Dental Dams Help Spread Intimacy, Not STDs

It’s that time of the year when people focus on intimacy and romance. Most people think jewelry and roses are good gifts to give for Valentine’s Day. They’re nice, but you know what’s even better? Dental dams.

What’s a dental dam, you ask? Like condoms, dental dams are a way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by covering the vagina or anus during oral sex. Dental dams are usually made of latex, and some are made from polyurethane. Since they’re used for oral sex, dental dams often come in different flavors, and they’re flexible enough to fit in your purse.


Dental dams are an essential component of protecting your sexual health.


Dental dams are particularly useful for lesbian partners, since oral sex is a common form of sexual activity, but anyone who engages in cunnilingus (the oral stimulation of female genitals) can use them. Dental dams are also beneficial for consenting partners who enjoy anal play (aka “rimming”). Dental dams serve as a barrier against most STDs, since many sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes, can be passed simply by skin-to-skin contact. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and hepatitis A and B viruses can also be spread through oral sex. HIV can be transmitted through oral sex if blood is present.

Unfortunately, dental dams aren’t distributed as widely as condoms are. You’re not likely to find a dental dam dispenser in a public restroom, and many community organizations provide dental dams on a request-only basis because they’re more expensive than condoms. And most drug stores don’t carry dental dams in the same aisle as condoms and lube because dental dams were originally created to be used during dental procedures. (Get it — dental dams.) Continue reading

Best of the Blog: 2017 Edition

It’s been a rough year. Ever since the 45th president was inaugurated in January, we have been pushing back against attempts to overturn the rights of women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized populations. Racist and xenophobic voices have been emboldened by an administration that validates their hatred and minimizes their violence. It feels like the progress we’ve been making in advancing reproductive justice, gay rights, trans rights, and voters’ rights has stopped dead in its tracks.

But 2017 was also a year that shook many people out of their complacency — and re-energized longtime activists. January’s Women’s March may have been the largest protest in our nation’s history. Throughout the year, we rose up and shut down Republican attempts to destroy Obamacare, setting the stage for November, when enrollment records were shattered. A year after the gut punch of the 2016 presidential election, women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and immigrants enjoyed well-earned victories across the nation in the 2017 elections. We need to keep working — staying on this trajectory can turn the tide in the 2018 midterm elections if we take control back from the legislative branch and douse the executive ego with a bucket of ice-cold water.

Our bloggers have been with us every step of the way, whether they are on the front lines of the fight to keep lifesaving laws intact and hold our culture accountable for its multifaceted bigotry, or helping to keep members of the resistance (and everyone else) healthy, informed, and compassionate in this new era.

Rachel kept close track of Republicans’ attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act throughout the year. Pre-ACA, insurance policies could employ sex-based discrimination, refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, kick people off their plans, and not cover essential services that keep people healthy. Each attempt revealed its creators’ wish list for destroying health care. In 2017, our activism worked, but the fight isn’t over, and we must remain vigilant. Stay tuned throughout 2018!

Matt has been watching the growing, right-wing extremism at the crossroads of racism and misogyny, a subject he covers in his response to the violent events in Charlottesville in August. Matt’s piece explores a political force that has put racial hatred on full display, but also one where misogyny resonates in a culture of disaffected — and often dangerous — men. We need to be intersectional as we fight for justice for everyone who is marginalized by white supremacist extremism.

Amanda observed American Heart Month by sharing the story of the sudden, heartbreaking death of her mother, who lost her life to a heart attack. As you mull over New Years resolutions, consider that heart disease is a top killer in the United States, but you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent it. The best gift for those you hold closest to your heart is to keep your heart healthy and strong, and Planned Parenthood Arizona provides care to help you maintain your heart’s health!

Gene made a slight departure from the blog’s mission to provide good guidance for readers to take care of their sexual health — his favorite post highlighted some of the most ridiculous things you could do for your sexual health. Whether he was lampooning stick-on condom alternatives, labia-sealing tampon alternatives, or egg-shaped rocks made to be inserted into the vagina, Gene took on some of the Internet’s looniest ideas surrounding sexual health and the human body.

Anna has been writing about sexually transmitted infections since 2011, and has become increasingly sensitive to the stigma surrounding these infections — and how people often internalize that stigma. Pairing STDs with fear and guilt has compromised medical care for generations. Folks who worry that the HPV vaccine or pre-exposure prophylaxis encourage promiscuity borrow century-old arguments from opponents of condoms, antibiotics, and other STD prevention methods. We think you’ll learn a ton of fascinating tidbits from this article!

Anne traveled all the way to Washington, DC, to meet lawmakers and represent the one woman out of every three who has had (or will have) an abortion. In a country that is becoming increasingly hostile to reproductive rights, we need people like Anne to put a face on abortion, a legal medical procedure that most of us have colluded to keep taboo. As Anne put it, “We were all darned tired of being characterized by ignorant anti-abortion advocates as shadowy, irresponsible, hypothetical women. We’re real people.”

Serena observed National American Indian Heritage Month by shining a spotlight on the little-known, shameful history of forced sterilization of Native American women. More recently, Native women’s control over their fertility has been further impeded by the Indian Health Service’s inconsistent access to emergency contraception and refusal to provide access to abortion. The ability to control our own bodies is essential to our dignity and self-determination, and it must not be abridged, whether it is interfering with our ability to have children or our ability to prevent or discontinue pregnancy.

Pride paradeCare observed Pride Month by remembering Pride’s roots. For a lot of us, Pride means parades and parties, but these annual celebrations didn’t originate that way — Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots, which erupted 48 years ago. Care explains why the current political climate makes remembering Pride’s roots of the utmost importance. We need to stay vigilant, because when it comes to keeping and expanding the rights of LGBTQ people, and ensuring their safety and dignity, we’re all in this together.

Harvey MilkKelley, Planned Parenthood employee and honorary blogger, celebrated Pride Month by introducing us to Harvey Milk, whose call to LGBTQ people to “come out” led to a seismic societal shift, as hearts and minds were connected through empathy and storytelling. Today, we’re calling on you to take the torch of pioneers like Harvey Milk and keep fighting for LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice — for human dignity, bodily autonomy, and love.

Pride Month: Toward a Future Where Pride Is a Big Party

June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. And while it has become a celebratory thing, it is important, especially in the current social and political climate, to remember that Pride Month did not start as a march. It did not start as a party. It did not start as a celebration. Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising.

In 1969, while it was illegal to be gay, there were gay clubs. One was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The police would raid it every so often. They would arrest the patrons. They would beat the patrons. And they would look the other way if the patrons were murdered.


We are still here. You will not silence us. You haven’t been able to yet, and you never will.


One day, a group of gay people, mostly trans women and street kids, mostly people of color, said “NO MORE!” and fought back. That started six days of riots, where LGBTQ people from all over the city converged in Greenwich Village and demanded their rights. To demand their lives!

We have gotten used to Pride Month being kicked off with a Presidential Proclamation. Every year for eight years, we had President Obama issue a proclamation. As far back as 1999, when President Clinton issued the first one, we have grown accustomed to a march forward in our rights, our visibility. But we have forgotten about our origins, the roots of Pride Month, which are steeped in the struggle against homophobic, anti-LGBTQ violence. Continue reading

From Safe Spaces to the Streets: Pride on the 47th Anniversary of Stonewall

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

pride flagsEarlier this month, the nation was shocked by a mass shooting — the deadliest in our history — at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Gay bars have a long history of giving customers a safe place where they can be free from the hatred and bigotry that might surround them in their everyday lives. At least, they’re safe places until the hatred and bigotry of the outside world are visited upon them. In Orlando, that hatred and bigotry took the form of a heavily armed gunman who targeted the LGTBQ community with an assault rifle. In the wake of this tragedy, some wonder if the fight against gun violence will be reinvigorated by the LGBTQ community’s spirit of activism. It would not be the first time that major social change was born from the violation of a safe space by the forces of hatred and bigotry.


From Stonewall to Pulse, patrons of LGBTQ clubs seek a niche of acceptance and space to breathe joy.


Tuesday, June 28, marks the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — a three-day riot in New York City in 1969 that started the modern movement for LGBTQ+ equality.* The Stonewall Inn — the birthplace of the Stonewall Riots — became the first LGBT national historical monument this month. Remembering Stonewall is a way to honor our LGBTQ+ forebears and the sacrifices they made, and a way to reclaim power as a community to fight for systemic equality for all people.

The Stonewall Inn never set out to make history. If anything, the Mafia-owned bar paid off local beat cops to raid other bars that catered to a certain clientele, while leaving the Stonewall alone. But the Inn would be the site of the beginnings of a movement that started with rage, fire, and riots and found itself advocating for justice, equality, and love for all. Continue reading

Today Is Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

candleNovember 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience — a day that honors the memory of those killed because of anti-transgender prejudice. So far this year, each week a trans woman lost her life to this violence. Targeted simply for who they were, these women should not only be remembered and celebrated but should also be fuel to power the movement that stands up for fairness and equality for trans folks.

Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience is also an opportunity for the trans community and our allies to share stories about pervasive crimes against trans folks and to celebrate the resilience of a community often living in the shadows. The 2014 Hate Violence Report, which documented hate crimes perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected individuals, showed an increase in transgender murder victims. Of the murder victims documented in this report, 80 percent were people of color, and 50 percent were transgender women. Transgender people of color were also 6 times more likely than the other groups studied to experience physical violence from police. These reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs paint a bleak picture for the transgender community, particularly the trans women of color communities. The FBI also tracks violence against those living with HIV and is able to get a more complete picture of the violence targeted to trans communities.

Findings from the Injustice at Every Turn report, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, showed alarming rates of violence and harassment experienced by the transgender community, including in educational settings, at work, during interactions with police and other authorities, at homeless shelters, when accessing public accommodations, and in jails and prisons.

At this time, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 125 municipalities offer hate crimes protections that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Arizona is not currently one of the states that protects LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination; however, several cities in Arizona do have nondiscrimination policies that protect city workers and community members: Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Tempe.

After its signing in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act has made it a federal hate crime to assault an individual based on actual or perceived disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This landmark legislation both mandates that the FBI track hate crimes based on anti-transgender bias and allows the Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of local hate crimes based on gender identity.

Much more needs to be done to address the level of violence and harassment targeted at transgender individuals. Please take a moment to remember those lost to violence and celebrate the resilient trans spirit. It’s time we commit to creating a world inclusive of all trans folks. Tag your own selfie and transformational message of how you would make your community safer for transgender people and post on social media with the hashtags #TransMonth and #PPAZ.


You can follow PPAA on Twitter @ppazaction and Instagram @PPAArizona.

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

Toward Improved Care for LGBTQ Patients: New Guidelines Shine Spotlight on Addressing Health Disparities

doctorsOn January 5, Florida became the 36th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, joining a movement that is sweeping across the United States. With federal judges striking down same-sex marriage bans left and right, it seems inevitable that we will soon live in a country that recognizes the freedom to marry. Yet, although more Americans than ever support marriage equality, the fight for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in our society is not over, as they continue to face significant barriers to quality medical services.


Full equality includes access to high-quality medical care, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


The obstacles that have historically prevented LGBTQ patients from obtaining medical care continue to plague our modern health care system. Sure, the American Psychiatric Association no longer considers homosexuality a mental illness. But a concerning number of health care providers still refuse to serve LGBTQ individuals, and until the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies were not required to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. Moreover, the stigma that surrounds homosexuality prevents many patients from disclosing their sexual orientation to doctors. Because the LGBTQ community faces higher rates of certain conditions, including depression and substance abuse, failing to discuss sexual activity can lead to inadequate treatment.

One of the U.S. health care system’s most serious shortcomings is its failure to prepare doctors to work with LGBTQ patients. Young doctors are emerging from medical school ill-equipped to deal with the specific needs of the LGBTQ community. A 2006 study published in Family Medicine surveyed 248 medical students, finding that the vast majority of students held positive attitudes toward LGBTQ patients and hoped to provide them top-tier care. Unfortunately, the same group of students failed spectacularly when tested on LGBTQ-specific health concerns. Another study revealed that most medical schools throughout the United States and Canada devote minimal (if any) instructional time to LGBTQ issues, and that the quality of such instruction varies drastically across institutions. And significantly, many doctors report that they feel uncomfortable discussing sexual behavior with LGBTQ patients. Continue reading