Thursday, November 21, is the Great American Smokeout, a day to abstain from smoking — and, one hopes, to quit for good. “That’s great,” you say, “but what do cigarettes have to do with sexually transmitted diseases?”
First, let’s talk about HPV. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is known as the “common cold of STDs” — because pretty much every sexually active person will contract it, even people with very few sex partners. Aside from complete abstinence, the best way to avoid an HPV infection is to be vaccinated with Gardasil, which protects against four common HPV strains — two that cause genital warts, and two that cause certain cancers, such as cervical cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. You can further reduce risk by using condoms and dental dams during all sexual activities, limiting sexual partners, and choosing partners who have had few or no previous partners — however, these risk-reduction methods don’t guarantee that you’ll remain HPV-free.
If you’re sexually active, you could have contracted HPV without ever knowing about it. Most infections are asymptomatic (meaning that you never develop symptoms) and transient (meaning that they go away on their own after a year or two). When symptoms do appear, they can manifest as genital warts, penile skin lesions, cervical abnormalities, and signs of cancer elsewhere on the body. And, sometimes, an HPV infection can become persistent, meaning that it doesn’t go away. Luckily, there are steps you can take to decrease risk of developing HPV symptoms, and to increase your chances of fighting off an HPV infection. And one of those things is to quit smoking! Continue reading →
Recent challenges to contraceptive access make the scenario all too easy to imagine: A woman goes to her health care provider to get her annual check-up and to renew her prescription for birth-control pills. She’s been going to the same health center and using the same birth control pills for years, but this time a nurse practitioner refuses to renew her prescription.
The scenario is easy to imagine when we’ve seen the concept of religious liberty stretched beyond its limits. The concept has been used to trump other liberties, to excuse organizations from compliance with health care mandates that ensure access to the contraceptives that many struggle to afford. But, the scenario just described is exactly what happened to a woman in Iowa, whose clinic refused to renew her prescription for birth control pills, not because of bills passed by lawmakers, but because of her age, 42, and the fact she smoked. Those two factors made use of birth control pills risky for her — and a liability for her provider.
Today is World No Tobacco Day, so this installment of our “Over 90 Percent” series takes a look at the toll smoking takes on sexual health, and what Planned Parenthood health centers can do to help people quit. The World Health Organization launched World No Tobacco Day in the late 1980s to encourage tobacco users around the world to quit tobacco for at least 24 hours. It has also served as a day to promote other anti-tobacco initiatives and raise awareness about the effects of tobacco use.