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!

STD Awareness: Gonorrhea, Women, and the Pre-Antibiotic Era

Penicillin, the first cure for gonorrhea, was developed for mass production in the 1940s.

Penicillin, the first reliable cure for gonorrhea, was mass produced in the 1940s.

It’s Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the achievements of women worldwide — like Margaret Sanger, Rosalind Franklin, and Florence Nightingale, or contemporary heroes like Wangari Maathai. But it may also be a time to examine some of the sadder aspects of womanhood, including the increased burden gonorrhea imposes on women. While gonorrhea is no picnic for anyone, it wreaks the most havoc in female reproductive tracts. In fact, before antibiotics, gonorrhea was a leading cause of infertility — one 19th century physician attributed 90 percent of female infertility to gonorrhea. Not only that, but the effects of gonorrhea could seriously reduce a woman’s overall quality of life.


With gonorrhea becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the CDC warns of a return to the pre-antibiotic era.


Gonorrhea is described by written records dating back hundreds of years B.C. Ancient Greeks treated it with cold baths, massage, “cooling” foods, and vinegar. In the Middle Ages, Persians might have recommended sleeping in a cool bed with a metal plate over the groin. A bit to the west, Arabs tried to cure gonorrhea with injections of vinegar into the urethra. Kings of medieval England might have had their gonorrhea treated with injections of breast milk, almond milk, sugar, and violet oil.

Although gonorrhea is as ancient an STD as they come, because women rarely have symptoms while men usually do, for much of history it was mostly discussed in terms of men. The name gonorrhea itself derives from the ancient Greek words for “seed flow” — gonorrhea was thought to be characterized by the leakage of semen from the penis. This confusion inspired many misguided notions throughout the millennia, such as the idea that almost all women carried gonorrhea and transmitted it to their unwitting male partners. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day: The Perfect Day to Talk About Sex, Safe Sex

All_You_Need_is_Love_and_CondomsEditor’s Note: The following guest post was brought to us by Jessica, a senior at Arizona State University studying public relations. She is a communications and marketing intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona, championing for women’s health. 

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with many things — candy, hearts, roses, to name a few. What it’s not heavily associated with is National Condom Week, but it should be. Created in the ’70s by college students devoted to spreading the message of safe sex, National Condom Week has made tremendous strides in the last few decades to encourage young adults to take charge of their sexual health.

Society’s aversion to open discussions about sex and birth control methods is counterproductive. It has long been proven that abstinence-only education simply does not work, and yet 26 states are currently disillusioned by thinking that focusing on abstinence is the best solution to sex education in schools. As a result, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy and teen STD rates of any industrialized country, with teen pregnancy being the highest in states where abstinence-only policies are practiced.

It is time to embrace the integral role that condoms play in maintaining sexual health and preventing unwanted pregnancies. It shouldn’t be taboo to advocate for safe sex. It is a disservice to teens and young adults to bypass education on all of the birth control options that are readily available. The idea that doing so somehow promotes promiscuity is nothing more than a cop-out, and an overused one at that.

Schools are not solely responsible for this much-needed conversation, though. Sex education only goes so far. Fostering a safe environment where questions regarding condoms and other birth control methods are not discouraged is crucial. A 12-year-old will have significantly different questions about sex than a 17-year-old. The “sex talk” isn’t one talk at all — it’s an ongoing conversation and the heart of it will change over time. National Condom Week presents the opportunity to discuss birth control openly and honestly — whether it is between a parent and her child or a man and his partner.

Valentine’s Day might be the perfect day to talk about sex … Show the person you love that you care about his or her health.

Condoms are available in Planned Parenthood health centers, as well as from some community health centers, drugstores, supermarkets, and vending machines. Learn more about National Condom Week — and how to get your hands on free condoms in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson — here!

STD Awareness: Is There an STD That Causes Maggots?

Maggots grow up to be flies.

Maggots grow up to be flies.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been confronted by two mysteries. The first was a collection of search terms that led curious Web surfers to our blog. Take a gander at them and see if you can tell why they raised my eyebrows:

  • new std that causes maggots
  • what is the new std superbug that causes maggots
  • stds that cause worms

There were dozens of similar searches leading to this blog, enough to make me take notice — and dig around.


Maggots infesting your genitals isn’t something you need to worry about.


First, the obvious: I Googled “STD maggots” and looked at what came up. While there was absolutely nothing to be found in the legitimate news media, there was a proliferation of recently published stories on websites that I’d never heard of, all containing the same unsourced viral video of someone removing maggots from someone else’s vagina. (Actually, I could only find stills — none of the websites I looked at had functioning video. Not that I was hugely motivated to find one that did.)

The accompanying articles described a female patient with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) said to be called “sex superbug,” an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which caused maggots to grow in her vagina. While there is no STD formally called “sex superbug,” the original author was probably referring to antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which is caused by a strain of bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae that have evolved resistance to the drugs we use to kill it. Someone would have to track down the video’s source, however, to confirm that the subject actually suffered from gonorrhea in addition to the infestation of maggots. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Chlamydia trachomatis

A colony of C. trachomatis (colored green) is nestled inside a human cell. Image: V. Brinkmann, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology

A colony of C. trachomatis (colored green) is nestled inside a human cell. Image: V. Brinkmann, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology

In the microscopic world of germs, organisms called Chlamydiae are dwarfed by their fellow bacteria. An E. coli bacterium can hang out with 100,000 of its closest friends on the head of a pin, but Chlamydiae are smaller still. Infectious particles are about one-tenth the length of an E. coli, rivaling the size of a large virus. And, just like a virus, Chlamydiae can still pack quite a punch, proving that sometimes, not-so-good things can come in small packages.

There are many types of Chlamydiae bacteria, but one species, Chlamydia trachomatis, is responsible for not one, but two sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in humans: chlamydia and lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). (Humans aren’t the only ones affected by sexually transmitted Chlamydiae. A different species, Chlamydia pecorum, is devastating wild koalas in Australia, which has got to be one of the biggest bummers ever.)


Chlamydia is a case study for the importance of safer sex and regular STD testing.


Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in the United States — there were almost 1.5 million diagnoses in 2011 alone, but experts estimate that there were around another 1.5 million cases of chlamydia that went undiagnosed. How can this be? Chlamydia is often a “silent” infection, meaning that symptoms are rare, allowing people to harbor these bacteria without even knowing it. (When symptoms do occur, they might include swelling in the genital region; vaginal, cervical, or penile discharge; or painful urination.)

It might seem like a small mercy that this common infection is unlikely to torture us with harrowing symptoms — but, in actuality, those of us who have to deal with discharge or burning urination should try to appreciate the heads up: Left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious complications. When it spreads along the female reproductive tract, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can severely compromise fertility and cause chronic pain. Rarely, in a male reproductive tract, it can cause epididymitis, which can also spell bad news for future fertility. Continue reading

Is Pap Testing Better Than HPV Vaccination?

Good news: The decision to be vaccinated for HPV or receive regular Pap testing isn't either/or. Image: Andy Newson

Good news: The decision to be vaccinated for HPV or receive regular Pap testing isn’t either/or. Image: Andy Newson

It’s January, which means that it’s Cervical Health Awareness Month! If you have a cervix, there are two big things you can do to protect its health: get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) before becoming sexually active, and receive regular Pap testing after becoming sexually active. When you take both of these steps, you can maximize what modern medicine has to offer. However, some people think you can just do one and ignore the other. Are they right?

You’ve probably heard of HPV, which causes genital warts and certain cancers. This virus has the dubious honor of being the most common sexually transmitted pathogen — some call it “the common cold of STDs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women get it at some point in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.”


HPV isn’t just the “cervical cancer virus” — it’s a jack of all trades that can trigger cellular abnormalities all over the body.


One of the cancers most commonly caused by HPV is cervical cancer. In fact, when Gardasil, the most popular HPV vaccine in the United States, made its debut, it was marketed as a “cervical cancer vaccine,” despite the fact that HPV can cause other types of cancer. Nevertheless, a vaccine that could protect against such a common and potentially dangerous virus was good news indeed. However, some critics were quick to point out that cervical cancer is rare in the United States, thanks to widespread access to Pap testing, an effective screening procedure that can catch cellular abnormalities when they are still in their “precancerous” stages, allowing them to be treated before progressing to cancer.

For those of us planning to receive regular Pap testing, is vaccination really necessary? Likewise, if we’ve been vaccinated against HPV, do we really need regular Pap tests? Let’s examine both questions separately. Continue reading