to the Gulabi Gang who organized two mass demonstrations in front of the police station and the legislator’s house.

They believe that women who are oppressed by patriarchal practices should be dealt with lathi’s (sticks). An honorable and noble cause that will lead the next generation of women to never accept rape culture an instead fight against it, with the help of the older women and allies.

This ignorant attitude needs to be fought against and women need to be protected at all costs. No matter their sexual choices. I refuse to live in a world where I hear stories of women being lit on fire because they’ve been raped and reported the piece of shit to the police. It’s a disgrace that women cannot even speak about being sexually violated without facing a consequence.

Women’s sexual health, women’s sex lives, and women and sex are still a taboo, and this needs to end.

Editor's Picks Love + Sex Love Life Stories

I had to learn about sex on my own, because my Sri Lankan school pretended sex wasn’t real

I went to school in Sri Lanka, and over there, sex education was limited to that one friend who was way ahead of everyone else.  Pre-marital sex is still considered taboo, and most of the country clings on to the belief that young people are only going to have sex if a teacher tells them where they can get contraceptives.

I vaguely remember an attempted sex-ed session in Year Six, which was gender-segregated and involved a 3D cross-section of the female reproductive system that no one would look at directly because we were ten and thought that looking at a vagina would make you a lesbian.

In Year Ten, we covered reproduction during biology.

It was the one topic everyone looked forward to, even though we couldn’t read that section of our textbook because someone had drawn nipple rings over the diagram of a woman’s breasts. The descriptions were scientific and clinical – we knew that penetrative sex involved an erect penis entering the vaginal canal, culminating and terminating in orgasm during which the male expels semen, the production of which is dependent on his androgen hormones.

We didn’t learn anything about protecting ourselves, about consent, about our reproductive rights.

For that, we needed field experience.

Two cupcakes covered in white icing with a cherry on top of each sit side-by-side on a bright red surface.
[Image description: Two cupcakes covered in white icing with a cherry on top of each sit side-by-side on a bright red surface.] Via Annie Spratt on Unsplash.
Our sex philosophy, as a result, was ‘just wing it’, which is a great philosophy for a lot of things, but not for sex.

We didn’t get what we needed in a classroom, or from our parents, and so we did what brown girls have been doing for years now – we improvised. We learned from our friends’ and our own experiences after we’d had them, rather than going in fully equipped. None of this was cause for alarm for us – we didn’t even know what we didn’t know. We were lucky that our unpreparedness only yielded minor inconveniences.

Often, in South Asia, a lack of awareness, particularly concerning notions of consent, has the potential to ruin or completely end lives.

Our pursuit of sex education was slow and sporadic.

Someone would have to experience something for it to come up, and then they would have to work up to the level of vulnerability it often takes to share it with others, even if they’re your closest friends. Talking about intimacy is scary, and the act itself feels like a betrayal of that intimacy – is sharing something so private a breach of trust? Should what happens behind closed doors really stay there? Am I the only person in the group – nay, the world – who felt a certain way or did a certain thing?

If my friends and I had answered ‘yes’ to all these questions, we would all still be pretty clueless.

A papaya cut in half length-wise and with its seeds still inside lies horizontally on an orange surface.
[Image description: A papaya cut in half length-wise and with its seeds still inside lies horizontally on an orange surface.] Via Charles on Unsplash.
I would not know, for example, that side effects of the contraceptive pill may include bleeding non-stop for two weeks and then not at all for two months.

I wouldn’t have discussed standard blowjob procedure at a South Indian restaurant, nor would I have sat in my living room and watched my friend teach me how to fake an orgasm (“it’s all about the breathing,” apparently).

I would not know that consent is trust, and that this trust can be built over two years or one night.

I wouldn’t have a number of suggestions on how to ask for what I want, ranging from subtle hints to step-by-step instructions.

I wouldn’t have realized that pleasure wasn’t a dirty word, and that sex was to be enjoyed – yes, even by brown women.

Were these informal sex-ed sessions more effective than what I’d have gotten sitting in a classroom? Yes and no.

No, in that everyone should receive thorough and compulsory sex education at school. Yes, in that our shared experiences answered questions I never thought to ask, in ways that are more memorable and more familiar than anything any teacher could have taught me. They taught me that sharing experiences make big mistakes a little less likely, decisions a lot more responsible, and disasters a whole lot funnier.

A yellow, unpeeled banana lies horizontally on a yellow surface.
[Image description: A yellow, unpeeled banana lies horizontally on a yellow surface.] Via Tim Foster on Unsplash.
That is not to say that these discussions are appropriate replacements for a comprehensive sex-ed syllabus, nor should they have to be. But as far as accompaniments go, they are to formal sex education what strawberries are to chocolate and what peaches are to cream.