January Is National Stalking Awareness Month: Amanda’s Story

man-stalking-womanIt was just after 7 o’clock in the evening during July in Arizona. Translation? The triple-digit heat had barely dipped into the 90s. So why did I feel a chill creeping along my arms? I rubbed them for warmth, but couldn’t shake the queasy prickling sensation. I debated whether fetching my mail at the end of my street was really worth it.

This had become my life. Even the simplest tasks were riddled with fear. Every time my phone alerted me of a text, my heart raced. Every time my dogs barked, I jumped.


I needed to make sure my family would not be a story in the news or a plotline for a Lifetime movie.


A few months prior, I had gotten texts from a random number; these escalated to lewd comments. I downloaded an app to block the number. Then the emails started. I blocked them and every subsequent account this faceless shadow created to reach out to me. Next thing I knew, I was getting anonymous gifts and small PayPal transfers. I ignored them. Twice, my back door was open. Had I just forgotten to close it? When I found a slain chicken strewn across my front lawn, I tried to justify that one must have escaped a nearby farm and been victim to a coyote or other common predator. Then, not even a week later, another one appeared. This shadow wanted me to know that his gift was not just a coincidence.

I had dutifully called the police when I suspected break-ins and had informed them of the obsessive behavior. It wasn’t the first time in my life I was told by authorities, “Well, we can’t do anything unless they hurt you.”

When I came home from an extended weekend away for my job, I was welcomed by a dismembered and headless Barbie doll … on my bed. While disturbing on its own, it was a clear reference to an episode of Dexter I had just watched two days prior. I had been alone and at someone else’s home and had only told my best friend back home in Missouri about the episode. Somehow, someone knew.

That was the moment I came to terms with a very grim fact. I had a stalker. Continue reading

Teen Talk: Your Sexual Education

Flashback: I remember standing in the girls’ bathroom at school during fifth grade recess while my best friend explained to me how babies are made. I was shocked! Suddenly I had lots of questions about these “facts” — and no one to ask. Talk to my parents? NO WAY! That scenario was out of the question. Even if there had been an understanding adult around who I trusted talking to about big stuff, I’m sure I would have been much too embarrassed to start that discussion.


In the age of the Internet and free-flowing information, almost everything is out there for you to find!


How did you first learn about sex? Who did you ask those intimate and embarrassing questions about your body and the new feelings you were experiencing? Where did you go to get the truth about sex, reproduction, relationships? Who explained how to use contraception or what sexually transmitted infections are — without judgment? Or are you still trying to find the facts you need?

If you are fortunate, your parents may have initiated early and open conversations with you about healthy relationships, sexuality, and reproduction. Surveys have shown that 36 percent of teen girls get information about sex and reproduction from friends and family. But even some of the most progressive parents may find it hard to talk about sexual relationships and intimacies outside of their own beliefs and experiences. And older teens are really not that interested in discussing sex with their parents, no matter how good a relationship they may have.

My public school “sexual education” continued later on in sixth grade when my mother and I were invited with other girls from my class and their mothers to attend a movie explaining the changes in our bodies and our upcoming entry into womanhood — read: “menstruation.” Also known as: “your period.” I don’t recall receiving any information about sex, relationships, or contraception along with this movie. Perhaps it was supposed to be a starting point for my mom to have the “sex talk” with me. That didn’t happen, by the way. And I don’t know if the boys in my class received any similar information that year. Continue reading

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

How to Find Accurate Health Information Online

Does conflicting information on the Internet leave you scratching your head? Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does conflicting information on the Internet leave you scratching your head? Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did you know only 13 states require that sex education in public schools be medically accurate? This leaves a lot of people in the dark when it comes to making decisions that could have a lasting impact on their lives. Luckily, the Internet can make accurate information about sex accessible. It can also be a dangerous tool if wielded incorrectly, so it’s important to differentiate sources of good information from unreliable sources. An article in the New York Times suggests that the No. 1 way teenagers get their information about sex is through the Internet. Whether or not they receive medically accurate information depends on their search results.


You can’t assume that a product’s legality is evidence of its efficacy.


The Internet is a maze of conflicting information. Most reputable authors will cite their sources, and it’s important that you check them. Online message boards can be filled with anonymous commenters offering opinions, anecdotes, falsehoods, or facts — unless these commenters back their statements up with sources, it may be difficult for you to evaluate their claims. A message board dealing with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) might seem like an ideal outlet for someone who is concerned about having an STD; other message boards dealing with sex or contraception offer a similar refuge. Users might appreciate the anonymity afforded by such online communities, but it’s important to remember that the people there are also anonymous. The Internet “hive mind” cannot substitute for a professional diagnosis, scientific consensus, or medically sound advice.

Other dubious sources of information might include “alternative health” websites. Many of these practitioners give good advice, like to quit smoking, start exercising, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. We can’t argue with that. Sometimes, though, these communities can encourage the use of unproven remedies in place of effective treatments. A quick Google search for “natural contraception” can lead you to websites promoting mixtures of herbs for preventing pregnancy, and a search for “herpes cures” might leave you thinking that earwax or homeopathy can stop an outbreak in its tracks. Nonscientific ideas about the immune system also give rise to medically inaccurate statements about vaccines, such as the idea that “natural” HPV infections are preferable to being vaccinated with Gardasil — despite the facts that natural HPV infections might not confer effective immunity against re-infection and can lead to cancer. Continue reading