Asking for a Friend: A final love letter

Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationships column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities. 

Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationships column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities

Question: “I’m a 22-year-old queer woman working in journalism. I have a bleeding heart for human intimacy. (For those of you that care, I’m a Libra.) As a teen, I didn’t get a comprehensive sex education — the kind that would teach me about pleasure or advocating for myself, or even just how to use a dental dam. However, I did find a good birth control and mostly learned how to put a condom on a banana. 

I’ve broken my heart hundreds of times and I wish I had a doctor on speed dial (because even though I finally did get that sex education I needed, there’s seemingly always something more to know about myself). I’m amazed by the many facets of sexuality and gender identity. My heart skips a beat when someone tells me that I’m brave for talking about sex in a college newspaper. 

How did I get here and where am I going?” 

Answer: 

Dear readers and question-askers,

Nearly a year ago in the Daily Emerald newsroom, I overheard someone say, “I want to get the sex and relationship column off the ground again.”

What happened next was a mad dash to seize the opportunity that I had been quietly dreaming of — to be a sex and relationships columnist.

But that small comment — an overheard desire for someone to write about sex and relationship concerns of a college campus — was a call to action. It was the first time I realized that I could still do more. I could do this and not because I am the queen of sex and relationships. In fact, I’ve been quite the opposite.

Like I said, I feel that I’ve broken my heart a hundred different ways — in romantic relationships, platonic connection and particularly, by my family over and over again — seemingly a person that was always broken hearted. Then something changed — it wasn’t quite a moment where I decided I wouldn’t have my heart broken again, but rather that I was going to do something about it. 

Naturally, you might think it was rather bold for a heartbreak kid to run a column. It felt that way. It still feels that way, but I thought even if I helped one person not make the same mistakes I’ve made or gave the resources needed, it would be worth it. 

“Asking for a Friend” as a concept and title was born over a dinner conversation with my best friend. A degree of separation and a little bit of humor would be foundational. Thus, the safety of the internet and power of curiosity opened a door for more than just your questions. It became a very real and life-changing opportunity for me because of the nature of your questions, but also the responses I started receiving at work, home and in my own relationships.

When I have submitted questions to other writers in the past, it sometimes felt like yelling into the void. That’s kind of what the internet is, right? Well, on the other side of the void, is my computer and me receiving all the strange, exciting, scary, intimate details of where human connection and sexual identity overlap. 

I imagine each article is another blip in your newsfeed, a part of a daily newsletter or perhaps a conversation starter with your neighbor. As the writer, I see an archive of letters and an evolution — a new intimacy and direction in my life. 

I’ve received many stories tracing confused tales of relationships with other people, but mostly ourselves, our bodies, our self-esteem. 

Each time someone submitted a question, scenario or desire, I meditated on the question. How do I relate? How has educational institutions or society contributed or neglected the space or experience of the person submitting?

The result was a deep exploration of myself, our community and, of course, the internet. The internet gave me wide results and general musings, but rarely feels personal or responsive to the individual — that’s where I hoped that I would help. And connecting with our community meant finding tangible resources for the strangers writing into me. 

What I didn’t expect was how seriously I would start taking my own advice. Pep talks and pleasure advocacy were not just for other people, I realized, but me as well. From an educational standpoint, I was definitely not the only queer, or LGBTQIA, person that was desperately seeking representation and direction. Asking for a Friend allowed me to heal parts of myself that I didn’t realize were hurting and develop the discipline necessary to care for myself. 

While I have touched base with so many amazing sex and relationship professionals, it’s the people in need of answers that have inspired me the most. 

Sometimes, when I am in my own sticky situation regarding a romantic relationship, I’ll ask myself, “What would I say to someone who wrote in to me?” I found that I always advocated for the best for others, but constantly compromised when needing to advocate for myself and my needs.

Simultaneous to the personal growth, this column has also inspired a new discipline with in my journalistic training. Following an internship this summer, I’ll be pursuing my certification in sex education to continue reporting on sex and relationships. 

Now that I am leaving the Daily Emerald and the University of Oregon, I want to say thank you to all my readers and all the question-askers for helping with how I move through love and life. I also want to thank all my personal and professional supports for their patience, understanding and encouragement through one of the most emotionally complicated periods of my life.

Running this column has been an endlessly fulfilling and exciting endeavor that isn’t over yet. 

Thank you a million times over again.

 

Yours truly,

Dana Sparks

Photojournalist and Sex and Relationships columnist

Dana is a photojournalist specializing in long-format storytelling — particularly regarding gender and social justice topics. She is the Daily Emerald Sex and Relationships columnist. This is her third year at the Emerald.