Let’s Talk Contraception: The One-Size Diaphragm, a New Contraceptive

SILCS diaphragmIn June of 2013, a new barrier contraceptive, the SILCS diaphragm, entered the market in Europe, and in May of this year, it became available in Canada. The new diaphragm is called the Caya contoured diaphragm, and it’s being marketed as “not your mother’s diaphragm.” This is exciting because Caya is a user-friendly, one-size diaphragm that can fit most users without the need of a pelvic exam. It is being sold through pharmacies and health care providers.


An over-the-counter, one-size-fits-most diaphragm could be available in U.S. pharmacies as early as next year.


The SILCS diaphragm was developed with the financial help of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), by CONRAD and PATH, nonprofit leaders in global contraceptive research. USAID was created in 1961 by President Kennedy, and provides financial support to improving the lives of people in developing countries, including support to find safe, effective, and acceptable contraceptives in low-resource areas. CONRAD began in 1986 as a division of the obstetrics and gynecology department of East Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and collaborates on research to improve reproductive health around the world. PATH is a Seattle-based international nonprofit that works globally to develop and deliver health solutions that are affordable and effective, including vaccines, drugs, and medical devices.

Caya works as well as traditional diaphragms, but has been redesigned to make it easier to insert and remove. During its development, many women, their partners, and health-care providers on four continents had input on its design. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Do Sexually Transmitted Diseases Increase HIV Risk?

virion HIVYou might have heard that having an STD like syphilis, herpes, or gonorrhea can make it easier to catch HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But have you ever wondered if this was true? Maybe it’s just a simple correlation — for example, someone who doesn’t practice safer sex would be more likely to catch HIV along with any other STD. That doesn’t mean that one causes the other, does it?


Common STDs like herpes and trichomoniasis can increase HIV risk.


But it’s not a mere correlation. If you take one person with an STD and one person without an STD and expose them both to HIV through sexual contact, the person with the STD will be at least two to five times more likely to become infected with HIV. Why is that? First, many STDs can make you more susceptible to an HIV infection. Second, the immune response triggered by many sexually transmitted infections can summon the types of immune cells that HIV targets.

Furthermore, if a person with HIV is co-infected with another STD, he or she is more likely to transmit HIV to a partner. In other words, STDs can make a person with HIV more infectious. HIV is more likely to appear in their genital secretions, making it easier to transmit HIV through sexual activity. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Syphilis Making a Comeback?

men syphilisBefore antibiotics, syphilis was the most feared sexually transmitted disease (STD) out there. It was easy to get, quack cures were ineffective and often unpleasant, and it could lead to blindness, disfigurement, dementia, or even death. When we were finally able to zap infections away with drugs like penicillin, it seemed like we’d finally won the battle against this scourge. Whereas syphilis rates were highest before antibiotics became widespread in the 1940s, by 2000 we saw a low of 2.1 cases of syphilis per 100,000. At the dawn of the new millennium, many scientists thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of syphilis.


Using condoms, regular STD testing, and limiting sex partners are the best ways for sexually active people to stay healthy.


Must all good things come to an end? They shouldn’t have to, but in the case of syphilis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that syphilis rates are rising, with incidence doubling since 2005. In the United States, there are now 5.3 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people, but that number is a bit misleading because it represents an average across the general population. When you break the population down by age, race or ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, that rate might be much higher or much lower. For example, syphilis rates are actually on the decline among women (at only 0.9 cases per 100,000), but among men it is 9.8 per 100,000. In fact, most new syphilis cases — 91.1 percent of them, to be precise — are in men, most of whom are gay or bisexual.

Syphilis is rising the most dramatically among men in their twenties, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM). While some wonder if syphilis is growing among twenty-somethings because this group didn’t live through the early era of AIDS, when HIV was seen as a death sentence and safer sex practices were more common, it might also be due to the fact that STD rates are higher among young people in general. Continue reading

The Nation’s — and Arizona’s — Road to Marriage Equality

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

June is often known as a big month for weddings. Last June, that was more true than ever as a political battle over the right to marry was in front of the Supreme Court.

In the spring and early summer of 2013 and the days and weeks leading up to the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it was clear that no matter what that case decided about same-sex marriage, the public had decided in favor of marriage equality. Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a California same-sex marriage ban that was passed by voter initiative in 2008. The plaintiffs in the case charged that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.


Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative against marriage equality, but it still doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage today.


Interest built as the case made its way through the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The attorneys challenging the ban were themselves a sign of the change taking place in the United States, as former rivals in the Bush v. Gore trial — the Supreme Court trial over the disputed 2000 presidential election — joined forces to challenge Proposition 8. David Boies, a Democrat who had represented Al Gore, joined Theodore Olson, a Republican who had represented George W. Bush.

Before agreeing to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs, Olson had been approached by backers of Proposition 8 to serve as their counsel. Olson declined on the grounds that the law was contrary to both his legal and personal views. However, a high-profile Republican had made the case that the tide was turning, and polling before the Hollingsworth decision provided proof in numbers. Support for marriage equality was growing across all major demographic sectors, and 14 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center had switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality. A CBS News poll showed that a 53-percent majority now supported same-sex marriage. Alex Lundry, a data scientist who had worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, called it “the most significant, fastest shift in public opinion that we’ve seen in modern American politics.” At the same time, celebrities ranging from hip-hop artist Jay-Z to Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo joined the fray as allies. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Is Spermicide Effective?

VCFAccording to the Guttmacher Institute, 0.5 percent of all contraceptive users surveyed in 2010 relied on spermicides as their contraceptive. Although not used often, they are a part of the contraceptive choices sexually active people have to prevent pregnancy. How effective are they, however?

The only available spermicide in the United States is nonoxynol-9. It is available in many products, such as a foam, cream, gel, suppository, or dissolvable film. Nonoxynol-9 is also the main ingredient in the Today contraceptive sponge.


Some spermicides increase risk of HIV transmission.


As a contraceptive by itself, it is not very effective at preventing pregnancy. Throughout the course of one year, and with proper use at every sexual act, 18 women out of 100 will become pregnant using spermicides alone. If used less than perfectly, that number rises to 29 out of every 100 women becoming pregnant. When used with a condom, however, the effectiveness is greatly increased. And spermicides are regularly used in combination with diaphragms and cervical caps. 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

World AIDS Day: The Affordable Care Act Can Help in Creating the Healthiest Generation Ever

HIV_stopEditor’s Note: The following piece is a guest blog post from Planned Parenthood Arizona President and CEO Bryan Howard.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day and this year, as we work to raise awareness around HIV and gather support for those who are living with HIV/AIDS, we should also take a moment to recognize the profound impact that the Affordable Care Act will have on prevention, detection, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.


One in 5 people with HIV is unaware of his or her infection.


With the Affordable Care Act, 1.1 million Americans living with HIV will no longer be denied health insurance coverage because HIV is a “pre-existing condition.” More people living with HIV/AIDS will have access to affordable health insurance coverage to get the care they need, and millions of Americans will have access to preventive health care services that include HIV testing without a co-pay.

There is no doubt that we have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially given the advances of the ACA, yet the epidemic continues to affect millions of people throughout the world with some communities impacted more than others. In the United States, more than 56,000 people become infected with HIV each year. About one-third of new HIV cases are in young people, ages 13 to 29.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are more than 15,000 Arizonans living with HIV/AIDS with some of the highest rates in Maricopa and Pima counties.

As the largest nonprofit sexual health care provider in Arizona, Planned Parenthood is committed to reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by providing nonjudgmental, comprehensive, high-quality reproductive health care to all women, men, and young people.

Planned Parenthood Arizona has health centers throughout Arizona that provide a range of health care services, including HIV testing, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, birth control, vaccinations, and primary care. We also serve as an expert resource in medically accurate sexuality education.

As a trusted health care provider and sexual health educator, we strive to educate women, men, and young people about how to prevent HIV and other STDs. In addition to diligent condom use and regular STD screening, practicing abstinence and having one partner who has no other intimate partners can also help to reduce the risk of getting an STD (including HIV).

So, today I ask you to join Planned Parenthood in fighting for the healthiest generation ever.

About Bryan Howard: Bryan Howard is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona and a board member at Reproductive Health Technology Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.