Monday, April 22, 2019

The Other "L" Word

By Tino Largado


Exclusive relationships, while built on love and trust, thrive in commitment and communication. If you don’t agree, well, think of the last time you’ve had to enter into an “agreement” with your partner: Agree to do weekend movie nights together; agree to take turns in emptying the trash bin; agree to never spend “monthsaries”; probably agree to limit interactions with ex-flings and past romances; and of course agree to love each other. These and all your other examples define the rules of the relationship.

But have you two given as much thought about communicating and committing to what goes on in the bedroom? Where do the two of you stand in the subject of sex with latex? That, other than “love”, is an equally important “L” word you should agree on as a couple.

Different couples may have different takes on sex and its role in the relationship. But for those who consider it a crucial part of the dynamic, the topic of condom use is an item that must not be left out. On one hand, condom use is the simplest and easiest form of protection. On the other, the pleasure of bare skin contact may be preferred by your partner.

Whether you’ve had this conversation with your exclusive significant other, have agreed to disagree, or thinking of revisiting the topic, feel free to read on and see what it means to put the rubber on or off.

There’s DO in CONDOM…

The benefits of sex with latex can't get any more straightforward than this: condoms equal protection. The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) has noted that when used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV, as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are transmitted through bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. They serve as a barrier or wall to keep blood, semen, or vaginal fluids from passing from one person to the other during intercourse.  If no condom is used, the germs can pass from the infected partner to the uninfected partner.

Deciding to stick to condom use seems easier for heterosexual couples whose main goal is to minimize the chance of conception. The protection against infection, therefore, becomes a secondary benefit. This is different, however, for pairings involving men having sex with men (MSMs). In the absence of the potential to conceive, only the risk of contracting HIV and STIs remain as a concern for consideration.

Various campaigns aimed at promoting condom use capitalize on the purpose of protection, and it has resulted to increased awareness. Even in a recent quick poll that LoveYourself (@LoveYourselfPh) has tweeted, up to 83% responded that condom use is preferred even when in an exclusive relationship, to ensure protection. The twitter poll reflects that more individuals understand that even if they do it with the same person, it's best to make sure that risk is minimized by erring on the side of caution.


…But there’s also a CON in CONDOM

Individual testaments, however, don’t align with what the poll said.Take, for example, Edward and Nic*, who have been together for over four years now. “We only do actual penetration once or twice a month. Regularly [we’re] ‘sides”, explains Edward. The term “side” refers to an individual who does not partake in anal penetration during sex. “But when we do,” adds Nic, “we prefer to do it bare,” clarifying that they prefer the pleasure of skin-to-skin contact, minus the latex.

Robin and Lester*, a couple for three years, also share the same sentiment about pleasure. As they regularly engage in penetrative sex, they simply prefer to do it without condom, regardless if new condom variants offer thinner and improved textures. When asked if they would use condoms or not Robin said, “I’ll definitely opt not to. We both prefer it that way.”

The reduced sensation from using latex is the main con most people associate with condom use. For exclusively committed couples, the chance to get rid of having to use condoms during sex is more appealing. More people agree with Edward, Nic, Robin, and Lester according to a 2014 study by Dutch researchers: Couples in committed relationships use condoms only 14% of the time. Additionally, it’s been observed that irregular condom use was more common as relationships progressed and people were together for longer periods.

This behavior stems from the commitment to exclusivity, which applies to both love and sex. When two individuals enter an exclusive relationship, it’s one of the first and most basic concepts both parties subscribe to. When it’s time for both individuals to agree on certain aspects of their relationship, most of the conversation revolves around love and sex. Yet the necessity of condom use usually remains implied rather than defined, and most of the time by this “rule”: If both persons in the relationship consider the other as their sole sexual partner, the risk of contracting infection is decreased, and both can forget the need to use condoms. This logic, while understandable, tend to dismiss the purpose that condoms serve: protection and precaution during sexual activity, regardless of exclusivity.

So, Gloves On or Off?

Condom use is a matter of choice. When making this decision, it’s best to consider which bears more weight in the dynamics of the relationship, according to Denis Cruz, Clinic Coordinator at LoveYourself Uni. Yet, while recognizing the role of pleasurable sex in keeping a relationship healthy and active, Cruz also injects a reminder that protecting your partner must never be downplayed. “Couples engage in unprotected sex because they trust their partners,” explains Cruz. “But trust shouldn't be the only foundation of a relationship. It should also include their well-being.”

“Is it really worth it exposing (one’s self and partner) to all of these possible infections?”
—Denis Cruz, Clinic Coordinator, LoveYourself Uni

When considering your partner’s well-being, Cruz emphasizes that condoms not only protect against HIV, but other sexually-transmitted infection (STIs), some of which can be passed on in as simple as a skin contact. “Is it really worth it exposing (one’s self and partner) to all of these possible infections?”

With this regard, Cruz goes back to LoveYourself’s Triangle of Self-Care as a practical basis when discussing condom use within the relationship: Correct and Consistent Use of Condoms (and water-based lubricants), along with Timely Testing and Treatment, help ensure that sexual partners experience Safe and Satisfying Sex.

One last thing to bear in mind, as with every decision you make as a couple, the choice whether or not to use a condom should be discussed between both parties in the relationship. Both of you should communicate your beliefs, inhibitions, concerns, and convictions to come up with an agreement you will both commit. All things considered, what’s ultimately important is that your decision on the context of latex should be one that will help make your love—and your love-making— last.

*Names have been changed for privacy
______________________________________________________
When not juggling BPO work and HIV advocacy, Tino is a self-confessed TV addict and Broadway musical fanatic. He thinks he’s an old soul, perhaps a sitcom actor in his past life, trapped in a selfie-obsessed man-boy suit.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Cut or Uncut? No Problem!

By Julian Christopher

Photo by Julian Christopher
A lot of things may come to mind when people hear the word, summer. For some, it is a time to unwind and spend more quality time with their family, while some may spend it travelling to cross out items on their bucket list. But it can also be a time for a totally different adventure.

Imagine going to a local pub where you meet a guy that ticks all of your boxes. Sweet, kind, articulate-- he’s the perfect package! After spending some time talking about sweet nothings, you decided to spend the night together. Everything was going well in the beginning. His kisses were gentle and his moves were just right-- not too fast and not too slow. You could not hide your excitement, thinking it was going to be a perfect night. Then, he slipped out of his underwear, and everything went into a standstill. Your perfect guy-- is uncut!

For Filipinos, circumcision is a social norm and is considered as a rite of passage for majority of pre-pubescent males. In fact, according to a 2011 report, 93% of Filipino males are cut[1]. So, it is not common to meet uncircumcised guys here. However, meeting one is not impossible. So what do you do when you meet one? Here are a few things you might consider:

Image retrieved from: https://picryl.com/media/condom-safe-sex-aids-health-medical-f1f5c8
Condom usage

Cut or uncut, there is not a lot of difference when putting on a condom. The key is proper and consistent usage:
  1. Store it properly
  2. Talk to your partner about condom usage
  3. Check the expiration date
  4. Make sure there are no tears and defects
  5. Put a bit of water-based lubricant on the tip of the fully erect penis
  6. Slightly pinch the tip of the condom to prevent air bubbles from forming
  7. Unroll it all the way down the penis.
The only thing you do differently is that you securely pull back the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis before putting the lube on to prevent it from coming off[2].

Another thing, do not forget to use protection even if you are just doing oral sex- ever wondered why condoms have flavors? Oral sex puts you into contact with body fluids—semen, vaginal fluids, blood—any of which can contain disease-causing viruses or bacteria like gonorrhea, syphilis, and herpes [3].

Circumcision and HIV

Circumcision status does not have any statistical significance when it comes to the transmission of HIV[4]. Therefore, it is still important that you and your partner get tested whether either of you is circumcised or not. Remember, it is recommended to undergo testing three months[5] after a possible exposure to account for the window period.

Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/fr/illustrations/silhouette-les-hommes-gay-amour-1482958/
Hygiene

There are a number of people that assume that uncircumcised men are unhygienic, but genital hygiene has nothing to do with a man’s circumcision status. Just like with any other part of the body, it depends on how you clean it. Yes, it is easier to clean a circumcised penis because the glans(head of the penis) is exposed[7], but that does not mean that uncut men do not make the effort to clean theirs. If you are worried about cleanliness, just make sure your partner cleans his down under before you go under, or might as well, help him out!

Pleasure

Having a circumcised or uncircumcised penis should not keep you or your partner from having a satisfying sex life. In fact, a meta-research looked at multiple studies about circumcision and its relation to sexual function. Surprisingly, it found no evidence for overall differences between circumcised and uncircumcised men in terms of sexual function or sexual pleasure[8].

Now that you know more, you’re ready to take on any cut of cock! No need to worry about his circumcision status. You can enjoy safe and satisfying sex, get timely testing and treatment, and practice the correct and consistent use of condoms, no matter the cut! Enjoy cruising this summer!

References:
_________________________________________________________________
Julian is a corporate slave and a geek at night, he works as a learning and development specialist for a tech company for 8 hours a day. The rest of his day is spent on imagining having the powers of the characters of the mangas he reads.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Batch Bitoon - The Stars in the Making

By Vondraye


Batch Bitoon
LoveYourself White House has welcomed a new batch of volunteers to join its stronghold in the HIV Advocacy in the heart of Cebu City, located in Fuente Osmeña. Batch Amuma now has additional 31 new brothers and sisters in the LoveYourself Family – Batch Bitoon  who shared their passion for volunteerism. LoveYourself Whitehouse has been hard at work with its Metro Manila co-founders Vinn Pagtakhan and Chris Lagman to further fortify its services in preparation for its opening in late April 2019. Batch Bitoon has been equipped with basic knowledge of HIV transmission, and HIV counseling skills.

The remarkable Batch Bitoon accomplished their training in HIV 101 and operations on  January 12 held at the Learning Lounge - Qualfon Education Cebu IT Park. Co-founders  Vinn and Chris, graced their presence at the HIV Counselling Training on January 26, 2019 held at SMEAG Capital Campus, set to open in late April, Batch Bitoon has now been equipped with basic knowledge of HIV transmission, and HIV counseling skills.


Batch Bitoon indeed translates to stars as they were the most diverse set of volunteers. LoveYourself Cebu has caring trans women and cis men and women. It doesn’t end there as we have members as young as Senior High to retired nurse, from different parts of the Philippines, or of the world rather as people coming from as far as Chicago,Illinois, USA and India to Bacolod, and Tacloban came together in reaching out to different key populations of Cebu.


Chris Lagman, LoveYourself's Director for Learning and Development, facilitating the HIV Counselling
LoveYourself’s signature values “Dare, Care, Share” are shared by everyone in the organization. The dream of building a community that has enriched, nurtured, and inspired change in Manila, has now lit a beacon of light in Cebu.


Batch Bitoon logo, created by VJ Ratilla, Jan Rabsinth, Xavier, and Roger
Love Locale!

The word Bitoon is translated to star or bituin in Tagalog. Batch Bitoon will be the guiding light for the Cebuanos in these times of darkness of the epidemic. Welcoming Batch Bitoon, LoveYourself Cebu aims to shine through the stigma, wrong information, the rising HIV incidences, and people living with HIV (PLHIV) who weren't connected to treatment in Cebu. The pioneer group of LoveYourself that started 5 years ago composed of Jan Estrada, Rabsinth dela Cruz, Xavier Gonzales Solis and Roger Ramos wanted to use the letters of the Visayan Alphabet to name the batches of volunteers, the letter A for Batch Amuma, and the letter B for Bitoon. 

"Volunteers are the light and will be the guiding light for their clients as well for others in serving the community, educating the people and sharing their time and love with each other through volunteerism." - Jan Estrada, Head of LoveYourself Cebu

'Gi-Atiman, Gi-Ampingan, ug Gi-Asikaso'

Mitch Paca who joined Batch Bitoon will also head LoveYourself Cebu as program officer and will look after LoveYourself WhiteHouse. He was sent to Manila for two weeks to attend trainings, meetings and immersed himself on how the different LoveYourself headquarters in Manila functions and bring back to Cebu all that needs to be learned, share his learning with the rest of the team, and provide the best care to clients with the signature service “Inaalagaan, Iniingatan, at Inaasikaso” or in the local language"Gi-Atiman, Gi-Ampingan, ug Gi-Asikaso."

Batch Amuma, Batch Bitoon and the rest of the LoveYourself Pioneer Members are all excited to Dare, Care and Share the love from Manila to fellow Cebuanos. LoveYourself Cebu is here now. Padayon LoveYourself Cebu!

Feeling inspired? Join us in the advocacy by clicking here.
________________________________________________

Vondraye works in the morning like a zombie because he was born nocturnal. An everywhere and everything kind of guy who was born and raised in Laguna, worked in Manila and now found new meaning in Cebu and LoveYourself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Celebrating and Recognizing Trans-Pinay Rights

By Nicole Silvestre

Women's month is a celebration of women’s success and contribution to our society. Inclusion has been a long standing issue in the movement towards equality, and for LGBTQIA+ women it is a bigger struggle to remain visible. During dictatorship in the 1980’s, the lesbian community struggled to be visible to the public due to subsumption of their rights between women’s rights that were previously heterosexual in nature and gay movement that previously regarded them as female version of homosexual men. It is already 2019 and the same struggles can be seen happening in the trans community.


Photo by Raine Cortes
History of Trans Women in the Philippines

Contrary to popular belief, transgender women or trans women did not just pop-up in the 20th century. Several accounts in Philippine history prove that trans women had played important roles in our society even before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. The most popular of which are the Babaylans or Visayan Shamans, who were respected by the community because of the belief that they have the ability to heal and the authority to speak with divinities.

In Luzon, we also have the Lakapati of Tagalog mythology, who is known as the Transgender Goddess of Golden Rice and Fertility in pre-colonized Philippines. Our ancestors believed that personification of Lakapati as intersex has been attributed to the indigenous view that an intersex shows the 'balance deemed by nature'. This may be the reason why Lakapati became the second most loved deity by the people, next to the supreme deity Bathala.

In efforts of spreading Catholicism in our country, priests made the people believe that the gender-crossers were witches, which led to prosecution for some. As a result, our beliefs of pre-colonial deities gradually faded and seemed to have become myths.

Fast forward to today, Filipinos are fascinated by the beauty of trans women. Difficulty in distinguishing trans women from cis gender women has been a point of pride for trans women - being called“passable” or “babaeng babae (so girly), walang bahid (passable), walang buking (no trace of being a man)”.


Photo by Nicole Silvestre
It is also to this fascination of their beauty that pageants became the typical platform for trans women to showcase their beauty and talents, which has also become the main source of income to some. Filipinos undeniably love beauty pageants. As specified by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, it is one of our 3 B’s along with basketball, boxing. But does this mean that Filipinos have already accepted trans women and recognized their rights in our society? Or is it mere tolerance and not necessarily acceptance?


Photo by Bubbles Rosos

What makes a woman a woman?

When Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen was asked about the essence of being a woman, she answered, “Just being a woman is God’s gift that all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, and is a woman. She shows a man, what sharing, caring and loving is all about. That is the essence of a woman.”

This answer has been hailed as one of the best answers in the history of Miss Universe pageant but has also become the basis for the usual argument of people who refuse to regard trans women as “real women”.

It is important to note that both cisgender and transgender women have estrogen, or female hormones in their bodies. In this sense, both can be identified female even before genitalia was formed inside their mother’s womb. Also, even the bearing a child argument cuts off cis women who are unable to bear children. With the arguments being considered, it is not really a physical matter at this point. Perhaps, we should consider looking at the definition of a woman in terms of gender, which is a cultural and social construct.

Thus, being a woman is more than having female genitalia or having the ability to give birth, it is more of how one identifies herself. Lack of in depth understanding of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) is usually the root cause of apathy towards trans women’s fight for recognition. By definition, transgender women are women whose identity, expression, behavior, or self-perception do not conform with the assigned sex at birth.

Becoming Politically Recognized

Some trans women have made their mark and became popular in mainstream media. We witnessed the coming out and transitioning of BB Gandanghari and Angie King, listened to the TED talk of Geena Rocero, elected Heart Diño in USC of UP Diliman and Geraldine Roman in the Congress, and tuned in to the stories of Rica Paras in Pinoy Big Brother and Mela Habijan in ‘Asawa Ko, Karibal Ko’. While their contributions can be regarded as a step forward, their presence at the limelight still cannot invalidate the horror stories that normal trans women are still experiencing.


Photo by Raine Cortes
It is not uncommon to hear stories of trans women experiencing harassment and discrimination on a daily basis. In seeking for employment, trans women are often forced to choose working in sub-standard labour conditions due to discrimination that prevents them from accessing formal employment. Some universities and companies enforce dress codes that are restrictive of trans women’s choices.

In 2018 alone, the following ignorant incidents against trans women happened in the country:
  • A trans woman was asked by two security guards to leave the courtesy lane designated for women, elderly and persons with disabilities at the Ayala station of MRT-3 as “boys” are not allowed in the said lane.
  • A trans woman was disallowed by an H&M staff from trying on swimsuits because men are not allowed to fit women’s swimwear.
  • Impersonator KaladKaren Davila was denied entry at a bar in Makati for being “gay”.
Aside from these occurrences, there are  trans women who do not have the opportunity to learn about their SOGIE and available services such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). The country also still lacks a specific law or policy for providing legal gender recognition for transgender people in general. In fact, RA 9048 (Clerical Error Law of 2001) makes it effectively illegal for transgender persons in the Philippines to change their first name and sex in their birth certificates.

Harassment and discrimination can be harmful to one’s self-esteem, especially to those with trans identities who become targets just for showcasing who they are on a daily basis. The continuous refusal of the government to pass laws and policies, such as the Anti-Discrimination Bill (SOGIE Bill), that recognize the rights of trans women, paves the way to a more non-accepting Philippines.

In today’s society where being different is still considered being less of a human, the women of the LGTBQIA+ community are not asking for any special treatment. What the community hopes to achieve is having an equal opportunity and treatment from everyone. Passage of the SOGIE Bill will not only achieve this, but will also give way to a more inclusive, understanding, and respectful environment. Perhaps by then, everyone will be able to understand what it means when someone say, “Trans women are women”.
___________________________________________________________________
Nicole is an openly transgender woman who works in the BPO industry. She is an HIV counselor and an advocate of Trans-rights. She promotes SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression) awareness for everyone to be more gender sensitive most specifically in the LGBT+ community.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pia Wurtzbach Amplifies Everyone’s Courage at Love Gala 2019

By Love Gala Secretariat

(Manila, Philippines). More than four years after winning Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach has remained committed to her causes, especially on HIV awareness campaign as she headlines “Love Gala 2019: Courage Amplified” – an event powered by the LoveYourself, Inc. 

The Love Gala, the Asia’s premier charity and awards event that supports HIV awareness and education campaign, will be held on May 11, at the ABS-CBN Vertis Tent, Quezon City. 



Wurtzbach, a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, will also be joined by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, who is a volunteer-ambassadress of the LoveYourself – a non-government organization that promotes HIV awareness and education campaign in the Philippines. To join Wurtzbach and Gray on this cause, tickets for the Love Gala are available at www.lovegala.org.


LoveYourself founder and Executive Director Ronivin Pagtakhan said that Wurtzbach was chosen to be one of the Love Gala ambassadresses along with Gray as they both have the strong passion and desire to use their voices on the HIV advocacy. 

“The Love Gala is an opportunity for people to be brave and show their support on the cause. We can all do our part to help minimize the cases of HIV by showing that we are united in our advocacy, and by taking actions to make a difference,” Pagtakhan said. 

The Love Gala continues the global movement by uniting individuals and organizations in a night of exquisite musical entertainment and worthwhile fundraising and a perfect venue for people to learn more about what they can do to support the cause. 

The gala night will also honor outstanding advocates who have greatly contributed to their communities at the second Ripple Awards: five (5) individuals, three (3) organization and one (1) project of the year. 

Institutions and organizations supporting Love Gala are Absolut & Olmeca, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Business Mirror, Cognizant, Department of Health, Durex, Gilead Sciences Inc., F1 Hotel, Inspi Store, Mass TV, MP School, Mont Albo, PhilHealth, Philippine National AIDS Council, Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc., Rotary Club of Quezon City, Save the Children, Shopee, The LoveYourself Incorporated, UNAIDS, Victoria Court and World Health Organization.

Wear Love for More Love

As part of the fundraising activities, Wurtzbach is also one of the faces of the “Wear Love for More Love” shirts – a limited edition tops released by the LoveYourself in partnership with Inspi and online shopping ‘Shopee.’

Comedian and impersonator Kaladkaren Davila also supports the cause. 

The “Wear Love for More Love” merchandise has two distinct designs: The LoveYourself Black Shirt and The Love.Fight.Cure. Red Flip Shirt – these are made of premium cotton, while the shirts' designs are silk-screened with a straight hem. 

For only PhP249.00 you can already help the good cause of the LoveYourself. The shirts come in XS to XL sizes. 

A huge portion of the sales from the LoveYourself merchandise will be used to support the organizations’ free and confidential HIV testing services, awareness programs and community movements like the Love Gala 2019: Courage Amplified. 

So, what are you waiting for? Hurry! Add to cart and purchase the shirts NOW, as it will only last until May 1. The shirts will be shipped at your doorsteps wherever you are in the Philippines. With Diego Rozul and Gian Geronimo

###