All Articles Tagged "sexual health"
“I feel like as long as if I don’t know what I have, I won’t feel sick. People always start to get sick when they find out they’re positive.”
“I’m in a monogamous relationship, so there’s no need to get tested.”
“I don’t do pap smears. They hurt.”
These are just some of the excuses you’d think I’d hear from my high school students, but they are all from the mouths of grown sexually active people who refuse to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Most of this faulty decision-making is based on myths they’ve heard from friends about getting tested or self-diagnosis from WebMD or some other website that has led them to be in denial about their situation or allowed their imagination to get the best of them.
April is Get Yourself Tested Month. As much as I’m happy to celebrate that teen and unplanned pregnancy is on the decline, the fact still remains that 19 million new STD cases are reported in the U.S. each year and millions more go undetected and unreported. Don’t allow faulty, second-hand information be the reason to not get tested. Here are 14 things that you may not not know about STIs and getting tested:
By Mercy Edionwe, MD
So the doctor calls you into the office because she has something to tell you. Just a few weeks ago, you decided to get a pap smear. At that time, the doctor told you that if the test was fine, you wouldn’t hear from her office. Now, as you sit anxiously awaiting the results, your mind starts to wonder, “Could I have AIDS, syphilis, or gonorrhea?” A chill runs down your spine as the door opens and in walks the doctor. She sits down and she tells you, “Ma’am, the results of your pap smear show that you have HPV?” Your mind starts to wonder, “What is HPV?”
Well, let me break it down for you.
HPV? What is that?
HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. It is a family of viruses that look similar to each other but can cause different conditions in the body. Scientists associate the individual viruses as types. In general, there are a total of 40 types. One type of HPV can cause warts while another type can cause cancer. The type of the virus someone has dictates what kind of disease the person will get.
HPV can be contracted from skin-to-skin contact. It does not matter if you are into oral, anal, or plain old regular sex. If your partner is infected, you will have a high chance of being infected too.
And for all you virgins out there, even if you are not sexually active, you can still be affected. Why? HPV can be found within the skin of your private parts. So, if your genitals or mouth have direct skin contact with an infected person’s genitals, you are at risk of getting it as well. The learning lesson is that with HPV, you are not safe with just 4-play.
Why is it important?
HPV can cause cervical cancer, which is the third most common cancer in the world. Cervical cancer is also the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women living in developing countries. In other words, HPV can be deadly.
What signs or symptoms will someone have with HPV? Why would you call it the silent killer?
The problem is that you can’t always tell, hence being called the silent killer. Someone with HPV can walk around without any signs or symptoms. On the other hand, HPV can be so sneaky and show up in different forms. It can cause genital or oral warts in both men and women. It can also cause cancer of the penis, cervix, vagina, anus, and even oral cancer. When it attacks these parts of the body, the person may not notice anything until it is too late.
There is another twist to the story. Not everyone who gets the virus gets the disease. According to the CDC, 90% of people who are infected with HPV do not have the virus after two years. The reason for this is that the body is designed to naturally clear it from its system, which would be great news if it stopped there. However, the problem is there is no way to know which person will be able to clear the virus from their system and which person will not.
What can I do to find out if I have it?
You should report to your doctor if you see any suspicious warts or skin conditions in your genitals, mouth, or anywhere in your body. In HPV, the warts can resemble cauliflowers.
You should also report abnormal vaginal or rectal bleeding to your doctor.
Ladies, it is important to get a well women exam done yearly, especially if you are sexually active. A well women exam is an exam that your doctor does to check on the health of your vagina, ovaries, cervix, and other girl parts. When they do the well women exam, they perform a test called a pap smear. Because HPV tends to change the way the cells look on the cervix microscopically, a pap smear checks for abnormal cells on your cervix (the opening hole to your uterus). Your doctor will use a tool to gently scrape some of the cells off the cervix to send them to the lab. This process is similar to the common paternity test where someone scrapes the inside of the cheek for cells. At the lab, the cells will be examined more closely with the use of a microscope. Different tests can also be done on the cells to detect either HPV or cervical cancer. Well women exams are extremely important because early detection of HPV can prevent cervical cancer or stop a cancerous cells from growing to the point that they could potentially kill.
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no screening test for men.
By La Truly
The other day, I had a conversation with my sister that opened my eyes to my own blaring stupidity which could have cost me my life. I was telling her about a guy I once met randomly, had absolutely nothing in common with – except purely animated physical attraction, but clung to him because he was fun and I didn’t want to be lonely. Our values didn’t parallel one another and our goals were… well, I knew mine… I never really got around to asking (or really caring) what his were. Things were light, fun and great. Then, this one particular day he decided to press the issue of unprotected sex. His argument for it included the following quotables:
“Well, you know I stopped messin’ with other people for you.”
“I get tested.”
“If you’re saying you want to be with me but you don’t want to have sex with me without a condom I feel like you’re saying there’s something wrong with me.”
“It just feels better without a condom.”
“I feel like you’re saying you don’t trust me.”
How did I tell him that HECK NO, I really didn’t trust him but I wanted him around? Should I just go ahead and take him at his word? He said he was clean and he wouldn’t lie to me…would he?
I knew that I never really trusted him because of the ladies’ man I knew him to be and his absolute love of sex. I knew that he lied to me constantly about other women, whether by omission or not. I knew that he was incapable of being completely faithful. I knew that he was trying to turn the whole situation around on me, as if my forethought for my own health was totally absurd and a slap in the face to him.
He ended up leaving promptly after I simply refused to answer him. My being speechless was more a product of bewilderment than defiance. And I have to admit, after he left I felt lonely, glad and stupid all at once. Lonely, obviously because he had left me alone and I knew that we would never recover our carefree relationship. Glad, because I had not allowed his incessant pressure to make me do something that very well could have changed my life for the worst. And I felt stupid because although I refused unprotected sex, I did so without assertively telling him exactly what I thought of him and his lowdown tactics. I despised the way he tried to make me feel guilty, totally disregarding my concerns. No, I didn’t trust him but I felt horrible even THINKING to tell him that. Why was I so worried about his feelings? If he had stayed another moment, would I have given in? How strong a woman was I really? My mind was reeling with thoughts, questions and ‘What ifs?’
In reflectively discussing the situation with my sister many months later, she said something deep about it all:
“Men make decisions about women all the time without one thought for their feelings. They’ll end a relationship for any reason when they get ready and move on without caring. Why do we, as women, tiptoe around, trying to be careful and spare men’s feelings when they don’t care to do the same for us?”
That hit me with such force. I had dodged a bullet through ‘just enough’ willpower, not through assertive ‘protect-myself-by-any-means-necessary’ force. I didn’t lay out the facts for him: That I knew he couldn’t possibly ‘settle down,’ that he was a liar and a manipulator and that I had so foolishly tried to override all of those facts for fear of losing his carefree companionship. I had been a fool. I had been a fool blessed that he left when he did. Blessed that the “relationship” ended where it did. Blessed that I could see my obvious weaknesses and begin to apply strength in those areas.
Since then I’ve been a whole lot less concerned with being alone. Self-improvement has occupied that time and space and I’ve learned one valuable lesson:
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Never put up with being bullied or ‘guilted’ into a relationship decision because you’re afraid of being alone. Those moments of weakness will chip away at your self-worth, your ability to make clear choices and even at your health.
If a man cannot respect my timing, my decisions and my values when it comes to MY body, he is not the man for me. I didn’t value myself enough to assert those points back then, but now… Honey, listen… they know from the gate so they can never say that I didn’t make it clear.
AIDS and other STDs are real and they are singlehandedly one of the biggest killers of our community. I have no desire to be a careless victim. In my opinion, it’s better to be safe, lonely and living than to be sorry, lied-to and dying. And I’ve got so much to live for.
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It seems as though every day there’s a new survey about teen pregnancy, whether it’s a CDC report of states with the highest and lowest teen pregnancy rates, or teens speaking on what and who most influences their sexual choices. “The Target Speaks” study finally gives a voice to this misunderstood demographic. The survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy provide findings drawn from two surveys: one given to young unmarried adults between the ages of 18-29 and one of the adult population of 18 and older.
What I find when I talk to today’s youth is that more and more the challenges of sexual health are more about values and conflicting ideas of what healthy relationships are than they are about birth control and reproduction. I said it once and I’ll say it again: Most teens (not all, but most) are educated enough to lead a class about birth control, but they have no concept of self-love, respect, communication and what sex really means to them. We can give out all of the condoms in the world, but the truth is, many teens and adults alike continue to confuse love with sex and use sex as a means to build confidence, find love and acceptance. Interestingly enough, “The Target Speaks” survey reveals just how disconnected we are with today’s youth and our own values and how those values impact the influence we have over their decisions.
For example, about two-thirds of unmarried young adults 18-29 (67 percent) incorrectly believe that teens have the highest number of unplanned pregnancies. However, most unplanned pregnancies occur to women in their 20’s. The media is flagrant with infotainment like “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and Lifetime’s “The Pregnancy Pact,” which may be responsible for misleading the public into believing that teen pregnancy occurs more frequently than it actually does. Although the United States is an industrialized nation with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, it is actually on the decline. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008 teen pregnancy reached its lowest level in 40 years.
As for adults, the survey also reveals that although most Americans pride themselves on having sexual morality and values, our actions fail to fall in line with those beliefs. One in five young unmarried adults report that even if a condom is handy, they still will not use one unless their partner insists. Additionally, many of us aren’t practicing what we preach because our sermons are faulty. Four in ten young adults agreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter whether you use contraception or not; when it is your time to get pregnant, it will happen.” A whopping 72 percent revealed they knew little or nothing about IUDs and 36 percent of young adults incorrectly believe that a woman should “take a break” from the pill every couple of years.
Meanwhile, as we are repeating to teens the importance of postponing parenthood until adult years, 67 percent of adults between the ages of 18-29 responded that, “Getting pregnant and having children is one of the most important things people ever do.” We spend so much time sending misleading messages of what not to do, that we fail to highlight the accomplishments we expect from of our youth such as completing school or getting a job. In this economy, it’s getting increasingly harder to find examples of how education and hard work pay off; you have to remember that for many teens the examples they witness daily is that the quickest way to independence, financial stability and housing is to have a baby. While many of their peers struggle to gain financial stability when choosing a more traditional path, those with children are living on their own and leading “adult” lives even if it is through government assistance. ”Your children are more likely to delay sex, pregnancy and parenthood if they feel they have meaningful goals for the future and a way to reach them,” stated the National Campaign in an article published in Essence magazine titled “8 Tips For Talking With Your Teens About Sex, Love and Relationships.”
How do we expect our youth to make healthy sexual choices when we aren’t even sure of our own sexuality? Just the other day I discussed with a group of young ladies the differences between love and sex. One of the ladies felt comfortable enough to reveal how she met the father of her child and stated the following: “It was at party. He grabbed my hand and the next thing I knew we were having sex.” My co-worker later questioned how I was able to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor and continue to talk to the girls about choices and the expectations of sex without going into “pedestal preaching” mode. The simple answer: I am comfortable with my own values and sexuality. When you are comfortable with your own choices and code of conduct you can therefore respect the choices of others and encourage them to challenge their thoughts and actions.
Before we judge what we view as reckless and irresponsible behavior, we must first reflect on our own faults as adults and pay close attention to the examples we are setting and the subliminal messages we send all the times we are NOT having the sex talk, or living recklessly ourselves. We can’t expect our youth to take an honest look at their attitudes and values if we aren’t even willing to do so ourselves. To learn about more about the survey’s findings, visit: “The Target Speaks.”
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.
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When it comes to maintaining our sexual health, the odds are already stacked against us just for being female. STIs can cause a lot of complication in anyone’s life, but for women especially, STIs can cause complications and irreversible damage that simply just won’t occur in the lives of our male counterparts. Take a look at the list below for several facts that give women a disadvantage when it comes to practicing safe sex:
The first thing you should really know about the vagina is that you should get yourself a group of girlfriends with whom your comfortable enough comparing notes and experiences! But, if you don’t have that group yet or the below issues just haven’t come up, then read on.
The CDC released a report recently, revealing the U.S. teen birth rate decreased again in 2010. Almost every state saw a decline in teen births from 2007-2010, but Arizona experienced the biggest drop at 29 percent. In fact, U.S. births by mothers of all ages dropped in 2010, and experts cite the economy as the biggest factor. Although the highest rates of teen births are still found within the Black and Latino communities, the decline was seen among all races and ethnicities.
Mississippi, New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana still lead with the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rates. New England states including New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey continue to have the lowest teen birth rates in the country. The report defeats the stereotype that teen pregnancy is limited to urban areas and sex education and pregnancy prevention efforts may have also significantly influenced the falling rate.
With an unstable economy and employment rates staggering to grow, it may very well be that teens and people in general are seriously considering the costs associated with building a family. Offered more options when it comes to accessing birth control and relieved from the pressure of affording sexual healthcare, more women are choosing to take advantage of the contraceptive options that are available to them. What’s important about this study is that somewhere, for some reason, young people are listening and actively choosing not to become teen parents. It brings to light that traditional, more conservative states may benefit from welcoming alternatives points of view when it comes to sex education.
Why do you think that teen pregnancy rates are decreasing?
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You use condoms. You sleep with guys who run in the same social circle as you, so you know who they have slept with. You think you’re being safe. You think you fear what you should fear, and are taking all the right precautions. But, sadly, there are a lot of myths that somehow survived through high school, through college and even into adulthood about sexual health. Like these:
What’s one of my favorite things about being single? Not having to deal with the emotional roller coaster that is a relationship. Constantly worrying about someone else’s well being, not to mention having your happiness so closely tied to someone else’s treatment of you, is exhausting. Just one road trip with your man—the arguing about directions, the wondering why he has been silent the past hour, the hoping he actually wants to visit your friends he agreed to visit—can make you need a Prozac. Essentially, relationships can give us anxiety. And men in particular can give us anxiety in these areas:
There is good news on the sexual health front today. A vaginal gel that is known to reduce women’s risk of AIDS infection is even more effective in decreasing genital herpes.
The new study conducted by European researchers of a microbicide gel showed a 39 percent reduction in HIV infections, and unexpectedly that herpes risk was lowered by 51 percent as well. Although the gel was originally developed to fight AIDS in Africa, this new finding means the treatment could be useful to fight both diseases in the U.S. as well, where an estimated 48 percent of black women have herpes.
“This could be incredibly helpful,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a herpes expert from the University of Washington’s medical school. “Protection that a woman can control is the holy grail in this field. It’s hard for me to believe that something that protects against both HIV and herpes wouldn’t be appealing to a lot of young American women.”
It would be hard for me to believe that too, however we may never have the chance to use the gel. An executive at Gilead, the company that makes tenofovir, the anti-AIDS drug that is the gel’s active ingredient, said the company is debating whether to spend the millions of dollars needed to get the gel approved in the American market. If they do go ahead, it would be at least three to four years before the company could even submit data to the Food and Drug Administration. Sigh.
No matter how many years it takes, it should be criminal for the company to even debate not spending the money to bring the gel to the U.S. where it is clearly needed. Safety and acceptability tests for the gel were done in several countries including the United States, and American heterosexual couples did not find the gel unpleasant; nor did South African couples.
As far more people suffer from herpes than HIV — as many as 20% of sexually active adults — the FDA and Gilead need to move forward on bringing this product to the American market.
What do you think about this new prevention method? Would it be useful for women in the United States?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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