Here in Arizona, Tucson Unified School District has been taking steps toward adopting a comprehensive, inclusive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex education program, but it’s been repeatedly delayed by a vocal minority. In September, a vote was put on hold after the superintendent recommended changing the proposed curriculum to focus on abstinence as the preferred method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancies.
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Additionally, many opponents of TUSD’s proposed curriculum believe its inclusiveness of LGBTQ kids is tantamount to “indoctrination,” that this type of education “sexualizes” children, and that discussions of gender identity will confuse students. LGBTQ kids have traditionally been ignored or demeaned in sex education programs, and their health matters too. Presenting medically accurate and age-appropriate information does not indoctrinate or sexualize children — it simply helps them make healthy decisions, no matter who they are. And these days, students need to be empowered with as much knowledge as possible to make decisions that protect their health.
Confronting the STD Epidemic
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases. It did not contain good news. For the fifth straight year, STD rates are climbing.
This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.
Is sex education part of your school day? If you are getting information in your classroom about birth control, consent, healthy relationships, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), then you are among a small number of students in Arizona who get this essential health information.
In the state of Arizona, sex education is not currently required — which means it is up to your school district to decide if they want you to have sex education in the classroom. Unfortunately, most school districts have chosen not to provide sex ed to their students.
Arizona doesn’t require sex education in the classroom.
Beyond that, there are a couple of other laws that have affected how sex ed is taught even if your school district decides to provide sex education in the classroom:
- We are an “opt-in” state — meaning that a parent or guardian must sign a permission slip for you to participate in a sex education class at school.
- We had what are referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws on the books until April of this year — meaning that teachers could not represent being gay in a positive light, and they could not discuss methods of safe sex for “gay sex.”
- Comprehensive sex education is not required — meaning that if a district chooses to provide “abstinence-only” sex education (programs that only promote refraining from sexual activity as a method of safe sex and do not review topics like birth control, condoms, etc.) they are allowed to do so.
The following post comes to us via Tracey Sands, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s West Campus studying communication as it relates to advocacy. Tracey believes dialogue is an act of love and strives to empower others to find and use their voice. She is an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona.
It was a Monday. It was just like every other day. I went to work, ate lunch with my coworkers, went home, ran a few miles, watched a few episodes on Netflix (Parks and Recreation, of course), and went to bed all cozied up in my warm, winter-themed footie pajamas. It was just like every other day. And then it wasn’t. On Monday, January 13, 2015, I had a miscarriage.
At 11:30 p.m., I woke up screaming and in the fetal position. I was in so much pain, which came out of nowhere. I couldn’t process what was happening. I went to the bathroom to change my tampon and blood was everywhere. My gut already knew what I couldn’t let my mind or heart accept: I was having a miscarriage.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Let’s use this day to share our stories.
After coming to my senses, I went to the emergency department. I was brought into a room within five minutes of my arrival and was given an IV of morphine. The pain didn’t go away. It came, and it went. I was having contractions, yet my head and heart still did not want to accept the fact that I was (1) even pregnant and (2) having a miscarriage.
After experiencing what may have been the most excruciating physical pain of my life, the existential questions that scarred my mind afterward were of a different, much deeper type of pain. How ignorant am I not to know my own body enough to realize I was pregnant? How do I mourn the loss of my baby when I didn’t know I was pregnant? How do I mourn the loss of my baby when I didn’t even want one? Due to the intensity and confusion of the feelings surrounding my miscarriage, these distressing thoughts had nowhere to go, staying within the walls of my own experience, ultimately creating a vacuum of shame and guilt. Continue reading
For the first time in history, someone with HIV has been treated with cells edited in the lab. It was a bold attempt to try to replicate previous successes in “curing” HIV through bone marrow transplants, but the results were a mixed bag.
Your DNA is like a book, and each sentence is a gene. Imagine a word is misspelled. Sometimes, a misspelling won’t affect your ability to understand the sentence, but other times, it will be so bad that you’ll have trouble figuring out the intended meaning. Think of the difference between “I drive a car” and “I driv a car,” or “I like food” and “I like flod.” You might not be able to tell what that last sentence is even trying to say! Those misspellings are mutations, and sometimes mutations are relatively benign (“I driv a car”), while other times they can cause diseases (“I like flod”).
A mutated version of the CCR5 gene confers near-immunity to HIV — but increases susceptibility to other viruses.
CRISPR, pronounced crisper, is a powerful new technology that can edit genes. By cutting DNA at a specific location and replacing some of the letters in the genetic alphabet, CRISPR can edit genes like you can edit a document using “find and replace.” The hope is that, someday, CRISPR could be used to fight disease by tweaking faulty genes. Continue reading
Cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which has been nicknamed “the common cold of STDs” — because pretty much every sexually active person will get it at some point. Luckily, that scary stat is poised to change as more people receive the HPV vaccination, which protects against nine major strains of the virus.
HPV jumps easily from person to person, spread by pretty much all types of sexual contact. For most people, the infection clears up within 8 to 13 months, but sometimes the infection develops into a chronic condition, which increases risk for certain cancers — including cervical cancer, but also cancers of the anus, genitals, and throat. Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict if your immune system will vanquish your infection, or if you’ll develop a chronic infection.
Luckily, the vagina has some tricks up its sleeve to protect itself from HPV, and some of its best weapons are bacteria. Yep — a healthy vagina isn’t germ-free. To the contrary, it needs lactobacilli and other beneficial microbes to maintain a healthy environment. Bacteria from the Lactobacillus genus produce lactic acid and other chemicals, which help keep dangerous bugs away. Vaginal environments in which Lactobacillus gasseri dominate, for example, are more likely to clear HPV infections. L. crispatus helps trap HIV in a thick mucus, reducing infection risk. Other lactobacilli species secrete chemicals that ward off yeast infections. Sometimes, however, good bacteria lose this turf war, and “bad guys” move in.
The population of microbes that live in your vagina are known collectively as the vaginal microbiome.
University of Arizona researchers in Phoenix performed a “census” of the vaginal microbial communities of 100 premenopausal women. They learned that women who have cervical cancer or precancerous abnormalities have drastically different vaginal microbiomes. Healthy vaginas were generally dominated by lactobacilli, but as cervical health declined, their populations declined, and “bad” bacteria took over. One such bad guy, called Sneathia, was linked to HPV infection, precancer, and cervical cancer.
Which Came First?
Finding a new vaginal “bad guy” was exciting, and Sneathia had previously been linked to other gynecological problems, ranging from bacterial vaginosis to pregnancy complications. But the researchers were looking at a snapshot in time — they didn’t know what came first, the Sneathia or the cervical abnormalities. Were lactobacilli protecting the cervix whereas Sneathia were harming it, or did a chronic HPV infection set the stage for Sneathia to move in and thrive? It’s a real “chicken-and-egg” conundrum. Continue reading
“Should abortion be legalized?” That was the question posed on a forum in 1964 on Pacifica Radio. Nine years before the Supreme Court would give its own answer in Roe v. Wade, a trio of panelists debated the issue for listeners in Los Angeles.
Prompting the forum was a bill in the Legislature to liberalize California’s abortion laws. At the time, abortion was illegal unless the mother’s life was at risk. The proposed legislation, endorsed by the California Medical Association, allowed exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or when a pregnancy was not life-threatening but posed other harm to a patient’s physical or mental health.
People v. Belous marked the first time a patient’s constitutional right to abortion was upheld in the courts.
Did the bill go too far — or not far enough? Each panelist had a different take. Attorney Zad Leavy discussed the legal quandaries of people facing unintended pregnancies. He was cautious about full legalization but critical of the existing ban. Dr. Robert Hood, an area surgeon, opposed the legalization of abortion and even questioned the validity of the medical reasons commonly cited for justifying abortions. In sharp contrast, Dr. Leon Belous, an attending physician at LA’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, did not mince words in his support for legal abortion on demand.
Belous felt outlawing abortion was an example of “man’s inhumanity to women.” As he put it, “An injured dog on the street is treated with more sympathy and concern” than the countless women dying annually, or who risked that fate, from self-induced or black-market abortions. “I have seen seven to 10 of these women every month for the last 32 years,” Belous continued. “I have been seeing them in my office, many of them in the operating room, and some of them in the morgue.” He told of one who had been raped and another in desperate poverty, unable to support a child.
Belous concluded by sharing his hope that California’s “antiquated, unrealistic, and barbaric” ban would be overturned. Five years later, Belous was at the center of a case that did just that. Continue reading
Katharine Dexter McCormick was born into a life of wealth and privilege — and progressive politics. The family home in which she was born in 1875 had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her parents encouraged her education, and she was among the first women to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and, in 1904, one of its first female graduates, having earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Katharine McCormick harnessed stereotypes about wealthy women to hide subversive acts of civil disobedience in plain sight.
Katharine wanted to be a doctor, but in 1904 she married Stanley McCormick, a Princeton-educated man and heir to a vast fortune. Her oath to stay by his side in sickness and in health, until death did them part, was tested just two years into their marriage, when Stanley’s mental health had deteriorated to the point that he was institutionalized. He was diagnosed with what today is called schizophrenia, and his family sent him to their mansion outside Santa Barbara, a “gilded cage” run by an all-male staff of doctors and nurses who provided round-the-clock care.
The all-male staff was necessary, as Stanley had developed violent tendencies that seemed to be directed primarily toward women. Katharine went nearly two decades without any physical contact with her husband — though she could write letters, talk to him on the phone, or crouch in the bushes and watch him through binoculars. Katharine stayed married to him until his death in 1947. The entire time, she was heavily involved in directing his care — despite constant clashes with his family — and remained optimistic for a cure.
But outside of her marriage, Katharine cultivated a rich life, devoting herself to women’s rights and becoming a high-ranking leader in the fight for the right to vote. After women’s suffrage was won, she was eager to turn her attention to the next fight — and was invigorated by the energy of the birth control movement, which, like the suffrage movement before it, drew ire and outrage from both church and state. Continue reading