STD Awareness: Is Syphilis Making a Comeback?

men syphilisBefore antibiotics, syphilis was the most feared sexually transmitted disease (STD) out there. It was easy to get, quack cures were ineffective and often unpleasant, and it could lead to blindness, disfigurement, dementia, or even death. When we were finally able to zap infections away with drugs like penicillin, it seemed like we’d finally won the battle against this scourge. Whereas syphilis rates were highest before antibiotics became widespread in the 1940s, by 2000 we saw a low of 2.1 cases of syphilis per 100,000. At the dawn of the new millennium, many scientists thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of syphilis.

Using condoms, regular STD testing, and limiting sex partners are the best ways for sexually active people to stay healthy.

Must all good things come to an end? They shouldn’t have to, but in the case of syphilis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that syphilis rates are rising, with incidence doubling since 2005. In the United States, there are now 5.3 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people, but that number is a bit misleading because it represents an average across the general population. When you break the population down by age, race or ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, that rate might be much higher or much lower. For example, syphilis rates are actually on the decline among women (at only 0.9 cases per 100,000), but among men it is 9.8 per 100,000. In fact, most new syphilis cases — 91.1 percent of them, to be precise — are in men, most of whom are gay or bisexual.

Syphilis is rising the most dramatically among men in their twenties, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM). While some wonder if syphilis is growing among twenty-somethings because this group didn’t live through the early era of AIDS, when HIV was seen as a death sentence and safer sex practices were more common, it might also be due to the fact that STD rates are higher among young people in general. Continue reading

Women’s Health Week: Making Time for You and Your Health!

yogaThe following guest post comes to us via Stasee McKeny, Planned Parenthood Arizona’s community engagement intern.

Mother’s Day kicks off National Women’s Health Week (May 11 to 17), a week dedicated to empowering women to make health a priority in their lives.

After celebrating Mother’s Day, make health a priority throughout Women’s Health Week!

Making health a priority isn’t always easy for women. Women are more likely than men to avoid getting necessary health care because of the cost — 30 percent of insured women didn’t fill a prescription, 21 percent didn’t see a specialist, 24 percent skipped medical test treatment or follow-up, and 27 percent had a medical problem but didn’t see a health care provider. Affording health care is significantly more difficult for women who not only make less money than their male counterparts, but also use more health care services, like 12 months of birth control. Luckily, with health care reform, these disparities are slowly changing. Close to 27 million women with private health insurance gained expanded access to preventive health care services with no cost-sharing.

More women than ever now have access to affordable health care services and there is no better time to take advantage of this. During National Women’s Health Week, women are encouraged to do a number of things — whether it is making an appointment with a health care provider for a well-woman exam or deciding to eat healthy and exercise.

Why does National Women’s Health Week matter to Planned Parenthood Arizona? Planned Parenthood Arizona is the largest nonprofit reproductive health care provider in Arizona, and has close to 60,000 visits each year from women for a variety of preventive health care services, including life-saving cancer screenings, breast exams, contraception, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment and, now, primary care. Planned Parenthood works to provide affordable, honest, compassionate care to ensure that women are able to lead healthier lives.

This year, you can celebrate National Women’s Health Week with Planned Parenthood Arizona — and enjoy five fun fitness events in two cities.

In Scottsdale, PPAZ is partnering up with a fabulous new local yoga studio, Funke Yoga.  Funke Yoga is adding three classes to their schedule during this week. The proceeds from the classes will go to Planned Parenthood Arizona to ensure we can continue to provide affordable health care services to women. Take the time out of your busy schedule and join Funke Yoga and Planned Parenthood for an evening to yourself. Reserve your spot today — space is limited!

In Yuma, PPAZ is hosting two free Zumba Classes on Thursday nights: May 8 and May 15. These classes will be held at Yuma Private Industry Council, MLK Youth Career Center, 300 S. 13th Ave. from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunset Community Health Center will be there to provide blood pressure checks and there will be a raffle for fantastic prizes. Find more details here.

STD Awareness: Can Lesbians Get STDs?

couple WSWA couple of months ago, in time for Valentine’s Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would start using the term “condomless sex” instead of “unprotected sex.” The move was hailed by many HIV advocacy groups for taking into account other risk-reduction practices, such as medications that decrease the chances of HIV transmission.

Women can transmit just about any STD to one another.

However, while medications can reduce HIV risk, condoms still offer protection from both pregnancy and many other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. One reason that condoms are so valuable is that they can be placed over a penis to collect fluids before and after ejaculation — dramatically reducing risk for both pregnancy and many STDs. So, even when using anti-HIV meds, engaging in “condomless sex” can still be risky.

But what if partners are engaged in sexual activities that don’t involve penises? Not all sexual couplings involve a cisgender man, and even those that do might not utilize a penis at every encounter. When two people without penises have sex, they’re probably going to be engaging in condomless sex — though condoms can be placed over penetrative sex toys or cut along the sides to be converted into dental dams, they might not figure too prominently in this couple’s safer-sex arsenal. Lesbians protecting themselves with dental dams are technically engaged in “condomless sex,” but it’s still a far cry from being “unprotected.” Continue reading

STD Awareness: Gonorrhea, Women, and the Pre-Antibiotic Era

Penicillin, the first cure for gonorrhea, was developed for mass production in the 1940s.

Penicillin, the first reliable cure for gonorrhea, was mass produced in the 1940s.

It’s Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the achievements of women worldwide — like Margaret Sanger, Rosalind Franklin, and Florence Nightingale, or contemporary heroes like Wangari Maathai. But it may also be a time to examine some of the sadder aspects of womanhood, including the increased burden gonorrhea imposes on women. While gonorrhea is no picnic for anyone, it wreaks the most havoc in female reproductive tracts. In fact, before antibiotics, gonorrhea was a leading cause of infertility — one 19th century physician attributed 90 percent of female infertility to gonorrhea. Not only that, but the effects of gonorrhea could seriously reduce a woman’s overall quality of life.

With gonorrhea becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the CDC warns of a return to the pre-antibiotic era.

Gonorrhea is described by written records dating back hundreds of years B.C. Ancient Greeks treated it with cold baths, massage, “cooling” foods, and vinegar. In the Middle Ages, Persians might have recommended sleeping in a cool bed with a metal plate over the groin. A bit to the west, Arabs tried to cure gonorrhea with injections of vinegar into the urethra. Kings of medieval England might have had their gonorrhea treated with injections of breast milk, almond milk, sugar, and violet oil.

Although gonorrhea is as ancient an STD as they come, because women rarely have symptoms while men usually do, for much of history it was mostly discussed in terms of men. The name gonorrhea itself derives from the ancient Greek words for “seed flow” — gonorrhea was thought to be characterized by the leakage of semen from the penis. This confusion inspired many misguided notions throughout the millennia, such as the idea that almost all women carried gonorrhea and transmitted it to their unwitting male partners. Continue reading

Becoming a Woman

Vagina. It is a fairly innocuous word, don’t you think? But in today’s America, it has become more than a correct clinical term for female genitalia; it has become a naughty word. Suddenly, in a presidential election year notable for its lack of substance and abundance of acrimony, the vagina has taken center stage. The rules, however, for its inclusion seem to be muddy. Countless state legislatures have passed increasingly draconian laws that relate directly to the vagina. Ironically, the majority of people who have been most vocal in anti-vagina activities do not have one. In Michigan, at least, it has even become a word whose use can get you banned from speaking on the legislative floor. Love, lust, empowerment: These are all words that describe feelings different people have about vaginas. But what about envy?

The closer I am to getting a vagina, the more I understand that I don’t actually need one to be the woman I am.

A few days ago, I received a private Facebook message from a dear friend. It began, “I got to see my vagina today. For the very first time, my vagina. I know you know how significant that is and I only wish the same for you and soon. It will change your life.”

My friend, Natasha, sent this from her hospital room in Montreal, where she is recuperating from the most significant surgery anyone like us can ever undergo: gender affirmation surgery. We are transgender, which, for those few of you who might not know, is the phenomenon where the gender identity that is programmed into the brain of a fetus does not coincide with the physical sex into which that fetus develops. To make a million long stories short, it is unarguably one of the most painful conditions imaginable, largely because the person suffering from it has to fight tooth and nail to make people understand that it’s real. Continue reading

Women for Goddard Say Goddard Is For Women

Editor’s note: For an in-depth interview with Terry Goddard, 2014 candidate for secretary of state, please click here.

Did you know that women are the majority of voters in the United States? In fact, there were 10 million more women voters than men in the 2008 election. Why is it, then, that women only make up 17 percent of Congress? And why is it that issues such as women’s health continue to be relegated to the back burner?

Arizona is an interesting state, because we actually have a long history of women serving in political office here, in particular in the governor’s seat. Who can forget Rose Mofford and her sassy beehives? The irony, however, is that having a woman in office does not always mean that women are being fairly represented. Jan Brewer is the perfect example. During her time in office, Jan Brewer has systematically set back women’s rights, especially when it comes to women’s access to reproductive health care services.

A group of community organizers called Women for Goddard is hoping to change the political climate. They are mobilizing 5,000 female voters in support of Terry Goddard’s bid for governor, and they are reaching out to voters who are registered, but who haven’t voted in recent elections. Women for Goddard recently held a phone bank in which 500 volunteers each committed to call 10 women. Each of those volunteers will remain in contact with their voters until the election to make sure that the women get to the polls. The goal is to tip the balance of the scales in favor of Terry Goddard. And they are doing it one phone call at a time. Continue reading