STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading

Abstinence Education Harms LGTBQ+ Youth

Did you know that lesbian, bisexual, and gay teens are just as (if not more) likely to have or father a teen pregnancy than their heterosexual peers? Furthermore, as most major data sources fail to gather data on gender identity, the trans teen pregnancy rate is largely unknown.

Last month was Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. This month, June, is LGBT Pride Month. That makes now the perfect time to discuss queer teen pregnancy and what we can do about it.


We can create a world where every young person feels empowered to make choices for themselves, and where every pregnancy is planned and wanted.


To combat queer teen pregnancy, reduce homophobia, and save taxpayer money, the federal government should redirect the $90 million budget for abstinence education toward LGBTQ+ inclusive comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs. All too often, sexual health education focuses on heterosexual and cisgender youth. LGBTQ+ people are often only discussed in tandem with HIV/AIDS. As a result, queer youth report that sex ed feels irrelevant to their needs and further stigmatizes them. Worse yet, the federal government spends $90 million annually on sexual health education programs that teach sexual abstinence instead of equipping young people with the tools and resources they need.

This may soon change — but not for the better: President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, while maintaining $85 million dollars for abstinence education programs. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Deja Foxx

    Let’s kick this thing off with some good news — two states have passed laws making it easier for women to access birth control! Yay! (Elite Daily)

  • If you live in the Phoenix metro area, you may wanna check out this handy map on the prevalence of STDs in your ZIP code! (ABC 15)
  • In other local news, Tucson teen Deja Foxx is a fearless powerhouse. She courageously advocates for others, heroically stood up to Sen. Jeff Flake, and sings the praises of Planned Parenthood every chance she gets. We are SO in awe of her and SO thankful for her advocacy! (WaPo)
  • Extensive research by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows there are broad economic benefits of increased contraception use — not just for women but for society overall. (Salon)
  • Of course sexism played a huge role in Hillary’s 2016 election loss. (XX Factor)
  • Rewire‘s Yamani Hernandez explains why framing abortion as an economic issue that affects our survival may be the only way to make people understand how crucial our right to this choice is. (Rewire)
  • Texas’ maternal mortality rate doubled over a two-year period. Not coincidentally, this was the same two-year period of time in which the state gutted Planned Parenthood and forced most of our health centers in the state to close. Additionally, more than half of all births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid, but coverage for new mothers ends just 60 days after childbirth. The majority of the 189 maternal deaths the task force looked at from 2011 to 2012 occurred after the 60-day mark. (Texas Observer)
  • Texas also has the highest birth rate in the U.S. (more than half paid for through Medicaid), and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Medicaid births — most likely unintended pregnancies — rose in areas where access to PP was barred. (Austin Chronicle)
  • And in case you were wondering, Texas is not done clobbering reproductive options and rights. Their governor just signed what is being described as a “sweeping anti-abortion law.” (The Cut)
  • The latest medical science discovery: A vaginal gel containing tenofovir, an antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV infection, was three times as effective at preventing HIV in women who had healthy vaginal bacterial communities as it was in women with a less beneficial mix. (Science News)
  • Gotta love this headline: “President Who Bragged About Extramarital Sex Appoints Top Abstinence Advocate to HHS” (XX Factor)

Meet Our Candidates: Lela Alston for Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

Phoenix Union High School District governing board candidate Lela Alston is back and at it again. A longtime school teacher and current member of the House of Representatives, Ms. Alston is running for reelection to the governing board of the Phoenix Union High School District. Ms. Alston’s impressive track record of public service reflects her commitment to Arizona’s children and families, for whom she is striving to build a better future. As a school board member, Ms. Alston will continue to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education programs, fight for adequate funding, and celebrate inclusivity and diversity.


“Our students will be healthier in their current lives and in their future lives if they have full knowledge of important subjects such as contraception and HIV/AIDS.”


Ms. Alston participated in our “Meet Our Candidates” series in 2012 and 2014 as a candidate for the House of Representatives, and on October 10, 2016, she graciously agreed to a telephone interview in which she discussed her candidacy for PUHSD school board.

Tell us a little about your background and why it’s important to you to be involved with education in your community.

I am a retired teacher from PUHSD, and I was asked to run by my colleagues when they felt the board was not supportive of students, faculty, and other employees. I have long been involved in the political world, and I have always had education, children, and families at the top of my agenda. I served in the state Senate from 1977 to 1995, and in 1994 I ran for State School Superintendent and lost to Lisa Graham Keegan. After that, I went back to teaching school full time. I retired 10 years ago, and eight years ago there was an opening on the school board for which I was asked to run. I am now running for my third term on the school board and I have in the meantime gone back to serving my legislative district in the state House. This year I will be starting my seventh year in the House, so I will be term-limited from the House after this next two years.

As a teacher I taught home-economics, and my master’s is in child development and human relations, so the issues of education, family, and children just kind of naturally fit with the issues I have championed all my adult life. Continue reading

The Best of 2015: A Year of Blogging

Every week, we publish new material on the blog — a feat that would not be possible without the dedication and talents of our amazing volunteer bloggers! It is our not-so-humble opinion that the blog publishes high-quality, informative, insightful, and sometimes downright fun pieces, and the entire Planned Parenthood Arizona family is so proud to have it as a showcase. To commemorate another successful year of blogging, we asked our bloggers to pick their favorite posts from 2015.

holding hands from backRebecca usually writes about contraception, but in 2015 she conceptualized the new Teen Talk series, aimed at our younger readers but still plenty relevant to people of all ages. One of her favorite pieces was about the decision to abstain from sexual activity. While we live in a culture in which a lot of us feel pressure to have sex — even before we’re ready — we all have the right to make our own choices about sex, including the choice not to have it! For some of us, saying no can be hard, but can also be liberating. The issue of abstinence is highly fraught in our culture, but we love Rebecca’s deft and respectful handling of the topic.

gloria thumbnailAnne is our newest blogger, and we have been blessed by her lively prose! Anne’s favorite post was called Abortion: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, in which she wrote about the growing movement to fight stigma by “shouting our abortions” — rather than whispering about them or staying quiet. Given that 1 in 3 women has had an abortion yet the topic remains so taboo, the issue is largely shrouded in secrecy and silence. Anne shares her own story — and speaks powerfully about why it’s so important to shatter that silence once and for all. If “coming out” was so successful for the LGBTQ community, will it also help foster compassion and spread visibility for the many people who have had abortions?

breastfeedingCynthia was another new addition to the blogging team this year, and her debut post was also her favorite. In August, to celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, Cynthia shared her sweet story of breastfeeding and bonding. She wrote about how breastfeeding her son was the most “rewarding, challenging, frustrating, amazing, and empowering” thing she’s ever done. Breast milk has myriad benefits for both mother and baby, and Cynthia covered many of them in an informative post interwoven with her personal experiences and insights.

Stadium thumbnailMatt continues to write insightful posts about the intersection between the personal and the political. In August, Matt helped herald the football season with his look at how expanding the University of Arizona’s stadium shrunk abortion access in the state. As he so eloquently wrote, “Abortion was never meant to be a bargaining chip. It was sacrificed in 1974 to give more football fans a seat at the game. It’s time undo the damage and give more abortion supporters a seat in the legislature.” Whether you’re a Wildcats fan or simply interested in learning more about this chapter in reproductive-justice history, we think you’ll be fascinated (and enraged) to learn about the stadium deal.

Anna is a graduate student in health sciences who has carved out a niche for herself as our unofficial STD blogger. One topic she keeps coming back to is antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which is classified as an “urgent threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thanks to the bacteria’s ability to evolve so quickly, we only have one good antibiotic left to cure this serious infection — and no new ones on the horizon. Find out how the bacteria that cause gonorrhea are able to evade our pharmaceutical arsenal, whether they’re having “bacteria sex” with one another or grabbing genes from their cousins. These bugs have a unique talent for altering their genes, which would be admirable if it weren’t so worrying!

Harvey Milk Day thumbnailMichelle celebrated Harvey Milk Day with a touching tribute to this pioneering LGBTQ leader, who would have blown out 85 candles on his birthday cake last May — if his life hadn’t been cut short in a senseless and tragic assassination in 1978. As one of the first openly gay politicians ever to be elected to public office, Milk sponsored an anti-discrimination bill, fought to establish daycare centers for working mothers, helped to increase low-cost housing options, and consistently advocated for the rights of all marginalized communities. Check out Michelle’s piece to learn more about Harvey Milk, what he accomplished, and why his legacy is so important to celebrate!

condom and hand thumbnailJon joined us early this year — first as an intern, and then as a volunteer blogger. We loved the piece he wrote about the place birth control has in his life, especially in a world in which the birth control burden can too often fall on women’s shoulders alone. Jon used condoms to take responsibility for his part in preventing pregnancy, and to boost the effectiveness of his partners’ birth control pills. With typical use, condoms and oral contraceptives can combine to be more than 98 percent effective! For Jon, birth control helped him plan his future, complete his education, and forge relationships — and condoms were an essential component of that toolkit.

standwithpp pic thumbnailKelley actually isn’t a Planned Parenthood volunteer — they’re our public policy manager! That didn’t stop them from contributing some strong pieces to the blog. For Trans Awareness Month, Kelley shared their journey to living authentically — a post that was both heartfelt yet humorous, personal yet universal. In Arizona, Kelley can be fired for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression — but feels lucky to have found a supportive home with Planned Parenthood. No matter what month it is, Planned Parenthood supports the trans community because we stand for autonomy over one’s own body, identity, and decisions.

World AIDS Day: Fighting the Stigma Is Half the Battle

RibbonThey say words can never hurt you, but in certain parts of the world, there are three letters that can take away everything dear to you: HIV.

Can you imagine having your family disown you? What if doctors refused to treat you, even with basic care? What would it feel like if you were not allowed to pursue any form of education? How about if you had no possibility of a future with a romantic partner?


We will never make strides in preventing HIV transmission until we confront the taboos that surround it.


This is reality for millions of men, women, and children in sub-Saharan Africa who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. As of 2013, that number was 24.7 million, which accounts for the vast majority of the world’s total reported cases, which by 2014 approached 37 million people, 2.6 million of whom were children. In 2013 alone, 1.5 million sub-Saharan Africans were newly infected. Since the first case was reported in 1981, a certain stigma has always lingered around the disease. Many in the United States refer to it as the “gay disease” or accuse those infected of bestiality. They may say that someone who has been diagnosed should avoid intimacy, believing that a person with HIV is incapable of functional relationships without infecting their partner. In Africa, the implications are even more harsh. Often believed to be a “curse from God,” many regions exile an infected person from their community.

Worse, the stigma does not stop with individuals. It bleeds into the legal, political, and economic arenas as well. This is true worldwide. Some places have prosecuted women for transmitting the virus to their child, or have prosecuted individuals for not disclosing their positive status even if they have reached an undetectable viral load through antiretroviral therapy (ART). The discrimination surrounding a positive diagnosis is cited as the primary hurdle in addressing prevention and care. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Bacterial Vaginosis a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Not to scale: Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common vaginal infection among people 15 to 44 years of age. It’s caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis. A healthy vagina hosts thriving populations of Lactobacillus bacteria species, but when these “good” bacteria are crowded out by certain types of “bad” bacteria, the vaginal ecosystem can be shifted, causing BV.

There is a lot of confusion about BV. Is it a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? What are the symptoms? How can you avoid it?

All good questions. Let’s examine them one by one.

Is BV an STD?

The consensus seems to be that BV isn’t officially an STD, but even reliable sources have somewhat contradictory information. Planned Parenthood doesn’t list BV as an STD on their informational webpages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does include BV on their STD website, but also says that “BV is not considered an STD.”

On the other hand, the Office on Women’s Health says that “BV can … be caused by vaginal, oral, or anal sex” and that “you can get BV from male or female partners.” And there’s an entire chapter devoted to BV in the premier medical textbook on STDs, and its authors say that, while sexually inexperienced females can get BV, “the weight of evidence supports sexual transmission” of G. vaginalis, the bacteria species most famously implicated in BV infections.

The same webpage on which the CDC declared BV not to be an STD also says that it can be transferred between female sexual partners. Indeed, women who have sex with women have higher rates of BV. Since vaginal fluid could spread BV, partners can change condoms when a sex toy is passed from one to another, and use barriers like dental dams when engaging in cunnilingus (oral contact with the female genitalia) or rimming (oral contact with the anus).

What about heterosexual transmission? Continue reading