STD Awareness: Can the HPV Vaccine Prevent Head-and-Neck Cancer?

Photo: Heather Hazzan, Self Magazine

The HPV vaccine Gardasil protects against human papillomavirus, a prolific virus that causes many types of cancer. In fact, although it was initially approved to prevent cervical cancer, the most common HPV-associated cancer is head-and-neck cancer. Last month, Gardasil 9 was finally approved for the prevention of head-and-neck cancer.

That certainly took long enough! We’ve known for a long time that HPV is behind the epidemic of head-and-neck cancers, and we’ve known that the HPV vaccine guards against infection with this virus. With HPV causing more head-and-neck cancers than any other HPV-associated cancer in the United States, this approval was long overdue.

Bearing the Burden of HPV


Gardasil 9 is now approved for the prevention of head-and-neck cancer, shining a light on this epidemic.


Although its routine use in boys and men has been recommended since 2011, the HPV vaccine is still primarily thought of as a “girl’s vaccine,” invaluable for its ability to prevent cervical cancer. For the first few years of its existence, Gardasil was only FDA-approved for girls and women, and since then it has struggled to escape its gendered connotations. While this new FDA approval doesn’t change who is eligible to receive the vaccine, it does shine some awareness on head-and-neck cancer, and gives parents more evidence that this anti-cancer vaccine is important to give to sons, not just to daughters.

Head-and-neck cancers can strike anywhere from the lips to the larynx, or voice box, and up into the sinuses and nasal cavity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 11,300 U.S. men are diagnosed with head-and-neck cancer every year, compared to 2,200 U.S women. Continue reading

Abortion Access Precedent Confirmed: June v. Russo

2016: Supreme Court decision to strike down Texas abortion law

In 2016, I posted “Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: Finally, Facts Matter,” applauding the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision to strike down a Texas law that required abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of their clinic, causing more than half the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.

On June 29, 2020, in June Medical Services v. Russo (June), the court struck down Louisiana’s near-identical attempt to erect barriers to abortion. Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan to strike down this law, but Roberts did so mostly on the basis of the Texas case precedent, not on the merits of the case argued in Justice Breyer’s majority opinion.

2020: Supreme Court decision to strike down Louisiana abortion law

Roberts wrote a concurring opinion that ended with this paragraph:

“Stare decisis instructs us to treat like cases alike. The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law. The Louisiana law burdens women seeking previability abortions to the same extent as the Texas law, according to factual findings that are not clearly erroneous. For that reason, I concur in the judgment of the Court that the Louisiana law is unconstitutional.”

Roberts joined the majority not because he’s newly supportive of abortion rights, but because he felt bound by the precedent set in 2016. Attorneys for many other abortion cases wending their ways through district and appellate courts are asking the question: “What does this mean for our cases?” Answer: “You need to structure your arguments to convince the Chief Justice.” Continue reading

At a Tucson Anti-Mask Rally, Protesters Took a Page from the Anti-Abortion Playbook

Protest sign at rally against Ohio’s pandemic mitigation efforts. Photo: Becker1999, CC BY 2.0

There’s already plenty to file under “COVID-19 and Gender.” For months now, the media and academia have examined how patriarchy and public health have been at loggerheads over pandemic safety efforts, from the macho disregard for hand-washing recommendations to the militant, armed response to Michigan’s stay-at-home order in April.

Now Tucson takes its place in that growing file, thanks to a congressional candidate and his cohorts. While many spent Juneteenth and its neighboring days reflecting on the history of slavery and the systemic racism that remains today, others obsessed over a different notion of oppression.


Protesters used a confrontational tactic described as “intimidation” by Tucson’s mayor.


Joseph Morgan, who is running in the GOP primary to represent Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, has spent recent weeks calling public health advocates “Big Brother” and characterizing Tucson city government as a monarchy. Along with that, he co-opted the “My Body, My Choice” dictum of the reproductive justice movement, a slogan he repurposed as a signal of noncompliance with public health advisories. Morgan is appalled at the idea that a deadly pandemic, which by the end of June had brought more than 119,000 deaths to the U.S., should merit any precautions that don’t fit his personal whims and anti-science politics.

Facing off Over Face Coverings: Harassing Tucson’s Mayor

On Thursday, June 18, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero signed a proclamation calling for the use of face masks in public, citing the alarming increase of COVID-19 cases in Pima County, from 2,382 at the beginning of the month to 4,329 at mid-month. In response to that rise, the proclamation mandated that Tucsonans follow CDC guidelines and use cloth face coverings to slow the spread of infections. Continue reading

STD Awareness: New STDs on the Block, and STDs Making a Comeback

Lately, a lot of us have had tunnel vision when it comes to infectious diseases. We talk about how long the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on various surfaces, even though other viruses can live on those same surfaces for even longer. We wonder if it can be sexually transmitted, while there are dozens of other bugs out there that are even more easily passed through sexual contact. There are more microbes out there than just the one that causes COVID-19, and we need to be mindful of their risks, too.

Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a piece about “old-timey” STDs that are making a comeback (think shigellosis), newer STDs to hit the scene (think Zika virus), and “classic” STDs that are finding new ways to harm us (think antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea). Let’s meet this rogues’ gallery of sexually transmitted bugs.

Shigella bacteria. Image: CDC

Shigellosis is a diarrheal disease caused by Shigella species of bacteria, which can be found in abundance in feces — making it relatively easy to pick up these bugs during sexual encounters involving oral-anal contact (“rimming” or anilingus). While Shigella are mostly transmitted through nonsexual routes, researchers have discovered that sexually transmitted shigellosis is much more likely to be resistant to multiple antibiotics — making them a serious threat.

Reduce your risk by practicing good hand hygiene and keeping a clean kitchen and bathroom; using condoms and dental dams during sex. Continue reading

Show Your Pride by Practicing Safe Sex

The last few months have been hard for everyone. COVID-19 has brought about the need for social distancing to decrease risk of spreading the disease, and we are witnessing the largest push in our nation’s history for police accountability. For those of us who already feel isolated because of our gender identity or sexuality, the stay-at-home orders can heighten the feelings of anxiety about being LGBTQ. For LGBTQ people of color, anxieties about violence are being exacerbated by recent protests regarding instances of police brutality.

However, this Pride month and every day as we continue to face this period of change we encourage you all to take a break from isolation and celebrate that we are part of a strong, supportive community. We are with you in Protest and we are with you in Pride. Let’s take a break from isolation and celebrate that we are part of a strong, supportive community.

What Is Pride Month?

We are fortunate to live in the year 2020. Yes, there are still challenges to being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, or queer, but we’ve come a long way since 1969, when it was a crime in 49 states to be queer.


Planned Parenthood is proud to serve the LGBTQ community!


On June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. This bar was a safe gathering space for LGBTQ folks, particularly transgender women. Police had regularly raided the bar before June 28, but this night was different.

Stonewall Inn, 2009. Photo: Charles Hutchins

Judy Garland, a queer icon, had passed away the previous week. There was a funeral procession for her on June 27, and mourners had gathered at the Stonewall Inn to show support for one another. Although there is no evidence the police planned to raid Stonewall on this specific night, the police interrupted the community’s moment of grief by arresting everyone at the bar. This action ignited a three-day standoff as thousands of people arrived to show their support for the LGBTQ community. Continue reading

STD Awareness: COVID-19 and Semen

You might have read the headlines earlier this month that the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in semen. Is that true — and if it is, does that mean COVID-19 can be transmitted sexually?

The short answers to those questions are yes, and we don’t know yet.


Several viruses that aren’t thought of as sexually transmitted can be found in semen.


JAMA recently published a short article about a small study conducted in China. The authors took semen from 38 people who were either recovered from COVID-19 or still in the throes of infection. Of those 38 people, six were found to have the novel coronavirus hiding out in their semen — adding semen to the list of bodily fluids in which the virus can lurk, including saliva, urine, and feces.

This study is too limited to make sweeping generalizations, but it does seem to show that it’s possible — though perhaps not overwhelmingly likely — for someone suffering from COVID-19 to be none the wiser as the virus wends its way to the body’s southern hemisphere, where it can hang out in the testes. Plus, the virus was detected not just in people with active disease, but also in people who had recovered, raising the possibility that someone can carry the virus below the belt even after symptoms are gone. Continue reading

Meet the Coronavirus Conservatives Who Put Reproductive Justice and Public Health in Danger

Protester at anti-shutdown protest in Ohio, May 1, 2020. Photo: Becker1999, CC License 2.0

After a possible exposure to the novel coronavirus in March, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted from self-isolation, “Been thinking about life and mortality today. I’d rather die gloriously in battle than from a virus. In a way it doesn’t matter. But it kinda does.”

The tweet sparked a viral meme when other Twitter users turned his words into farce, using them to caption videos and images that were wild mismatches for Rep. Gosar’s stoic reflection: a puppy tumbling around with a kitten, a giant robot marching to battle, and a crab scuttling around with a kitchen knife in its claw, to name a few examples.

The meme’s subtext seemed to be that Rep. Gosar’s macho musing was an awkward, even inappropriate, response to the public health crisis at hand. Lili Loofbourow, writing in Slate, offered her take on the emotional underpinnings of Gosar’s tweet: “It’s humiliating — emasculating, even — to be brought low by a bundle of protein and RNA.”


Public health responses to COVID-19 sparked backlash — with armed men at the forefront.


Before inspiring a meme, Rep. Gosar earned a reputation as an outspoken opponent of reproductive rights. Last year he gained notoriety for posting a poll to his House website that pitched ideas like banning the sale of “aborted baby parts” and pursuing criminal charges against abortion seekers. It was a journey through the most inflammatory accusations and bizarre conspiracy theories peddled by anti-abortion extremists.

Coronavirus and reproductive health care are two very different things. Nonetheless, either one can sideline the social attitudes that uphold gender inequality. If Loofbourow is correct about the emasculating powers of the novel coronavirus, then it seems fitting that the same politician who thinks the Grim Reaper should accommodate hypermasculine fantasies would also think of dumping widely accepted, established abortion care practices to pursue a real-life Handmaid’s Tale. Continue reading