Tag Archives: HIV

At the CDC, Unprotected Sex is Now Called Condomless Sex. Do You Agree With the Change?

There’s some really interesting news coming out of the Centers for Disease Control today. (Count that in the sentences I never thought I’d write.) What we know as unprotected sex – aka, sex without a condom – will now be referred to as condomless sex in their many reports and studiecondoms-colored-702455s that are both for the general public as well as for those in the public health field (like your writers at the Feronia Project.)

Why the change? Many advocates of this term say that ‘unprotected sex’ no longer reflects the many ways that people have sex: let’s take long-term couples for an example. Is a monogamous couple, who have both been tested for STIs, including HIV, really participating in ‘unprotected’ sex when having sex without a condom? (If you’re in a trustworthy relationship, I’d say no.)

Another reason? HIV prevention strategies are slowly changing. There are some promising new treatments via pill that are helping to prevent HIV that may – I must stress, may – prevent some transmission of HIV. (Do you still have HIV when you are receiving treatment that makes it almost undetectable in your blood? That is a question for someone with much more education in public health for decide.) The language change may be spurred on by these new developments, keeping up-to-date with new frontiers in HIV treatment.

So, what do you think? Is this a good change? Will it promote condomless sex or does it keep our public health terminology up-to-date? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Didn’t Learn That in Health Class!: STDs and Stigma

The way we talk about sexual health is incredibly important. If we want to reach a place in our society where people can easily gain access to reproductive health care, we need to learn to talk about sex, sexuality, and our bodies in ways that facilitate this change. This is particularly important when it comes to talking about sexually transmitted diseases, as the stakes for breaking away from the shame-based fear currently associated with these infections are incredibly high.

hiv-stigma-cycleOftentimes individuals who have a sexually transmitted diseases face a great deal of ridicule within our society. This scorn is reflected in casual conversations, media representations, and unfortunately even in some education related to sexual health. Negative notions about STDs may portray individuals who have them as being dirty, sexually promiscuous, and irresponsible. This creates a mold in which only “certain types” of people get STDs. The problem with this logic is that research has shown that 1 in 4 Americans currently have an STD, with almost half of these infections taking place in the 15-24 year old age range. If you are engaging in sexual activity, and especially if you are having sex and not using a barrier method (such as condoms and dental dams), it is possible for you to contract an STD. Infections don’t differentiate between “certain types” of people.

It also is important to remember that one reason we hold such negative views about sexually transmitted diseases is because they are contracted during sexual contact. We wouldn’t publicly ostracize someone because they caught a cold, nor would we spread rumors about someone’s character because they contracted a nasty case of food poisoning. Promoting negative ideas about STDs and the people who have them is tied in with our culture’s negatives notions about sex. There ARE risks to having sex, just like there are risks to nearly any type of human contact. However, the current cultural shame around STDs doesn’t promote knowledge or understanding, nor does it propel people into seeking medical care. However, the best way to decrease infection rates and encourage more individuals to seek testing and treatment may just be to highlight the fact that an STD is an infection, and like other all infections requires professional medical help. If we work to remove the cultural stigma surrounding STDs we may be able to start a more genuine discussion about how STDs are spread, what can be done to prevent them, and what to do if you have an STD.

The first of this month represented World AIDS Day. In keeping with a focus on HIV and AIDS, there are some organizations that work to reduce stigma, and provide a great example of how we can communicate about STDss without relying on negative assumptions or misinformation. One such organization is The Stigma Project, which is a “grassroots organization that aims to lower the HIV infection rate and neutralize the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS through education and awareness via social media and advertising.” Another organization is The Sero Project, which is “a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice.” Check ‘em out!

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STD Testing on College Campuses

fgcuThis month, Florida Gulf Coast University students had the opportunity to receive free STD testing on campus! A civic engagement class was required to do something for their community and they found that the most creative and beneficial thing for their students was to provide this service. They spent their entire semester organizing a student-led concert that allowed for students to feel more comfortable with the idea of getting tested. With the help of FGCU’s Gay Straight Alliance, the Lee County Health Department, and Planned Parenthood students were able to learn about various STDs as well as get tested for free, watch some FGCU talent, and enjoy free food.

There is a stigma, especially on college campuses about getting tested. When promoting the event, students would say that they don’t need to be tested, make a slut-shaming joke, or simply laugh it off. But as the event drew closer, the group saw that students were ecstatic about this opportunity. There were well over 100 students tested and lines were so long that they had to be cut off a half an hour early! The turn out was definitely not expected but it was welcomed with open arms.

FGCU is a fairly small campus in Florida with about 13,000 students and with such a successful turnout for its first year, this event will be passed on to the FGCU Gay Straight Alliance to be put on next year. It’s an event that college campuses around the state would find not only helpful to students but one of the best events to be part of behind the scenes. Reports of STD cases have been increasing slightly over the passed 10 years, especially among college age students in the state of Florida. By removing the stigma and having someone like a Planned Parenthood educator attend the event, students get a better understanding of these diseases and infections which will further help reduce their risk.

If a college wants to put on this event, they need only to look to what may be the most unlikely source, MTV. The MTV It’s Your (Sex) Life campaign provides a full toolkit for students to put on an event like this. This toolkit was actually used by the FGCU group to help get their event off the ground.

To see this event become a regular thing across campuses in the state of Florida would bring benefits to not only students but to the entire state by improving our state’s level of sex education and infection rates.

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The Condom of the Future

Humans have been using condoms for hundreds of years but they’ve seen very little innovation in the last 50 years. The reasons people don’t wear condoms have also remained static over the years – lack of education and access, cultural taboos, perceived discomfort. As a result, there are about 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world (that’s about the same as the entire population of Canada).


Enter The Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationThey mainly focus on global health and global development, and they aren’t afraid to tackle the tough problems. In one of their latest rounds of funding, they challenged innovators to: make condoms of safe new materials that may preserve or enhance sensation; develop and test new condom shapes/designs that may provide an improved user experience; and apply knowledge from other fields (e.g. neurobiology, vascular biology) to new strategies for improving condom desirability. The results of their challenge are incredible.

The Business Insider published a great summary of the 11 innovative winners:

  • Heat conducting condom infused with antibacterial drugs: Graphene is a thin, crystalline form of carbon that’s highly elastic and can conduct heat. Lakshminarayanan Ragupathy of HLL Lifecare Ltd. in India will produce condoms using graphene-based polymer composites.
  • Elastic condom: Using a new composite of elastic materials, a team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom proposes a condom that will feel more like skin-to-skin contact.
  • Self-tightening condom: Layering multiple polymers allows the condom to gently tighten during intercourse. The material will put less pressure on the skin and increase sensation at key moments.  A team from Cambridge Design Partnership in the United Kingdom is designing it.
  • Mucous condom: A team from Northwestern University will create a new polymeric material that mimics the properties of mucosal tissue, essentially what your bodily mucous membranes already feel like. Thus, a very natural feeling during intercourse.
  • Break-resistant condom: A nanoparticle coating helps prevent condom breakage. The coating, developed by researchers at Boston University Medical Center, works by trapping a thin layer of water to reduce friction and tearing forces.
  • Shape memory condom: Body heat will quickly fix the shape of the condom to the individual wearer. Researchers at the University of Oregon will tailor condoms with polyurethane linear and elastomeric materials, both of which will improve tactility and increase sensitivity.
  • Wrapping condom: The California Family Health Council will make condoms that wrap and cling around the wearer instead of squeezing him. The non-toxic and hypoallergenic polyethylene condoms will also come with enhanced lubrication through a collaboration with a Colombian condom manufacturer.
  • Superelastomer condom: Superelastomer technology allows condoms to be made ultra-thin, ultra-soft, strong and tear resistant. It also has a low-cost production method which will encourage use in developing countries. Researchers at the University of Tennessee will develop it.
  • Cow tendon condom: Collagen fibers from cows’ Achilles tendons, and possibly fish skin, will give the wearer more of a skin-to-skin feel with his partner. The materials in the condom, developed by researchers at Apex Medical Technologies in San Diego, will enhance strength and sensitivity.
  • The Rapidom: A condom with applicators attached make putting it on possible with a single motion. Produced by Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa, it makes application easier and, most importantly, helps get the condom on the right way. Putting the condom on inside-out, then reversing the direction, exposes a guy’s partner to his pre-ejaculatory fluids and increases the risk for pregnancy and disease.
  • Condom Applicator Pack: A team from House of Petite Pty. Ltd. in Australia will build an applicator separate from the condom but sold in the same package. It’s meant to keep the condom away from the wearer’s hands, which can spread disease, and ensure the condom is put on in the right direction.
Which idea sounds the best to you?
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Still Alive and Kicking: The Stigma of Living with HIV

I’ve been an HIV educator for nearly 20 years and I’m so saddened by a recent article in USA Today about a young woman’s struggle with the stigma attached to being HIV positive. Paige Rawl was born with HIV. Her mother wasn’t able or willing to tell her that she was living with HIV until Paige started figuring things out when she was in fifth grade. She disclosed to a friend and within 2 weeks the entire school found out. The bullying and harassment started soon after and became so intense she began to suffer extreme stress-induced physical consequences and eventually began home schooling. After years of dealing with varying degrees of ignorance and intolerance, she found her voice and began speaking in public about living with HIV.

This month Paige graduated from high school and will soon begin college. She will be on the cover of Seventeen magazine in October and is one of 5 finalists in for Seventeen’s “Pretty Amazing” contest which allows her the chance to qualify for a $10,000 college scholarship. A happy ending? Not quite yet.

Every person she meets, every potential partner, every job possibility will offer the same dilemma. Should I tell them I have HIV? How will they react? Who else will they tell? What do they know about HIV? As with so many people living with a disability, chronic illness or medical issues, dealing with the physical effects of the condition are not the most challenging part of life. The biggest frustrations revolve around how people react to your condition.

I frequently get very vocal negative reactions from members of my classes when I talk about sexually transmitted diseases. “EWWWW, that’s disgusting! I’d never go out with someone with that!” is almost guaranteed. Part of the process I try and lead people through is understanding what it would be like being on the receiving end of that kind of a reaction. You can certainly see why people don’t disclose to others that they have HIV, HPV or herpes.

We all can take a part in reducing the stigma associated with HIV and other STIs. Educate yourself so you can be armed with medically based facts to help combat the massive amounts of misinformation out there. When you hear someone make a negative comment about someone, call them on it. Teach your children, siblings, friends and family that it’s not ok to bully and to stand up when they see it being done to others. No child should have to endure what Paige has gone through, but I fear we have a long, long way to go.

To vote for Paige, click here. (It is super easy: just find Paige R. and click on the ‘Vote for Me!’ tab.)

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This week it is SOURCE WEEK at The Feronia Project! All week we will be giving you a glimpse into the shining jewel that is The SOURCE. The SOURCE creates innovative theatre, film and videos that directly respond to the needs of youth and young adults. Award-winning, innovative, and provocative, students, educators and administrators consistently evaluate The SOURCE as one of the most effective prevention programs in the nation. The actors in The SOURCE Theatre receive extensive training in theatre, film acting, life skills, and sexuality education in order to give back to the community and the nation by becoming a “source” of life-saving information to their peers.

Aside from live theatre, The SOURCE is also known for it’s powerful and poigant public service announcements. The SOURCE and its fearless leader are never afraid to “go there.” In fact, their motto is: Saving the world – one show at a time (and you can’t save the world by being lame). As you may have read yesterday, the director of The SOURCE (who is also an accomplished writer, producer, editor, actor, and fierce mother bear) has a knack for really listening to what her youth are experiencing in their lives, and then she turns what she hears into PSA’s. Here’s a small sampling of The Feronia Project’s favorite PSA’s:

There Was That Time

Ask Her

To watch other PSA’s by The SOURCE, visit their YouTube channel.

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HIV and Trans Women

Nearly a fifth of the world’s transgender women are infected with HIV. A recent analysis compiling the results of 39 studies involving 11,000 transgender women from 15 countries came to this startling conclusion. This number is 49 times higher than the general population, 36 times higher than males and 78 times higher than other females. For the study, transgender women were defined as individuals born as biological males who currently identified as female. Transgender women who engaged in sex work were also significantly more likely to be infected with HIV than male and other female sex workers.

So why are transgender women so much more likely to contract HIV? The authors of the report offered several reasons. They believe that many of the infections occurred through unprotected anal sex. Next to direct blood to blood contact through needle sharing, anal sex is the easiest route for transmission. Anal tissue is more easily torn during anal sex than through either vaginal or oral sex. If they have had a recent vaginoplasty/vaginal construction, they are also at greater risk of infection. Transgender women are more likely to be involved with sexual partners who are infected with HIV and engage in sex work.

transgender_HIVPrevalenceThe stigma, discrimination, and fear of judgement associated with being transgender are significant factors that lead to many women avoiding routine health screenings. And to make matters worse, few health care workers, HIV counselors, and physicians are trained in transgender women’s health care issues.

Hopefully, this study will help open doors to future strategies to help address this overlooked population. To read the entire article, click here.


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Fun Friday: Out of the Closet Presents…

Happy Friday, kittens! Have a great (and safe) weekend.

So, confession: I love me some Thrift Shop by Macklemore. I can’t help it. And when I saw this hilarious (yet awesome and for a good cause) video that Fosgood’s daughter brought to her attention, I had to post it. Enjoy!

Great job, Out of the Closet!

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Links We Love: Wednesday Edition

Copyright Oregon Food Bank.

Copyright Oregon Food Bank.

Hello, Feronians! We’ve made it to the hump day (pun not intended, but amusing nonetheless).

Here’s some of the interesting links we’ve found in sex, love, and society:

What have you been reading lately?

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Sexual Behaviors: No Risk…Some Risk…Risky

An important part of my job as a sexual educator is informing people about the risks of various sexual activities and giving them the knowledge to make informed decisions. One of the ways to look at sexual behaviors is to place them on a spectrum ranging from no risk to high risk.

safe to unsafe postcardNO RISK
Activities that involve NO exchange of body fluids released from the genitals or skin to skin genital contact fit in this category. While saliva can spread the flu, a cold and mono, as long a neither party has oral herpes, you can kiss to your heart’s content. Mutual masturbation is about as safe as things can get and still involve genital contact. Good old humping, bumping, grinding, dirty dancing, anything with clothes is no risk. Showering together, erotic massage are acceptable as long as things don’t slip on over to other higher risk activities.

Here’s where protected sexual activity comes into play. We’re talking oral, anal and vaginal intercourse. Think barriers. It could be a male or female condom. Plastic wrap or latex dental dam type protection for oral sex on vulva or anus. Slightly riskier is oral sex without a barrier.

Any vaginal or anal sex without a barrier puts you at high risk for STIs. Using drugs or alcohol can easily cloud your ability to make good decisions. Any activity that involves the possible exchange of blood is also right up there, including menstrual blood.

Any sexual activity can have some risks, but you can greatly reduce your chances of spreading or contracting an infection by knowing how to wrap it up, cover it up or just think of something else to do! (We’ve got plenty of suggestions for you!)

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