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.

STD Awareness: STI vs. STD … What’s the Difference?

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, the terminology can be confusing. Some people use the phrase “STD,” some people insist “STI” is the proper set of initials, and every once in a while you might catch someone using the term “VD.” Over the years, the parlance has changed. What’s the deal?

VD: Venereal Disease

Blaming women for STDs (aka VD) is an age-old tradition.

“Venereal disease” has been in use since at least the 1600s (the Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1667 publication referring to a “a lusty robust Souldier dangerously infected with the Venereal Disease”). Around a century ago, Americans flirted with heavily euphemistic expressions, such as “social diseases,” but mostly, “venereal disease” was the terminology of choice for the better part of four centuries — slightly less euphemistic, as “venereal” was derived from Venus, the Roman goddess of love, sex, and fertility. Additionally, since at least the 1920s it was frequently shortened to “VD.” Those of us of a certain age might still remember hushed talk of VD among our grandparents, parents, or peers.

Around the 1930s, public health experts started wondering if referring to VD as a separate category of disease stigmatized these infections and those who carried them, dampening motivation to fight them with the same fervor with which the community battled other infectious diseases like influenza, smallpox, and scarlet fever. In 1936, Nels A. Nelson proposed replacing “venereal disease” with “genito-infectious diseases,” but that never caught on — you haven’t heard of GIDs, right? Continue reading

Some Good News About Three Sexually Transmitted Viruses

Scientists are hard at work finding ways to improve your health!

With so much bad news emblazoned across headlines in every newspaper you look at, the world might seem like a gloomy place. So let’s take one depressing subject — disease — and peel away the sad outer layer to find silver linings of optimism.

When it comes to infections, a lot of us blame one thing: germs, also known as “bugs” — “pathogens” if we’re fancy. Some people might not think of infectious diseases as being that big of a deal — after a round of antibiotics, you’ll be on the mend. Unfortunately, antibiotics only work for bacteria, but a lot of diseases are caused by other types of germs — for which antibiotics are no match. One type of germ is called a virus, and they can’t be cured. Sometimes they can be prevented with vaccines or treated with drugs. For example, the major strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with a vaccine called Gardasil, herpes simplex virus can be suppressed with antiviral drugs, and HIV can be controlled with antiretroviral drugs — but none of these infections can be cured. HPV is usually defeated by the immune system, but herpes and HIV are with you for life.

But it’s not all bad. Around the world, individual scientists have picked their “favorite” viruses and are devoting their lives to finding better prevention strategies, better treatments, and even cures. Let’s check in with some of the latest headlines touting the successes of science.

New Hope for a Herpes Vaccine

A herpes vaccine would be a blockbuster — given how common this sexually transmitted infection is, a preventive shot could help a lot of couples discuss their herpes status without as much fear of judgment and stigma.

Herpes might cause an “outbreak” — unpleasant symptoms that include genital sores — but afterward the virus goes dormant in the nerve cells, hiding from the immune system. In some people, the virus can come out of its dormancy to cause flare-ups of symptoms, but once it’s had its fun it retreats back to the nerve cells.

Earlier this year, media reported on a promising new candidate for a herpes vaccine. Using a completely different strategy than previous, failed herpes vaccines, the researchers behind this breakthrough targeted the part of the virus that allows it to hide from our immune systems. If this vaccine works as hoped, recipients will be able to mount an immune defense when exposed to the virus, blocking it from establishing a permanent home in nerve cells. It might even suppress outbreaks in people who already have herpes. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Do IUDs and Implants Prevent STDs?

Highly effective birth control methods, namely intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, have received a lot of well-deserved attention in recent years. They are as effective at preventing pregnancy as permanent sterilization, but can be stopped at any time, and can last from three to 12 years. They are the contraceptive of choice for female family-planning providers, who should know a thing or two about choosing an optimal birth control method. They are fantastic options for teenagers and others hoping to delay pregnancy for at least a few years. And the best news is that, for now anyway, these pricey birth control methods are still available at no cost to Americans covered by Medicaid or health insurance.


For the best protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs, combine condoms with IUDs or contraceptive implants.


If IUDs and implants prevented sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), they would pretty much be perfect — but, alas, like most forms of birth control, they don’t protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other bugs that can be passed from person to person through sex. To reduce their risk for STD exposure, sexually active people must employ other strategies, including (1) being in a mutually monogamous relationship with a person who does not have STDs; (2) being vaccinated before becoming sexually active to receive protection from hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus (HPV), two sexually transmitted viruses; and, last but definitely not least, (3) condoms, condoms, condoms!

A study published this month looked at college students using IUDs and implants and found that most of them didn’t use condoms the last time they had vaginal sex — 57 percent of women who were not using IUDs or implants used a condom, compared to only 24 percent of women who were using IUDs or implants. That’s not too surprising if pregnancy prevention were the only concern, but condoms are an important addition for anyone seeking to reduce their STD risk. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading

Why Do Newborns Need the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

The first vaccine a baby receives — within hours or days of birth — protects them from hepatitis B virus (HBV). In a lot of people’s minds, HBV is associated with drug use and sexual activity — which stigmatizes people who have been infected with HBV or are carriers of the virus. Unfortunately, this stigma causes a lot of people to question why babies even need to be vaccinated against it, often pointing to “Big Pharma” conspiracy theories. A lot of other people are put off by the misconception that the HBV vaccine is made with human blood (it’s not).


May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time to learn about a childhood vaccine that’s saved millions of lives.


There are perfectly good reasons to vaccinate babies against HBV, mainly that HBV is the leading cause of liver cancer, itself one of the Top 10 types of cancer worldwide. Nine out of 10 infants born to a mother who is an HBV carrier will develop chronic infections and become carriers themselves — and a quarter of them will die prematurely of liver disease. Babies who develop chronic HBV infections are 63 times more likely to develop liver cancer than non-carriers, a connection that is 2 to 3 times stronger than the link between smoking and lung cancer.

When it comes to HBV, age at infection matters. Most people with chronic HBV infections are exposed at birth or in early childhood, when they are most likely to develop chronic, lifelong infections — whereas only 2 to 6 percent of infected adults will develop chronic infections, with only 15 percent of them eventually dying from liver disease. The fact that chronic infection risk is inversely correlated with age at infection means that birth is the time when a child is the most vulnerable to this virus — hence the importance of vaccinating as early as possible. Continue reading

STD Awareness: What Does “Congenital Syphilis” Mean?

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Congenital syphilis, for centuries a leading cause of infant mortality, is often thought of as an antique affliction, relegated to history books — but it is on the rise again. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a spike in congenital syphilis rates, which increased by 38 percent and are now the highest they’ve been in the United States since 2001. As of 2014, the last year for which we have data, more babies were born with syphilis than with HIV.

The word “congenital” simply means that the baby was born with syphilis after being infected in the womb. When an expecting mother has syphilis, the bacteria that cause the disease can cross the placenta to infect the fetus — and will do so 70 percent of the time. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. It can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. Congenital syphilis is especially tragic because it’s almost completely preventable, especially when expecting mothers have access to adequate prenatal care and antibiotics. Penicillin is 98 percent effective in preventing congenital syphilis when it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage.


More babies are being born with syphilis — but this trend can be reversed with wider access to prenatal care.


Incidence of congenital syphilis is growing across all regions of the country, but rates are highest in the South, followed by the West. Rates have also been increasing across ethnic groups, but, compared to white mothers, congenital syphilis rates are more than 10 times higher among African-American mothers and more than 3 times higher among Latina mothers, illustrating the need to increase access to prenatal care for all expecting mothers — and to ensure that this prenatal care is adequate.

Anyone receiving prenatal care should be screened for syphilis at their first visit, and some pregnant people — including those at increased risk or in areas where congenital syphilis rates are high — should be screened a second time at the beginning of the third trimester and again at delivery. Continue reading