Falling Short: Sexual Health and LGBTQ+ Youth

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.

We know most young people in Arizona are not getting sex education in their schools — or if they are, it is often abstinence-only, not fact-based, and not inclusive of all students’ identities. Comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of approaching sexuality from a more holistic perspective covering a range of topics such as STDs, relationships, birth control methods, reproductive anatomy, and abstinence, at an age-appropriate level and utilizing fact-based information. Additionally, comprehensive programs are often more inclusive of students’ identities — specifically various gender identities and sexual orientations.


Schools should be responsible for educating all students about keeping themselves healthy.


However, even with comprehensive sex ed, we often fall short of inclusivity when addressing topics of pregnancy prevention and choices, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

As educators and providers of sexuality information to young people, when we talk about pregnancy we often slip into language that assumes (heterosexual and cisgender) identities, which leaves many folks out of the conversation. We all have a gender identity, a sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors that we engage in — sometimes those pieces line up in a way that is “predictable,” but oftentimes, they don’t.

For example, in working with a student who is a cisgender girl, how often are we going to automatically assume she is attracted to boys, and that she will then be having vaginal/penile sex and therefore be at risk for unintended pregnancy? The answer is often. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Searching for an HIV Vaccine

Ever since the dawn of the AIDS era, researchers have worked nonstop to develop an HIV vaccine. In 1984, Margaret Heckler of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services famously (over)promised that a vaccine would be ready for testing in two years. But it’s taken much, much longer. This Saturday, May 18, is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, a celebration of the patients, community members, and scientists who are hard at work bringing this vaccine into existence.


Only one vaccine — still in the experimental stage — has shown any effectiveness against HIV.


Hiding from the Immune System

Vaccines are inspired by our own bodies’ ability to fight disease. Usually, when our immune system encounters a threat, it takes note of the viral “antigens,” which are like facial features — a button nose, say, or dramatically arched eyebrows — that make it instantly recognizable. It creates “antibodies,” weapons that can target those antigens like guided missiles. Often, the immune system can remember the distinguishing facial features so it’s ready to attack if the enemy ever returns — giving us immunity, possibly for life.

Vaccines take advantage of our natural ability to create these immune memories by exposing our immune systems to antigens without actually exposing us to infectious viruses. Think of it as a “wanted” poster that helps the immune system recognize “bad guys” before it actually sees them on the street, enabling it to attack and destroy them before they cause disease. Continue reading

Enjoying the Condom of Today While Waiting for the Condom of the Future

When the “consent condom” was introduced last month, it made a minor media splash. The developers of this new condom, packaged in a box that required four hands to open, sought to place the concept of consent at the center of all sexual interactions.

Almost as soon as it grabbed its first headlines, however, the consent condom attracted criticism from multiple sources. Is consent an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time agreement? Can’t consent be revoked? Do these condoms marginalize people with disabilities that preclude them from opening the box? Couldn’t a rapist force a victim to help open the box, or enlist the assistance of an accomplice? Could they be used as misleading evidence against claims of sexual assault?


With STD rates skyrocketing, more people need to learn how to get the most from condoms — the most protection, the most comfort, and the most pleasure.


Despite the negative reaction, the fact remains that the consent condom succeeded in one goal: provoking public dialogue about the complexity and primacy of consent. It isn’t likely to be a commercial success: Even if a few are sold as novelties, a condom that comes with built-in obstacles doesn’t seem destined for popularity. After all, if regular condoms were too tricky for the inept baby boomers on Seinfeld to master, a complicated gadget requiring four coordinated hands to spring loose probably isn’t going to be a breeze for millennials.

Continue reading

Victories and Vigilance

If you are keeping count, last week saw the 100th day of our Arizona state legislative session. Some might say that the lack of any outright proposals to attack abortion during this legislative session should feel wonderful. It does.

But — although there has been a 63 percent increase in six-week abortion bans introduced in state legislatures across the country — Arizona has seen zero bills further reducing access to reproductive health care because Arizona is already one of the most over-regulated states in the country for abortion care. It does not mean progress has been achieved when it comes to gender equality.

Remaining Vigilant

Instead of introducing another ban on abortion, Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) decided to go after state funding for 2-1-1, a hotline that connects people with resources across Arizona, especially in times of need. Cathi Herrod, who leads CAP, is jeopardizing more than 900,000 Arizonans’ connection to critical social services for $33 worth of calls from people seeking information on their private, constitutionally protected right to abortion care. It is simply more proof that Arizonans’ health, safety, and practical needs are being dismissed for an extremist agenda at the expense of our collective well-being.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to move forward and the efforts to pass it this session have been stopped in their tracks. Even with the groundswell of women who led in voting in the midterms, it is still an uphill battle to get the ERA passed and eventually ratified.

Celebrating Victories

These setbacks have not deterred our endorsed legislators, who piece by piece are getting protections and advancements for people’s rights to the governor’s desk. Continue reading

Gloria Steinem Inspired More Than 1,500 at Phoenix Event

Reminder: “We are linked, not ranked,” uttered Gloria Steinem in a room of more than 1,500 supporters from all across the state gathered last week for the 2019 Stand with Planned Parenthood Phoenix Luncheon. It spurred all of us, across generations, to hold onto the common connection that brought us there: a decades-long battle for equality and fundamental recognition that our bodies are our own.

Many try to weasel away from a feminist label, dodge the realities of the power still wielded over us, and say that waiting our turn will mean we will finally get what we deserve. Then there are brave people like our health center escorts who understand that being able to walk safely and with your head held high into a Planned Parenthood health center is worth dedicating every ounce of effort because it’s that crucial and that basic. The luncheon reminded us that there will always be naysayers, people who tell candidates like the Raquels, the Kates, the Katies, the Gregs, the Kyrstens, the AOCs, that you cannot stand proud for reproductive freedom and expect to win — but they did.

Kate Gallego addresses Planned Parenthood supporters. Photo: Facebook

The event was both a celebration and a recommitment. It was a call not to give up and return the favor. Gloria Steinem in her fireside chat with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona Board chair, Chris Love, reminded us time and time again what we already know but needed to hear from someone who has seen this struggle from the thick of it. Steinem spoke about how feminism, in its nascence and now, has always been carried by women of color and they are beyond due for the whitewashing to be stripped away. Continue reading

Ending a Wanted Pregnancy: Jacqueline’s Story

The following guest post comes to us via Jacqueline M.

My name is Jacqueline. I’m 31, part of the upper-middle class, happily married to the love of my life, and I had a second-trimester abortion.

My world turned upside down on February 4, 2019. At my 19.5-week ultrasound, the tech became strangely quiet following several minutes of joking with my husband and me. I thought nothing of it as my eyes obsessed over every inch of my little girl on the screen. The ultrasound complete, I cleaned the cold gel off of my belly and eagerly dressed to go speak with my PA.


“As all of my daydreams about raising a child vanished in an onslaught of medical terminology, my husband and I knew one thing: We could not put our daughter through the brief life of agony that awaited her.”


When she walked in the door, I excitedly gushed my questions and observations, which she answered without the enthusiasm I had come to expect during my appointments with her. When I finally paused, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’ve noticed what looks to be an omphalocele. Your daughter will need surgery the moment she is born to put her intestines back inside of her, but there is a 90 percent survival rate. There is also a 3-inch cyst on your ovaries. It’s so large that we can’t tell whether it’s on one or both, and we need to send you to a high-risk prenatal doctor.”

Sad and afraid, but determined, we went to see the high-risk OB the very next day. I was given a detailed level 2 ultrasound by a tech, and I took in all of the tiny details of my little girl that I wasn’t able to enjoy from the quality of my routine images: her tiny toes, a dainty hand, the small curve in her button nose. I gobbled her up, my daughter, my first child, still completely unaware of how terribly wrong my pregnancy had gone. Continue reading

Reproductive Health-Care Providers Challenge Arizona Laws That Put Women’s Health at Risk

On Thursday, April 11, women’s reproductive health-care providers filed a federal lawsuit seeking to remove Arizona TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that prevent and delay many women from accessing abortion. The lawsuit was filed by reproductive health-care provider Planned Parenthood Arizona and individual clinicians represented by O’Melveny & Myers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Squire Patton Boggs.

Arizona’s extreme, medically unnecessary TRAP laws violate Arizona women’s constitutional right to access legal abortion. Their effect has been dramatic: a 40 percent decline in abortion clinics, leaving 80 percent of Arizona counties with no access to abortion clinics, and weeks-long waiting times for services. There is only one abortion provider in the northern part of the state, and that health center only provides medication abortion one day per week.

“Arizona lawmakers have made it difficult or even impossible for women to access safe, legal abortion,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “Medically unnecessary laws that only serve to attack women’s rights and put women’s health at risk should be overturned to protect women’s health and rights.” Continue reading