Category Archives: Women’s Health

Consent is sexy – and also just necessary.

By: Cassie Manz

The topic of sex has become less taboo over the years. In magazines, on television shows, in high school sex ed classes, people are talking about sex and all the things that go with it. Opening up discussions around sexual health is crucial because, put plainly, knowledge is power. At colleges, where sexual health is often a workshop during Fall orientation, the importance of consent has become a popular topic.

Sexual assault is all too common on college campuses. In a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities, 27.2 percent of female college seniors reported that they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact due to incapacitation, including alcohol and drugs, or by force. To help combat the staggering rates of sexual assault, the Consent is Sexy campaign was started. So far the campaign has rolled out at four universities in the United States, and has also been implemented at schools in the United Kingdom and Southern Africa.

The Consent is Sexy campaign is a “Sexual Rights Awareness campaign” that seeks to raise awareness of consent and the practice of it, according to their website. Consent is Sexy promotes safer sex, sexual health, and emotional well-being.

The campaign defines consent to have sex as “when both people agree to have sex. But it’s not just allowing something, or giving permission – it’s knowing that you both really want and desire each other.” The campaign also states that consent should be freely given, mutually agreed upon, and never assumed. Yes!

Consent is Sexy is needed and important. It provides a healthy message for young people: that being informed about sexual health and being open and honest about sex with a partner is sexy. Most importantly, it helps to fight sexual assault by enforcing the idea that consent is imperative when having sex because sex without consent is rape.

The problem with the campaign is that it’s built on the idea that sexiness makes consent important. In an article for The Whitman Wire Spencer Wharton wrote, “By making it about what’s “sexy,” the slogan promotes eroticism as a way of determining the worth of an act.”  The campaign says that “sex is sexiest when both partners want it…” But it shouldn’t matter what level of sexy the sex falls under. It shouldn’t matter that consent is sexy. Consent during sex is imperative because without consent it is rape. It’s sexy to have someone you’re into say “Yes, let’s keep going,” but it’s also just necessary.

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/us/a-third-of-college-women-experience-unwanted-sexual-contact-study-finds.html

http://www.consentissexy.net/consent

http://whitmanwire.com/opinion/2013/01/31/consent-is-sexy-mantra-well-meaning-but-misguided/

 

 

FGM: Female Genital Mutilation

By: Emma Ziulkowski

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure which removes complete or partial external female genitalia and other female organs. FGM is most common in sub-Saharan Africa or Arab States, but has spread to countries in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Migrating populations have even brought this procedure to North America, New Zealand, and Australia. There are about 200 million females that have survived this procedure. FGM inflicts serious consequences for females in regards to their sexual and reproductive health. This is a major problem for women everywhere and it needs to be discussed.

FGM is where elders hold down a female, as young as a few days after birth, and take a razor blade to remove their external genitalia. There are multiple forms of this procedure, but the idea is to remove the external genitalia in order to sew together the vagina leaving a singular hole used for menstrual cycles and urinating. Common complications that occur include shock, hemorrhage, infections, urine retention, fevers and ulcerations. These complications commonly result in death. If a female finds a way to survive this horrific procedure then they will most likely suffer from long term consequences. Aside from psychological effects, these long term consequences include cysts/abscesses, damage the urethra, sexual dysfunction, complications during child birth and a high risk of HIV infections.

Why does this happen? There are different reasons behind this procedure depending on the region. In some communities, young girls are gathered on a single day to endure this procedure as a socio-cultural rite of passage into womanhood. They will use a single razor to cut girls one after another resulting in a high risk of HIV transmission. FGM is sometimes done to control a women’s sexuality to ensure virginity before marriage. FGM is also carried out to enhance sexual pleasure for men. In other communities, external female genitalia is removed simply because it looks dirty or ugly.

Despite the cultural standing behind this procedure it is wrong and females are terrified to go through this procedure. I have not read one scenario where a female has volunteered themselves for FGM. It is forced upon them and extremely dangerous. Earlier I stated that 200 million women have survived this procedure. I want you to understand that this statistic is only females that have survived. These are unnecessary deaths, and I hope together we can begin spreading the word about how bad FGM is for females and their reproductive health. This isn’t a subject to be swept under the rug. It’s a reality that we need to face together and bring to an abrupt halt. You may not feel it’s an endangerment to you now, but it is culturally based and it can happen anywhere.

 

Sources:

http://www.unfpa.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-frequently-asked-questions#why

https://www.unicef.org/media/media_30047.html

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/05/research-finds-200m-victims-female-genital-mutilation-alive-today

 

Let’s Keep Each Other STD FREE

By: Emma Ziulkowski

 

STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are more common than you think. It’s important for you to take proper precautions which are easily accessible to learn about through sex education.

Let’s start with the numbers to better understand the severity. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) STD’s are increasing significantly now more than ever and “Americans aged 15-24 account for half of the estimated 20 million new STDs in the U.S. each year. In 2015, there were 981,359 reported cases of chlamydial infection among persons aged 15-24 years, representing 64% of all reported chlamydia cases.” Only certain STDs/STIs are required to be reported to CDC or other state health departments. These include gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. So as you can see, more than half of all people will contract an STD/STI at least once in their lifetime.

But there is something we can do about it.

Sexual education is key when understanding your body, sexual encounters, and your options. Most people will tell you to practice abstinence. I’m here to say there are other options for individuals to protect themselves. Protection against STDs and STIs include condom use, routine testing, vaccinations, or being aware of the sexual history of your partner(s).

This is just a basic summation of STDs/STIs to bring you awareness. I’m a firm believer in sexual education and there are many routes one can take in educating themselves. Sexual health education isn’t easy to talk about with just anyone, and in my opinion a great source to better educate yourself is to visit any Planned Parenthood health center. They offer a variety of education resources and have staff members you can speak with in confidence. Planned Parenthood teaches you how to practice safer sex. You can start easy by visiting their website to see the services they offer at www.myplannedparenthood.org.

 

Sources:

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/for-educators/what-sex-education

https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2015/std-surveillance-report-press-release.html

They NEED access to reproductive health services too.

By: Emma Emma Ziulkowski

The lack of reproductive health services in developing countries has been a major problem resulting in many deaths. Reproductive health is important for a woman’s mental, psychical, and social well-being. The failure of reproductive health services leads to high rates of maternal mortality, HIV outbreaks, pelvic infections, unhealthy pregnancies and so much more.

Joseph Kasonde is well known in Europe as the Acting Regional Adviser for Women’s and Reproductive Health. He collects research for the lack of reproductive health services in developing countries. Kasonde says, “Ninety percent of the 585,000 women who die annually in the world from pregnancy related complications are in developing countries.” That’s such a high percentage for developing countries which makes it known that these high rates of maternal mortality are due to the lack of reproductive health services. According to the World Health Organization, “… at the end of 2007, 33.2 million people were living with HIV… more than 95% of HIV infections are in developing countries.” Imagine how many of those 33.2 million people are women, and how many of these women don’t have knowledge of their HIV infection due to the lack of reproductive health services? How many women do you think pass HIV to their newborn children unintentionally? Pelvic infections are another common issue women have in developing countries that often times lead to infertility. In addition, women are having unhealthy pregnancies because there’s no prenatal care being offered to them.

These developing countries are being prevented from having basic social and economic advancements that developed countries have. These are hard to obtain because these countries are extremely poor. It’s a vicious cycle that always comes back to money. There are many programs that allow people to donate to these developing countries especially on matters of reproductive health services, but the money usually goes to individuals that need immediate help.

The bigger picture is that money needs to be invested in these reproductive health services now, so in the future there will be less money going towards all these health problems stated above. Global partnerships are needed to help finance these reproductive health services so these developing countries can focus on preventing these problems. We need to establish health centers similar to Planned Parenthood in these developing countries to help with their reproductive health services. Hopefully, these health centers can offer what Planned Parenthood does. Services like prenatal care, contraceptives, vaccines, HIV testing, gynecological exams and more. Eventually, these centers can hopefully offer services at a discounted rate just as Planned Parenthood does.

Sources:

http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/UNMP1_FactsFigures_SRH.pdf

http://www.gfmer.ch/Endo/Lectures_09/kasonde.htm

http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/hiv/en/index1.html

 

“Healthy Vagina, Happy Life”

By: Cassie Manz

Keeping our vaginas healthy and happy is uber important, especially during the summertime when sun, sand, sweat, and water pose certain challenges to our vaginal hygiene.

 

Okay, yes, we all probably want our vaginas to be healthy, but why is it so important? Besides the fact that life is better when it’s looking good, smelling good, and feeling good, the vagina is also related to our overall well-being and can give us clues about our hormones and mental health, according to Dr. Sheeva Talebian, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM New York. “Most of us are fairly shocked to learn that the health of your vagina may be a reflection of the health of the rest of your body,” Dr. Talebian told Teen Vogue in an interview. “[…] things like vaginal discomfort, vaginal discharge, and vaginal odor can be the first sign that something is off within your body.”

 

So, how do we practice good vaginal care? Where do we start? Maybe you know some of the basics: don’t use scented soaps or harsh cleansers when shaving or washing around the vulva, don’t stay in a wet bathing suit or sweaty gym clothes for too long, and so on. Maybe you didn’t know any of this.

There’s a lot we can do to take care of our vaginas and make sure everything is healthy down there.

Here are some tips:

 

  1. DON’T douche. Seriously, just don’t. Douching, washing out the vagina, can interfere with the vagina’s natural pH levels, which usually range from about 3.8 to 4.5, and reduce its acidity which can lead to bacterial infections. Your vagina will clean itself naturally through discharge; although douching might seem like a good or necessary thing, it can make things a lot worse for your vagina.
  2. Stick to cotton underwear and don’t wear thongs everyday! I know, it seems unsexy, but many health experts suggest cotton underwear because it is more breathable and helps ward off infections.
  3. Eat foods with probiotics, like yogurt and kimchi, to help maintain the vaginal pH levels and fight infections! Eating right makes our body feel good, and this includes our vagina!
  4. Always have safe sex! Wearing condoms during sex helps prevent against contracting STDs, like genital herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital warts, and HIV. And remember to use a new condom when switching from oral sex or anal sex to vaginal sex. Besides, protecting you from STDs and unwanted pregnancies, condoms also help to keep those natural vaginal pH levels balanced.
  5. Make an appointment with your gyno…regularly! According to Everyday Health, if you have a vagina you should see a gynecologist by the time you’re 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active.
  6. Treat infections as soon as possible! If you think you are experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, see your doctor before it becomes worse. If these infections go untreated for a long period of time they could cause serious reproductive health issues.

 

Sources:

http://www.everydayhealth.com/womens-health-pictures/hygiene-rules-for-a-healthy-vagina.aspx#02

http://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-your-vagina-is-trying-to-tell-you

 

Why the Term “Plus Sized” is Officially Out of Fashion

By: Jillian James

In the fashion industry in the United States, it has been a common practice to call any model that is above a size four “plus sized”. The official dictionary definition of plus sized is “clothing or people of a size larger than the normal range.” However, several recent studies have conformed that the average American women is a size 14-16.

 

The term “plus sized” is harmful and derogatory because it makes women with beautiful, healthy bodies feel like they are out of the norm or less desirable because they aren’t a size four or smaller. By this standard, the vast majority of women in America would be categorized as “plus sized.” The representation of women in the fashion industry is heavily distorted from reality, which can be harmful by causing low self-esteem and even eating disorders.

 

However, the fashion industry is finally starting to take notice of these issues. A recent movement called “Drop the Plus” has gained national attention. It calls for all women of all body types who work in the fashion industry to simply be called models. Other movements have urged companies to use models with a variety of different body types in their adverting. The lingerie company AERIE has vowed to stop retouching entirely and to depict a wide range of body types in their advertising.

 

Currently, one of the most famous models in the world is Ashley Graham, who is a size 14. She recently broke barriers by appearing on the covers of British and American Vogue, and is redefining societies’ standards of beauty. Hopefully this is the beginning of a lasting trend to stop using the word “plus sized” and to have true representation in the fashion industry.

 

An unretouched Aerie ad

 

Source:

 http://www.elle.com/fashion/news/a27425/drop-the-term-plus-size/

 

Your Biological Sex Could Be Treated as A Pre-Existing Condition

By: Nicole McLaren

 

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that recently made it through the House and will now be voted on by the Senate treats the female sex as though their anatomy is a burden that they should carry the weight for. This bill was designed by 13 men, not a single woman had a say in it. Maybe that is why the pre-existing conditions that disproportionately effect women. It leaves it up to the individual states to determine what a pre-existing condition is and how they will be covered by insurance companies.

Some of these “pre-existing conditions” include: c-sections, domestic violence, sexual assault and postpartum depression. These are clearly forms of gender discrimination since these “conditions” effect mostly people who identify as women. The AHCA claims that it does not allow insurance providers to discriminate based on gender, although that is clearly not the case when they have taken away coverage for preexisting conditions.

Before the passing of the Affordable Care Act this was the case for women in the U.S. who faced discrimination from insurance providers because they were seen as more costly to insure. In 2002, The Huffington Post shared a story from Christina Turner, a woman who was denied health insurance after being raped and taking medication to prevent HIV. Even though she did not develop HIV the insurance company would not insure her because they viewed her as too much of a “risk”.

When insurance companies are allowed to put profits over providing healthcare to people, discrimination against women and other at risk groups will continue to occur. The AHCA bill allows states and insurance companies to decide what is a pre-existing condition and to make a profit off of the misfortune and unpreventable circumstances that happen to so many women, like having to have a c-section, being a victim of rape or abuse, and suffering from postpartum depression.

Why should having a child or being a victim prevent someone from obtaining health insurance? That is the question we have to ask our Senators now that our House representatives have failed to use their power to oppose this bill.

 

https://www.women.com/angie/lists/trumpcare-targets-women-could-deny-coverage-due-to-assault-or-c-sections

Transforming the Narrative Around Gender Confirmation

By: Nicole McLaren

The U.S. has seen an almost 20% rise in gender confirmation surgeries in 2016. There were more than 3,200 transfeminine and transmasculine surgeries last year. This is only one part of the process for a transgender person and there is a variety of surgeries available for the individual.

Access to gender confirmation surgeries is improving and in 2014 Medicare’s ban on using funding for these surgeries was lifted. Now Medicare will pay for surgery on a case by case basis. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibited insurance companies that receive federal funding from treating gender identity as a preexisting condition. This was a major win for the transgender community that is now at stake because of the new healthcare bill that is now in the senate. The rise in gender confirmation surgeries can be tied to access to health care thanks to the ACA which is now threatened because the new administration.

While 2016 saw a rise in gender confirmation surgeries there was also another record broken in the trans community, at least 22 trans people were murdered. A trans rights activist, Gearah Goldstein, said that this is due to the “hyper-focus on the transgender experience.” The current administration has also removed the Obama’s transgender bathroom guidelines, which makes life harder for those who do not conform to gender norms.

The narrative around the transgender community is facing both wins and losses but the visibility of trans folks is on the rise and allows them to control their stories.

Female Circumcision aka Female Genital Mutilation

 

By: Cassandra Hedrick

Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a procedure that removes part or all of the outer part of the female genitals. It is very painful and dangerous, causing pain throughout the victim’s life. It happens mostly in eastern Africa and parts of Asia, but can happen to girls anywhere.

The mutilation can range from just the removal of clitoris and lips (clitoridectomy) to sewing the lips over the vagina (infibulation). It happens to girls in infancy or adolescents, but can also happen to older women as well. The immediate consequences include severe pain, infection, shock, and sometimes death. However, the effects are lifelong. Long term consequences include urinary and vaginal problems, need for surgery later in life, and psychological problems, such as depression and low self-esteem.

Female circumcision is most popular in western and eastern regions in Africa, the Middle East, and some countries in Asia. In these places, it is considered a social norm and believed necessary to raising girls. It is also considered a way to keep women sexually pure by stopping them from wanting to engage in sexual behavior. It is also supposed to increase marriageability.

Female genital mutilation is considered a violation of human rights. Recently, there has been a wider international effort to stop it through more political involvement in countries where it is popular. These  efforts include strengthening the health sector involvement in this issue and education people on why female circumcision is harmful. Stop FGM Now is a campaign working to stop female genital mutilation. You can learn more about how to get involved and save women from female genital mutilation at their website.

Education Rights for Women (Or lack there of)

By: Cassandra Hedrick

In first world countries like America there is not really a gap between boys and girls school attendance. However, in many countries around the world there is an issue with girls not being able to get an education. In Afghanistan, girls only make up 1/3 of students and they make up 2/3s of illiterate adults worldwide. While we are moving in the direction of gender equality when it comes to education, we are not quite there. There are many factors contributing to this lack of education for girls, the main ones being poverty, race or ethnicity, and location.

Kids in poverty stricken countries are less likely to attend school. Girls are 2% less likely to go to school because they tend to stay at home and help with household duties. Similarly, girls from rural areas are less likely to attend school for the same reason, as well as because of the distance they live from schools. In parts of the world where there is a lot of war and violence, girls may not be able to attend school because it is dangerous for them to go. However, no matter where are in the world, racial and ethnic minorities always attend school at lower rates. This means the gender disparities are accentuated.

We need to pay more attention to gender inequality in education. Just because we don’t see it very often in America, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all over the world. There are gender disparities in education, caused by poverty, location, and race. If you want to help fix this, you can visit the United Nations Girls Education Initiative to find out more.