Men who talk about IUDs are Sexy

I recently had a Mirena IUD inserted. Men especially, please continue reading.

 

What’s an IUD? A small plastic contraception device inserted into the uterus, where it lives for around 5 years and — more effectively than birth control pills — prevents pregnancy while regulating menstrual cycles. There are a few different types of IUDs that have slightly different effects.

mirena

Before making my decision, I talked with women friends. Some already had them. Some didn’t. We compared notes on our contraceptive experiences. Amidst unanimous support for the IUD, I decided to look further into it.

 

And that’s when I consulted male friends. Yes, before a doctor. I consulted a doctor as well, don’t you worry. But in the phase of informal discussion with friends coinciding with google searches, I talked to male friends because I wanted the male perspective. Did their girlfriends have them? What was the male experience sexually? Yes, you can feel it during sex, they said. It’s like two tiny strings on the sides of the vagina. No, they said, it wasn’t a bother and wasn’t painful. In some cases, my American male friends knew more facts and figures about contraceptive methods than my female friends. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed with their knowledge of both female anatomy and menstruation in general. As one friend put it: “Well, if I’m going to care about my girlfriend, I should care about her health too.”

 

I talked to my boyfriend. He had never heard of IUDs. He had no clue what they were, how they worked, what types there were – Nuthin’. But his initial reaction was DON’T DO IT. To him, it sounded invasive and dangerous. I told him more. At the end, he said to talk to my doctor and fill him in on risks. He was concerned, but added diplomatically, “It’s your body. Do what you think is right. I just worry about your health and how this might affect our life.”

 

So, I talked to my doctor. While there was a nasty batch in the 70s that resulted in numerous women being sterilized, technology today is extremely safe. The greatest risk is infection, which is immediately detectable and treatable. Additional risks include migration (it moves out of the sweet spot), which would be accompanied by severe cramps and unusual bleeding, indicating a problem. No risk of sterilization. Just mild discomfort until a doctor does removal. The insertion procedure, she explained, would take about ten minutes and include some discomfort for up to 48 hours following. I could even drive myself home, she said.

 

So, I did it. And let me tell you – that insertion procedure is not ‘mild’ discomfort in the least. I couldn’t drive myself home. I may have even been convinced not to give birth vaginally. If it’s even a fraction of that pain, I’m not down. I have a much greater appreciation for all mothers now. Kudos to you. But it was over indeed quite quickly and I was happy with my decision.

 

I called my boyfriend and told him all the gory details. His reaction? Ew.

 

And this upset me.

 

I wasn’t angry, per se. More disappointed. He didn’t react that way to upset me or because he didn’t care about my health. But more because it was new and it was related to a subject he’d been taught – like many men have been – that is ‘gross’.

 

There’s a running joke that women can clear a room by mentioning ‘that time of the month’. Another that only whipped men buy tampons for their girlfriends. Another that she’s acting bitchy because she’s bleeding.

 

We use euphemisms. Aunt Flo. Aunt Irma. The communists are coming. Shark Week.

 

Periods are viewed as a woman’s issue, exclusive of men. But men enjoy our reproductive organs. Intimately. They ask if we’re on the pill or use condoms to avoid unwanted pregnancy. And many men draw the line there.

 

Tell me it’s all good, and we’re good. Don’t give me details. I don’t want to know. That’s your stuff. The sex is in that couple realm of ‘ours’. Everything else that happens in there is your body, your concern.

 

But contraception is part of sex for couples who don’t intend on pregnancy. The breadth of knowledge expressed by my male American friends impressed me, but I realized that they shouldn’t be the exception – they should be the norm. And they’re not. Most men, like my boyfriend, have never been in environments where it was okay for men to talk about women’s periods, or for women to do so in front of men. It’s a taboo. I’ve witnessed my boyfriend listen to lewd stories about penises and vulgar jokes. He doesn’t flinch, so long as the conversation isn’t dipping into rape culture rhetoric. But mention a bloody pad? His face gets all scrunched and he makes noises akin to ‘eeek’.

 

Why? Why does our society teach men that the thing that happens to 50% of the global population twelve times a year is ‘gross’?

 

I still remember an aunt once telling me to never mention periods in front of men. It’ll just gross them out, she said. I wish I could go back to my sixteen year old self and ask bluntly back, why do periods freak them out and not squirting? Both include liquids. One is stigmatized and the other is praised as a product of sexual agility. Making a woman squirt is the ultimate goal represented in porn and sought after, mostly futilely, in reality. Men see squirting as a result of their own manliness, while menstrual cycles are just lady parts doing their own ‘gross’ thing.

 

So let’s talk about this under the lens of intersectional feminism for a moment – a feminism that values the male perspective and seeks an inclusive movement for both sexes to improve gender relations in pursuit of social, political and economic equality. My aunt might think herself a feminist, but she’s not by the modern definition.

 

I was raised in a society where I knew about dicks by 9 years old. I knew about circumcision, about how men masturbate and even more advanced information that boys felt was acceptable to discuss on the playground. I didn’t know how women masturbate for years after I learned how men do. It wasn’t talked about. It wasn’t shown in films. It wasn’t part of sexual education. Female pleasure was, as far as I knew, only derived from intimacy with a man.

 

Likewise, we were told not to talk about menstruation by an older generation that so poorly defined the terms and goals of feminism that it’s now often misconstrued with anti-male sentiment. And today we’re in a race to reclaim the rhetoric – to represent feminism as it should be. Yes, a bit combative. Sometimes, you have to speak a little loudly to be heard. But no, not anti-male. Just anti-anti-female issues, like pervasive rape culture. The male disgust with female menstruation is another one of those little pieces of our society that serves to alienate the genders — to draw lines that can’t be crossed, separate spaces of intellectual habitation.

 

I don’t want a man to insert my tampon for me. I’m grateful that I knew about men’s bodies before I touched one. I understood them theoretically, and that made practical application more approachable and comfortable. I’ve lived in cultures where women didn’t even know what penises looked like prior to marital consummation, and their fears prior to that first night edged on pure terror. I wanted to know what to expect, both in sexual encounters and in life living with a man prior to actually doing it. And because our society allows for discussions of the male experience to be regularly discussed, I was prepared as much as I could be.

 

But men aren’t. Because women’s issues aren’t discussed. The gritty details are foreign to many men. They move in with a girl and have no idea why the toilet paper goes so quickly during that one week a month. And then they have been taught that it’s not proper to ask. The gender divide widens.

 

There’s no need for periods to be ‘gross’. It’s a constructed stigma. The more men know and understand about women, the better partners they’ll be and the better relations we’ll have with one another.

 

I’ve explained my views on all this and more to my boyfriend. He’s been supportive and understanding. He doesn’t flinch or squirm anymore. Especially after we had a late night discussion with another male friend about his girlfriend’s contraceptive experiences. My boyfriend was surprised – he didn’t think he knew any men who took such an active interest. But then he realized, maybe a lot of men do participate fully in that aspect of a relationship, but don’t tell their male friends. Maybe men in long term relationships have to learn to be active participants in their partners’ lives, but do it quietly and privately so that no one knows it’s actually normal.

 

Even if the stigma isn’t there between a couple like it sadly was for my aunt’s generation, it still is between men. Men will tell each other about their sex lives, but will not compare notes on contraception past lending condoms. There’s still this sense that women talk about that – not men. Why? Both parties are engaging in sex. Why is the woman’s duty to research pregnancy prevention and not the man’s? Shouldn’t both take an active interest?

 

Recently, when I didn’t attend a party because I was experiencing menstrual cramps, my boyfriend confidently explained the real reason for my absence to our friends. I didn’t prompt him or tell him to do so. He didn’t tell me he’d done it. A female friend did, a week later, impressed with his casual explanation. He said it factually and briefly, before moving on to grab a beer, she said. And that’s how it should be. A fact that happens and isn’t embarrassing for women or men. Maybe by talking so nonchalantly as a man, he made a little more room for men who think periods are ‘gross’ to talk about it. Maybe he broke down that barrier just a little.

 

In any case, there’s a he for she I can be proud of.

A guy who recognizes that periods are a part of life for 50% of the world’s population and doesn’t think it’s a big deal is a man who understands women, and that’s what we really want – A guy who actively cares.

A man who can talk about IUDs is sexy.

 

 

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Things that baffle me (an agnostic American) about my boyfriend (a Pakistani Muslim)

 

“It’s just a cultural difference,”

he says.

 

Ah, ‘cultural differences’. One of those bland rhetorical tonics for every disagreement that may temporarily (or permanently) obstruct forward progress of an otherwise cohesive interreligious relationship. And the conclusion to many a disagreement in the apartment I share with my Pakistani Muslim boyfriend and his childhood friend, also a Pakistani Muslim.

I occasionally express some incredulity when we use this little ‘get out of the dog house free’ card. My boyfriend, while the kind of Pakistani who says ‘w’ for ‘v’ (head out on the highway, looking for adWenture), is also the kind who likes a cold beer, bad pop music and, well… We live together. Take that how you will. He grew up partly in the UK, and our roommate partly in the US, each carrying dual citizenship and patriotism. They feel native in both their respective mother countries, speaking a dialect amongst themselves that I’ve dubbed Urdish (Urdu + English).

So, when my boyfriend and I end a discussion with, “Well, you know, we come from different cultures, so we have some different values and we have to compromise,” I am often baffled. Because, to a large extent, we do share culture, and sometimes the ‘cultural difference’ catchall just doesn’t feel justified.

But in any case, there are repeat discussions that wheel in and out like a merry go round of cultural differences’ greatest hits. These are the ones that circle back most often in our happy home and continue to baffle me.

 

 

  1. Biryani

    Chicken-Biryani_3464
    Photo credit and bf approved authentic recipe

    I’ll kick the list off with a big one. I. Do. Not. Get. It. I apologize to all Desi food lovers of the world. I’m sure you’re slapping your foreheads and wondering what in the White-West-I-Hail-From is wrong with me. I’ve heard it before. But, come on. It’s chicken and rice – I’m aware there are other meat/meatless options, but this is the common variation in our house. Why does it take sooo long to make? It’s chicken and rice, people. My boyfriend and our roommate will spend over twenty minutes discussing whether a biryani is good or not, swirling it around in their mouths like professional sommeliers tasting a fine wine, considering every spice, every chicken chunk, even the texture of the rice. And they usually conclude it’s just ‘alright’ before devouring it with a speed that the Flash would envy. In all our time together, my boyfriend has only once given a biryani the official stamp of ‘it’s good’, at which point I excitedly tried a bite to see what all the fuss is about. And you know what? It tasted like all the other biryani bites I’ve had. Chicken and rice.

    It troubles my boyfriend that I fail to grasp the rare culinary majesty that is biryani. And it baffles me that he craves this dish every few days, returning to shops he’s declared subpar just to see if they can get it right this time. “Cultural difference,” he says, and we compromise. He gets Biryani. I eat something else. We sit and stare at each other over our plates in pure disbelief.

  2. Cricket

    p cricket
    Let’s take baseball and make it not fun. So said the creators of cricket, a game that lasts days (DAYS, dear readers, DAYS) and features guys standing around waiting to run back and forth between two sticks. Full disclosure – I’ve dated a cricket player before. I knew the risks of such a union. I’ve been dragged to games. I’ve even attended practices, being the dutiful and supportive gal I am. My boyfriend doesn’t play often, much to my relief. But, he watches. And so, we watch, because of all that stuff I said about me being supportive. “Cultural difference,” we agree, and compromise. I kind of watch, but actually read my book. He doesn’t try to explain the rules to me because they don’t make any sense.

  3. Friends

    central perk jpg
    Not, not the people you call to see a movie or go dancing with on Friday night. That kind we agree on – they’re good to have around and we share them comfortably. Nope, I mean the TV show. You know the one. Rachel. Ross. Smelly cat. Etc. Now, I like Friends as much as the next person. But not as much as Pakistanis. No one loves Friends as much as Pakistanis. This, I did not know until recently. It’s a thing. They have a Central Perk in Lahore. It’s popular. In 2016 (this year!). I can put on any episode, picked at random, and my boyfriend will know every single line. There are 10 seasons comprised of 236 episodes. He’s seen every episode enough to have the lines memorized. And this, to me, is baffling. Because, while Friends heavily influenced my childhood – I, like many others, believed I too could afford a Manhattan apartment in my twenties – I’m not about to memorize all of Chandler’s quips as a vehicle to that dream. My boyfriend idealizes NYC largely because of the show, believing we could move there tomorrow and afford to get coffee every day at a Manhattan coffee shop. No matter how many sobering financial realities I throw at him, his Friends dream is unshaken. And this boggles the mind. “Cultural difference,” we say, and compromise. When he moves to NYC someday, he’ll find out for himself. And I don’t shut him down even if the temptation to roll my eyes sneaks up from time to time.

  4. Social Media silence.
    face

    My boyfriend does not post often on Facebook, and rarely about me. Yes, he is ‘friends’ with some colleagues and wisely chooses to keep Facebook PG and professional. But occasionally, I like to post about what we’re doing or the fun we’re having. And he does not. At all. And it baffles me. Because, while I hate the ‘look all our kissing selfies’ couples as much as any rational adult, I think it’s nice to occasionally express gratitude for a gift or show a positive aspect of our relationship publically. To me, that’s a way to declare our appreciation, so long as it’s done tastefully in extreme moderation. But to him, posting ‘look at our happy life’ entries on social media is a form of belittling the relationship and arrogance. He’s explained it to me like this: Our relationship is between us and displaying gratitude is something we do between ourselves, and he doesn’t want to denigrate that by perpetuating the idea that we need external validation. Plus, he thinks that I’m wonderful and beautiful and everyone will think that he’s just bragging about being in a relationship with me etc etc butter me up. While I understand his perspective and respect it, it still baffles me. Because I never see a tasteful of a couple I respect doing things together and think – DAMN those jerks are bragging! Rather, I think – oh cool, they’re doing that together and it looks fun. Good for them. “Cultural difference,” he says, and we compromise. He very occasionally posts a photo of us when I request it, and I can tag him in a post occasionally. I gained his approval before making this post.

And that’s the greatest hits list. All said and done.

I bet you were expecting a different kind of list. Or maybe hoping for one? You were thinking there’d be mention of mosques, or hijabs, or dietary restrictions. Or maybe you were expecting disrespectful language, demeaning attitudes towards women, sympathy with extremists, or conflicting moral judgments.

 

Sorry to disappoint. I come up short on those points.

 

Truth is, religion doesn’t come up often. My boyfriend is a secular Muslim, and he grew up in a developed, peaceful environment with access to excellent education and positive role models. He goes to the mosque for Friday prayers and leads what I consider to be a moral, ethical and kindhearted life. And he doesn’t talk about his religion unless he’s asked, same as I do.

 

So, to answer what I’m sure you’re wondering – When do real cultural differences affect our life together?

 

Often.

 

But not in ways that baffle me.

 

One of the positive role models in his life was his grandmother. She told him that he could gamble and have fun, of course, as fun is a necessary part of a happy life. But never keep winnings, because that’s where addiction starts. And a future should be decided by merit and work ethic, not chance. So, he and I go to the casino. We play blackjack. Sometimes he loses. Sometimes he breaks even. But he never wins. And he only plays with money he earns working, disposable income he’s okay with losing entirely because it’s a fun night out, not a way to change your life with one hand. I respect that, because while it’s different from how my family plays the lottery, there’s something I can learn from it. I’m not baffled. I’m enriched.

His father, a man who’s taught him humility and empathy, said that you should always be charitable, even in small ways. Never waste food. That doesn’t mean eat everything on your plate when you’re full, because in Karachi, there was always someone hungry outside delighted to receive leftovers. We currently live in a developing country, where likewise there are always hungry mothers and children on the street. He never lets the waiter dispose of leftovers. He has them packed nicely with plastic utensils and napkins. Then he walks the streets until he finds someone who is hungry. I never thought to do this before being with him, but I damn well respect it and I’ve changed my behavior to do the same, even when I go home to America. In American cities, there are also hungry people on the street. And I walk for blocks sometimes to find them. I’m not baffled. I’m bettered.

He is respectful. And I want to emphasize this one, because Muslim men get a lot of smack from some certain corners of the world for being disrespectful toward women these days. I’m not saying all Muslim men are or aren’t. I’m saying this one is, and it’s a cornerstone of his character and our relationship. He respects me, my career goals, my personal choices, my interests and my beliefs. He doesn’t patronize me. He actively listens to my concerns, enthusiastically celebrates in my triumphs and encourages me to pursue my interests. Even if they conflict with his own. Because our cultural differences have nothing to do with our human feelings. And our cultural differences don’t intrude on that genuine sense of wanting the best for each other.

At the end of the day, I have to shrug when people ask me when real cultural differences affect our life together.

Sorry to disappoint, but really the biggest one is Biryani.

 

 

A long time later (3 years), on a computer far, far away

Hey blogosphere!

It’s been 3 years and honestly, I forgot about this blog. It helped me sort through some issues when I was in university regarding family and angst thereabout, serving as an anonymous medium to send my thoughts out into the ether. For a little while, it served excellently and I was happy as can be. But then, my mother got a hold of the blog (she was as supportive as I was embarrassed, which is to say extremely), and I was Freshly Pressed and suddenly we had some major traffic. Which was wicked cool! Don’t get me wrong – I was encouraged and it was all very exciting. But then, an acquaintance (in real life, mind you) asked if I had written that crazy piece on Freshly Pressed about deeply personal issues no one would want an acquaintance to know because it sounded like me? Ya. I dropped this blog like a hot sack of potatoes, went on with life and promptly forgot allllll about it. The things you leave behind, right?

And then, time went by… I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with some really fantastic organizations. I work internationally, primarily with INGOs and NFPs (development sector). I’m about to embark on a new job in a new country, about which I’m utterly thrilled and anxious (another new language to learn, oh my).

Which brings us to today

 

I was sorting through some personal emails when I clicked on ‘spam’ for the first time in a while and low and behold – WORDPRESS COMMENTS. From just last week. I could not believe this site still has traffic, and people are responding to my words. It was like a time capsule opened and had grown this dynamic ecosystem in years of isolation. I was shocked.

Well, I needed to approve the two I saw for sure. Both were emotional. One empathized with a post. The other sharply condemned a post. But both posters shared opinions and stories that I felt deserved to be visible on the page. They were important perspectives, and I wanted to sign on and approve them.

I didn’t even have my password anymore. I had to get a new one and go through the admin troubles. Finally, I signed on and found the page with comments and WOAH. I signed in to find a backlog of comments needing approval spanning 3 years and lots of stories. Obviously, a few of my posts touched some nerves.

I’m not going to respond to each one individually – that would take serious time. There were primarily two categories of comments, so I will respond in bulk to each type of poster.

On the one hand, there were people who stumbled on the blog and related to posts about me writing to my father in deeply personal ways, and were generous enough to share their own stories. To you, I say thank you. It’s been 3 years of reconciliation and I will post a follow up, as many of you asked for it. But even now, very much at peace with my situation, I was deeply moved by your words of compassion, empathy and encouragement. Thank you, and I hope you are all doing well now. Keep writing. Keep sharing. It is therapeutic.

And then the other hand. As I reread one post, three years older (and hopefully wiser), I will admit to some cringing. I remember writing it late at night, feeling upset and confused, and quite confident very few people would ever read it. Please keep in mind, I HAVE NOT and WILL NOT share all the details about my family situation. There are a lot of complications that still greatly upset me and I can’t write down. So, picture me in a dormroom with a lot of mixed emotions and full confidence it could never come back to bite me (youthful folly), writing this. And it got Freshly Pressed. So, lots of people read it. And while some people responded empathetically, many didn’t. You can read the comments to get an idea (I’ve approved them all, except obvious spam). To those who commented critically, I say thank you for sharing and putting the situation in a different perspective. I could try and explain by saying it was hyperbole, or that I didn’t mean it literally, or that I unintentionally used offensive examples in explaining a fair feeling, or that my feelings were real but not fair, or that they were real and fair… the list could go on. In truth, looking back, I don’t think it’s as simple as any one of those explanations. It was a mix.  Nothing is simple right? There’s a grain of truth in everything, and I think that grain was present when I wrote that post. Looking back three years later, I understand why it upset people. And I’m sorry to have misrepresented or belittled any experiences. That was not my intention, and I am grateful you responded to call out what needed calling.

In any case, I’m back online. And maybe not for too long. Maybe not regularly. But, maybe here and there I’ll put up a post or two. No promises. But, I will continue approving comments. Because a lot of people put a lot of themselves into these comments, and they deserve visibility.

Thanks for following.

 

p.s. Probably won’t do pictures anymore… Too much effort.