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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.

Doctors urged to advise patients about risks of abstinence-centric sex education

American Academy of Pediatricians’ new report is the clearest denouncement of the failures of not talking about STIs and pregnancy prevention

Across the US only 50% of high school students receive sex education that meets the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across the US only 50% of high school students receive sex education that meets the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The country’s largest organization of pediatricians entered fraught political territory on Monday, with a call for doctors to use their time with patients to combat the potential health consequences of abstinence-centric sex education.

In a new report, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) issued its clearest denunciation yet of sex education programs that fail to offer comprehensive information on topics such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention.

“This is the mothership telling pediatricians that talking about sex is part of your charge to keep children and adolescents safe,” said Dr Cora Breuner, a professor and pediatrician at Seattle Children’s research hospital and the report’s lead author.

“These guidelines give pediatricians in communities where people might say, ‘We don’t want you talking to our kids about this stuff,’ permission to say, ‘No, I can talk about this, I should talk about this, I need to talk about this.’”

The report is broadly a call for pediatricians to help fill in the gaps left by the country’s patchwork sex education programs. It urges pediatricians to teach not only contraception and the benefits of delaying sexual activity, but to cover topics such as sexual consent, sexual orientation and gender identity with school-aged children who may not receive any information in the classroom and involve their parents.

But the authors single out abstinence-heavy education, which sometimes excludes information about contraceptives, as a key concern for doctors looking to help adolescent patients avoid sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. As a result, it is likely to fuel an already contentious debate.

Groups that have advocated for sex education to emphasize abstinence instantly found fault with the new guidelines.

“A health organization like the AAP should not be affirming a behavior that can compromise the health of youth,” said Valerie Huber, the president of Ascend, a group that promotes abstinence-centric sex education and advocates for federal funding. The group was formerly known as the formerly the National Abstinence Education Association.

“They recommend ‘responsible sex’ for young adolescents. Exactly what is responsible sexual activity for adolescents? … The science is clear that teens are healthier when they avoid all sexual activity.”

Moreover, Huber said, programs that “normalize teen sex” are unpopular with many parents.

“Most communities do not support the type of sex education they recommend,” she said.

Still, others embraced the report as bringing the AAP’s recommendations more in line with the reality.

“This is a fantastic move,” said Chitra Panjabi, the president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a research group that supports comprehensive sex education. “It’s really important that our medical providers are standing up and saying, hey, the youth in our communities are coming to us because they’re not getting the information they need. And so we need to step in.”

The US does not enforce national standards for sex education and schools in many states are not required to teach it. Across the country, SIECUS estimates, only 50% of high school students receive sex education that meets the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other half of students receive anything from an incomplete sex education, to education that emphasizes abstinence, to abstinence-only education, with a focus on delaying sex until heterosexual marriage.

In February, Barack Obama proposed a budget for 2017 that eliminated the $10m the department of health and human services spends on abstinence-only programs every year. But funding continues to flow to those programs from other sources. Title V, an abstinence-only program, allocates $75m a year to abstinence-only programs, money that states match by 75%.

In the last quarter-century, programs emphasizing abstinence as the optimal way to avoid pregnancy and STIs have received more than $2bn in funding from the federal government. Comprehensive sex education, by contrast, has no dedicated federal funding stream.

“It’s a political climate where people don’t want to talk about these issues,” said Breuner. “But it makes our job so much harder when we cannot coordinate our efforts with the schools. It takes time away from the other safety issues we need to be discussing. Don’t smoke weed. Don’t text and drive.”

Recently, two major surveys of existing research on sex education concluded that there was no evidence or inconclusive evidence to show that abstinence-centric programs succeeded in delaying sexual activity. One of the surveys found that comprehensive sex education was actually more effective than abstinence education at delaying sexual activity in teens. (Ascend points to select studies which show the opposite.)

A long-term study found that teens receiving abstinence-only programs were less likely to use contraceptives or be screened for STIs, although rates of infections were not elevated.

The studies helped compel the AAP to issue its first major guidance on sex education since 2001.

“It’s important for pediatricians to have the backing to say, ‘Look, I can’t support telling this stuff to children,’” Breuner said. “I have to deal with the aftermath, which is a 15-year-old who’s pregnant, or a 16-year-old who has a sexually transmitted infection he’s going to have for the rest of his life.”

Breuner said a number of her patients have suffered consequences from abstinence-only education. Many of them are pregnant teenagers and girls who, in the absence of accurate information, came to believe in common myths about pregnancy prevention.

“They’ll say, ‘I thought you couldn’t get pregnant when you were having your period,’ or, ‘I thought it took two or three years after you get your period to be able get pregnant.’ It’s heartbreaking, because I know with education, this could have been prevented.”

Complete Article HERE!

7 Not-So-Deadly Myths About STDs

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STDs can be scary – if you don’t know the facts.

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Due to the highly stigmatized nature of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, it’s no wonder everything from STD prevention to transmission gets cloaked in confusion and misconception. STDs rarely get talked about without a hidden agenda: fear. Fair enough. STDs can be scary – if you don’t know the facts.

Lucky for you, we do.

Not only are STDs either treatable or manageable these days, but they’re rarely deadly. Bet you didn’t know that, right? We’ve gathered seven other not-so-deadly myths about STDs: explained, decrypted and vetted for your educational benefit.

You’re welcome.

 

Complete Article HERE!

Even Fewer Kids Are Learning Basic Things About Sex Ed

BY TARA CULP-RESSLER

sex ed

The United States, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, isn’t exactly known for its top-notch sexual health resources. But a new study suggests that our country’s sex ed has gotten even worse in recent years.

Even fewer teens are now getting basic sex ed information, like formal instruction about how to use birth control, according to researchers at the Guttmacher Institute who compared sexual health data over a seven year period.

The researchers compared data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during two of the agency’s survey periods: the 2006–2010 survey and 2011–2013 survey. These surveys included questions for teens about whether they ever received formal sex education materials — like how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, how to say no to sex, how to put on a condom, and how to use different methods of contraception — before they turned 18.

In the 2006-2010 survey period, 70 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys said they had received some information about birth control methods. But in the later survey period, those numbers dropped to 60 percent among girls and 55 percent among boys.

As time passed, fewer girls also reported receiving any formal education on how to prevent STDs and how to say no to sex. These declines were particularly acute in rural areas of the country, where teens already struggle with higher rates of unintended pregnancies.

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The study’s lead researcher, Laura Duberstein Lindberg, characterized the declines in sex ed instruction as “distressing.” She also pointed out that this data fits into a bigger pattern in the United States. Over the past two decades, the number of teens receiving formal instruction about birth control has been steadily declining, and abstinence-only classes that don’t include accurate information about sexual health have persisted.

“The United States is moving in the wrong direction,” said Leslie Kantor, the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest sex ed provider. “Sex education can make a real difference in adolescents’ overall health and well-being. The fact that young people are being deprived of information critical to their sexual health is unacceptable.”

Only 21 states and the District of Columbia currently require sex education and HIV education to be taught in public schools. An even fewer number, 18, explicitly require information about contraception in the classroom. On the other end of the spectrum, 37 states mandate that schools should focus on lessons about abstinence.

There’s a lot of evidence that providing teens with accurate information about sex ed helps them make healthier choices. Sex ed classes are actually linked to a delay in sexual activity — suggesting that, instead of spurring teens to become more sexually active, talking to them about sex actually helps them make more thoughtful decisions about their bodies.

“We need to right the ship, get back on track, and make sure all students receive quality sex education that prepares them to make informed and healthy decisions,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit group focusing on the reproductive health issues that are important to young people.

 Complete Article HERE!

STIs may have driven ancient humans to monogamy, study says

The shift away from polygamy to monogamy with the dawn of agriculture could be down to the impact of sexually transmitted infections in communities

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Computer simulations show monogamy helped establish a steady population while in communities where polygyny was rife population plummeted.

Computer simulations show monogamy helped establish a steady population while in communities where polygyny was rife population plummeted.

The clam, the clap and the pox are rarely linked to romance. But new research suggests they may have helped drive humans to monogamy.

Based on insights from computer models, scientists argue that the shift away from polygynous societies – where men had many long-term partners, but women had only one – could be down the impact of sexually transmitted infections on large communities that arose with the dawn of the agricultural age. Agriculture is thought to have taken hold around 10,000 years ago, although some studies put the date even earlier.

“That behaviour was more common in hunter gatherers and it seemed to fade when we became agriculturists,” said Chris Bauch of the University of Waterloo in Canada who co-authored the paper.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, Bauch and his colleague Richard McElreath from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, describe how they built a computer model to explore how bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis that can cause infertility, affected populations of different sizes. The authors considered both small hunter gatherer-like populations of around 30 individuals and large agricultural-like populations of up to 300 individuals, running 2,000 simulations for each that covered a period of 30,000 years.

In small polygynous communities, the researchers found that outbreaks of such STIs were short-lived, allowing the polygynous population to bounce back. With their offspring outnumbering those from monogamous individuals, polygyny remained the primary modus operandi.

But when the team looked at the impact of STIs on larger polygynous societies, they found a very different effect. Instead of clearing quickly, diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea became endemic. As a result, the population plummeted and monogamists, who did not have multiple partners, became top dog. The team also found that while monogamists who didn’t ‘punish’ polygamy could gain a temporary foothold, it was monogamists that ‘punished’ polygamy – often at their own expense of resources – that were the most successful. While the form of such punishments were not specified in the model, Bauch suggests fines or social ostracisation among the possible penalties. The results, they say, reveal that STIs could have played a role in the development of socially imposed monogamy that coincided with the rise of large communities that revolved around agriculture.

“It’s really quite exciting,” said evolutionary anthropologist Laura Fortunato of the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study. While there is little data to be had on the prevalence of STIs in either hunter gatherer populations or in early communities that embraced agriculture, Fortunato believes that there are opportunities to explore the idea further. “You could see if that mechanism is in operation in contemporary populations,” she said.

While the authors acknowledge that other factors might also have influenced the shift to monogamy, the research, they believe, highlights an oft-overlooked aspect of human behaviour. “A lot of the ways we behave with others, our rules for social interaction, also have origins in some kind of natural environment,” said Bauch.

But others describe the authors’ theory as “unlikely”. “I don’t think it is necessarily wrong but I think the basis for their modelling may be,” said Kit Opie of University College, London. Opie argues that early human society was not likely to be polygynous. “Looking at modern day hunter gatherers who provide some sort of model for pre-agricultural societies, ie any human society prior to about 10,000 years ago, then polygyny is very rare,” he said. “Hunter-gatherer marriage is a much looser affair than we are used to and polygyny may be allowed but very rarely is it actually practiced.”

Bauch believes the argument doesn’t detract from the authors’ conclusions. “I don’t think it affects our hypothesis because our hypothesis and mechanism concern general trends,” he said. While the authors note that further work that clearly distinguished between marriage and mating could add further insights, Bauch believes the new study shows the power of simulations. “Our research illustrates how mathematical models are not only used to predict the future, but also to understand the past,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!