STD Awareness: New STDs on the Block, and STDs Making a Comeback

Lately, a lot of us have had tunnel vision when it comes to infectious diseases. We talk about how long the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on various surfaces, even though other viruses can live on those same surfaces for even longer. We wonder if it can be sexually transmitted, while there are dozens of other bugs out there that are even more easily passed through sexual contact. There are more microbes out there than just the one that causes COVID-19, and we need to be mindful of their risks, too.

Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a piece about “old-timey” STDs that are making a comeback (think shigellosis), newer STDs to hit the scene (think Zika virus), and “classic” STDs that are finding new ways to harm us (think antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea). Let’s meet this rogues’ gallery of sexually transmitted bugs.

Shigella bacteria. Image: CDC

Shigellosis is a diarrheal disease caused by Shigella species of bacteria, which can be found in abundance in feces — making it relatively easy to pick up these bugs during sexual encounters involving oral-anal contact (“rimming” or anilingus). While Shigella are mostly transmitted through nonsexual routes, researchers have discovered that sexually transmitted shigellosis is much more likely to be resistant to multiple antibiotics — making them a serious threat.

Reduce your risk by practicing good hand hygiene and keeping a clean kitchen and bathroom; using condoms and dental dams during sex. Continue reading

Show Your Pride by Practicing Safe Sex

The last few months have been hard for everyone. COVID-19 has brought about the need for social distancing to decrease risk of spreading the disease, and we are witnessing the largest push in our nation’s history for police accountability. For those of us who already feel isolated because of our gender identity or sexuality, the stay-at-home orders can heighten the feelings of anxiety about being LGBTQ. For LGBTQ people of color, anxieties about violence are being exacerbated by recent protests regarding instances of police brutality.

However, this Pride month and every day as we continue to face this period of change we encourage you all to take a break from isolation and celebrate that we are part of a strong, supportive community. We are with you in Protest and we are with you in Pride. Let’s take a break from isolation and celebrate that we are part of a strong, supportive community.

What Is Pride Month?

We are fortunate to live in the year 2020. Yes, there are still challenges to being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, or queer, but we’ve come a long way since 1969, when it was a crime in 49 states to be queer.


Planned Parenthood is proud to serve the LGBTQ community!


On June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. This bar was a safe gathering space for LGBTQ folks, particularly transgender women. Police had regularly raided the bar before June 28, but this night was different.

Stonewall Inn, 2009. Photo: Charles Hutchins

Judy Garland, a queer icon, had passed away the previous week. There was a funeral procession for her on June 27, and mourners had gathered at the Stonewall Inn to show support for one another. Although there is no evidence the police planned to raid Stonewall on this specific night, the police interrupted the community’s moment of grief by arresting everyone at the bar. This action ignited a three-day standoff as thousands of people arrived to show their support for the LGBTQ community. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Stigma and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Stigma and disease have always gone hand in hand, with some diseases more stigmatized than others. Over the millennia, people living with diseases ranging from leprosy to AIDS have been burdened by moral judgments, while people with conditions like common colds or Alzheimer’s disease are seen as randomly — and innocently — afflicted.


Even the most “sex-positive” among us might find ourselves inadvertently stigmatizing others.


These days, stigma swirls around the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, arising from the fear and anxiety that has recently gripped the world. As reports of hate crimes against people of Asian descent show, some people are confusing vigilance about protecting public health with excuses to lash out at certain populations. This stigma can also show itself in seemingly benign comments, like apologizing for coughing and promising that it’s “only allergies” — which I have seen happen even in conversations taking place in “virtual spaces” like Zoom or Skype, where disease transmission wouldn’t have been possible. The idea is that a COVID-19 infection is shameful, while allergies are socially acceptable.

Probably no set of diseases is more stigmatized than sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — despite the fact that they’re also some of the most common infections across the spectrum of humanity. In fact, we’re in the midst of an STD epidemic, with tens of millions of cases every year in this country alone. Gynecologist Jen Gunter writes about how an STD diagnosis, like no other disease save cancer, has the unique power to bring a patient to tears. A common STD like herpes or genital warts can make someone feel like “damaged goods.” But clearly it’s not the virus itself that makes someone “damaged goods” — it’s the way it was transmitted. For proof, look at the way people react to infections caused by genetically related viruses, such as the herpesvirus that causes chickenpox or the strains of HPV that cause warts on someone’s fingers or toes.

Using Stigma to Punish

Even the most “sex-positive” among us might find ourselves inadvertently stigmatizing others when we talk about having a “clean” STD test or make people with herpes the butt of a joke. When we do that, we participate in a system that frames STDs as just punishments for engaging in the “wrong” kinds of sexual activities. Continue reading

STD Awareness: When Syphilis Goes North

The bacteria that cause syphilis are shaped like corkscrews. Image: David Cox, CDC

Last month, a “weird” medical case made headlines. An Australian man with unexplained headaches and eye pain got a diagnosis for his mysterious symptoms when his doctors discovered he had syphilis — and the infection had spread to his head. Syphilis had caused both optic nerves to become swollen, triggering pain that worsened whenever he moved his eyes.

It might seem strange that a disease most people associate with below-the-belt symptoms can wreak havoc above the neck, but syphilis is a wanderer that can travel all over the body, sowing chaos wherever it goes.


Syphilis can quickly enter the nervous system and travel to the head, where it can cause blindness, psychiatric problems, and other trouble.


Ocular Syphilis

The bacteria that cause syphilis can be passed from one person to another through contact with a sore, which can appear on or around the mouth, genitals, or anus. Any type of sexual contact, including oral sex, can transmit these bacteria. Sores are painless, contain a highly infectious liquid, and can appear between three weeks to three months after infection. These sores aren’t always visible, which means you can’t tell if someone has syphilis just by looking at them.

Although the bacteria typically land in the mouth, genitals, or anus, they can also be sexually transmitted directly into the eye, causing redness and vision problems. After infection, syphilis sores can appear on the eyelids, tear ducts, and soft tissues around the eyes. Bacteria can also travel to the eye by entering the nervous system and blazing a trail to the optic nerve — no direct contact between the eye and a sore necessary. Continue reading

National HIV Testing Day: A Time to Empower Yourself and Get Tested

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

It was the 1980s. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, thousands and thousands of people were dying from an illness that had never been seen before. The diagnosis was a death sentence. As soon as you had it, you would die painfully and quickly. The disease was AIDS, caused by a virus called HIV.

In the United States, this disease ravaged the LGBTQ community; gay and bisexual men were the hardest hit. The Reagan administration failed to acknowledge the disease, until Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughed about it and called it the “gay plague.” Tired of the government’s inaction, the people decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the grassroots organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987.


With modern medical treatment, people with HIV can live pretty normal lives.


They protested, made targeted demands, and created poster campaigns. They formed a network of community organizers in cities across the country, and employed radical protest strategies, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which covered the National Mall with names of people who had died from the disease. They focused their targeted efforts on specific politicians, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They did such an extensive amount of research that the activists essentially became scientists themselves. They were able to lower drug prices and get the FDA to approve experimental drugs for HIV at a quicker pace. They educated, diminished social stigma, and perhaps most important, supported medical advances that reduced AIDS-related deaths.

And finally, in 1996, scientists discovered the treatment that turned HIV from a death sentence to a chronic illness. Finally, after 15 years of tragic deaths, obsessive scientific research, and fiery activism, patients could live long and happy lives with a drug “cocktail” that could suppress the virus. Continue reading

STD Awareness: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have been with us since the dawn of time — or at least since the dawn of sex. And, as we continue to hone our approach to preventing and treating them, STDs will always grab headlines, whether the news is bad or good.

The Good

Can the HIV epidemic be stopped?

For more than a decade, AIDS, the illness caused by HIV, was seen as a death sentence. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that antiretroviral drugs kept the virus in check, prolonging lifespans for people with access to these medications and transforming the infection into a chronic disease. Now, those dreaming of an end to HIV are seeing reasons for optimism. No, a cure isn’t in the works — but many researchers believe we can end the epidemic through prevention.

Ending HIV transmission will take money and an efficient health care infrastructure, but we have the tools to do it. It starts with expanding access to HIV testing — an estimated 15 percent of Americans with HIV are unaware of their status. The next step is to ensure that everyone testing positive has access to antiretroviral drugs. When used correctly, these medications keep viral levels so low that the chances of transmission are virtually nonexistent. More recently, medications called PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis — enable people without HIV to protect themselves from infection. Condoms, of course, are a time-tested prevention tool. Gathered together, we have a pretty mighty arsenal. Here in the United States, we could stop HIV transmission in its tracks in just a handful of years. Of course, people all around the world will need access to testing and treatment to halt this scourge on a global level. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Photo: Lauren Walker

    A proud announcement to start the rundown this week: We are NOT backing down in our fight to expand access to abortion, birth control, and reproductive health care across the country! (ABC News)

  • If you’re searching for abortion care, be VERY careful using Google Maps — you might end up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a legit clinic. Ugh! (Gizmodo)
  • One of the most problematic industries in modern times, for-profit health insurers, are denying coverage to people taking PrEP, which dramatically reduces the risk of contracting HIV. Awfully ironic, isn’t it? Being conscientious of your health and taking steps to avoid transmission of a deadly virus make you undesirable to insurance companies. WTF. (Jezebel)
  • The New York Times published a highly informative op-ed about how teenage mothers are infantilized after giving birth, and it is a must-read. (NYT)
  • Social conservatives in the U.S. have strong and largely unpopular views on sexuality and reproductive behaviors. When they can’t sway public opinion, they turn to restrictions and prohibitions to impose their views on others. Why they can’t simply live by their own values and then mind their own freakin’ business is beyond me. Truly. (Guttmacher)
  • Buzzfeed proclaimed “Republicans Need Women Voters To Keep Control Of Congress. The Latest White House Response to Abuse Allegations Isn’t Helping.” But my question is, will white women really care at the polls? Like, really? Pardon me for being skeptical due to their history. (Buzzfeed)
  • Hearing women’s voice is so important, and this riveting op-ed from the daughter of a physically, verbally, emotionally, and financially abusive father highlights just why access to birth control is essential for women. This should NOT be a controversial issue! (Juneau Empire)
  • The ACLU is fighting an Ohio law banning abortion for fetuses with Down Syndrome. (NPR)
  • The Trump budget cuts millions in funds for HIV/AIDS programs because this is what thugs like him enjoy doing. Harming the sick, poor, brown, and marginalized. (HuffPo)
  • When I was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, I was constantly race-baited by the protesters who lurked outside our health center. As a Black woman, I was shamed for the alleged racism of Margaret Sanger. I was told that “the most dangerous place for a black child was in the womb.” I was questioned about why Black women abort more than white women. And SO much more. But something I literally NEVER heard the “pro-life” set crowing about? Why Black infants die so much more frequently than white infants. It’s almost as if they don’t care about these babies once they’re no longer incubating. Imagine if the people who proclaim to love babies and children put their staunch advocacy behind saving the lives of children who are actually born? Will we ever see their care and concern for fetuses extend to born babies and children?? (The Nation)