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Human Rights + Sexual Rights = Sexual Freedom

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On this the first annual National Sexual Freedom Day, sponsored by The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, I’d like to propose something quite radical. I suggest that our sexual freedoms, here in the United States, are intricately linked to universal sexual rights. And I contend that the notion of universal sexual rights is at its core a respect for human rights and human dignity.

In a world wracked by poverty, disease and war; where we threaten our very existence with climate altering pollution, nuclear proliferation and extreme population growth; is there room to talk about human rights that include sexual rights and sexual freedom?

I emphatically answer yes! In fact, I assert that sexual inequality and oppression is at the heart of many of the world’s problems. I contend that trying to address human rights without including the essential component of sexual rights and sexual freedom is ultimately doomed to failure.

An absence of sexual rights and sexual freedom leads to domestic and societal violence; human trafficking; suicide; a rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs); unplanned pregnancies, abortion, and sexual dysfunction.

You know how we are always being encouraged to Think Globally and Act Locally? Well while we busy ourselves securing and celebrating our sexual rights here in this nation, I think we’d do well to focus some of our attention on how our struggle binds us to the rest of the human community.

I offer three examples of what I’m talking about. I invite you to consider how a myopic sexual rights and sexual freedom agenda, divorced from the overarching issues of human, economic and social rights, can be ineffectual and even counterproductive.

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In 2008 the research community was all aflutter about ‘conclusive’ evidence linking HIV transmission and uncircumcised males. While I’m certainly not ready to take this data on face value, let’s just say, for the sake of discussion, that the link is conclusive. A massive campaign of circumcision was proposed as the best means of HIV prevention. The medical community would descend on epicenters of the disease, scalpels in hand; ready to eliminate the offending foreskins from every male in sight, young and old.

But wait, there’s a problem. Most HIV/AIDS epicenters are in underdeveloped countries. In these places, access to enough clean water to drink or attend to even the most basic personal hygiene, like daily cleaning under one’s foreskin, remains an enormous chronic problem. Without first addressing the problem of unfettered access to clean water and adequate sanitation, which according to The United Nations is a basic human right, further disease prevention efforts are doomed.

I mean, what are the chances that surgical intervention would succeed—one that would involve significant and sophisticated aftercare—if there is not even enough clean water for drinking and bathing?

These well-meaning medical personnel suggest imposing a strategy that not only works against nature—our foreskins do have a purpose after all: a healthy prepuce is a natural deterrent to infection. But this intervention would also violate long-held cultural and societal norms—circumcision is abhorrent to many of these same cultures. Wouldn’t this proposed prevention effort to stem the tide actually make matters worse?

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Indentured sex work is another indicator of how human rights, sexual rights and sexual freedom are intertwined. Until the economic and educational opportunities for women throughout the world improve—which is a basic human right according to The United Nations—women will remain chattel. Families in economically depressed areas of the world will continue to be pressured to sell their daughters (and sons) simply to subsist.

Closing brothels and stigmatizing prostitutes overlooks the more pressing human rights concerns at play here. Sex is a commodity because there is a voracious market. Men from developed nations descend on the populations of less developed nations to satisfy sexual proclivities with partners they are prohibited from enjoying in their own country. Young women (and boys) in developing countries are viewed as exploitable and disposable, because they don’t have the same civil protections afforded their peers in the developed world. And runaway population growth in countries that deprive their women and girls access to education and contraception inevitably creates a never-ending supply of hapless replacements.

Addressing the endemic gender inequality in many societies is key. Equal access to education and economic resources must come before, or at least hand in hand with any serious sexual liberation effort.

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Finally, people in the developed world enjoy a certain level of affluence and economic stability which allows them to indulge in sex recreationally. Thanks to effective birth control methods we can ignore the procreative aspects of sex and replace it with a means of expressing a myriad of other human needs. Not least among these are status, self-esteem and self-expression.

If we’re trying to prove something to ourselves, or others, by the way we conduct our sexual lives, simple prohibitions against certain sex practices won’t work. If I’m convinced that unprotected sex with multiple partners and sharing bodily fluids is edgy, cool fun, without serious consequence, as it’s portrayed in porn; I will be more likely to express myself the same way. This is especially true for young people who are already feeling invincible.

Case in point: there has been a startling uptick in seroconversions among young people, particularly gay men, which indicates that disease prevention efforts, even in the world’s most affluent societies, are simply not up to the task. It’s not that there is a scarcity of resources, quite the contrary. It is more likely that these efforts are not connected to a fundamental understanding of the role sexuality plays in the general population. I believe that sexual expression and sexual pleasure are the overarching issues here. These too are fundamental human rights.

No amount of safer sex proselytizing is going to prevail unless and until we look at why and how we express ourselves sexually. As we unravel this complex jumble of motivations and behaviors, effective prevention strategies will manifest themselves clearly. We must develop a sex-positive message; one that celebrates sexuality, builds self-esteem and counteracts the prevailing media messages of sex with no consequences.

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National Sexual Freedom Day brings into focus the micro-strategies needed to combat a macro problem. But it also shows that we cannot work for and celebrate sexual freedom in a vacuum. It’s imperative that we see how global health and wellbeing is completely dependent on basic human rights, including sexual rights that include gender and reproductive rights, the elimination of sexual exploitation and the freedom of sexual expression.

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Vagina

By Nell Frizzel

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Lying across a turquoise rubber plinth, my legs in stirrups, a large blue sheet of paper draped across my pubes (for “modesty”), a doctor slowly pushes a clear plastic duck puppet up my vagina and, precisely at that moment, Total Eclipse of the Heart comes on over the radio and it’s hard not to love the genitourinary medicine, or GUM, clinic.

I mean that most sincerely: I love the GUM clinic. It is wonderful beyond orgasm that in the UK anyone can walk into a sexual health clinic—without registering with a doctor, without an appointment, without any money, without a chaperone—and get seen within a few hours at most. It brings me to the point of climax just thinking about the doctors and health professionals who dedicate their life to the nation’s ovaries, cervixes, vaginas, and wombs.

And yet, not all women are apparently so comfortable discussing their clitoral hall of fame with a doctor. According to a recent report commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Action, almost half of the women surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said they feared “intimate examinations,” while 44 percent are too embarrassed to talk about sexual health issues with a GP. What’s more, two thirds of those women said they would be afraid to say the word “vagina” in front of their doctor. Their doctor. That is desperately, disappointingly, dangerously sad.

In 2001, I went to see a sexual health nurse called Ms. Cuthbert who kindly, patiently and sympathetically explained to me that I wasn’t pregnant—in fact could not be pregnant—I was just doing my A-Levels. The reason I was feeling sick, light-headed, and had vaginal discharge that looked like a smear of cream cheese was because I was stressed about my simultaneous equations and whether I could remember the order of British prime ministers between 1902 to 1924. My body was simply doing its best to deal with an overload of adrenaline.

Back then, my GUM clinic was in a small health center opposite a deli that would sell Czechoslovakian beer to anyone old enough to stand unaided, and a nail bar that smelled of fast food. I have never felt more grown up than when I first walked out of that building, holding a striped paper bag of free condoms and enough packets of Microgynon to give a fish tits. My blood pressure, cervix, heartrate, and emotional landscape had all been gently and unobtrusively checked over by my new friend Ms. Cuthbert. I had been given the time and space to discuss my hopes and anxieties and was ready to launch myself, legs akimbo, into a world of love and lust—all without handing over a penny, having to tell my parents, pretending that I was married or worry that I was being judged.

My local sexual health clinic today is, if anything, even more wonderful. In a neighborhood as scratched, scored, and ripped apart by the twin fiends of poverty and gentrification as Hackney, the GUM clinic is the last great social leveler. It is one of our last few collective spaces. Sitting in reception, staring at the enormous pictures of sand dunes and tree canopies it is clear that, for once, we’re all in this together. The man in a blue plastic moulded chair wishing his mum a happy birthday on the phone, the two girls in perfect parallel torn jeans scrolling through WhatsApp, the guy with the Nike logo tattoo on his neck getting a glass of water for his girlfriend, the red-headed hipster in Birkenstocks reading about witchcraft in the waiting room, the mother and daughter with matching vacuum-sized plastic handbags talking about sofas, the fake flowers, Magic FM playing on the wall-mounted TV, the little kids running around trying to say hello to everyone while the rest of us desperately avoided eye contact—the whole gang was there. And that’s the point: you may be a working mum, you may be a teenager, you may be a social media intern at a digital startup, you may be a primary school teacher, you may be married, single, a sex worker, unemployed, wealthy, religious, terrified, or defiant but whatever your background, wherever you’ve come from and whoever you slept with last night, you’ll end up down at the GUM clinic.

Which is why it seems such a vulvic shame that so many women feel scared to discuss their own bodies with the person most dedicated to making sure that body is OK. “No doctor will judge you when you say you have had multiple sexual partners, or for anything that comes up in your sexual history,” Dr. Tracie Miles, the President of the National Forum of Gynecological Oncology Nurses tells me on the phone. “We don’t judge—we’re real human beings ourselves. If we hadn’t done it we probably wish we had and if we have done it then we will probably be celebrating that you have too.”

Doctors are not horrified by women who have sex. Doctors are not grossed out by vaginas. So to shy away from discussing discharge, pain after sex, bloating, a change in color, odor, itching, and bleeding not only renders the doctor patient conversation unhelpful, it also puts doctors at a disadvantage, hinders them from being able to do their job properly, saves nobody’s blushes and could result in putting you and your body at risk.

According to The Eve Appeal—a women’s cancer charity that is campaigning this September to fight the stigma around women’s health, one in five women associate gynecological cancer with promiscuity. That means one in five, somewhere in a damp and dusty corner of their minds, are worried that a doctor will open up her legs, look up at her cervix and think “well you deserve this, you slut.” Which is awful, because they won’t. They never, ever would. Not just because they’re doctors and therefore have spent several years training to view the human body with a mix of human sympathy and professional dispassion, but more importantly, because being promiscuous doesn’t give you cancer.

“There is no causal link between promiscuity and cancer,” says Dr. Miles. “The only sexually transmitted disease is the fear and embarrassment of talking about sex; that’s what can stop us going. If you go to your GP and get checked out, then you’re fine. And you don’t have to know all the anatomical words—if you talk about a wee hole, a bum hole, the hole where you put your Tampax, then that is absolutely fine too.”

Although there is some evidence of a causal link between certain gynecological cancers and High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV), that particular virus is so common that, ‘it can be considered a normal consequence of sexual activity’ according to The Eve Appeal. Eighty percent of us will pick up some form of the HPV virus in our lifetime, even if we stick with a single, trustworthy, matching-socks-and-vest-takes-out-the-garbage-talks-to-your-mother-on-the-phone-can’t-find-your-clitoris partner your entire life. In short, HRHPV may lead to cancer, but having different sexual partners doesn’t. Of course, unprotected sex can lead to an orgy of other sexually transmitted infections, not to mention the occasional baby, but promiscuity and safe sex are not mutually exclusive. And medical professionals are unlikely to be shocked by either.

We are incredibly lucky in the UK that any woman can stroll into a sexual health clinic, throw her legs open like a cowboy and receive some of the best medical care the world has ever known. We can Wikipedia diagrams of our vaginas to learn the difference between our frenulum and prepuce (look it up, gals). We can receive free condoms any day of the (working week) from our doctor or friendly neighborhood GUM clinic. We can YouTube how to perform a self-examination, learn to spot the symptoms of STIs, read online accounts by women with various health conditions, and choose from a military-grade arsenal of different contraception methods, entirely free.

A third of women surveyed by The Eve Appeal said that they would feel more comfortable discussing their vaginas and wombs if the stigma around gynecological health and sex was reduced. But a large part of removing that stigma is up to us. We have to own that conversation and use it to our advantage. We need to bite the bullet and start talking about our pudenda. We have to learn to value and accept our genitals as much as any other part of our miraculous, hilarious bodies.

So come on, don’t be a cunt. Open up about your vagina.

Complete Article HERE!

This Sex Researcher Says Scientists Are Scared of Criticizing Monogamy

Monogamous people catch STDs just as often as swingers, but use condoms and get tested less often, a new survey suggests. Some sex researchers say a scholarly bias toward monogamy makes studies like this all too rare.

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People in monogamous relationships catch sexually transmitted diseases just as often as those in open relationships, a new survey suggests, largely due to infidelity spreading infections.

Reported in the current Journal of Sexual Medicine, the survey of 554 people found that monogamous couples are less likely to use condoms and get tested for STDs — even when they’re not being faithful to their partner.

“It turns out that when monogamous people cheat, they don’t seem to be very good about using condoms,” Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist at Ball State University and author of the study, told BuzzFeed News by email. “People in open relationships seem to take a lot of precautions to reduce their sexual health risks.”

The finding matters because people who think they are in monogamous relationships may face higher odds of an infection than they suspect, Lehmiller and other researchers told BuzzFeed News. And a stigma around open relationships that views such couples as irresponsible — even among researchers who conduct studies — may be skewing the evidence.

One in four of the 351 monogamous-relationship participants in Lehmiller’s survey said they had cheated on their partners, similar to rates of sexual infidelity reported in other surveys. About 1 in 5, whether monogamous or not, reported they had been diagnosed with an STD. Participants averaged between 26 to 27 years old, and most (70%) were women.

For people in supposedly exclusive relationships, Lehmiller said, “this risk is compounded by the fact that cheaters are less likely to get tested for (STDs), so when they pick something up, they are probably less likely to find out about it before passing it along.”

Psychologist Terri Conley of the University of Michigan told BuzzFeed News that the survey results echoed her team’s findings in a 2012 Journal of Sexual Medicine study that found people in open relationships were more likely to use condoms correctly in sexual encounters than people in exclusive relationships.

To bolster confidence in the results, Conley said, more funding is needed to test research subjects for STDs directly, rather than relying on their own notoriously unreliable self reporting of infections.

She compared just assuming that monogamous relationships are safer to assuming abstinence education will really stop teenagers from having sex: “Sure, abstinence would be great, but we know that isn’t reality.”

To put it another way, Lehmiller said, “there’s a potential danger in monogamy in that if your partner puts you at risk by cheating, you’re unlikely to find out until it’s too late.”

Sex researchers don’t want to criticize monogamy, Conley added, making funding a definitive study more difficult.

In a commentary on Lehmiller’s study in Journal of Sexual Medicine, Conley argued that sex researchers are “committed to the the belief that monogamy is best” and are “reluctant to consider contradictory evidence.”

“I’m not saying monogamy is bad,” Conley said. “What I found is that the level of hostility among reviewers to suggesting people in consensual non-monogamous relationships are more responsible is really over the top.”

Conley said she initially struggled to publish her 2012 study. When she changed the framing of its conclusion to find that “cheaters” in monogamous relationships were more irresponsible, the study was suddenly published.

“Even in a scientific review process, challenging researchers’ preconceived notions is perilous,” she wrote in her commentary.

Other relationship researchers disagree, however, saying that sociologists have cast shade on monogamy — finding declines in happiness, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of intercourse — for decades. “This is about as widespread a finding as one gets,” Harry Reis, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, told BuzzFeed News. He called the idea that social scientists are biased against studies showing the value of non-monogamous relationships was “poppycock.”

Sex researcher Debbie Herbernick of Indiana University echoed this view, saying funding is not an issue: “I’ve never seen much negative reaction or pushback.”

More critically, Reis said, reviewers might be dubious about the data collected on open relationships, given their relative rarity making reliable data collection difficult.

Although Lehmiller published his study, he agreed with Conley that a stigma still marks open relationships, even in science. “People, including many sex researchers,” he said, “have a tendency to put monogamy on a pedestal and to be very judgmental when it comes to consensual non-monogamy.”

Complete Article HERE!

2.5 Years Later, Zero Cases Of HIV In Large San Francisco PrEP Group

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A new study reveals that after 2.5 years, a group of more than 600 San Francisco men who have sex with men (MSM) taking Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have had zero cases of HIV contraction.

The study also finds that many of these individuals are using condoms less and more than half of those in the group study had contracted at least one sexually transmitted infection (STI) within a year.

From POZ.com:

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente published their findings in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The paper represents a powerful endorsement of PrEP’s ability, in a real-world setting, to prevent HIV infection among those at very high risk of contracting the virus. The lack of new HIV infections among these men challenges the stance of AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein, who has vigorously campaigned that PrEPshould not be used as a widescale public health intervention.

On the flip side, the Kaiser findings challenge the received wisdom from PrEP clinical trials that those taking Truvada as HIV prevention do not increase sexual risk-taking while on the medication.

“Our study is the first to extend the understanding of the use of PrEP in a real-world setting and suggests that the treatment may prevent new HIV infections even in a high-risk setting,” reports lead author Jonathan Volk, MD, MPH, a physician and epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center. “Until now, evidence supporting the efficacy of PrEP to prevent HIV infection had come from clinical trials and a demonstration project.”

It’s important to reiterate that according to Kaiser, though no one using PrEP contracted HIV, there was a very high rate of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

POZ.com breaks it down:

After six months, the clinicians at Kaiser surveyed 143 of the cohort about their sexual risk-taking. At that time, 74 percent reported that their number of recent sexual partners had not changed since starting PrEP, while 15 percent said they had fewer sexual partners and 11 percent said they had more. Regarding condom use, 56 percent said they used them at the same rate after starting Truvada, 41 percent used them less and 3 percent used them more.

Because these individuals were not engaged in a clinical trial, there is no control group to measure the change in these men’s sexual risk-taking against. So there is no way to tell if the group would have changed their risk-taking in a similar pattern if they had not been taking PrEP.

One thing is clear, however: These men would have been at very high risk of contracting HIV had they not been taking PrEP while engaging in the same level of sexual risk-taking. The evidence is in their very high rate of STIs. Six months into taking PrEP, 30 percent of the PrEP users had been diagnosed with at least one STI. After a year, half of them had contracted one or more STIs, with 33 percent diagnosed with a rectal STI, 33 percent with chlamydia, 28 percent with gonorrhea, and 5.5 percent with syphilis. As noted, two of them contracted hep C.

“Without a control group, we don’t know if these STI rates were higher than what we would have seen without PrEP,” stressed the paper’s co-author Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH, postdoctoral fellow at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “Ongoing screening and treatments for STIs, including hepatitis C, are an essential component of a PrEP treatment program.”

No one in the group has been diagnosed with HIV.

Our takeaway, PrEP is clearly doing its job in HIV prevention, however we need to remain vigilant in testing and treatment for STIs. The choice to use or not use condoms is up to the individual, but be aware of the risks and ensure that you’re regularly being tested to protect your health and potentially that of your sexual partners.
Complete Article HERE!

HPV, WTF?

Here’s an exchange I had with a fellow named Angel. He writes:

I have a friend that has HPV. We spoke about being together but I’m nervous about this because I don’t know enough about HPV. Like how safe would I be if we were to mess around and or have sex? I wait to here back from you. Thank you for your time.

Here’s what I know, Angel…

  • HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes.
  • There are about 100 types of HPV. Approximately 30 of those are spread through genital contact (typically fucking). Around 12 of these types are called “low-risk” types of HPV, which can cause genital warts.
  • In addition, there are approximately 15 “high-risk” types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
  • It is estimated that 80 percent of all women – and 50 percent of men and women combined – will get one or more types of “genital” HPV at some point in their lives.

As you can see, this is a very widespread virus. However, it’s relatively easy to protect yourself. Use a condom. You were gonna do that anyway, right?stis-1

And, as you probably know, there is a human papillomavirus vaccine is used to prevent infection by HPV strains 16 and 18, which causes most cancers of the cervix, as well as some cancers of the vulva, vagina and penis. Infection with HPV strain 16 also causes most anal cancers and some throat cancers.

This vaccine, given to young men and women ages 9 through 26, prevents pre-cancerous changes that may become cancer. HPV vaccination is currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all boys and girls ages 11 or 12, and for men and women ages 13 through 26 who have not already received the vaccine or have not completed booster shots.

Depending on the specific vaccine used, it may also prevent genital warts caused by other strains of HPV. This vaccine will not cure an HPV infection that is already present, and does not prevent other sexually transmitted diseases.

condom_STI_titlesThe HPV vaccine is given as a series of three injections into the muscle in the upper arm or thigh. The first shot may be given any time beginning at 9 years of age. The second dose is given 2 months after the first shot, and the third dose is given 6 months after the first shot. The protective effects of the vaccine last for approximately 5 years. Whether or not a booster is needed after five years is not yet known.

Angel writes back with:

Yes ok then sorry I just figured it’s easier to be safe and just not go there. We are really good friends and don’t want to wreck that by worrying about what I may, or may not catch. He doesn’t want me to use condoms for oral sex.

I don’t suppose you happen to know what kind of HPV this person has, do you? That makes a big difference, ya know.

Many people are unclear on the risks associated with oral sex and HPV. It can be passed during oral sex, but it is rare. To reduce the risk of infection during unprotected oral sex, limit exposure to sexual fluids and ensure that no cuts or lesions are present in your mouth or on your partner’s genitals. But, in the end, your safest bet is use a condom. If he doesn’t want you to use a condom, tell him to such his own dick.

Good luck

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