Sexual Health Made Simple(-Minded)

OK, here’s all you need to know if you want to be completely safe. Don’t engage in sex with anyone (or anything) except yourself. Come to think of it, do you really know where yourself has been lately? Better be safe than sorry.


Who would you rather believe? Movie stars or scientists and doctors?


Admittedly, this is a tad extreme. Fortunately, all you need do is go on Facebook or Google and you’ll find a plethora of cool-sounding, stylish, and evidence-based strategies to keep you safe. Well, maybe not the latter. But who needs evidence? Who’s got time to read dry, long-winded articles written by doctors and scientists about prissy, painstaking experiments taking years or decades when you could be out having fun? Besides, if something is on Facebook or Google then it must be true, right?

Condom Alternatives for Guys Who Hate Condoms

Need a sexual health tip fast? Just pull one off the ’net. Oh, here’s one for you guys who don’t like using condoms. Not to worry. There’s a little adhesive sticker called a Jiftip that you merely affix to the tip of your penis before sex. “Nothing gets in or out until you remove” it, the company claims on its website, which means that just before climax you must abruptly pull out of your partner as gracefully as possible under the circumstances so you can ejaculate wherever.

In all fairness to the company, which simply wishes to offer an alternative product for people who don’t like condoms, their website warns against using it to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

Which does bring up a HUGE question: So why use it? Their answer? First, it’s cheap — only $6 a pack. So hey, what’s stopping you? Maybe, despite all biological facts to the contrary, the product just might work for you. “How can anyone know — until they try?” Best of all, “Jiftip has no side-effects” … that is, aside from getting pregnant or catching an STD. Continue reading

Abortion: What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

sunsetPlenty, actually. Whenever I hear a politician claiming he or she is a person of faith, I cringe. All too often it’s followed by the words: “I believe in the sanctity of all life, which is why I’m against abortions and will work to defund Planned Parenthood.”

In one sense, faith is a belief in a supreme being or in a particular religion. Not all religions are opposed to abortion, however. A 2013 Pew Research article reveals a wide range of opinions.

Traditional Judaism, for example, approves abortion as “a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of a mother.” Most of the branches openly support a woman’s right to safe and accessible abortions.


Let’s build bridges across our beliefs, instead of building ideological walls between one another.


Though Buddhism has no official position on abortion, many Buddhists hold the belief that human life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is morally wrong. However, in Japan, with a large Buddhist population, abortions are common.

Traditional Hinduism condemns abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. It follows the general value system “that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved.”

Although Islamic scholars disagree over exactly when life begins or when abortion is acceptable, most view terminating a pregnancy after four months — “the point at which, in Islam, a fetus is thought to become a living soul” — as not permissible. Many also believe that, prior to four months, abortions should only be permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can I Use Plastic Wrap as a Dental Dam During Oral Sex?

plastic wrapIf you read this blog — or any sexual health website, really — you’ll probably see dental dams getting a lot of props. A dental dam (not to be confused with a female condom) is a square piece of latex that can cover the vaginal opening or the anus. Anyone wishing to avoid the oral transmission of STDs like herpes, gonorrhea, HPV, syphilis, chlamydia, and intestinal parasites, dental-dam advocates say, should use a latex barrier. Most people, however, have probably never even seen a dental dam, and they are not widely used. Perhaps their unpopularity is related to myths about oral sex being safe sex (it’s not!); perhaps it’s due to dental dams being expensive or difficult to find.


Plastic wrap hasn’t been evaluated by the FDA for STD prevention, and no studies have assessed its effectiveness in reducing disease risk during oral sex.


Some safer-sex aficionados have found ways around that, though. They might cut the tips off of condoms and make incisions along the sides, creating little latex rectangles. An even easier and cheaper option lies in plastic wrap, which many people use as a barrier while performing cunnilingus (oral contact with the female genitalia) or rimming (oral contact with the anus). It is inexpensive, easy to find, odorless, and tasteless, and can be purchased without even a hint of embarrassment (unless perhaps your other purchases include duct tape, cucumbers, and clothes pins). And it can be pulled off the roll in sheets as long as your heart desires!

Planned Parenthood endorses the use of plastic wrap for oral sex when dental dams aren’t available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and AIDS.gov both recommend plastic wrap for use during rimming. Health authorities, such as AIDS.gov and the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, recommend non-microwavable Saran Wrap, because microwave-safe Saran Wrap has tiny pores to let out steam — which might also let viruses and bacteria through. Continue reading

Mythbusting: Does Abortion Cause Breast Cancer?

breast-examNew England Journal of Medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association. Annals of Internal MedicineJournal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong. But how can most laypeople differentiate between these medical journals? The dry, pithy titles seem to tell you exactly what’s underneath their covers. So if I told you that, according to a study in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, abortion increases risk for breast cancer, would you believe me? Well, why not? The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which publishes the journal, sounds legit.


Health decisions must be guided by reliable evidence, and when agenda-driven policies misinform, patients cannot make informed decisions.


Except that AAPS is infamous for its agenda-driven views, and its journal is used to deny climate change and the dangers of secondhand smoking, promote the debunked idea that vaccines cause autism, advocate for closed borders in overtly racist anti-immigration pieces, reject the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, and perpetuate a far-right political worldview. The organization opposes any government involvement in health care, including the FDA, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and regulation of the medical profession.

Medical journals, like all scientific journals, are where researchers share and critique each other’s work. Before anything is published it undergoes “peer review,” in which experts evaluate studies for quality — good study design, reasonable interpretation of results, etc. The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, however, has been criticized for placing ideology over the presentation of meticulously gathered scientific evidence, and is not indexed in academic databases like MEDLINE. In 2007, AAPS joined conservative organizations in filing a lawsuit against the FDA, arguing against emergency contraception’s over-the-counter status. So, when the journal publishes articles purporting a link between abortion and breast cancer, we should all be raising our eyebrows in collective skepticism.

You might have heard abortion opponents’ claims that abortion can raise one’s risk for breast cancer later in life. So let’s get something out of the way right now: The very best scientific evidence does not support a link between abortion and breast cancer. Prominent medical organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the World Health Organization, have all examined the entirety of the research and found that the largest and most methodologically sound studies fail to reveal a link between abortion and breast cancer. Yet still opponents of abortion include this factoid in misinformation campaigns to instill fear into people making difficult, private decisions, often during periods of vulnerability. Continue reading

Can Herpes Be Cured Naturally?

Many of us are infected with herpes simplex virus, which can be transmitted sexually to cause genital herpes. Although herpes is incurable, there are antivirals that can help reduce symptoms. But, because not everyone wants to take pharmaceuticals, a lot of us might seek alternatives in an attempt to treat or even cure our herpes infections.


“Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe or effective, so be critical.


For centuries, we have treated herpes in many ways — though not necessarily successfully! In the early 1800s, a British treatment involved placing lint between the tip of the penis and the foreskin. It was claimed that this would cause herpes lesions to heal within 14 days — not coincidentally, this is about how long it takes for them to heal on their own, untreated. Later that century, a London surgeon promoted an arsenic-based solution as a cure for recurrent herpes outbreaks. He presented the cases of a couple of patients. One had been suffering from outbreaks for six years, and after a course of this treatment he allegedly never experienced them again. Another patient had been experiencing recurring outbreaks for four years, and after taking this treatment for a year, his outbreaks “became less and finally cleared altogether.”

We now know that, even without treatment, herpes outbreaks generally become less severe over time, and often stop flaring up completely. When outbreaks do occur, they clear on their own, without treatment. This phenomenon is called “regression to the mean,” and many promoters of bogus remedies rely on it for the appearance that their products work. Because we often think that two things that happen at the same time are related, and that one causes the other, we might attribute the clearing of our herpes lesions to whatever “treatment” we were taking, regardless of whether or not it actually benefited us.

The only way we can know if treatments actually work is to compare them with standard medications or placebos (such as identical-looking sugar pills) in well-designed clinical trials. In such studies, patients are assigned to either medication or placebo at random, which is called “randomization” and is like flipping a coin. And, to protect against introducing bias into the study’s outcomes, trials should be “double-blinded,” meaning that neither researchers nor patients know whether the placebo or the medication under study is being administered. The “miracle cures” you hear about usually haven’t been subjected to such scientific rigor — if they have, the results usually aren’t promising. Continue reading

Are Pap Tests Accurate?

If you follow health news, you might have noticed some controversy over certain cancer-screening methods: Does the evidence support mammograms as a tool to reduce breast cancer deaths? Are PSA tests effective in saving lives from prostate cancer? These are questions that we are beginning to answer as more and more evidence comes in. But don’t let these questions dissuade you from all cancer screening.


With regular Pap testing, cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable.


In fact, although we’re reevaluating data for other cancer-screening methods, we have mountains of solid evidence that the Pap test is one of the best cancer-screening methods out there. Because it detects signature mutations that mark cells as headed toward becoming cancerous, Pap testing detects “pre” cancer while other cancer-screening techniques, like mammography, only detect cancer.

Cervical cancer used to be a top killer in developed nations — and it remains a major cause of death in countries without widespread health-care access — but in the last 50 years, cervical cancer deaths fell by 70 percent in the United States, transforming cervical cancer from the leading cause of cancer death among American women to a less common, nearly preventable cancer. Despite this, you might hear people complain that the Pap test isn’t accurate, citing the possibility of receiving “false positive” or “false negative” results.

A Pap test looks for abnormalities in cervical cells, and you can receive one of these four results:

True Positive: Cellular abnormalities are detected, and they are in fact present. True Negative: Cellular abnormalities are not detected, and in fact the cells are normal.
False Positive: Cellular abnormalities are detected, but the cells are actually normal. False Negative: Cellular abnormalities are not detected, but are actually present.

When we receive a true positive result, we can receive treatment for precancerous lesions that in fact might otherwise lead to cancer. Likewise, when we receive a true negative result, no further treatment is needed. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Dr. Richard Carmona for U.S. Senator

The Arizona general election will be held on November 6, 2012, with early voting starting on October 11. After the many recent legislative challenges to reproductive health care access, both nationally and statewide, the importance of voting in November can’t be overstated. To help voters, Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive health and freedom. Along with those endorsements, we are spotlighting our endorsed candidates in a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” To vote in the general election, you must register to vote by October 9 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2012!

When announcing Dr. Richard Carmona’s endorsement by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, President Cecile Richards said that “Arizona women need a champion who has long fought to protect and promote women’s health representing them in Washington” — and as a former U.S. surgeon general, Carmona is uniquely positioned to advocate for scientifically driven, rather than agenda-driven, policies on health and medicine.


“Health care should not be politicized.”


Carmona already has experience fighting for evidence-based health policy in an increasingly polarized political climate. After leaving his position as surgeon general, Carmona testified before Congress that the George W. Bush administration continually hampered his attempts to present scientifically sound public health policy when it conflicted with their political agenda. As Carmona said in his testimony, the Bush administration silenced him on many issues, including emergency contraception and comprehensive sex education — and the public was denied access to the latest unbiased evidence on important public health issues.

Carmona is running against Republican challenger Jeff Flake to succeed Jon Kyl as U.S. senator from Arizona. Flake’s congressional voting record is problematic, and includes support for an amendment to the Affordable Care Act to prohibit abortion coverage, support for defunding Planned Parenthood, and a vote against expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

As a U.S. senator, Carmona can bring his lifetime of experience as a physician and public-health expert to the legislature. When it comes to our medical care, no matter our political affiliations, we all need access to the best scientific evidence, and we need someone who will be a champion for our health in the U.S. Senate.

Dr. Carmona generously took time for an interview with us via telephone on October 3, 2012.


Many of us, including myself, are becoming increasingly concerned about the hostility toward science exhibited by some of our current lawmakers. What can you do to inject reason and scientific evidence into an increasingly politicized discourse about public health?

Well, first and foremost, if you remember my tenure as surgeon general, I had to do that. There was a lot of ideological, nonscientific-driven sentiment, and when necessary I stood up and I addressed the issues appropriately. It wasn’t a perfect world, especially when you have many of those ideologues thinking differently, but nevertheless, I will do the same thing as a senator.

And I think I enter the Senate with, if you will, the imprimatur of being a surgeon general and a trauma surgeon and a registered nurse and a paramedic. I bring all those years of cumulative science to the table as I discuss things with my colleagues. And although they may be ideologically driven, and I will certainly acknowledge their personal beliefs, that’s not science and it’s not fact. Continue reading