How Birth Control Empowered Me

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

As many of you reading this blog post probably already know, birth control is not “optional” health care. It is not a bartering chip, nor is it something our society can do without. It is a needed part of health care, just like any other medication.

Rarely does the birth control conversation extend far beyond pregnancy prevention. But actually, what birth control does for women has a far wider reach, because birth control empowers us to live our own lives, exercise bodily autonomy, and have a choice over what the future looks like for us, in more ways than one. I know firsthand how birth control can do that.


Everyone deserves bodily autonomy.


Because birth control gave me my life back.

Growing up, periods were something nobody really talked about with me. There was just a set of norms I had to face. Your period was never something you talked about above a whisper, or through the use of code names that no male around you was supposed to understand. If you leaked blood through the pad, you were supposed to find a way to hide it and not tell anyone, because it would be shameful if anyone around you knew you were menstruating.

I had grown up with other aspects of my body being sexualized by people around me (breasts, hips, really any new curves that suddenly showed up), but this was a different kind of shame. My period was gross. The time of the month where I bled suddenly made me disgusting, even though it was a normal part of growing up. Stereotypes of women having their periods as being bitchy, having mood swings, screaming in pain, or something for people to stay away from because it was that “time of the month again,” suddenly applied to me. So I just learned not to talk about it, and hide it as best as I could. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can I Get Gonorrhea from Kissing?

Not all types of kissing feature the exchange of saliva.

Some pretty depressing news hit a couple of months ago, when headlines proclaimed kissing could allow gonorrhea to jump from one person to another.

We already knew gonorrhea could be transmitted during oral sex — a terrible fact, given that most people don’t use condoms or dental dams during oral sex. And we knew that oral gonorrhea is more likely to develop drug resistance, which could be helping to drive the possibly untreatable gonorrhea of the near future.


Mouth-to-mouth kissing could be transmitting gonorrhea right under our noses — literally.


Gonorrhea is most famous as an infection of the cervix or the urethra. But the bacteria that cause gonorrhea can thrive in other warm, moist areas of your body — not just the reproductive tract, but also in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus. Unprotected oral sex can allow those bacteria to travel in either direction between one person’s genitals and another person’s throat.

But what about mouth-to-mouth kissing, like French kissing? Is that enough to allow these bacteria to hitch a ride from one mouth to another? Previous research, using a mathematical model, estimated that mouth-to-mouth contact might be a significant — and underappreciated — mode of gonorrhea transmission. But that was a mathematical model, a sophisticated equation using what we know about a population’s gonorrhea prevalence and sexual behavior to estimate how frequently the infection is transmitted from one mouth to another. Continue reading

Who Knew? Hobby Lobby Is a Person

Five years ago this week, on June 30, 2014, for the first time in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that some for-profit corporations could, like human beings, exercise religious beliefs and exempt themselves from general laws that violate those beliefs. Five justices bestowed upon a handful of business owners the right to deny thousands of their employees the contraception method of their choice otherwise guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Guess who performed this legal baptism?

The Hobby Lobby majority quintet: Justices Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Scalia. Source: Media Matters, June 30, 2014

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority quintet. His rationale seemed to be:

  • The statute at issue, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), doesn’t specifically exclude for-profit corporations as protected “persons” who collectively exercise religion and deserve exemption from laws, so the court relies on the legal Dictionary Act, which states: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise … the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
  • Religious exemption requests are taken at face value — without regard for actual scientific evidence. In the Hobby Lobby case, the religious exemption was requested based on the claim that some forms of contraception are infanticide (Plan B, ella, and IUDs). (Such claims are false. Per the Guttmacher Institute, “The weight of the evidence clearly shows that emergency contraceptives and IUDs are not abortifacients.”)
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not implemented a legally acceptable accommodation for for-profit corporations (our new “persons”). Alito suggested a workaround that the government provide these women contraceptives (with tax dollars) instead. (Subsequent to the decision, an HHS accommodation was reached to allow these closely held, for-profit corporations to use the same opt-out procedure allowed for entities operated by religious groups — e.g., universities, hospitals, and charities).
  • This is a narrow decision that won’t open the floodgates of other religious objections to other laws. (More on this later.)

Continue reading

STD Awareness: Trichomoniasis, the Pear-Shaped, Blood-Sucking, Silent Scourge

What’s shaped like a pear, hangs with a posse of bacteria, and is a silent scourge upon millions of urogenital tracts? I hope you guessed Trichomonas vaginalis, the single-celled parasite that causes trichomoniasis, or trich (pronounced “trick”). Trich is the most common curable sexually transmitted disease out there — currently afflicting around 3.7 million Americans and 156 million Earthlings.


These single-celled creatures pack a punch, but the body fights back.


When trich causes symptoms, sufferers might experience vaginal discharge (which sometimes has a bad odor), penile burning or discharge, spotting, and itching or swelling in the genital area. But around 70 percent of infections have no symptoms at all, making it a mostly “silent” disease. Based on the totality of the evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t currently recommend routine screening for trich in people without symptoms.

But it’s the subject of some debate. Since both symptoms and screenings are rare, and the disease isn’t reportable, some health experts worry that trich could be doing a lot of damage right under our noses. An infection during pregnancy could increase risk for preterm labor or low birth weight. It can increase risk for both acquiring and transmitting HIV from or to a partner. Women with trich are more likely to acquire an HIV infection when sexually exposed to the virus — in fact, one study estimated that 6.2 percent of all HIV infections among U.S. women could be attributed to trich. It’s also easier to catch HIV from a man with trich than from a man without trich. Continue reading

The Gag Rule and the Abortion Bans Explained, and What You Can Do to Fight Back

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Reproductive health has been under attack in the United States for decades, and this administration is no exception. Especially within the past few months, both national and state governments have taken definitive steps to take away bodily autonomy from those who can get pregnant. Title X funding and legal abortion are both essential aspects of reproductive health care in this country, but several states have made attempts to effectively ban abortion, and the Trump administration has attempted to place restrictions on Title X funding. Although Title X is only used to fund birth control, not abortion care, the two issues are connected, as hostility toward abortion and hostility toward birth control both come from the same place.


Access to reliable birth control prevents abortion. So why is it being restricted?


Title X is a program that was passed by Congress in 1970 that provides federal funding for birth control and other reproductive services to low-income families who otherwise could not afford them. These lifesaving services include birth control, cancer screenings, wellness exams, and STD testing and treatment. Approximately 33 percent of recipients are Hispanic/Latinx, and 21 percent are black/African American. Thanks to Title X funding, in 2016, health centers provided more than 4 million STD tests, 1 million breast exams, and 720,000 Pap tests.

The gag rule that the Trump administration has issued would prevent doctors from telling women how to access abortion, prevent Planned Parenthood from providing Title X-subsidized birth control to eligible patients, and prevent health-care professionals from giving women complete and accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health. It would impose strict and unnecessary requirements on the separation of Title X-related services and abortion services. It prevents doctors from giving abortion referrals, which discourages comprehensive reproductive health centers such as Planned Parenthood from offering counseling and referrals, while encouraging the same from inadequate resources such as crisis pregnancy centers, which shame women and do not provide accurate medical information. Low-income people using Title X shouldn’t have their health care compromised by politicians playing doctor. They should receive the same high-quality care as anyone else. Continue reading

Being a Parent of a Gender-fluid Youth

My child, assigned female at birth, is discovering who they are. They have been gay, straight, pansexual, and everything in between. They have been male, female, both, and neither. They go by both their given name and the name they chose for themselves as a male.

They use the men’s restroom in public and have a “boy” haircut, but still love flowy dresses they can twirl and feel pretty in. They bind their breasts when they feel like a boy, but wear a basic bra when they feel like a girl. They don’t wear a bikini to the pool, but rather a swim shirt and trunks to feel the most comfortable in their skin.


“I am incredibly proud of the person my child is becoming and look forward to all the things they will accomplish.”


Since they now identify as both genders, but more often male, they chose the label gender-fluid. Gender-fluid means “denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender,” as from the Google dictionary.

Even though they now fit into one of the many labels available to them, it has been hard for me to accept the loss of my little girl. I have felt confusion and fear, sometimes so strangulating I fight back tears. Confusion as to whether I did something wrong in their younger years, or if there was something I could have done better to help them accept the gender they were born in. As I’ve had time to reflect, it has become apparent to me that my confusion came from a place of misunderstanding. An ignorance of how gender expression can be more than just male or female; that androgyny is an expression of gender as well, and there are many ways to explore gender other than simply what I grew up to accept. I have come to understand my child and I are on a path of self-discovery together, learning and growing into more well-rounded people as a result. Continue reading

National HIV Testing Day: A Time to Empower Yourself and Get Tested

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

It was the 1980s. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, thousands and thousands of people were dying from an illness that had never been seen before. The diagnosis was a death sentence. As soon as you had it, you would die painfully and quickly. The disease was AIDS, caused by a virus called HIV.

In the United States, this disease ravaged the LGBTQ community; gay and bisexual men were the hardest hit. The Reagan administration failed to acknowledge the disease, until Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughed about it and called it the “gay plague.” Tired of the government’s inaction, the people decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the grassroots organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987.


With modern medical treatment, people with HIV can live pretty normal lives.


They protested, made targeted demands, and created poster campaigns. They formed a network of community organizers in cities across the country, and employed radical protest strategies, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which covered the National Mall with names of people who had died from the disease. They focused their targeted efforts on specific politicians, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They did such an extensive amount of research that the activists essentially became scientists themselves. They were able to lower drug prices and get the FDA to approve experimental drugs for HIV at a quicker pace. They educated, diminished social stigma, and perhaps most important, supported medical advances that reduced AIDS-related deaths.

And finally, in 1996, scientists discovered the treatment that turned HIV from a death sentence to a chronic illness. Finally, after 15 years of tragic deaths, obsessive scientific research, and fiery activism, patients could live long and happy lives with a drug “cocktail” that could suppress the virus. Continue reading