Burning woman



Dear Readers:

It's late summer again, when the hipper urban enclaves empty out and suddenly there's parking because all the cool people have gone to Burning Man or some other anarcho-artsy fire-dancing/fairy-wings festival. Burning Man in particular, plunked down as it is on a lake bed as hot as Venus and as barren as the moon, can take a toll on participants' health and well-being. According to my friends at the Women's Community Clinic (www.womenscommunityclinic.org) nothing takes more of a beating out there than the private parts (less private than usual due to rampant nudity and a fair amount of random partnering) of female festival-goers.

So what do women need to know to avoid having to rush their rashes straight to the clinic as soon as they've unloaded the truck and showered off the playa dust? Staffers there asked me to write a list of common sense self-protection maneuvers for a situation in which sense is less valued than sensation and spontaneity.

(1) This goes for everyone: drink an insane amount of water. I actually recommend bringing double the usual ration of a gallon a day — it's not like you can easily run out for more in a commerce-free zone like Black Rock City. You want to "piss clear" (an infelicitous phrase that I have nevertheless often found useful since first encountering it at Burning Man). Your health depends on it. Your urinary tract, in particular, will thank you.

(2) Keep clean. This is, of course, one of the many uses to which any extra water can be put, but you'll also need unscented baby wipes with no greasy or sticky additives. You don't want to attract every mote of dust (and oh my, is there a lot of dust) and convince it to cling to your damp spots. Out in the desert, I wash my face with witch hazel pads and my other parts with massive numbers of store-brand unscented "natural" baby wipes. Don't get these mixed up.

(3) Bring a safer sex kit. Consider all casual pickup sex unsafe unless somehow proven otherwise — you don't want to be having long, intense negotiations with strangers while you're out of your head on whatever you're doing out there to get out of your head. Use condoms and, while you're doubling your recommended water ration, do the same with the lube. The fierce desert wind wicks moisture like you would not believe, and even nice known-quantity sex with your steady partner can chafe. Lube up. You might want to consider using gloves for anything really intimate, too, and just generally being more careful than usual about introducing anybody's (blank) into your (blank). After a few days on the playa, you're likely to be abraded, chapped, windburned, sunburned, scraped, scratched, and undefended in a way that's unfamiliar to the city dweller. It's much easier to pick up somebody else's creepy-crawlies when your skin isn't in top shape, and trust me, it won't be. Use the condoms and other barriers when reasonable. Piss clear when you're done and don't forget the wipes. Bring alcohol gel and clean your hands regularly, even if you haven't been up to anything. Don't get crazy and clean things that oughtn't to be cleaned with alcohol, though.

Most of all, don't be an idiot. I can't stress this enough, and the Community Clinic, while staffed by women too nice to call you an idiot, doesn't want you to be one either. If you're going to take substances specifically designed to bring out the idiot in you, do so under the safest circumstances you can manage. Party with your friends, make a meeting place, follow a buddy system, and make some rules for yourself.

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