Tag Archives: women’s health

The World’s Abortion Laws in 2015

“Since 1998, the Center for Reproductive Rights has produced the World’s Abortion Laws map to visually compare the legal status of abortion across the globe. The interactive map is updated in real time to keep pace with changes in how countries are protecting – or denying – women’s reproductive freedom.”


The map is amazing – in an easy-to-understand, color coded format, the map breaks down laws into categories (ex. “without restriction as to reason,” like in the US and Australia) and also into subcategories (ex. “abortion permitted in case of rape,” like in Brazil and Indonesia). We encourage you to follow this link and interact with the map.

According to the World Health Organization, around 22 million unsafe abortions take place world wide each year and about 47,000 women died from unsafe abortions in 2008. Unsafe abortion often leads to hospitalizations and/or complications, and the annual cost of treating these complications is estimated to be $680 million ANNUALLY.

Whether abortion is legal or not, women will access safe and unsafe abortions. Making abortions illegal or inaccessible will not stop women from attempting dangerous procedures to terminate their pregnancies. The better way to decrease abortion rates are to increase access to birth control and sex education, says Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood.

The divide between the pro-choice and anti-choice arguments are deep, stark, and emotionally and politically charged, but at the end of the day, the thing to remember is that safe and legal abortion is a woman’s human right. On that note, we’ll leave you with this video from the Guttmacher Institute.


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Finding Your People

Recently, I was talking with some other folks at Planned Parenthood about how isolated some people who support PP and reproductive justice can feel. It made a lot of sense, but I realized that I hadn’t thought all that much about what kind of a toll that can have on people.

Part of that is definitely due to circumstance – I’ve lived and worked in various different ‘liberal bubbles’ for a while, and so even though my political opinions haven’t been universally shared, it’s always been somewhat easy for me to find moderately like-minded folks. (Given that meeting new people in the US often involves ‘what do you do’ as an opening question, I often let people identify themselves as kindred spirits early on. And there are also some abrupt changes of subject, too.)

So if in-person conversations aren’t necessarily going to be places where you find shared viewpoints, where do you look? When it comes to something like supporting women who have abortions or opposing the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, people can easily find the statistics showing that that’s an opinion that the majority of folks in the US share. But abstract numbers can only do so much.

And this made me see a lot of the recent social media campaigns around PP in a totally new way. For most people, it was primarily about showing support for Planned Parenthood in the face of the ongoing attacks. But a side benefit of it is that you can be reminded of who the people are in your life who support this work. For people who feel isolated, that can be a real boon, and that feeling of camaraderie can translate into more in-person connections too.

Not everyone feels the same kind of need to cultivate community around these issues, but for those of us who do, I’m really glad that the internet is making is easier in a lot of ways. If we have to weather the kinds of political attacks that have been coming down lately, at least we can do it together.

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Fun Friday: Penis and Vagina Facts

Please enjoy these (rather sensational) facts about penises and vaginas. Happy Friday!


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Birth Control Pills and Endometrial Cancer

endometrial_cancer_awareness_butterfly_postcard-rea078ab05bcb46d59e1c074ae8df79ce_vgbaq_8byvr_512Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer, accounting for 6% of gynecological cancers in women. It affects the lining of the uterus. The cause of endometrial cancer is unknown but an increased level of estrogen may be a factor. Estrogen helps stimulate the buildup of the lining of the uterus that can lead to overgrowth of the endometrium and cancer. Most cases of endometrial cancer happen to women between the ages of 60 and 70 with a few cases happening to women before 40. Signs of endometrial cancer include:

  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina including bleeding between periods or after menopause
  • Extremely long, heavy or frequent vaginal bleeding after age 40
  • Lower abdominal pain or pelvic cramping
  • Thin white or clear vaginal discharge after menopause

For more information on endometrial cancer click here.

A recent new study reports a significant reduction in the risk of endometrial cancer for women taking the pill. The benefits last for decades. Birth control pills have been around since the 1960s. Despite major reduction in hormone levels over the years, the benefits remain the same whether you took it in the 1060s or more recently.

The new study combined data from 36 earlier studies covering a total of 27,276 women with endometrial cancer and 115,743 women without it. After 10 years of collecting and analyzing data researchers found a 69% reduction in cancer for women who took the pill. The benefits increased with longer use. For every 5 years a woman took the pill she had a 24% reduction in cancer risk. After using the pill for 15 years, the risk drops to 1%. The authors estimate that over the last 50 years the pill has prevented 400,000 endometrial cancers in western Europe, the US and Australia, including half that number in the last 10 years alone.

Hopefully, this new report will help women in the US with their struggle to have access to the pill being covered by insurance. Currently, the battle still rages with many women living below or near the poverty line in grave danger of having coverage for contraception defunded. What a tragedy indeed.

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Burning, Itching and Making It Worse


In many ways, I’m a hippie. I don’t eat meat, I have a box of patchouli incense on my bookshelf, and I listen to a fair amount of Phish. While some of this has spread over to the ways in which I approach health issues, I’ve also got a fair amount of skepticism when it comes to the various headlines of Natural Remedies That Really Work!1!!

But just because some headlines take things a bit too far, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some good approaches out there, too, especially for yeast infections. One caveat for all of these – if you’re experiencing symptoms for the first time, please get checked out by a healthcare provider. You might be dealing with a run-of-the-mill yeast infection, but it might be something more serious, and getting the right diagnosis is key to getting the right treatment, and to feeling better.

Yogurt and Probiotics
Yogurt with live cultures can be a great topical treatment to soothe a yeast infection, and some folks have gotten really crafty and made yogurt popsicles to bring a cool approach to using it internally. This is probably best suited for if you know your body well and catch things early, or if you’re wanting to head an infection off because you’re on antibiotics. However, it’s probably not going to be enough to re-establish balance if your infection is fully-fledged.

You can also use probiotic capsules, so long as they also contain live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus, but know that randomized tests on these types of treatment haven’t reached any definite conclusions. So long as your yogurt doesn’t have any sugar, sweeteners or flavors, you won’t be making things worse, though.

No matter how much garlic you eat, it won’t have an effect on your yeast infection. And to date, there haven’t been any studies showing garlic’s effectiveness at treating yeast infections when used internally. Most treatment regimes require a long-term approach, which can make it a lot less appealing than quicker remedies.

Finally, the same aspects of garlic that make it a good candidate for stopping yeast production can make it really irritating to your vagina. If you do want to try this method, though, please go slowly – a clove that’s been cut in half will be a lot more potent than one that’s only been peeled, and adding more irritation to an already painful area isn’t doing your body any favors.

Boric Acid
This one’s interesting. It’s definitely effective, and can often be what health care providers prescribe for recurring yeast infections (more than 4/year). However, boric acid is poisonous if it’s taken orally, so you’ve got to be quite careful around kids and pets. And it can be very irritating to your skin if the preparation isn’t right – you can get a compounding pharmacy to help prepare the suppositories to avoid this. If you’re having recurring infections, though, it’s best to check in with your healthcare provider – there might be some underlying issues that are causing the recurrence, and you’ll want to be able to treat those, rather than always playing catch-up.

Your best tool – yourself
Whether you’re treating your infection with a commercial, over the counter approach, a DIY home remedy, or a prescription, you’re the one in the best position to know what’s working. If something that’s supposed to soothe you instead is making your vulva more irritated, don’t push though it! Not all treatments work for all people, and even something you’ve used in the past may be having a difficult interaction with your system this time.

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Big News for Women with Low Libido

Late last week an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended FDA approval of a drug called flibanserin, which seeks to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). Here’s what you need to know:

Flibanserin helps restore prefrontal cortex control over the brain's motivation/reward pathways that enable sexual desire. This is thought to be accomplished by the rebalancing of neurotransmitters that influence sexual desire. Flibanserin increases dopamine, or DA, and norepinephrine, or NE, (both responsible for sexual excitement) while transiently decreasing serotonin, or 5-HT (responsible for sexual satiety/inhibition).

Flibanserin helps restore prefrontal cortex control over the brain’s motivation/reward pathways that enable sexual desire. This is thought to be accomplished by the rebalancing of neurotransmitters that influence sexual desire. Flibanserin increases dopamine, or DA, and norepinephrine, or NE, (both responsible for sexual excitement) while transiently decreasing serotonin, or 5-HT (responsible for sexual satiety/inhibition).

If you’re interested in learning more about this drug, you might like to listen to a story from NPR’s show, All Things Considered. To read more about the clinical trials, this short article is worth your next 3 minutes.

If you think you might be suffering from HSDD, we encourage you to see a medical professional. And since women’s sexual dysfunction isn’t the strong suit of many medical professionals, you may want to do your research and find a someone who specializes in women’s sexual health.

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Abortion: One in Three

When someone asks me what women who have abortions are like, I ask them what one in three women are like. There is so much stigma attached to abortion – from the procedure itself to those who perform it to those who elect to undergo it – that it can feel safer to be silent than to advocate the truth.

The truth is: one in three females in the United States will have an abortion by age 45. Females of all ages, races, ethnicities, classes, genders, sexualities, of different religions, traditions, norms, values, ethics, and moral compasses face unintended pregnancies every single day.

Now, I’ve had much first-hand experience emotionally consoling females who are seeking abortion services, as Planned Parenthood requires patients to undergo an education and informed consent process before the procedure. During this time, the first question I ask the patient if she is “firm and clear” in her decision, and if she is being “coerced in any way.” This often prompts an emotional whirlwind as the patient tries to justify her choice, and explain away the stigma. She is often convinced that she is alone in her decision and that if anyone else in her life knew, she would be a target for scrutiny. Her nerves are often pacified as I explain how likely it is that females all around her have also had abortions – they just don’t talk about them.

I can’t help but find myself so frustrated by the shame-induced gag order that choice-opponents have papier-mâchéd all over the truth about abortion and those who undergo it. It’s time to rip down the propaganda for the sake of autonomy. It’s time to trample stigma. It’s time to take back the real experiences of abortion:

I was at a family planning conference recently, and a woman stood up and said we need a campaign like It Gets Better for abortion to raise awareness and decrease stigma. We need speak-out videos where people who have had abortions are willing to illuminate the other side: how their abortion did not ruin their life.

So, one in three of you, will you stand against stigma and stereotyping?

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Sexual Fluidity

Gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, bi-curious: what does it all mean and does it even matter? Starting back when Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues developed the Kinsey scale in 1948, people began to look at their sexuality in a broader, more fluid way. While many people self-identified as exclusively heterosexual (0 on the scale) or exclusively homosexual (6 on the scale) there were still numbers 1 through 5 if you didn’t feel you fit at one end of the continuum or the other. In 1978, Fritz Klein, the doctor who founded the American Institute of Bisexuality, devised a more complex method, with 21 possible combinations analyzing seven aspects of sexual orientation in people’s past, present and ideal lives.

Recent studies look at sexuality from a less restrictive perspective. Bisexuality, while often maligned by both anti-LGBT groups and LGBT groups themselves is now being looked at differently as well.

While past research believed women were more likely to experience sexual fluidity, men now have been shown to be nearly as fluid as their female counterparts.

The basic idea behind sexual fluidity is that many of us have a flexible erotic response which can lead to significant variability in who we fantasize about, or have sex with throughout our life span. In many past sex studies, people were told to pick one orientation, but when given the option of choosing more than one orientation if desired 35% of people identified as lesbians and 36% of those who identified as gay selected another identity as well. Also of interest was that 42% of lesbians and 31% of gay males had masturbated to images of the opposite gender. 9% of self-identified lesbians and 12% of gay males reported actually having sex with someone of the opposite gender during the past year!

Even larger percentages were reported with self-identified heterosexuals. 50% of straight females and 25% of straight males reported having at least some sexual attraction to someone of the same gender. 35% of straight females and 24% of straight males reported masturbating to same-sex fantasies. 2% of straight females and 9% of straight males actually had sex with someone of the same gender. This doesn’t even address people who are transgendered or questioning. (All data from this study.)

So what does all this mean? Basically, there are many ways to define sexual orientation and does it really have to be defined at all? How refreshing it would be if we could just be “people” who are attracted to other people with no shame, guilt or need to explain your attractions or fantasies.

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A Libido Pill for Women?

A company called Spout Pharmaceuticals is trying to receive FDA approval for a drug called Flibanserin. The company claims the pill can dramatically increase a women’s desire to have sex. In their study, the participants reported a distinct increase in sexual desire and in the number of satisfying sexual events, as well as a marked decrease in distress around having sex with their partner.

two pairs of feet in bed

image via Rodale News

Unlike Viagra that works to increase blood flow to the genitals, it works by increasing the chemicals in the brain. The drug works by increasing dopamine, norepinephrine and decreases serotonin. While this sounds like an easy fix, it isn’t. First, decreases in libido are not always linked to one cause. A person’s sexual desire can be changed by fatigue, children, emotional problems, menopause, hormonal changes, medications, etc. The reasons can vary so widely that it is unclear if changing brain chemistry will erase all of the other potential culprits of not wanting to get frisky with their partners. Second, the medication has not been approved by the FDA.

While I’m all for focusing more on female desire and sexual health, I don’t know how I feel about taking a mood altering drug that has unknown sides effects and potential risks for long term use. If someone is having trouble with a decrease in sexuality they may want to evaluate their personal and professional life.

Psychological Issues
-Poor body image or low self-esteem
-Prior sexual or physical abuse with previous partner

Relationship Issues
-Feeling disconnected
-Lack of communication
-Not feeling happy with your partner
-Constant fighting or arguing

-Medical problems
-Pain during sex
-Hormonal changes
-Lack of desire after surgery

If you are experiencing a decrease or lack of desire it’s important to realize that you’re not alone. By pinpointing the problem, you can find the resources you need to get your sexy back. Many people benefit from counseling or seeing their doctor if it’s a physical problem.

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What We’re Reading via The New York Times

If you don’t follow The New York Times, you should. One of the reasons we love it is because they publish excellent and timely articles on health, and we sex educators rely on it to stay up on the latest news. It is a reliable and sound resource for us. Here are a few of our recommendations from the last month or so…

Searching for Sex, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, January 25, 2015

If you’re fascinated by all things sex ed like I am, you MUST read this article. I’m not even going to prep you with a little introductory paragraph because I want you to be totally blown away. The article is a bit long so if you don’t have time now, bookmark it for later.

Medicating Women’s Feelings, by Julie Holland, February 28, 2015

There are lots of things our society doesn’t talk enough about and mental health tops the list, in my opinion. This article, written by an experienced psychiatrist, says enough is enough! She says, “The new, medicated normal is at odds with women’s dynamic biology; brain and body chemicals are meant to be in flux. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions. Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.” I highy recommend this read…share the article, talk about it, reach out to a friend.

Two Strains of H.I.V. Cut Vastly Different Paths by Carl Zimmer, March 2, 2015

Two strains of HIV-2 have made it to gorillas from chimps, and it's created two rare strains, O and P.

Two strains of HIV-2 have made it to gorillas from chimps, and it’s created two rare strains, O and P, both of which have jumped to humans in Cameroon

We’ve posted many articles about HIV before, including this one the origin of HIV. What I like about Carl Zimmer’s article is that he retraces what we already knew about HIV’s origin, but helps us fill in the gaps by exposing us to new research. HIV-2 didn’t just take one giant leap from primate to human, IT TOOK NINE! HIV-1 was trickier to track down. Scientists have been sifting through chimpanzee and gorilla feces for years looking for answers and now they finally have definitive proof that they can use to reconstruct the path that HIV-1 took. It’s a very fascinating read so be sure to check it out!

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