Hey so did y’all know that Austin is a sunnier, calmer Boston? Cuz I sure didn’t. Austin is so fabulous, in fact, that I've been doing a lot and am more interested in getting out there and doing more stuff instead of blogging. Writing is usually such a joy for me, but here it feels like a chore. This post will be a little different than usual (more sex though!), but I'd like to start by dispelling some myths:
I’ve done some really amazing things over the last few weeks; I’ve eaten at some truly incredible restaurants (Vespaio, Odd Duck, Loro), gone on dates with a bunch of hot dudes, and went on a few adventures! Here is a sampling of a few of them:
Yeah. It’s been pretty fucking incredible. Let’s talk dudes for a second though.
The men here are gorgeous. There’s no two ways about it. But here’s the thing—I’ve heard that because of the local college (Austin is technically a college town in the same way that Boston is technically a college town), a lot of the men here have Peter Pan syndrome. And because it’s the South, many did not have access to adequate sex ed growing up so nooooooo one gets tested around here. No one. So it’s a lot of dudes fucking a ton of people not-so-safely and not wanting to be in a relationship anytime soon. The second part isn’t a big deal to me because I’m not in a position to date seriously either, but I take huge issue with the first part. Because casual should not mean careless. So am I going to be celibate in Austin? No. And here is how I handle this unfortunate situation.
Let me paint a picture:
A former NFL player came over to my apartment. I wanted to climb him like a tree. He legit had one hand up my shirt and the other down my pants when I pulled back and asked when he was last tested. “No one around here gets tested,” he told me. Not exactly the answer I was hoping for. He asked if he should leave (which, hey, kudos to him for not pressing me on the issue) and I was like DUDE I’m a sex writer. We can have a ton of fun without adhering to the “normal” definitions of sex. Because here’s the thing: anything that requires consent is a sexual act. I hate when sex is put into this box where it’s like “if there was no penetration, it’s not sex.” Because that, my friends, is bullshit.
Now here’s the best part. I didn’t feel safe having penetrative sex or oral with a dude who’s never been tested. And he’s a FORMER NFL PLAYER WHO LOOKS LIKE A MODEL AND IS RETIRED WITH NOTHING TO DO so clearly he is slaying a ton of puss. But you know what? Sometimes you lay naked next to another person and jack each other off (I mean... I give great Handrew Jacksons) and then you lay over that football player’s lap while he spanks you and fingers you while you’re on all fours and it can be EVEN HOTTER THAN PENETRATIVE SEX. Seriously. I’ve been fucked by dudes where the experience was lackluster (not much anymore because I’ve gotten better at pickin’ ‘em, but still). Do you know how sexy it is to drape your leg over another person’s thigh and touch each other’s bathing suit parts? And then to be like fuck it, I’m lying across your lap? It’s a pretty cool thing.
So yes. This is a reminder that you can have super hot, fulfilling, enjoyable sexual experiences while keeping your body safe. I’m getting better at sticking to my guns in this regard. Trust me, having this 6-month rule is hard because I love sex. I will literally drop my pants and bend over for any hot guy who can make me laugh. But if someone who hasn’t been dating monogamously (aka just got out of a relationship), is on Tinder looking for the same thing I am, and the date of their last test was over 6 months ago, I don’t feel super comfortable with that.
And, also, guess what? The STI rate in Austin is off the charts. That should be enough motivation to protect myself, but there’s another reason why I’m so careful: I’ve had an STI before. Twice, actually.
Now, I had never had an STI my entire life—and I slept around a lot in my mid-twenties as a cute lil’ blonde spitfire in NYC (and had a GREAT time). Then, after a breakup right after my twenty-ninth birthday (that’s right! I went 29 years STI-free!), I hit up an old f-buddy, asking him to meet me at a hotel in the Village. He’s a Scorpio, so I barely had to say anything before he agreed. Plus, when a Playboy writer texts you, “I already paid for a bougie ass hotel room, you don’t have to do anything but show up and put it in my butt,” what kinda idiot is really going to turn that down?
Between the last time we hooked up years ago and us hooking up at the hotel (in which we kept getting interrupted by hotel employees gifting us free champagne and then cookies because I knew someone who worked there LOLOL), Scorpio had only slept with one other person. Having gotten out of a year-long monogamous relationship, I missed condomless sex (I know, I know), and I had a history with this dude. We were friends. I trusted him. I told him I had gotten tested recently and that I knew I wasn’t within my ovulation window (I used rhythm and pullout method before I got my IUD—I only recommend this if you have a very regular cycle, know how to track your cervical mucus and know your body very well). “I’m clean, too,” he told me.
A few weeks later, I went for my yearly exam at my gyno and got tested. The test came back positive for chlamydia.
I have never felt the panic I have felt upon being told I had an STI. I was mortified even though it’s a very curable STI (you take one pill, you avoid sex for a week, and then you’re good). It’s like having a cold in your vagina. It seriously isn’t that big of a deal, it’s the most common STI, and, as stupid as it sounds, it really put things into perspective for me. I did internalize a lot of the stigma that comes with STIs—that they happen because you’re not careful and/or don't have self-respect. But I legit had done all that I could do (I had gotten tested right before I had seen him) and it still happened because of his ignorance. It also made me realize that STIs happen all the time, people weren’t “bad” for having them, and the fear of STIs is worse than the STI itself.
But regardless of how low-grade the illness is, I was incensed. I texted Scorpio. “You said, ‘I’m clean, too,’ so when was the last date of your test? I’m not sure how this could have happened.”
“Oh, I wasn’t tested,” he responded. “I just only had that one partner between you now and you then and didn’t have any symptoms, so I thought I was clean.”
I wanted to reach through the phone and chop off his (albeit perfect—length and girth-wise—besides for the chlamydia) dick.
When you don’t know your status, you put other people at risk. Because Scorpio didn’t know what was going on in his own body, he not only didn’t know if he had chlamydia, he also didn’t know if he had herpes, gonorrhea, hell, even HIV. And even though he gave me something that was curable with a pill, he could have given me something that wasn’t.
“Never say ‘I’m clean’ unless you know your status. Got it?” I asked. He got it. And here’s the thing. I like Scorpio. Yes, he’s super-hot (and one of those dudes who doesn’t really realize it, WHICH IS EVEN HOTTER) and there’s a reason he was the first dude I texted after my breakup—he’s not an asshole. He didn’t do it to be a jerk. He just didn’t know. 90% of men are carriers, meaning they can have something and show zero symptoms. He didn’t know about things like incubation periods (the amount of time it takes for an STI to show on a test if you have it—for example, if you contract herpes one day and get tested for it the next day, it won’t show), how yearly testing is only recommended for people who use protection every time they have sex, how no symptoms does NOT mean you’re free of STIs, how you have to ask for herpes and HIV on your full STI panel because if you walk in and say “I would like a full STI panel” those two infections are not considered part of standard testing. He didn’t know any of this and, truthfully, most people don’t.
And so, months later, when I started the trip and got to Boston, I began asking about testing before I started hooking up with any dude.
A fighter I fucked in Boston said he had to get tested for STIs because there was potential for bloodshed and illnesses that are spread by bodily contact in fighting—this meant getting tested for herpes and HIV. For some reason, I didn’t think to ask about other STIs because those are two of the big ones. And then he put the condom on incorrectly (I was stoned and he DIDN'T PINCH THE TIP uggghhhh, which didn't cause the condom to break, but it caused spillage) and gave me chlamydia for the SECOND TIME six months after getting it from Scorpio. I honestly should have known because fighter was CRAZY DELICIOUS and gave off the I-fuck-a-lot-of-college-girls vibe. (And you know what, Fighter? Bless you. Go fuck those college girls because you’re amazing in bed and will bring those co-eds so much joy. But people under 26 have the highest rates of chlamydia.)
That’s right. 29 years STI-free and then, boom, the clap twice in a year. Goddammit. (And both were due to my partners’ ignorance. Not mine.)
So needless to say, I’ve learned lessons. And one of those lessons has been that I can do everything I can to be safe—I get tested regularly (99% of the time that means monthly), I use protection consistently (I’ve had some slipups in the past, but now it never happens), and I talk about testing with everyone before anything goes down. But at the end of the day, I don’t have control over other people. So if you ever do come down with something, this is my chance to say: please don’t beat yourself up over it. Try your best, be as safe as you can, but, yanno, shit happens and you’re not a bad or dirty person if it does.
So as much as this stuff isn't ideal, the silver lining is that it’s a great litmus test. I’m a lot of fun in bed. I’m a respectful hookup and I’m not clingy (I never sleep over and as one of my favorite friends told me the other day: “Unless you have an engagement ring or a cock ring, you’re not sleeping in my bed” – my motto as well). And if testing is too big of a hoop to jump through for you, I don’t want to fuck you. You don’t deserve this pussy. Decent people hear my rule and say “Oh shit, I’ll get right on that.” And those people have been great.
And another reminder: just because a dude gets tested doesn’t mean he can fuck you without a condom. Because a clean test is NOT a free fuckpass. It means “Great job. Keep baggin’ your junk!”
So listen, Austin. I like you and all, but I’m not getting the clap for the third time in a year because your men are hot and stupid.
First off, it’s my 30th birthday! And how have I been celebrating this week? Well. I drove to Austin by myself. So that’s a thing.
When I started this trip in October, I spent 2 months in Boston (UGH, I MISS IT) and then went home for 6 weeks for the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s). Then I went to Asheville for 5 weeks and had to come home for a month because I needed clearance from my gyno to drive cross-country; the last thing she or I wanted was to be on the side of the road with another ruptured ovarian cyst. (I did get that clearance—albeit begrudgingly—but I still need to get another follow-up while I’m in Austin; my gyno wasn’t happy with what she saw on the ultrasound).
My point is that for the last two legs of the trip, I had “breaks” home in New York. And those breaks were great. A guy I fooled around with in Boston who used to live in NYC said the first time he returned to New York, he felt as if his eyes had been dilated at an optometrist’s office. When I returned home after Boston, I couldn’t agree more. I felt completely disoriented on the subway and overwhelmed by the sounds and crowds and energy. When I got back home from Asheville, however, I was like OH THANK GOD. A REAL CITY WITH PEOPLE WHO ALL DON’T LOOK THE SAME AND PLENTY OF THINGS TO DO AND GOOD FOOD THAT CONTAINS ACTUAL NUTRITION AND VARIETY. I wanted to kiss the piss-scented sidewalk.
So what had I been doing at home in NYC for the last month? Well, I went to all my favorite places (Sweetgreen! Babeland! Journelle! Monster Cycle!), my day job has been crazy busy (my boss got fired!), I’ve been freelancing (THIS and THIS and THIS!), I went to a ton of doctor’s appointments (I have another cyst! And an anal fissure!), I booked my Denver Airbnb (weed!), planned a big "project" that I’ll be able to talk about in two weeks (IT’S SO GOOD), and I even got asked to appear on Buzzfeed’s morning Twitter show “AM to DM” (a total blast!). I crammed so much shit into a single month that before I knew it, it was time to drive to Texas. And for the first time on this trip, it was "real." I had wanted to drive to Asheville, but couldn't because of that damn ER trip in Boston. This time, I was driving. There weren't going to be breaks at home anymore. Once I left, I was committing to 7-8 months on the road.
Now, I mapped my route out months ago. I planned to drive 8 hours to Virginia, crash for the night, and then drive 7 hours to Atlanta, where I have family. I don’t know how high I was when I rationalized that 15 hours of driving in 2 days would be a normal undertaking. Because Jesus Christ was I wrong. Holy hell.
Now here are a few thoughts I have about driving for long periods of time:
Here’s the thing about my car. Now, I am not a bougie person at all when it comes to cars. In fact, I had the option to buy a new car for this trip, but decided against it just in case the worst happened (I’d rather total a 2001 Honda Whateverthefuck than anything else). So my car is old. I’m talking has a CD player old. But you know what? I hate touchscreen shit in cars and prefer not to have them because with actual buttons I can feel for the controls without taking my eyes off the road. I also have super fond memories of my car in high school (a black Dodge Neon named “Baby;” RIP) and you bet your ass I kept all of my CDs from middle and high school (REMEMBER THOSE ZIP-AROUND BOOKS WITH THE PLASTIC SLEEVES? YEP) and so for 7 hours from New York to Virginia, I listened to shit like Coheed & Cambria, Motion City Soundtrack and the soundtrack from RENT (because I was a very angry teen who was consistently on the honor roll and smoked weed, like, once), singing every lyric. I can’t remember shit because there’s a giant Ambien-sized hole in my brain (recommended Ambien usage: 1-2 months, how long Dana had been on it: THREE YEARS), but for some reason I know every lyric to every song on O-Town’s second album (take it from me—they should have stopped after the first one).
Do you know how fun it is to listen to albums that hit you right in the feels as a preteen for the first time as an adult? I legit burst out loud laughing at a gas station in Virginia when Erik from O-Town sang “Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I can’t find my lover/Now I’ve been around the world tonight/And I CAN’T EVEN FIND MYSELF.” Incredible.
When I pulled into fuckin’ Shitkick, Virginia (no, no, I’m joking—where I stayed was a very bougie neighborhood filled with colonial homes and mansions; I just had to drive through Shitkick to get there), I felt like a deflated balloon. My Airbnb host was the absolute nicest woman—an art professor at the local college—and I could tell she wanted to chat more, but I didn’t have the energy (I was very kind and polite! Just very quiet). I think she understood. When her husband came home, I heard her excitedly stage whisper “She’s a writer from New York City!” which was very sweet. I was so wiped I settled for the Applebee’s down the road, which had muted Fox News on their TVs and Tatu’s “All the Things She Said” playing on the sound system. (Interesting choice, Virginia Applebee’s. Interesting choice.) After that, I took a bath with a plenty of Epsom salt (my body was so sore) in my private bathroom and ate peanut butter M&Ms in the bathtub.
My father (who has driven from New York to Florida and back) warned me that after a long drive, your body is so wired from being on constant alert that even though you’re exhausted, you can’t sleep. That happened to me. Have you ever spent a day at the beach body-surfing and then that night, while you’re trying to sleep, your body still feels like it’s bobbing in the ocean? That night, when I shut my eyes, I was still in three lanes feeling cars go by in my peripheral vision. It was awful. My body was on autopilot and couldn’t rest. But the next day, I got up super early, drove to my overnight Airbnb in Montgomery, Alabama (in a rough neighborhood), ordered a pizza and crashed like the dead. The following morning, I just wanted to get back on the road so the driving planned out for that weekend would finally be over. I got up at 7, was the first person at the local Goodyear (something was up with my tire; I got it fixed), and got to Atlanta around 3 in the afternoon.
I spent the week with my uncle’s ex-wife (who I don’t feel comfortable calling aunt because she’s, like, six years older than me and a total babe), her awesome husband, my 11-year-old bookworm cousin aka the only man I’ll ever trust or love (“I know all about how babies are made. I know everything from the cerebral cortex to the gluteus!” – my cousin, who definitely does not take after me at all, nuh uh, no way), and an 18-month old lil’ chickie who is all smiles and snuggles. Vivi’s favorite word is “donut” and she isn’t a big fan of wearing pants so I guess what I’m trying to say is I lived with the baby version of me.
Living at Jen and John’s was wonderful because Jen eats mostly vegan (I’m mostly vegetarian) and so I’d come into the kitchen and a meal would already be on the table for me. I made lattes with a real espresso machine and milk steamer. The downstairs apartment is super private and I had my own kitchenette (that Jen filled with snacks) and my own bathroom. “When my friends get divorced, they usually stay here.” – Jen, my hero
My week was spent working 90% of the time, but it was a great stay. I just needed to unwind and take care of myself. Driving takes a lot out of you. Here are some tips I want to pass on after driving across half the country:
Once I left Atlanta, I stayed overnight in Baton Rouge, and then by afternoon the next day, I was in my BEAUTIFUL condo (in an incredible location) in Austin. This is also the first leg of the trip I’m living on my own and it is *amazing*. I am fully clothed about 20% of the time and that estimate is generous. There is a lot of naked dancing going on. And naked getting stoned. And naked eating. You get the picture. Living alone is the tits.
I’ve only been in Austin a few days, but so far I’m getting very positive vibes, similar to what I was experiencing in Boston. I also randomly had a crazy hot ~sessual encounter~ the second night I was here (completely unplanned), so that may color my thoughts slightly. But overall, I am so proud that I made it. Driving across half the country is hard. I have joined the ranks of women who have driven across half the country by themselves. (I also have the distinct honor of being probably the only person in the history of West Virginia who has ever ordered a salad from a Burger King rest stop. And it was most definitely just the lettuce and tomatoes they put on the burgers and a piece of grilled chicken someone dropped behind the grill in 1996. Homegirl was charred.) I couldn’t be prouder of myself and I couldn’t have more positive vibes about Austin. Good things will happen here.
Passionate about everything having to do with the body, Dana Hamilton writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. She is a regular contributor to Playboy and her work has appeared in VICE, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and SELF, among other publications.