STD Awareness: When Syphilis Goes North

The bacteria that cause syphilis are shaped like corkscrews. Image: David Cox, CDC

Last month, a “weird” medical case made headlines. An Australian man with unexplained headaches and eye pain got a diagnosis for his mysterious symptoms when his doctors discovered he had syphilis — and the infection had spread to his head. Syphilis had caused both optic nerves to become swollen, triggering pain that worsened whenever he moved his eyes.

It might seem strange that a disease most people associate with below-the-belt symptoms can wreak havoc above the neck, but syphilis is a wanderer that can travel all over the body, sowing chaos wherever it goes.


Syphilis can quickly enter the nervous system and travel to the head, where it can cause blindness, psychiatric problems, and other trouble.


Ocular Syphilis

The bacteria that cause syphilis can be passed from one person to another through contact with a sore, which can appear on or around the mouth, genitals, or anus. Any type of sexual contact, including oral sex, can transmit these bacteria. Sores are painless, contain a highly infectious liquid, and can appear between three weeks to three months after infection. These sores aren’t always visible, which means you can’t tell if someone has syphilis just by looking at them.

Although the bacteria typically land in the mouth, genitals, or anus, they can also be sexually transmitted directly into the eye, causing redness and vision problems. After infection, syphilis sores can appear on the eyelids, tear ducts, and soft tissues around the eyes. Bacteria can also travel to the eye by entering the nervous system and blazing a trail to the optic nerve — no direct contact between the eye and a sore necessary. Continue reading

Standing with the Missing: Tucson Hosts the REDress Project

Tree at the Piikani Nation, Alberta, Canada. Photo: voyagevixen2

Last year, on March 11, red shirts and dresses filled the Arizona House of Representatives. Activists wore the color in support of HB 2570, a bill introduced by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, to address an ongoing crisis in Arizona’s Native American communities.

That crisis, and that visual statement in response to it, is also the theme of the REDress Project, a traveling exhibition by Métis artist Jaime Black, whose work opens at the Tucson Desert Art Museum on January 10. Black, who is based in Winnipeg, Canada, began the project in 2009, collecting and displaying dresses to “call in the energy of the women who are lost.”


Honoring the many lost throughout North America, the REDress Project will be on exhibit at the Tucson Desert Art Museum.


The red of those dresses has become a symbol — and the letters MMIW the shorthand — for missing and murdered indigenous women. In Native American communities, domestic abuse, kidnapping, and other forms of violence have put many victims on difficult paths to justice, often leading nowhere.

Gaps in jurisdiction, especially when the offender isn’t a tribal member, have been one barrierNon-tribal suspects fall under federal jurisdiction, but a shortage of federal marshals has often meant that they can continue offending with impunity. In a report published last year, the Urban Indian Health Institute found that roughly half of perpetrators in MMIW cases were non-Native. Continue reading

2019: A Year in Blogging

Nearly three years into the Trump administration, a lot of us are tired. The headlines got more and more draining, culminating in impeachment proceedings at the end of the year. But in response, we’re so fired up that we’re ready to storm the polls next November — and make sure our friends and family do so as well. And 2019 was also a time to be hopeful. In January, a record 102 women walked into the House of Representatives, ready to serve their constituents — making up nearly a quarter of House members, the highest proportion in U.S. history. The Senate saw gains as well, with 25 female senators out of a total of 100. Many of these newcomers made it their mission to fight for the very human and civil rights that are currently under attack.

Outside of politics, we’re still committed to connecting people to the information they need via technology, such as Planned Parenthood’s abortion finder tool, or the Roo app, a sexual-health chatbot that was named by TIME Magazine as one of the year’s best inventions.

Throughout the year, our bloggers were here to shed light on the political happenings and spread awareness about important sexual and reproductive health issues. We asked them to pick their favorite posts of 2019. They’re definitely all worth a second look!

Anne covered the fifth anniversary of the Hobby Lobby decision, which marked the Supreme Court’s ruling that some for-profit corporations could, like human beings, exercise religious beliefs. The Hobby Lobby decision placed religion over science, allowing employers to limit employees’ access to birth control methods otherwise guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act — exploiting a legal loophole to give corporations the right to damage their employees’ health in the name of religion. Five years later, its destructive legacy lives on: The Hobby Lobby decision has since been commandeered to deny birth control, attack the LGBTQ community, make a mess of health care administration, and more.

Matt’s favorite post pointed a spotlight on an important but overshadowed piece of history, the case of People v. Belous, which 50 years ago marked the first time a patient’s constitutional right to abortion was upheld in the courts. The post introduces us to Dr. Leon Belous, a Southern California physician who believed abortion bans were antiquated and barbaric — and was arrested for “conspiracy to commit abortion” after referring a patient to a safe abortion provider in the 1960s. The California Supreme Court vindicated Dr. Belous, setting the stage for Roe v. Wade and the expansion of abortion rights a few years later. As Matt tells us, “I think this case is especially relevant to the borderlands area and the complex role that border towns played in abortion access and the social attitudes toward the procedure.”

Ava wrote about the criminalization of miscarriage. That might not sound possible — the idea that someone could be arrested or imprisoned for having a miscarriage — but plenty of people find themselves in this perplexing and outrageous situation. People who lose their pregnancies may be blamed for these losses if others decide they engaged in risky behaviors, despite the medical fact that most of the time, miscarried or stillborn fetuses die of natural causes, and miscarriage within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy is astonishingly common. These laws may also target people of color, as Black, Latinx, and Native-American people are more likely to experience pregnancy loss than non-Hispanic white people. Simply put, criminalizing pregnancy loss casts pregnant people as vessels rather than people.

Tracey shared her own powerful and personal story about miscarriage. She described that string of four simple words — “I had a miscarriage” — as intimately felt and inconceivable to say. For Tracey, talking about the loss of a baby was almost as hard as losing the baby. She now uses her story to fight stigma, and to encourage other people to do the same. When we are silent around the issue, so many of us suffer in silence, while the reality of the prevalence of miscarriage is distorted for the rest of us. And when people don’t realize how common miscarriage is, they are more likely to blame and demonize those who lose their pregnancies.

Anna celebrated one of 2019’s medical victories, which was announced earlier this year. In her favorite blog post, she introduced readers to the “Berlin patient” and the “London patient,” two people who had HIV before coming down with blood cancers. After receiving bone marrow transplants from donors with genetic “immunity” to HIV, an amazing thing happened: Not only did their cancers go into remission — so did their HIV infections. When this feat was first performed more than a decade ago with the Berlin patient, people were hopeful it could be replicated in future cancer patients — but it took until this year for the success to be duplicated in the London patient. What do these cases mean for the millions of other people living with HIV?


Make your voice heard in 2020! Join our blogging team by becoming a Planned Parenthood Arizona volunteer. We want to help amplify your voice!

STD Awareness: Is Withholding HIV Status a Crime?

If your sexual partner had HIV and did not tell you about it, how would you feel? Most of us would feel betrayed, lied to. We might be scared that we’d contracted the virus, too. If we had known, maybe we would have chosen not to have sex, or might have taken different precautions. Perhaps we’d be angry that someone took away our ability to evaluate the risk for ourselves, and instead decided for us that the sex was worth the risk.


Disclosing HIV status can make someone vulnerable to risks, but open communication forms the basis of healthy relationships.


Many people think it should be against the law for someone with HIV to withhold their status from a sexual partner. To do so seems like a violation of someone’s right to make their own decisions about the sex they have, a denial of pertinent information that needs to be factored into one’s decision-making.

Then why are organizations like American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice opposed to these types of laws?

Meet Nick

In June 2008 in Iowa, Nick met Adam on a dating website. They hung out at Nick’s apartment, spent a few hours getting to know each other, and eventually had sex. A few days later, Adam heard through the grapevine that Nick was HIV-positive.

The next month, three armed detectives stormed Nick’s workplace, took him to the local hospital, and ordered nurses to take his blood. Meanwhile, police were searching his house for drugs — not illicit drugs, but lifesaving antiretroviral drugs. Nick was arrested. His crime? Criminal transmission of HIV.

Even though Adam never got HIV. Continue reading

A Civil Dialogue on Abortion

The following post comes to us via Tracey Sands, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s West Campus studying communication as it relates to advocacy. Tracey believes dialogue is an act of love and strives to empower others to find and use their voice. She is an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Photo: Tracey Sands

On a chilly November evening, 100 Arizona State University students, staff, and faculty met on West Campus in Glendale to discuss a topic that inevitably leads to a moral debate filled with anger, distrust, and heartbreak: abortion. At the front of Kiva Lecture Hall, two professors sat among the group and committed to a two-hour civil dialogue on abortion. This was a room divided in beliefs, yet united through dialogue.


Civil dialogue with someone who holds an opposing position is not black and white — it’s all shades of gray.


Dr. Bertha Manninen, associate professor of philosophy at ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, argued in favor of abortion rights, while Dr. Jack Mulder, professor of philosophy at Hope College, a Christian college in Michigan, argued against abortion.

American public discourse is marked by an unfortunate trend: We choose only to discuss controversial topics with those who agree with us, leaving conversations with those outside our political, economic, social, and religious positions beyond the boundaries of possible dialogue. Further, if a discussion is to be had with someone on the opposing side, it usually slips into angry insults and disrespectful feedback. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Fighting STDs with Education

Here in Arizona, Tucson Unified School District has been taking steps toward adopting a comprehensive, inclusive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex education program, but it’s been repeatedly delayed by a vocal minority. In September, a vote was put on hold after the superintendent recommended changing the proposed curriculum to focus on abstinence as the preferred method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancies.


You can make your voice heard. Learn how!


Additionally, many opponents of TUSD’s proposed curriculum believe its inclusiveness of LGBTQ kids is tantamount to “indoctrination,” that this type of education “sexualizes” children, and that discussions of gender identity will confuse students. LGBTQ kids have traditionally been ignored or demeaned in sex education programs, and their health matters too. Presenting medically accurate and age-appropriate information does not indoctrinate or sexualize children — it simply helps them make healthy decisions, no matter who they are. And these days, students need to be empowered with as much knowledge as possible to make decisions that protect their health.

Confronting the STD Epidemic

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases. It did not contain good news. For the fifth straight year, STD rates are climbing.

Continue reading

Everybody Deserves Good Sex Ed

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Is sex education part of your school day? If you are getting information in your classroom about birth control, consent, healthy relationships, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), then you are among a small number of students in Arizona who get this essential health information.

In the state of Arizona, sex education is not currently required — which means it is up to your school district to decide if they want you to have sex education in the classroom. Unfortunately, most school districts have chosen not to provide sex ed to their students.


Arizona doesn’t require sex education in the classroom.


Beyond that, there are a couple of other laws that have affected how sex ed is taught even if your school district decides to provide sex education in the classroom:

  • We are an “opt-in” state — meaning that a parent or guardian must sign a permission slip for you to participate in a sex education class at school.
  • We had what are referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws on the books until April of this year — meaning that teachers could not represent being gay in a positive light, and they could not discuss methods of safe sex for “gay sex.”
  • Comprehensive sex education is not required — meaning that if a district chooses to provide “abstinence-only” sex education (programs that only promote refraining from sexual activity as a method of safe sex and do not review topics like birth control, condoms, etc.) they are allowed to do so.

Continue reading