Sunday, March 8, 2009

white flowers: a personal take on culture and sexual health

Today, while passing by lemon trees and giant aloe plants on my way home from Berkeley Bowl, a patch of white wildflowers growing on a street corner innocently brought me back to 2003, when I was 16 and thought I was pregnant.

My then boyfriend and I decided to start having sex after months of blow jobs and dry humping. Both of us agreed to use a condom consistently and correctly and to have an abortion if it ever came to that. One night, he took a condom out from his wallet, and despite my hesitations, I consented. The next day, during our nightly phone conversations, I nervously pointed out that the condom had been in his wallet, and couldn't there have been tiny tears that would have let sperm pass through. He said something half-assed about checking the condom for leaks. After that, he stopped carrying condoms in his wallet or pocket and we continued to have sex, even though I began to internally panic about being pregnant.

During the two months following that night, I took 6 pregnancy tests, all of which came back negative. However, my period had never skipped two months in a row before. This fact overrode everything I had ever learned, about how condoms were extremely effective when used correctly, that sperm could only live in my body for about a week. I was so anxious that not only did I research Planned Parenthood, but also remedies such as Queen Anne's Lace, which can induce abortion. Queen Anne's Lace is a weed that flowers with a cluster of small white blossoms. Whenever I walked anywhere, I always looked for white flowers.

My parents were pretty obviously absent from this experience. In the end, of course I got my period, but the white flowers always stuck with me because of how messed up it was that I seriously thought about self-inducing an abortion rather than talk to them. Looking back, five years later, I realized my anxiety was not over whether or not I was pregnant—week after week of negative results should have convinced me. Instead, I was terrified of my parents' reaction to me having sex. My parents are middle class Chinese professionals who immigrated here in the 1980s, and retained conservative cultural views towards sex. (However, I am not implying that my experience speaks for everyone with this background.) We rarely talked about any aspect of sexuality. If it ever came up, my mother would vocally send a message along the lines of, “Don't. Or else.” For example, when I told her I had a boyfriend, the first thing she said was that I was not allowed to kiss him or hold his hand, much less anything about sex.

Here, I recognize my lack of judgment and also my immense privileges concerning this situation. I had the money to buy pregnancy tests, my parents would have been able to afford a safe abortion and I would have been physically safe. Regardless of what would or would not have happened, my fears and anxieties were real. However one may feel about this topic, the fact is that some teenagers do have sex; the silence and stigmatization of this issue in our communities does not mean that APA teens magically never have sex until the “appropriate” time. It is extremely hard for many of our parents and families change their beliefs about sex and sexuality overnight. However, it is also crucial to ensure that these beliefs do not bar young women who need health services from receiving them. Starting from a perspective of promoting young women's health and welfare, we need to work together to create culturally appropriate and empowering ways to address sexuality.


  1. Thanks a lot for writing about this experience. I can relate to it a LOT. I started having sex when I was 16, and I definitely denied the fact that I was having sex to myself. I told noone and just secretly hoped I never got pregnant or got caught.

    I like that you touched on how privilege plays into the situation. I've taken plan B pills 5 times. Each time required fast action, support from close friends, transportation, health insurance, and money. One thing that for me goes unrecognized is the role that these privileges has. I feel like in my community we always saw the Latina/Chicana girls pregnant, as if they were the only sexually active ones. Little is it acknowledged that your "model" asian 4.0GPA girls are also just as sexually active and have just as much the potential to become pregnant.

  2. thanks so much for your honesty. i appreciated your story, and thank you for sharing.

  3. btw, i forget how amazing of a state california is (well sometimes) because it offers a plan that provides free reproductive care services to individuals who either don't have health insurance or who want to protect their reproductive care privacy. it's called Family PACT, and it has a broad eligibility requirement. some of the benefits of Family PACT include free birth control pills, free condoms, and even a free PAP smear. i was so excited when i discovered this program because i'm no longer a full time student and my dad wouldn't be too happy to discover on insurance bills that i'm taking the pill.

    you can sign up for the program at planned parenthood or any community health clinic. here's the program's website:

  4. Feeling feministaMarch 11, 2009 at 1:19 AM

    Thank you for being so HONEST AND TRUTHFUL AND REAL. It's so refreshing.

    Do you think sex will become less of a stigma when our generation becomes the parents? Do you think it will be easier to talk to with our children?

    Speaking of birth control, I learned in one of my classes that there are SO MANY OPTIONS! There's a male condom, female condom, birth control pills (estrogen and progesterone thickens cervical mucous and suppresses ovulation), Plan B Morning After pill (it's like a high dosage of birth control pills), fertility charting (avoid sex for 1/3 of the month when you're ovulating), continuous breast feeding (which prevents ovulation), diaphragm ($30-$40; lasts 6 years, reusable, must be fitted by a doctor, must be put in before you're aroused s that it will fit right), cervical cap ($100-200, reusable, made out of rubber, used like a diaphragm and must be inserted before arousal), spermicide (insert no more than 30-50 min before and effective for an hour only, forms include suppository (put into vagina and it melts), gel and applicator, creams), sponge (contains spermicide), intrauterine device (a piece of copper/plastic that the doctor puts in and can take out, 5-10 years, $300-500, thickens cervical mucous and prevents sperm from entering), a patch (wear 7 days, inc chance of blood clots, don't put near breasts), implant in your arm (doctor puts in and takes out and is effective immediately), the shot (monthly, $36-125), nuva ring (insert near cervix once a month or once a week depending, can come out during sex).

  5. I just came across this blog and immediately I loved it. I'm really glad that this blog exists. Now I just read this entry and I'm very touched by it. I could relate to a lot of what you said because my parents have similar attitudes toward sex and I feel the same inability to talk to them about it.

  6. nice blog
    here is a site about tubal reversal
    is a surgical procedure that restores fertility to women after a tubal ligation

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