Vote Like Your Sex Life Depends On It

Unless you have been living under a rock the past two years, I imagine you are very aware that there is a very important election taking place today.  Part of me just wants it to be over because I am so sick of the political ads running constantly and the 24 hour news system reporting on who is leading in the polls (that day).  Even though the numbers show a pretty likely win for President Obama, I am still terrified something may go wrong.

What’s at stake this election is much more than bragging rights because your party is in office. The quality of your sex life for the next four years will be determined by what happens today.

I am not just talking about mine alone here, which will completely disappear if there is a Romney-Ryan win. I will curl up in the fetal position out of deep depression, not leaving my bed for four years, hoping someone will wake me up when the nightmare is over.  But that’s beside the point.  A Romney presidency will have disastrous effects on the sexual health of this nation as a whole.  It will be devastating because sexual dysfunction is rampant on every level across the US. We have some of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the developed world as well as a rape culture that shatters lives every two minutes. It’s hard to believe that in 2012 one of the options on the ballot is a huge step backwards.

Some may argue that this is hardly a priority, as the economy is a mess and unemployment is high (although the numbers are looking much better). Reproductive health has become a centerpiece of campaigns this election season, from the local level all the way to the Presidential race.

We are also seeing the alarming results of decades filled with abstinence only education play out across the nation with candidates such as Todd Akin in Missouri claiming that women don’t get pregnant from rape and Richard Mourdock in Indiana saying that even though rape is terrible, it is what God intends. The Republican Party is making a huge case for why we need to invest heavily in sexual health education rather than slash it entirely which is what they would prefer.

Romney himself has made it clear that he will repeal the affordable care act and de-fund Planned Parenthood. The continued attack on Planned Parenthood, Title X (funding for family planning), and access to affordable healthcare from the right is one of the biggest threats to our national security.  Not only do Planned Parenthood and other community clinics threatened by these proposed policies provide life-saving screenings for breast and cervical cancer, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, but they offer education and access to contraception that the majority of the country cannot get elsewhere.  Additionally, these programs are the only methods proven time and again to decrease the number of abortions need. This is something the GOP should get behind and support wholeheartedly, rather than try to destroy.

The Romney Ryan ticket is also the biggest threat to Roe vs. Wade we have seen. This could literally make sex deadly with a return to unsafe “back alley” abortions. The possibility that a President Romney would appoint a conservative anti-choice Supreme Court justice, could make an outlaw of abortion a reality, even in extreme cases such as rape or incest.

Choosing a running made like Paul Ryan solidified Romney’s anti-sex stance this election. Having someone like Ryan who consistently votes against choice, even in legislation that would result in the death of the woman proves that a Romney presidency is not only bad for sex but is dangerous to women.

If you want to have a good sex life for the next four years, one that is healthy and that gives you the freedom to control what happens to your body, I highly encourage you to head to the polls right now.  Even though we often feel our single vote won’t make a difference, in this election it will.   You can help decide whether the US keeps moving forward or takes one giant and dangerous step backwards.  Vote like your sex life depends on it…because it does.

Slut Walk DC 2012

Let’s Talk About HPV, Baby

The first time I really understood what HPV meant was when I had an abnormal pap smear and later a biopsy.  A very intimate part of me had to be removed to see if the changes occurring in my body were severe.  Luckily they weren’t.

HPV, the Human Pappilloma Virus, causes genital warts and cancer.  That’s all I knew previously.  I later found out that using condoms doesn’t protect transmission, as all it takes is a little skin-to-skin contact for it to be passed from one person to another.  I also learned that almost everyone who is sexually active will have it at some point in their life.

I had heard of Gardasil, the vaccine that prevents against the most damaging strains of HPV, a couple times.  In a Biology course in college, my professor argued that HPV should be much more of a concern for everyone in the class than HIV, even though we heard virtually nothing about it.  Alarmed, I immediately went to my university health clinic for the vaccine.  I was told I wasn’t able to get it since I had one too many partners in my sexual history (2).  With student health insurance, the shot was $160 (and you need three for it to work).  I couldn’t justify the high price for something that my school nurses guaranteed would be of no help to me.  Later, I found out that the nurse was wrong and that point would have been a great opportunity for prevention.

I understand that we are learning more and more about HPV in recent years.  My peers and I were unfortunate enough to grow up in a time when the virus was very present but we lacked the information to protect ourselves.  Beyond the biopsies, some close friends have needed procedures to freeze off the abnormal cells in their cervix–a very difficult experience.

But we know more about HPV now.  We cannot continue to sit back and allow a generation of girls who don’t have the proper tools to protect themselves because of politics.

The war on women has received some major press in recent months, as the Republican Party is trying to take us back to a time they nostalgically yearn for when women had very little autonomy over their bodies.  It is no surprise they are trying to restrict birth control and abortion, but the inclusion of HPV prevention and Gardasil access in this war against women is a low blow.

Last week, Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina vetoed legislation that would provide Gardasil to middle school girls free of charge.  This legislation received overwhelming bi-partisan support and was incredibly watered down, but still the Governor put this culture war ahead of the needs of the girls of South Carolina.  Her reasoning was that it would be “a precursor to another taxpayer-funded healthcare mandate.”  This is hardly the first time HPV has been politicized.  Remember the Michelle Bachmann fiasco?

The biggest critics to Gardasil and the implementation of a larger, national HPV prevention program claim that the vaccine will cause young girls to become promiscuous, that this will be a gateway for Obamacare, and/or vaccines will result in learning disabilities.

Let’s look at Hepatitis B for a minute.  Every state requires children to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B, most of the time, before their third birthday.  Hepatitis B is a virus that causes liver disease and approximately two to four thousand people die annually as a result of cirrhosis or liver cancer.  Hepatitis B is largely sexually transmitted.

Did the vaccine program cause these young children to be more promiscuous, as many fear Gardasil will?  No.  Are we living in a country that has socialized medicine as a result of this government vaccine program?  Definitely not.  Is every child who has been vaccinated for Hepatitis B now stuck with a learning disability?  No, no and more no.  The vaccine program has only helped reduce the number of individuals who die from liver disease.

Approximately 4,000 women die annually from cervical cancer.  HPV has now been linked to an increase in other forms of cancer such as throat, anal, and penile.  With there being no clear symptoms–especially in men–to make you aware that you can pass it to your partner, these numbers are likely to grow continually.

Something needs to be done about HPV.  If not taking bold action to eliminate this virus altogether, and vaccinating young boys and girls as the CDC recommends as well as proved so successful with Hepatitis B, we at least need to provide comprehensive and medically accurate education to our youth to arm themselves against HPV.  This is the first time in history that a vaccine for cancer has existed.  We should hardly let such a scientific triumph go to waste, especially at the detriment of so many.



It’s Only Getting Worse

I wanted to share this great article about the continued push for abstinence only education in schools.  Some of the most important key points I wanted to highlight are:

 “Fewer babies were born to teenagers in 2010 than in any year since 1946,” though teen birth rates remain highest in the conservative states, where abstinence programs are popular.”

Endless studies and research show that abstinence only education in no way prevents unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.  In fact, these numbers are higher in conservative areas that do not include comprehensive sex education.  A push towards increased abstinence only education is not good policy based on scientific evidence, it is an example of elected officials pushing their moral objectives on their constituents at the detriment of their state’s youth.

How do we deal with other risks? We teach teens about the use of seat belts, the dangers of drunk driving and the risks of texting while driving. Parents don’t lobby for anti-driving laws; instead, they literally hand the car keys to their children and take them driving, or send them to a driver’s education program. We give swimming lessons and warn kids about not swimming alone, or going “out too far.” Responsible firearm owners recommend courses to teach the young about the proper handling of firearms, and the risks and dangers involved. They try to educate children what to do if they encounter a firearm accidentally.

We need to stop wasting valuable time treating sex differently than any other risk.  We need to educate and empower the youth with the skills and knowledge to make safe decisions, as we would handle driving, swimming, underage drinking, and the other risks they may encounter.  Instead law makers are trying to make condom demonstration and distribution illegal which is dangerous and will inevitably reverse these huge strides we have made in reducing teenage pregnancy nationally.

Let’s Get Real

When I look back at what I learned in school and how much of it was actually useful, sadly not enough was. Unfortunately I had to learn some things in very hard ways; situations I feel could have been easily avoided if relevant topics were addressed in my formal education.  I spent close to 18 years in school. I thought and had hoped they were covering topics related to what I would experience in life but it turned out this was not the case.  Instruction of proper contraceptive use and open conversations around sexuality, healthy relationships, and family planning would have catered to my needs much more than the discussions of symbolism in classic literature, the integration of functions, and other abstract topics that made up my education.

I am not the only one who feels this way.  As a health educator who teaches adults about safe      sex, usually decades after they started having it, without fail someone in every class exclaims “I wish I learned this in high school. This is actually useful. I had no idea that_____.”  I can’t tell you how often I leave presentations mortified after someone tells me they genuinely believed using two condoms offered them more protection or reusing them was a safe way to reduce waste.

I know what you may be thinking, this is only the case where you work.  As much as I wish that were true, it is not.  This week an MSNBC article reaffirmed the widespread deficiency in  knowledge around proper condom use among adults in our country.  What’s scary is that this information gap oftentimes leads to dangerous contraception failure (breaks/tears) that increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections exponentially (and this is for people who use condoms at all, which I can also attest from the conversations I have had at work, is not the norm).

As upsetting as this is, I cannot say I am surprised, because approximately one third of sex education in the United States does not cover contraceptives.  Instead of leading the world in the number of students excelling in math and science; we are beating the rest of the developed world in unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections among youth and our approach to sexuality is the reason behind this alarming trend.

The push to eliminate sex education in schools this week in Utah makes me think public officials are either insane, trapped in a bubble, and/or just care a lot less about their constituents than their own “morals” (I use the term morals loosely).  My guess it is all of the above.

Utah Representative Bill Wright had the following to say:

“We’ve been culturally watered down to think we have to teach about sex, about having sex and how to get away with it, which is intellectually dishonest….Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?”

Well my response to Representative Wright and the others that allowed such a harmful bill to pass is that such a disconnection from reality is what I, and many others, define as devastating.  Changing the bill from not allowing the advocacy of contraceptive use to prohibiting instruction around contraception and eliminating sex education entirely in most cases shows that they have just decided to ignore volumes of scientific research.  They are setting the youth of Utah up for failure.  Sex outside of marriage, although not ideal for all and difficult for many, happens and we need to prepare students to make these decisions on their own and in a safe way.

No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, lead to a decrease in the number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens.  In fact all of these positive outcomes have only been linked to comprehensive sex education. In Europe, where they have the same rates of sexual activity among adolescents, there are much lower rates of negative outcomes because their open approach to sexuality actually results in informed decision making and correct contraceptive use.

Although Utah’s rates of teen pregnancy are low compared to the national average, they are on the rise….and that was before this legislation was passed.  Nationally, youth ages 15–24-year-olds disproportionately account for half of all new STI cases each year totaling 9.1 million. The individual is not the only one who suffers.  This has large societal costs from pressure on the health care system to infertility and birth defects.

As a Nation, we need to just accept the fact that people have sex.  Most of it is happening before marriage and a lot of times outside of marriage (In fact some of the strongest advocates for “Family Values” like Newt Gingrich are a perfect example of this occurrence).

Seven out of ten teens do so before their 19th birthday.   Not talking about it in schools does not prevent it from happening, it only ensures that it happens in much riskier ways.  We are not teaching students how to make informed decisions about their sexuality, such as whether or not they want to have sex at that moment, with that partner or in that context and if they are, how they can protect themselves.  We should get real and teach them life skills that actually matter, preparing them to succeed, which I was under the impression was the purpose of education in the first place.

The Importance of Helping Other Women

The Importance of Helping Other Women

I have seen the film Miss Representation twice and each time I watch it, after the feelings of frustration and disgust dissipate, I am filled with immense gratitude for the mentors I have had in my life.  It has also been a major call to action for the need and importance of helping other women.

In today’s media climate, it is hard for young women to find positive role models and images of what is possible for their future that are empowering.  As the film illustrates, if we take cues from what we see on TV or read in magazines, our only purpose in life would be to fight for the attention of a man, vying for his love at all costs or essentially disappearing while trying to emulate dangerously thin models and actresses.  As a result, competition among women is far too common and detrimental in so many ways.  Instead we need to be learning from the women who have come before us and working together to help those who will follow in our footsteps.  This is why we need to see other women, not as potential competition, but possible mentors and mentees.

Margaret Thatcher once said “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support women” and although this may be a slightly more extreme view, I find it equally valid.

Growing up in Southern California, I was at the epicenter of this phenomenon of disempowerment.  Women are celebrated for how good they look in bikinis and the less that comes out of their mouth.  And rather than working together and bringing each other up, the first thing women usually say about other females revolves around deriding their physical appearance to remove them as a threat.

Fortunately everything changed when I spent a quarter interning in Washington DC and worked with Emira Woods.  Rather than tell me my ideas are not welcome, explaining exactly where I belong and need to stay on the organizational hierarchy, or exerting her control in other bizarre ways, career competitiveness I have actually encountered since then particularly from young and insecure female supervisors, she did everything she could think of to help me feel empowered.   She always introduced me as her colleague, listed off all the things I did well and made a point to ask my thoughts at meetings, validating them no matter what.

Most importantly, she led by example.  As Miss Representation reminded me, it is hard to be what you have never seen.  Before then I had never seen firsthand a female activist, fighting for equality, peace, human rights, social justice, and so much more.  Seeing her speak at conferences or interviewed on news outlets like Al Jazeera English and the BBC provided a much needed image of what is possible for my career.  And she genuinely believed I deserve nothing less.

She constantly reminds me that silence about the things that matter to me, rather than being the desired norm, is actually not an option.  Her eloquence and bold ideas have always filled me with hope and excitement.  I still channel this vision of her when I speak in front of others.  The calmness she radiates as she relays brilliant ideas in such an articulate manner is the image of what I want for my future.

It is amazing how much more productive our time can be spent if we see how we can work together and help hold the women around us up rather than bring them down because of the threat they may one day pose as they move up the career ladder.  We need to be doing our part to help other women because their success is a reflection of our own.

Welcome to Vagina Politics

I am here to explore the Politics of Being a Woman.

What does that mean?

Being a woman is a fabulous gift for a number of reasons.  I mean, it is hard to argue that we are not the favored sex when we have something like the clitoris, the only organ designed solely for pleasure.  And the ability to have multiple orgasms.  I mean, to me it seems like someone was really looking out for us.

But being a woman is highly political.  We are constantly having to fight to keep our hard-earned rights while taking baby steps towards common sense (but completely necessary) things like equal pay for equal work.  I have realized the precariousness of these Politics most recently during the GOP Presidential primaries, close to 100 years after winning our right to vote (the 19th amendment was passed in 1920) and our right to choose (Roe Vs. Wade happened in 1973).  A heated debate is currently raging around birth control and abortion.  I am disappointed that instead of continually moving forward, the threat of taking several steps backward looms overhead.

My intention in creating Vagina Politics is to provide a space to learn more about the Politics of Being A Woman, especially as it relates to key issues like reproductive health, career opportunities, and relationships.  There are so many things to love about being a woman and this blog will aim at helping to overcome the things, like the GOP, that threaten to drag us down.


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