This post is sponsored by Bedsider. All opinions are my very own.
“Just keep in mind when Jimmy grows
It grows and grows and grows, so let it
But keep in mind about the epidemic
When Jimmy releases, boy it pleases
But what do you do about all these diseases?
Jimmy is Jimmy, no matter what
So take care of Jimmy cos you know what’s up
Cos now in winter AIDS attacks
So run out and get your Jimmy Hats.”
–Jimmy, Boogie Down Productions
Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Love is in the air. And let’s face it and keep it real, the chocolates, flowers, balloons and dinners out are often appetizers leading up to the main course– sex. I’m grown now and really could give two tulips about receiving those things just because the calendar says it’s the 14th of February. And I’m also way more clear and comfortable with my sexual self, but back in the day, I wasn’t so self-aware. And yeah, I also got all weak-kneed whenever I was “lucky enough” to get that heart shaped box filled with chocolate covered nugget of all sorts.
Growing up there really wasn’t any sex-ed– in school or in my home. I got a mint green booklet from my mom, that I think the school nurse gave to her, and was told to read it and if I had any questions feel free to ask. End of story. I remember that that 14-page booklet focused more on “the female menstruation cycle” and had some pretty well drawn images of fallopian tubes, but was rather vague about the actual act of sex. I read the book and had many questions, but at 11, maybe 12 years old, I felt way too awkward to present any of them especially to my mother. She had already told me that having sex could mean having a baby and I knew I didn’t want that. Besides, she had accidentally taken my sister and I to see Jayne & Leon Isaac Kennedy’s “Body & Soul” (she thought it was going to be like a Black version of “Rocky”) and I figured that seeing that X-rated flick, in her presence, fulfilled our quotas for uncomfortable, embarrassing (“cover your eyes!”) experiences around sex for a lifetime.
I was a Black girl in public school who loved books, hip hop anything, Prince and Michael Jackson everything, fish sandwiches fried on 125th Street and going to church. So most of what I learned about sex was through Judy Blume, initially, and then Danielle Steel, The Jungle Brothers and BDP, my friends through the funniest, most secret (usually literally in the dark) convos and church. I grew up in a Christian household and went to a Black Baptist church every Sunday, where I learned that I wouldn’t be having sex until I got married anyway and by then, I figured, I would know what to do.
Meanwhile my life did not unfold in that ideal Christian way and although those secret chats and the JBs equipped me with some knowledge, albeit mixed with a whole lot of myth and bboy bravado, particularly around birth control, they still did not provide access to any resources. They weren’t passing out jimmy hats in the subway station and in college, I was too afraid to go to the health center and ask for them. I mean, what would they think? And Lawd knows, back then, there was no cute dotcom that had all the answers and tools at the click of an app or space bar.
But times have changed. I can still get a great fish sandwich on 125th St., but there are now quite a few churches in Harlem that freely distribute condoms and there’s Bedsider.org— a cute, information packed dotcom that provides women with the tools they need to find and consistently use the birth control that’s right for them. Seriously, it’s the Sephora.com of birth control resources. There’s a great visual platform to explore and compare every available method of birth control where an image of a padlock stands for “not right now” (ie. abstinence) and the popped cork represents “withdrawal.” And the videos of real women and men describing their personal experiences with each method are like those secret talks I had with my besties back in the day, but more informed and way better lit. And check this, they even have birth control and appointment reminders sent by text or email. Bedsider also features the most comprehensive list of where to get birth control ever compiled. Like reproductive health, Bedsider is not a game, and unlike Sephora.com, all of the resources on the site are free. So before you cop that big red satin box of chocolates or snag that sexy chemise at Victoria Secret’s, be your own best Valentine and check out Bedsider.org. It’s so much flyer than that green booklet I had to contend with as a teen and it’s not nearly as awkward as having a “vagina” talk with your mom while dad kinda looks on (see video if you don’t believe me) and it’s way less complicated than having to deal with an unplanned pregnancy or STD.