Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • STD mapCheck out this fascinating map of what I’d like to call The United States of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. (News Mic)
  • The birth control pill advanced women’s economic freedom immensely … and we are SO grateful!! (Businessweek)
  • More and more women are speaking out about their abortions and telling stories, not of trauma or tragedy, but of triumph, relief, and gratitude. (Al Jazeera America)
  • The Supreme Court is set to make a monumental decision about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and for once, pro-choice and anti-abortion activists agree. Don’t get too used to this. (Think Progress)
  • The state of sex education in our country is positively shameful. (Salon)
  • Don’t shoot the messenger, but the CDC says the benefits of circumcision far outweigh its risks. (Seattle PI)
  • The U.S. Department of Education is taking a stand on behalf of transgender students! Schools will not be able to discriminate against transgender students or treat them as anything but the gender they self-identify as. (RH Reality Check)
  • This pregnant woman verbally eviscerated a group of anti-abortion zealots harassing women outside an abortion clinic in London. Anyone else surprised that this “sidewalk counseling” madness happens across the pond, too? (HuffPo)
  • Indonesia has pioneered the first male birth control pill! If you’re wondering whose palms we have to grease to get our hands on it in the United States, the answer is complicated. (USA Today)
  • Why aren’t more women using the superbly effective birth control implant? (Vox)

Let’s Talk Contraception: Top 6 Condom Myths

condoms varietyCondoms sometimes get a bad rap. Myths about them abound all over the Internet and in discussions among friends. Some criticisms about condoms suggest they’re less than perfect for pregnancy prevention. Or they don’t work well for preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Or they decrease sexual pleasure. The younger generation tends to think of AIDS as chronic and manageable, not as a deadly disease that is best prevented with condoms. So some may wonder, “Why bother using them?”


Let’s debunk some of the most common myths about condoms!


Most of these urban myths are untrue, yet they endure — probably because those spreading the rumors lack factual information about sexual health and contraception. Many American schools teach only abstinence and rarely discuss contraception except to disparage the effectiveness of the low-tech and common condom. But condoms do provide the best protection against the spread of many STDs, including HIV. And they also are really good at preventing pregnancy, especially if used properly and with another form of contraception, such as birth control pills. To top it off, they are the most easily accessible type of non-prescription contraception.

Here are a few tall tales we can debunk.

1. Condoms aren’t that effective in preventing STDs such as HIV.

Scientific studies have consistently shown latex condoms to greatly reduce the risk of contracting chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and HIV. According to the CDC, the consistent and correct use of latex condoms is “highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” and many studies have shown that latex condoms reduce HIV transmission for both vaginal and anal sex. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Three Sexually Transmitted Bacteria That Will Shock and Amaze You

It’s hard to appreciate a pubic louse as an intriguing creature in its own right. Not when an infestation with pubic lice is such a vexing experience. The same can be said for the germs that cause any number of human diseases. But, just as you might have marveled at the microorganisms you spied under the microscope in your high school biology class, the bacteria and other microbes that cause sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be fascinating, strictly as scientific subjects.

Let’s look at a few of these fascinating bacteria!

Treponema pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis, is seen in this electron micrograph adhering to a surface with the tapered end of its structure. Image obtained from the CDC’s Public Health Image Library.

Image: Public Health Image Library, CDC

Treponema pallidum: the bacteria that cause syphilis

Before the age of antibiotics, syphilis was the most feared STD out there. Untreated, it can cause serious, sometimes fatal, damage to the body, and can also spread to a fetus during pregnancy. But did you know that earlier versions of syphilis might have been even worse?

Written records of syphilis date back to 1495 when it seemed to appear in Europe for the first time. According to a 1519 description, it caused

Boils that stood out like Acorns, from whence issued such filthy stinking Matter, that whosoever came within the Scent, believed himself infected. The Colour of these was of a dark Green and the very Aspect as shocking as the pain itself, which yet was as if the Sick had laid upon a fire.

Interestingly, such descriptions don’t match modern forms of syphilis, which suggests that it might have evolved into a less virulent form, possibly in response to selective pressure against symptoms that render the host sexually unappealing. Basically, that means that someone with boils emitting “filthy stinking Matter” might have trouble find sexual partners; the pustules of yore don’t seem to decorate the epidermis of contemporary sufferers, making them more likely to perpetuate milder forms of syphilis through sexual transmission.

We can’t hop into a time machine and take samples from European syphilitics in 1495, but some biologists believe that it took about 50 years for evolution to work its mojo on the disease, giving rise to the milder Syphilis 2.0 in the mid-1500s. Continue reading

Sex Ed Isn’t Scary, But the Lack of Sex Ed Is!

The 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.

screamEarlier this month, I gave a presentation about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a group of teens in Tucson, Arizona. This is a presentation I have given many, many times. As a sexuality educator, I’ve heard almost every question and comment there is related to sex and sexuality, so I’m not normally affected by what I hear from students in a classroom. But at the end of this particular workshop, one student said, “Oh my god, I’m so scared. This is so scary. I don’t like this.” In fact, several of the teens in this particular group listened to the information I was sharing with shocked looks on their faces.

At Planned Parenthood Arizona, we do not use fear or scare tactics when we talk about sexual health. We believe that sexuality is a natural, lifelong aspect of being human, and our workshops teach about sexual health in ways that give medically accurate information, promote healthy behaviors (including abstinence), teach risk reduction, and encourage all individuals to take charge of their sexual health and well-being by getting annual reproductive health exams and routine STI testing.

So, when a workshop participant says, “This is so scary. I don’t like this,” it makes me reflect on what could have scared them so much in a presentation that is meant to be sex-positive. It didn’t take me long to realize what the issues were for this particular group. Continue reading

Contraception in the Zombie Apocalypse

The zombie hoard approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

The zombie horde approaches. Photo: Caio Schiavo

If you’ve watched a zombie movie with your friends, you’ve probably talked about what kinds of weapons you’d be packing in case of a zombie apocalypse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even has a list of supplies you’ll need for a zombie preparedness kit, which includes smart choices like water, duct tape, and bleach. (I would add toilet paper to that list. How you’ll miss it when you’re on the run!) But how many of you have discussed birth control?


You’ve probably picked out which weapons to use during the zombie apocalypse. But have you chosen a birth control method?


Even if your greatest dream is to have a baby, you must admit that the zombie apocalypse is the worst time to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a child. Fleeing and hand-to-hand combat can be a drag while pregnant, and childbirth can kill you, especially without access to trained personnel or hygienic supplies. And if you do manage to birth a baby into this cruel new world, diapers can distract from more pressing duties, and the infant’s cries can attract undead attention.

When you’re in hardcore fight-or-flight mode, taking a pill at the same time every day might be difficult, and besides, a supply of pills can take up valuable backpack real estate. Plus, even if you find an abandoned pharmacy to raid, birth control pills and condoms come with expiration dates and can be affected by high temperatures. The same goes for contraceptive patches and rings. For these reasons, you need a contraceptive method that’s well suited to the zombie apocalypse. Besides abstinence, what are your options? Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can You Get an STD in Your Eye?

eyeSexually transmitted diseases (STDs) usually haunt the nether regions, whether germs have set up shop in the urethra, clustered around the cervix, or burrowed inside a cell. There, they might cause symptoms, like a burning sensation when urinating, unusual discharge, or warts or sores in the genital area.

Sometimes, however, STDs can infect other parts of your body, usually places that boast environments that are warm and moist, just like your genitals. For example, the virus that causes genital warts can also infect the throat to cause growths inside the airway. Oral sex can transfer the bacteria that cause gonorrhea from a urethra to a throat. And herpes can spring up around the mouth or in the genital region, and can be transferred between the two locations.


Instead of wearing goggles during sex, get tested for STDs at Planned Parenthood!


But did you know that certain sexually transmitted organisms can find their way into human eyes? If you didn’t, you do now, so read on to learn about some of the types of STDs that can affect your eyes.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

The most common bacterial STD in the country is chlamydia, which strikes nearly 3 million American groins annually. In second place is gonorrhea, which infects around 800,000 Americans every year. Bacteria that infect the genital region have an affinity for its warm, moist atmosphere. And while eyes might not be their first choice, the ocular environment can be pretty inviting as well. When chlamydia or gonorrhea infect the eye, the resulting conditions are called chlamydial conjunctivitis and gonococcal conjunctivitis, respectively. Continue reading

The Condom Broke. Now What?

oopsProtecting yourself with barriers like condoms is an important part of keeping yourself healthy when you and your partner don’t know one another’s STD status. Condoms are also great for pregnancy prevention. You can improve their effectiveness by learning how to put them on correctly, using a generous amount of lubricant, and checking their expiration dates.

But, sometimes, despite your best intentions, condoms break.

When that happens, you might wonder about your vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And, if pregnancy is a possibility, you might also be concerned about sperm meeting egg. Luckily, there are still options. One, getting tested for STDs can help you receive treatment, if needed, in a timely manner. Two, if you act quickly, you can still take steps to minimize the risk of certain STDs or help avert an unwanted pregnancy.

Don’t let a broken condom immobilize you with fear! Take matters into your own hands, and learn what to do if a condom breaks.

How long does it take after a potential exposure until an STD test is likely to be accurate?

The answer to this question is: It varies. Each STD has a different “window period,” that is, the time it takes for an infection to be detectable. Some STDs can be tested for within days (if symptoms are present), while other STDs can take months to show up on a test. Also, while you might be inclined to wait and see if symptoms show up, remember that most STDs don’t have symptoms at all! When infections don’t have symptoms, they are said to be “asymptomatic.”

Check out this handy chart to see how long it takes for symptoms to appear, how common asymptomatic infections are, and how soon you should be tested.  Continue reading