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

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Arizona Republican Don Shooter has been expelled from the state Legislature over years of sexually harassing women. Good riddance to bad rubbish. (AZ Central)
  • It’s so nice to be able to report that the useless and arbitrary 20-week abortion ban being peddled by Republicans failed in the Senate! Republicans run every branch of government but, embarrassingly, continue to lose their battles. (Politico)
  • In the post-#MeToo era, it is crucial that children learn not just about their bodies and hormones, but about safety, consent, and healthy relationships. These are all topics that should be part of a compassionate, fully comprehensive sexual education program for all children. (Chicago Tribune)
  • The Virginia Senate agrees: They just passed legislation to require high schools in Virginia to include consent in their curriculum. (The Breeze)
  • Good news: A federal district court on Monday blocked a Texas measure that would require health care providers to bury or cremate embryonic or fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriage, or treatment for ectopic pregnancy. (Rewire)
  • Bad news: STD cases among people 55 and older are on the rise here in Arizona. (Fox 10)
  • If you’re relying on an app for birth control, please read this! (Self)
  • There is a growing underground movement of people across America who have taught themselves to help women terminate pregnancies without a doctor. How sad that this is even necessary 45 years after Roe v. Wade. Is this what we want for women? For them to have to go “underground” and risk life and limb in order to have access to a legal medical procedure? Do we realize that is what we’re fostering in this country by making it impossible for women to end unwanted pregnancies? This breaks my heart. (Mother Jones)
  • Three civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for rolling back protections for students who report sexual assault. (Huff Po)
  • A question any thinking person should be asking: Why does it cost $32,093 just to give birth in America? (Guardian)
  • Could Ireland, one of the most anti-abortion countries in Europe, be close to decriminalizing abortion? (NY Times)
  • The Trump administration officials in charge of the Office of Refugee Resettlement were so set upon forcing an undocumented teen to give birth against her will, they worked themselves into a crazed lather contemplating ways to “reverse” the termination of her pregnancy, which was already in progress. (Vice)
  • Could a toxic plant really be the precursor to an effective male birth control option? (Gizmodo)
  • Get a load of this malarkey: A recent focus group on abortion views shows anti-abortion respondents seem to believe that men understand abortion better than women and that women who have abortions are unintelligent and irresponsible. When asked whether men whose partner was having an abortion understood that it was ending a potential life, 51 percent of abortion opponents said yes. But when asked if women getting abortions understood the procedure, only 36 percent of anti-choicers agreed that a woman knows what she is doing. Abortion foes were also more likely to say they were more comfortable when women were housewives instead of seeking careers.

    Always remember: This is what people who don’t want women to control their bodies and lives think of us. They hold the sincere belief that we lack basic intelligence and the ability to think critically. They think we are inferior to men and that we have no value outside of some man’s kitchen. Gag me. (Salon)

STD Awareness: The Curious Case of Chancroid

Haemophilus ducreyi arrange themselves in parallel rows, which researchers have called “railroad tracks,” “schools of fish,” and “fingerprints.” Image: Mike Miller, CDC

Earlier this year, I asked a room full of scientists and medical professionals to raise their hands if they’d ever heard of chancroid. Everyone sat there, motionless, confused by the odd syllables I had uttered — shan kroyd. If you’ve never heard of chancroid, you’re not alone.

Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) brought to you by Haemophilus ducreyi, a type of bacteria that can pass through microscopic tears in the skin during sexual contact. When one partner is infected, there is a 1 in 3 chance the other will become infected. An infection can cause painful sores and swollen lymph nodes, most often in the genital region. About half of people with chancroid infections will experience “buboes,” or swollen lymph glands that might rupture. Before it could be cured with antibiotics, a persistent infection could cause permanent skin damage.

Humanity can make chancroid the first STD to go extinct.

One reason you probably haven’t heard of chancroid is that, in the developed world at least, it has mostly disappeared. In fact, researchers believe chancroid can be completely wiped off the planet — which would make it the first STD ever to be forced into extinction. How amazing would that be?

Chancroid has been hopping from loin to loin since at least the days of the ancient Greeks, and was common until the 20th century, when rates began to decline. Thanks to antibiotics, U.S. chancroid rates decreased 80-fold between 1947 and 1997, all but vanishing by the late 1950s. It was virtually unheard of until there was another spike in the 1980s, correlating with the crack epidemic. But, since 1987, cases have been steadily declining. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Gonorrhea Becoming “Impossible” to Treat?

Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Health authorities have been worried about it for a long time now, and we’ve been following it on our blog since 2012. The boogeyman? Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, a strain of the sexually transmitted bacteria that is becoming more and more difficult to treat. Higher doses of the drug will be needed to cure stubborn cases of gonorrhea — until the doses can no longer be increased. Then, untreatable gonorrhea could be a reality.

“Little now stands between us and untreatable gonorrhea.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), in a press release last month, finally used the word “impossible” when describing treatment of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, referring to documented cases of gonorrhea that were “untreatable by all known antibiotics.” Worse, these cases are thought to be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” as there aren’t good data on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in many developing countries, where gonorrhea is more prevalent and epidemics could be spreading under the radar. Adding to this problem is the fact that gonorrhea rates are climbing worldwide, which is thought to be due to a number of factors, including the decline in condom use, the frequent absence of symptoms, inadequate treatment, and increasing urbanization and travel.

What will happen if gonorrhea can’t be cured? Your infection could clear up on its own, after a lengthy battle with your immune system, but we don’t know a lot about how long this could take (weeks? months? never?). Unfortunately, despite your immune system’s best efforts, gonorrhea doesn’t go out without a fight. Gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause tissue damage to the reproductive organs resulting in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. It can also cause scarring that blocks sperm’s movement out of the testes, resulting in epididymitis, which is associated with infertility, chronic scrotal pain, and testicular shrinkage. Furthermore, gonorrhea increases risk for HIV transmission and can be passed to a baby during childbirth. The CDC estimates that, in the United States alone, untreatable gonorrhea could cause 75,000 cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, 15,000 cases of epididymitis, and 222 extra HIV infections over a 10-year period. Worldwide, where gonorrhea and HIV disproportionately affect developing countries, these problems could get even more out of control. 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

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The POTUS, who is so pro-life he hasn’t fostered or adopted any children in need, has signed legislation that allows states to withhold federal Title X funds for family planning services from clinics that also provide abortions. But thankfully, the change won’t impact Arizona. (AZ Central)
  • For women in other states: Please know, we are listening and we know what’s at stake for all of you. We’re fighting. (Bustle)
  • Impoverished minority women will be ESPECIALLY endangered by this legislation: 80 percent of women who rely on Title X funding are well below the poverty line, and 21 percent are black and 32 percent are Latina. (Ebony)
  • Will absolutely all of my rundowns during this bleak era of GOP dominion include yet another story about how they’re trying their best to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and make us all poorer and sicker and closer to death so rich people can have tax cuts? Signs point to “yes.” (WaPo)
  • The list of the 25 cities with the highest STD rates doesn’t include anywhere in Arizona. Let’s keep it that way? (Insider Monkey)
  • California could be the first state in the country to require its public universities to offer abortion pills on campuses. (Mercury News)
  • Attorneys general from 16 states came out Thursday in support of a Planned Parenthood lawsuit challenging an Ohio law that would deny state and federal funds to organizations providing abortions. (HuffPo)
  • The zero-copay birth control we’ve come to enjoy via Obamacare is still the “law of the land,” but for how much longer? (Rewire)
  • Why does America offer only five versions of the IUD when Britain has 22??? (The Atlantic)
  • Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who is so pro-life he hasn’t fostered or adopted any children in need, got his you-know-what handed to him by constituents at his town hall last week! (AZ Central)
  • Television is a treasure trove of lies. Abortion depicted on the small screen is 20 times deadlier than in real life, where it’s actually safer for the woman than childbirth. (Slate)
  • New Maryland Bill Would Require Domestic Abusers to Wear GPS Trackers. (NY Mag)
  • Maryland is on a roll! Victims In Maryland No Longer Have To Prove They “Fought Back” For Their Rapes To Be Crimes. (HuffPo)
  • With all of the “out and proud” anti-choice zealots in our government who are proud to admit they think women should be forced to give birth whether they wish to or not, the last thing we need is a phony, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing turncoat like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. He claimed to be pro-choice on the campaign trail in 2013, so why in the hell is he now indicating he will veto a bill protecting the right to choose and permitting coverage of abortion in state health plans and Medicaid? Can the pro-choice voters of Illinois spearhead a gubernatorial recall over this? (Rewire)
  • It would do Gov. Rauner a lot of good to remember that abortion is a matter of economic life or death for women and use the power of his office to help rather than hurt the economic fates of women. (Rewire)
  • “Dystopian” doesn’t even BEGIN to describe how the world would look without Planned Parenthood. (HuffPo)

STD Awareness: Shaving, Waxing, and Trimming, Oh My!

Last month, the connection between body-hair removal and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) once again gave rise to a flurry of headlines. Media had previously reported on “studies” purporting that the popularity of waxing is leading to the extinction of pubic lice, or that shaving increases risk for a little-known STD called molluscum contagiosum.

The idea that waxing one’s nether regions is tantamount to habitat destruction for the lowly pubic louse makes a certain amount of sense. But was it really true that waxing was leading to diminished pubic-lice populations, or just a case of the media blowing an obscure medical factoid out of proportion? Ditto with the claims about molluscum contagiosum — though they were based on perfectly plausible premises, having to do with shaving causing microscopic skin injuries that create openings for infectious viruses, the average reader might not have been able to rely on a journalist’s ability to translate a scientific article from “medical-ese” into an easy-to-understand, yet fully nuanced, magazine blurb.

The case isn’t closed on the link between body-hair removal and STDs.

As we’ve written before, the reporting in the popular media left out important details — such as the fact that these weren’t studies at all, but rather educated guesses based on observations, published as letters to the editor. No one was comparing pubic lice infestations or sexually transmitted infections between groups of people with and without pubic hair.

Until now.

The medical journal Sexually Transmitted Infections recently published a study based on a survey of 7,470 American adults who had had at least one sexual partner. The salient point the media pounced on was that removing pubic hair increases STD risk by 400 percent: NPR screamed that “Going Bare Down There May Boost The Risk Of STDs,” Time proclaimed “Grooming is linked to a higher risk of STIs,” and The Guardian spooked readers with a rather tasteless piece about “the health dangers of bikini waxing.” Even Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update got in on the action, albeit with a crude joke about old men’s genitals.

But let’s leave headlines behind and delve right into the medical journal itself. Continue reading