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From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: New Contraceptives and HIV Protection

This ring, currently under development, can be inserted into the vagina to prevent both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

This ring, currently under development, might reduce risk for both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012 there were 35.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. A whopping 69 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children reports that 2 out of 5 children born in developing countries are the result of unintended pregnancies.

Condoms remain the gold standard for protection against HIV transmission. But not all women are able to negotiate condom use. The same can be said for contraceptives. Health-care providers in some areas of the world are not even able to provide condoms consistently due to political or financial pressures.


An intravaginal ring under development might protect against pregnancy, HIV, and genital herpes.


But there are nonprofit groups researching and developing products to meet the needs of women in these countries. With the financial backing of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CONRAD, a nonprofit committed to improving reproductive health globally, is testing a new intravaginal ring that combines a hormonal contraceptive, levonorgestrel, and an HIV microbicide, tenofovir, in the same product. When inserted vaginally, it slowly dispenses both drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

More woman-shaming from the abstinence-only crowd.

More woman-shaming from the abstinence-only crowd.

  • Abstinence-only education: Showing kids every day how filthy and disgusting they automatically become if they have sex. Which symbol of filth are you, fellow non-abstinent people? A used piece of tape? Chewed-up gum? It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” of how gross they can make you feel for doing something human beings are mostly naturally inclined to do. Anyway, I’m a black woman so I think the most fitting choice for me would be “dirty chocolate.” (Think Progress)
  • Here are all the states committing egregious sex education blunders. It’s pretty much sad all over, folks. (Huff Po)
  • Maybe that’s why 80 percent of teens have sex without first being educated about it. (Daily Beast)
  • Pro-choice Arizonans, we have successfully gained an extended injunction against the new and terrible legislation that would cut off women’s access to medication abortion in the early stages of pregnancy and instead force them to undergo a surgical abortion — assuming they can access it. (Phoenix New Times)
  • The teen birth rate may be at record lows, but the CDC says (and we agree) it’s still too high in the grand scheme of things! (NBC News)
  • You know how the Arizona Department of Health Services focuses so much on stuff like disease prevention and control, vaccinations, environmental health, maintaining vital records, and all of that unimportant junk? Well, the sinister, diabolical forces at the Center for Arizona Policy want them to take time away from all that crap to start doing surprise inspections at abortion clinics. Did something seriously dangerous or illegal happen at an Arizona abortion clinic to spur this on? Nope! (East Valley Tribune)
  • There are 30 states that require pregnant women to remain on life support no matter what. THIRTY STATES! Living will or not. Do we need any more proof that women are largely seen as incubators and not people? Repeating this again: THIRTY STATES!!! (RH Reality Check)
  • Sometimes when I hear Republicans speaking, I feel as if I’m drowning in a tsunami of stupidity. Missouri state Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger says that buying a car and selecting carpet are decisions just as major as considering abortion. These are things he personally has to think about a lot before just plunging right in, you know?! That is actually the logic this clown is using to try to mandate a 72-hour waiting period for women considering an abortion. It’s as if he and the rest of the forced birth advocates don’t understand that most women have already thought about what they’d do in the event of an unintended pregnancy. It’s something almost all sexually active, heterosexual women have contemplated. These “waiting periods” have been shown to have virtually no effect on a woman’s final decision whether or not to have an abortion. Please, Rep. Gatschenberger, get out of the legislature and go pick out some flooring. (Salon)

A First of Its Kind: The Body Love Conference

Body Love ConferenceThe following guest post comes to us from Marcy, a Planned Parenthood volunteer and proposal writer.

On April 5, 2014, women and their allies from all over the world convened at the University of Arizona for the inaugural Body Love Conference. Kicked off by Tucson’s own Jes Baker of the Militant Baker blog, the Body Love Conference sought to educate, advocate, and provide a safe space for those identifying as women, and their allies, in order to revolutionize the way bodies are perceived.


“The way we view our bodies determines the way we participate in the world.”


Throughout the conference, participants attended workshops conducted by speakers comprising women of all sizes, women of color, transgender women, and aging women. Each workshop carried variations on the same message: the critical importance of empowering women through providing access to a supportive community and education on body acceptance. It is clear that whatever thoughts you have had about yourself and your body image, someone else has had them too. You are not alone. Below is a cross-section of four of the 33 Body Love Conference presenters, who spoke out against the power of body shame by showing us that all of our bodies are normal — and normal bodies are lovable. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can Lesbians Get STDs?

couple WSWA couple of months ago, in time for Valentine’s Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would start using the term “condomless sex” instead of “unprotected sex.” The move was hailed by many HIV advocacy groups for taking into account other risk-reduction practices, such as medications that decrease the chances of HIV transmission.


Women can transmit just about any STD to one another.


However, while medications can reduce HIV risk, condoms still offer protection from both pregnancy and many other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. One reason that condoms are so valuable is that they can be placed over a penis to collect fluids before and after ejaculation — dramatically reducing risk for both pregnancy and many STDs. So, even when using anti-HIV meds, engaging in “condomless sex” can still be risky.

But what if partners are engaged in sexual activities that don’t involve penises? Not all sexual couplings involve a cisgender man, and even those that do might not utilize a penis at every encounter. When two people without penises have sex, they’re probably going to be engaging in condomless sex — though condoms can be placed over penetrative sex toys or cut along the sides to be converted into dental dams, they might not figure too prominently in this couple’s safer-sex arsenal. Lesbians protecting themselves with dental dams are technically engaged in “condomless sex,” but it’s still a far cry from being “unprotected.” Continue reading

GYT: The New Third Date!

handsThe following guest post comes to us via Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kate has her master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and a passion for ensuring that people of all ages have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be sexually healthy.

The infamous third date … Why does it carry so much pressure? Media and peer pressure tell us that the third date equals sex. But, after only three dates, how can you know if you’re ready to jump into bed with someone? Have you talked to your partner about their expectations and yours? Have you discussed your sexual histories? When was the last time the two of you were tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Never fear! Planned Parenthood Arizona is here to help.


Make a date at Planned Parenthood Arizona for discounted individual and couple’s STD testing in April!


April is GYT month. GYT: Get Yourself Talking. Get Yourself Tested. During the month of April, Planned Parenthood Arizona will be offering discounted STD testing at its health centers. We sexuality educators recommend getting tested with every new partner, or at least once a year. GYT month is a great time to get your STD screening done for a great price!

Getting tested for STDs — it’s the new third date! So plan on going to a Planned Parenthood Arizona health center with your new partner, and get your STD tests. While you’re waiting for the results, you’ll have some time to discuss your sexual histories, expectations, boundaries, likes and dislikes, and you’ll have time to get to know them even better! Imagine how amazing it will be to make a physical connection with someone when you know that they have already been cleared or treated for any STDs. Your fourth date will be that much more to look forward to.

We understand that not everyone gets tested with their new partner before having sex. Just be sure to practice safer sex and use condoms or dental dams to protect against STDs. Always use a new condom or dental dam with every sex act (vaginal, oral, and anal) from beginning to end, and make a plan to get tested as soon as possible.

GYT: Get Yourself Talking. Get Yourself Tested. Planned Parenthood Arizona is here to help you stay sexually healthy through our health services, education, and advocacy efforts. And, during the month of April, we’re offering discounts on some of our STD screening services so that you and your partner can prioritize one another’s sexual health, whether it’s your third date or your thousandth. Visit ppaz.org for more information, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and our new Tumblr!

Freedom of Access Under Attack

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

One of the saddest — and most infuriating — things I witnessed during my time as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort was the relentless, unyielding harassment that women were forced to withstand at the hands of anti-abortion protesters, simply for seeking reproductive health care.

Now that we are in the midst of another annual “40 Days For Life” campaign, which always causes a dramatic increase in protester presence, my memories of escorting are even more vivid.


Buffer zones prevent raging extremists from occupying clinic property and blocking patients’ movement.


Before our clinic on 7th Avenue in Phoenix was relocated, I stood outside every Sunday morning for more than a year serving as an access advocate for women. Not only were our patients subjected to extreme haranguing by Planned Parenthood protesters, I was as well. Not one Sunday would pass where I wouldn’t be (loudly) accused of being some kind of an accomplice to murder — or a “murderer” myself.

I constantly questioned not only their tactics, but also their motivation. What kind of people spend their mornings and afternoons preying on women who are going to get health care? Debasing and denigrating unsuspecting women they don’t know at all. Taking mental snapshots of them. Capturing their identities. Glaring directly into their eyes. And voraciously leering at them as they go in and out of a clinic.

It’s a feral, savage practice if you think about it. Incredibly voyeuristic and wildly invasive. Continue reading