Category Archives: Health Concerns

These scientists say you’ll probably never have heart-stopping sex

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Heart patients have worried that they may die suddenly from having sex, but a new study suggests they probably won’t.

Researchers found that less than 1 percent of people who experienced sudden cardiac arrest were having, or just had, sex. Now Sumeet Chugh, one of the study’s authors, has some “happy news” to tell his nervous patients.

“As a cardiologist, from time to time, in an awkward way, patients would ask me, ‘You know doc, what’s my risk of dying suddenly with sexual activity?’ We could say to them it’s probably low, but we never had data,” Chugh said. “Now we have data to answer that question.”

Researchers described sudden cardiac arrest as a “mostly lethal condition” that manifests as “an unexpected collapse and loss of the pulse.”

More than 300,000 people die of sudden cardiac arrest every year in the United States, yet about 1 in 100 men and 1 in 1,000 women experience sudden cardiac arrest relating to sexual activity, according to the study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The community-based Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study examined data on more than 4,500 sudden cardiac arrests in the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area from 2002 to 2015. Of those, 34 were related to sex, and most were men with a history of heart diseases.

Researchers collected medical records, autopsy data and details of what the person was doing when sudden cardiac arrest occurred. Any cases that occurred during sex or within one hour of having sex were considered related to sexual activity.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurred during sexual activity in 18 cases and within minutes of it in 15 cases. In one case, the timing could not be determined.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see how low it was,” said Chugh, the associate director of the Heart Institute for Genomic Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

This study is an opportunity to reassure patients that they can return to a good quality of life, including sexual activity, said Nieca Goldberg, who is the medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University. She is also an AHA spokeswoman and was not involved with the study.

“These are real concerns of our patients,” she said. “We have so many tools to prolong people’s lives. We want them to have a good quality of life, returning to exercise, eating a healthy diet and returning to sexual activity.”

The study also shows that sex “obviously isn’t as strenuous as we thought,” Chugh said, and Goldberg agreed. Sex, in general, is equivalent to walking up two flights of stairs, she said.

But a concerning result of the study, Chugh and Goldberg noted, is that it seems to suggests that sexual partners aren’t very willing to perform CPR, or don’t know how to do it, if a partner goes into sudden cardiac arrest.

Within 10 minutes of sudden cardiac arrest, a person is likely to die, and only one-third of those who experienced sudden cardiac arrest relating to sexual activity received bystander CPR, according to the study.

“We would think that if the witness is right there, everybody would get CPR,” Chugh said. “But it turns out only a third of the subjects got CPR. And since most of the subjects were men it seems like two-thirds of the women really didn’t do the CPR.”

“It’s a good idea to be aware of CPR, know how to do CPR, and do CPR even if it’s as awkward and difficult a scenario as cardiac arrest during sexual activity,” Chugh said.

On average, those who went into sudden cardiac arrest related to sexual activity were five years younger and more likely to be African American than the rest of the cases, the study states. Sudden cardiac arrest in relation to sexual activity was also more likely to have ventricular fibrillation, when the heart pumps little to no blood, according to the study.

Researchers did not examine how often patients in the study had sex, the type of intercourse, or how long it lasted. In any case, the results show that there isn’t a high risk associated with sex and sudden cardiac arrest, Chugh said.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s Surprisingly Hard to Ban Toxic Sex Toys

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But Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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These days, most of us will carefully check ingredients lists for gluten and trans fats, demand that our water bottles be made without BPA, and seek out paraben-free, body-safe cosmetics. But the average person can’t tell you what a toxic sex toy is—or even that they exist. Unfortunately, in the unregulated sex toy industry, plenty of sex toys are potentially rife with products that can hurt you (and not even in the fun, kinky way).

Perhaps the most well-known offender in terms of toy toxicity is a group of chemicals known as phthalates, a plasticizer that can be blended with other substances to make them softer and more flexible. A spotlight’s been shone on phthalates in recent years, as publications like Bustle and Bitch, and feminist-oriented sex shops like Good Vibes and Babeland have spoken out against them.

So why all the hullabaloo? It turns out that phthalates may have side effects when they come into contact with your body that could potentially be terrible for you—and aren’t disclosed by most sex toy manufacturers. According to Amanda Morgan, D.H.S., a faculty member at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wrote her master’s thesis on harmful sex toy materials, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can cause health problems. “[Phthalates] mess with your hormones; they can cause birth defects, or other things related to liver or kidney functioning,” Morgan told me, referencing studies that have linked phthalates to irregular fetal development, early-onset puberty, and lower sperm counts, among other issues. “They can really mess you up because they pretend to be your hormones, and so your body’s hormonal cycle gets knocked out of whack from exposure to these things.”

When you hear horror stories about sex toys, though, it’s not necessarily phthalates that are to blame. One of the most common anecdotal complaints about toxic toys is that they cause skin irritation: “I first thought [it] was a yeast infection or BV, because of extreme itching and burning on my inner labia,” reports one reader who wrote in to sex toy review blog Dangerous Lilly. “My ass suddenly felt like it was on fire. A burning sensation spread throughout my butt,” recalled sex educator Tristan Taormino about a questionable dildo she used. One Playboy story described a dildo that caused a woman “such severe pain that she could barely speak.”

I asked Emily S. Barrett, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Health who has done extensive research on the prenatal effects of endocrine disruptors like phthalates, whether these reported burning sensations fit with her understanding of the chemicals. She told me she hasn’t seen evidence that phthalates irritate the skin in this way, and that they tend to “act on a much more subtle level most of the time.”

So what is causing these health problems? According to Amanda Morgan, phthalates aren’t the only sketchy ingredient still getting into our sex toys. As part of her thesis research, Morgan tested 32 sex toys to determine their chemical makeup. What she found was pretty scary: The toys she tested typically contained 30 to 35 percent chlorine. She said PVC, a material commonly used to make inexpensive sex toys, always contains chlorine (hence the chemical name “polyvinyl chloride”). Even scarier, in 2006, BadVibes.org—an organization that, full disclosure, is linked to pro-toy-safety sex shop The Smitten Kitten—ran lab tests on four popular sex toys. They found that two of them were made of PVC and contained “very high levels of phthalate plasticizer.”

“We use chlorine to kill bacteria in things,” Morgan said. “If you are being exposed to this high level of chlorine, especially in a sensitive membrane area [like the vagina or rectum], we could definitely chalk that up to causing irritation, burning, or messing up the environment by exposing it to something that is, as we know, a sterilization product.” So with the short-term burning effects of chlorine and the long-term endocrine effects of phthalates, PVC is, Morgan said, “definitely one of the worst sex toy materials we’ve seen.”

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, great to know! I’ll just buy only safe toys from now on!” Well, it’s not so simple. Since the sex toy industry is unregulated, it doesn’t fall under the current purview of the Food and Drug Administration. According to FDA press officer Angela Stark, that’s because the agency “does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure. It does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use to treat sexual dysfunction or to supplement Kegel exercises.” Of course, the vast majority of sex toys don’t fall under this “health aid” umbrella.

The responsibility of regulating sex toys could potentially fall to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but Morgan told me the understaffed CPSC is already in charge of regulating over 15,000 types of products—not to mention the products themselves. The complex issue of sex toy regulation would be a big ask on top of all that.

Add to all of this the fact that the current Congress likely wouldn’t rush to make a bold, sex-positive statement by mandating sex toy safety, and there are plenty of reasons your sex toy might not meet body-safe standards. “Our government doesn’t generally like to talk about people pleasuring themselves,” Morgan pointed out.

Beyond that, though, Morgan adds that regulating the sex toy industry might not even be the best solution to getting rid of toxic toys anyway. “If something is federally regulated, that means that the federal government—depending on where they are in their political leanings at that time—could potentially make it illegal to have these products, by saying they are ‘dangerous’ and then regulating them out of existence,” she reasoned. “You get certain types of people in power, and they may not believe in sexual health, wellness, [or] self-pleasuring. It might go against their core values, and therefore they [might] use their political agenda and the federal regulation system to regulate these products out of people’s hands.”

It’s a conclusion that Zach Biesanz, a legal assistant in the office of New York’s Attorney General, came to in his 2007 paper in the journal Law & Inequality: “Special regulation of the sex toy industry would be unreasonably burdensome from a regulatory standpoint,” he wrote. “Only banning these toxins outright will suffice to protect consumers from phthalates’ harmful and even lethal effects.”

In the meantime, how do you tell if a toy is safe? Sex toy experts like Morgan, Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett, and seasoned sex toy reviewer Epiphora all recommend buying toys made of phthalate-free, body-safe materials like pure silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Still, it’s difficult to know what’s what in an industry that mislabels its products so frequently. “Sniff your sex toy,” said Morgan. “That’s the easiest thing you can do. If you smell these products and they don’t smell like anything, then it most likely is a stable chemical compound like silicone.” Phthalates and PVC, however, smell “like chemicals,” according to Morgan, “like a new shower curtain,” according to Epiphora, and “like a headache,” according to Pritchett. The sex toy smell test might sound a little weird, but it’s a pretty good first line of defense.<

Morgan also recommends buying toys made by “companies that take a lot of pride in making good-quality, body-safe toys,” citing Tantus and Jimmyjane as examples. Other companies that proudly declare their products body-safe include We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Vixen Creations, and Funkit Toys.

And when in doubt, find a reviewer you can trust. Sex toy review blogs abound on the internet —Epiphora, Dangerous Lilly, and Formidable Femme, to name just a few—and while you’d be wise to take claims about sex toys with a grain of salt in this unregulated industry, sometimes the preponderance of good or bad reviews about a particular company or toy can suggest conclusions about its safety (or lack thereof).

Most important, though, demand body-safe sex toys by buying only from companies you can trust. “Consumers vote with their pocketbook,” said Tantus founder Metis Black. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” She added that while pure silicone toys are expensive now—especially in comparison to PVC toys, which can often be under $30 a pop versus $100+ for silicone—more consumer demand for body-safe toys will create a larger supply at lower prices, as bigger companies with more resources start making nontoxic toys in larger quantities. That’s just sex toy economics.

Bloggers, consumers, and ethical toymakers alike all dream of a future in which no sex toys will burn your junk, give you infections, or cause long-term bodily harm. It seems reasonable enough. And if we keep fighting for it, maybe one day it’ll be reality.

Complete Article HERE!

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Here’s what happens when you get an STI test — and if it comes back positive

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By Erin Van Der Meer

If you’ve never had an STI test, you’re probably imagining it’s a horrendously awkward experience where a mean, judgmental doctor pokes around your nether regions.

But like getting a needle or going to your first workout in a while, it’s one of those things that seems much worse in your mind than it is in reality.

For starters, often you don’t even have to pull down your pants.

“If someone comes in for a routine test for sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and they don’t have any symptoms, they usually don’t need a genital examination,” Dr Vincent Cornelisse, a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, told Coach.

“The tests that are ordered will depend on that person’s risk of STIs – some people only need a urine test, some need a self-collected anal or vaginal swab, and some people need a blood test.

“We aim to make this process as hassle-free as possible, in order to encourage people to have ongoing regular testing for STIs.”

Cornelisse says the embarrassment and stigma that some of us still feel about getting an STI test is unnecessary.

“STIs have been around for as long as people have been having sex, so getting an STI is nothing to be ashamed about, it’s a normal part of being human.

“Getting an STI test is an important part of maintaining good health for anyone who is sexually active.”

If you’re yet to have an STI test or it’s been a long time, here’s what you need to know.

How often do you need an STI test?

On average it’s good to get an STI test once a year, but some people should go more often.

“Some people are more affectionate than others, so some need to test every three months – obviously, if someone has symptoms that suggest that they may have an STI, then a physical examination is an important part of their assessment.”

As a general rule, people under 30, men who have sex with men, and people who frequently have new sexual partners should go more often.

To get an STI test ask your GP, or find a sexual health clinic in your area – the Family Planning Alliance Australia website can help you locate one.

What happens at the test?

As Cornelisse mentioned, the doctor will ask you some questions to determine which tests you need, whether it’s a urine test, blood test or genital inspection.

You’ll be asked questions about your sexual orientation, the number of sexual partners you’ve had, your sexual practices (like whether you’ve had unprotected sex), whether you have any symptoms, whether you have injected drugs, and whether you have any tattoos or body piercings.

Your results will be sent away and returned in about one week.

What if you test positive?

There’s no reason to panic if your results show you have an STI – if anything, you should feel relieved, Cornelisse says.

“If you hadn’t had the test, you wouldn’t have realised you had an STI and you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to treat it.

“Most STIs are easily treatable, and the other ones can be managed very well with modern medicine. So don’t feel shame, feel proud – you’re adulting!”

You’ll need to tell your recent sexual partners. While it might be a little awkward, they’ll ultimately appreciate you showing that you care about them.

“People often stress about this, but in my experience people appreciate it if their sexual partner has bothered to tell them about an STI – it shows them that you respect them,” Cornelisse says.

“Also, if this is a sexual partner who you’re likely to have sex with again, not telling them means that you’re likely to get the same STI again.”

The risks of leaving an STI untreated

You can probably think of 400 things you’d rather do than go for an STI test, but the earlier a sexually transmitted infection is caught, the better.

A recent spate of “super-gonorrhea” – a strain of the disease resistant to normal antibiotics –can result in fertility problems, but people who contract it show no symptoms, meaning getting tested is the only way to know you have it, and treat it.

“Untreated STIs can cause many serious problems,” Cornelisse warns.

“For women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic scarring, resulting in infertility and chronic pelvic pain.

“Syphilis is making a comeback, and if left untreated can cause many different problems, including damage to the brain, eyes and heart.

“If HIV is left untreated it will result in damage to the immune system — resulting in life-threatening infections and cancers — which is called AIDS.”

There is a long-term treatment for AIDS, but this depends on it being caught early.

“People living with HIV now can live a healthy life and live about as long as people without HIV, but the chance of living a healthy life with HIV depends on having the HIV diagnosed early and starting treatment early.

“Which it’s why it’s so important to be tested regularly, particularly as many STIs often don’t cause symptoms, so you won’t know you have one.”

Looking at the big picture, if you have an undiagnosed and untreated STI, you could give it to your sexual partners, who pass it onto theirs, which is how you got it.

“Getting a regular STI test is not only important for your own health, it also makes you a responsible sexual partner,” Cornelisse says.

“I encourage people to discuss STI testing with their sexual partners. If your sexual partners are also getting tested regularly, it reduces your risk of getting an STI.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

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“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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We must acknowledge adolescents as sexual beings

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As a teenager, Dr. Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli experienced shame and was often denied access when he tried to purchase condoms. Forty years later, adolescents around the world still face barriers to contraceptive access. In this blog, Dr. Chandra-Mouli discusses those barriers and how they can be overcome.

Dr. Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli recalls feeling shame and was often denied access when he tried to purchase condoms as a teenager.

By Dr. Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli

I grew up in India. While in my late teens and studying to be a doctor, I met the girl whom I married some years later. A year or so into our relationship we started to have sex. We decided to use condoms. Getting them at a government-run clinic was out of question. They were known to provide free condoms called Nirodh, which were said to be as smelly and thick as bicycle inner tubes. Asking our family doctor was also out of question. He knew my mother and I had no doubt that he would tell.

So, I used to walk to pharmacies, wait until other customers had left, and then muster up the courage to ask the person behind the counter for upmarket Durex condoms. Sometimes I was successful and walked out feeling like a king. Other times, I was scolded and sent away. I still recall my ears burning with shame. That was 40 years ago, but I know from adolescents around the world with whom I work that they continue to face many barriers to obtaining contraceptives.

Different adolescents, different barriers

In many societies, unmarried adolescents are not supposed to have sex. Laws and policies forbid providing them with contraception. Even when there are no legal or policy restrictions, health workers refuse to provide unmarried adolescents with contraception.

Married adolescents are under pressure to bear children. Many societies require girls to be nonsexual before marriage, fully sexual on their marriage night, and fertile within a year. In this context, there is no discussion of contraception until they have one or more children, especially male children.

Most societies do not acknowledge the sexuality of groups such as adolescents with disabilities or those living with HIV. Neither do they acknowledge the vulnerability of adolescent girls and boys in humanitarian crises situations.

Finally, no one wants to know or deal with non-consensual sex, resulting from either verbal coercion or physical force by adults or peers. Girls who are raped may need post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, emergency contraception, or safe abortion—all of which are taboo subjects.

Overcoming these barriers

These powerful and widespread taboos have resulted in limited and inconsistent progress on improving adolescent contraception access. This has to change. We must acknowledge adolescents as the sexual beings they are. We must try to remember what a joy it was to discover sex when we were adolescents. We must give adolescents the information, skills, and tools they need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

With that in mind, I recommend the following:

  • We need to provide adolescents with sexuality education that meets their needs.
  • We need to change the way we provide adolescents with contraceptives by offering them a range of contraceptives and helping them choose what best meets their needs, and use a mix of communication channels—public, private, social marketing and social franchising to expand their availability. We must go beyond one-off training to use a package of evidence-based actions to ensure that health workers are competent and responsive to their adolescent clients.
  • We need to address the social and economic context of girls’ lives. In many places, adolescent girls do not have the power to make contraception decisions. Even when they are able to obtain and use contraception, an early pregnancy in or out of union may be the best of a limited set of bad options – when they are limited education and employment prospects.

To reach the 1.2 billion adolescents in the world, we must move from small-scale short-lived projects to large-scale and sustained programs. For this, we need national policies and strategies, and work plans and budgets that are evidence-based and tailored to the realities on the ground. Most importantly, we need robust implementation so that programs are high quality and reach a significant scale while paying attention to equity.

We need government led programs that engage and involve a range of players including adolescents. For this to happen, coordination systems must be in place to engage key sectors such as education, draw upon the energy and expertise of civil society, recognize the complementary role that the public, the private sector and social marketing programs can play, and to meaningfully engage young people.

Some countries have shown us that this can be done. Over a 15-year period, employing a multi-component program including active contraceptive promotion, England has reduced teenage pregnancy by over 50%. This decline has occurred in every single district of the country.

Ethiopia is another outstanding example. Civil war and famine in the mid-1980s had catastrophic effects on the country. However, over a 12 year-period, with an ambitious basic health worker program, Ethiopia has increased contraceptive use in married adolescents from 5% to nearly 30% . It has also halved the rate of child marriage and female genital mutilation, although this decline is more marked in some provinces than in others. These countries have shown that with good leadership and strong management progress is possible.

There will be logistic and social challenges in moving forward. Understanding and overcoming them will require leadership and good management, which is why a strong and sustained focus on implementation must be combined with monitoring and program reviews to generate data that could be used in quick learning cycles to shape and reshape policies and programs.

There is likely to be backlash from those that oppose our efforts to provide adolescents with contraceptive information and services, and to empower them to take charge of their lives. We must do our best to bring these individuals and organizations on board. But we must not be silenced or stopped. We must stand our ground and we must prevail. We owe that to the world’s adolescents.

Complete Article HERE!

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