October 8, 2014
The Condom Broke. Now What?

Protecting yourself with barriers like condoms is an important part of keeping yourself healthy when you and your partner don’t know one another’s STD status. Condoms are also great for pregnancy prevention. You can improve their effectiveness by learning how to put them on correctly, using a generous amount of lubricant, and checking their expiration dates.

But, sometimes, despite your best intentions, condoms break.

When that happens, you might wonder about your vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And, if pregnancy is a possibility, you might also be concerned about sperm meeting egg. Luckily, there are still options. One, getting tested for STDs can help you receive treatment, if needed, in a timely manner. Two, if you act quickly, you can still take steps to minimize the risk of certain STDs or help avert an unwanted pregnancy.

Don’t let a broken condom immobilize you with fear! Take matters into your own hands, and learn what to do if a condom breaks.

How long does it take after a potential exposure until an STD test is likely to be accurate?

The answer to this question is: It varies. Each STD has a different “window period,” that is, the time it takes for an infection to be detectable. Some STDs can be tested for within days (if symptoms are present), while other STDs can take months to show up on a test. Also, while you might be inclined to wait and see if symptoms show up, remember that most STDs don’t have symptoms at all! When infections don’t have symptoms, they are said to be “asymptomatic.”

Check out this handy chart to see how long it takes for symptoms to appear, how common asymptomatic infections are, and how soon you should be tested.  Continue reading

October 7, 2014
Let’s Talk Contraception: Contraceptive Implants

Many of us want a long-term method of birth control, but know we’re not able to reliably take a daily pill or interrupt a sexual experience to use a barrier contraceptive. There are several other options available that offer protection on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. A very effective but often underused method is the contraceptive implant, which provides pregnancy prevention for three years. The Guttmacher Institute reports that only 0.3 to 0.5 percent of women who use birth control choose an implant, but it is one of the most effective contraceptives.

There are two hormonal implants available in the United States: Implanon and Nexplanon. Both contain only a progesterone hormone, etonorgesterol. This hormone prevents pregnancy by suppressing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the uterus. Nexplanon is quickly replacing Implanon because it is designed to be seen on an X-ray. This feature helps medical providers be sure the implant is placed correctly and reduces problems due to incorrect insertion. If the implant is placed incorrectly, you can have numbness and it may be difficult to remove.

Nexplanon is a very small flexible plastic rod, about the size of a matchstick. It is inserted by your provider under the skin in your upper arm, where it slowly releases the progesterone hormone into your bloodstream and prevents pregnancy for three years. After three years, it must be replaced with a new one to provide continuous effective birth control. However, it can be removed at any time before three years if desired. Continue reading

October 6, 2014
STD Awareness: Can You Get an STD in Your Eye?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) usually haunt the nether regions, whether germs have set up shop in the urethra, clustered around the cervix, or burrowed inside a cell. There, they might cause symptoms, like a burning sensation when urinating, unusual discharge, or warts or sores in the genital area.

Sometimes, however, STDs can infect other parts of your body, usually places that boast environments that are warm and moist, just like your genitals. For example, the virus that causes genital warts can also infect the throat to cause growths inside the airway. Oral sex can transfer the bacteria that cause gonorrhea from a urethra to a throat. And herpes can spring up around the mouth or in the genital region, and can be transferred between the two locations.

But did you know that certain sexually transmitted organisms can find their way into human eyes? If you didn’t, you do now, so read on to learn about some of the types of STDs that can affect your eyes.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

The most common bacterial STD in the country is chlamydia, which strikes nearly 3 million American groins annually. In second place is gonorrhea, which infects around 800,000 Americans every year. Bacteria that infect the genital region have an affinity for its warm, moist atmosphere. And while eyes might not be their first choice, the ocular environment can be pretty inviting as well. When chlamydia or gonorrhea infect the eye, the resulting conditions are called chlamydial conjunctivitis and gonococcal conjunctivitis, respectively. Continue reading

September 3, 2014
STD Awareness: Do Sexually Transmitted Diseases Increase HIV Risk?

You might have heard that having an STD like syphilis, herpes, or gonorrhea can make it easier to catch HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But have you ever wondered if this was true? Maybe it’s just a simple correlation — for example, someone who doesn’t practice safer sex would be more likely to catch HIV along with any other STD. That doesn’t mean that one causes the other, does it?

But it’s not a mere correlation. If you take one person with an STD and one person without an STD and expose them both to HIV through sexual contact, the person with the STD will be at least two to five times more likely to become infected with HIV. Why is that? First, many STDs can make you more susceptible to an HIV infection. Second, the immune response triggered by many sexually transmitted infections can summon the types of immune cells that HIV targets.

Furthermore, if a person with HIV is co-infected with another STD, he or she is more likely to transmit HIV to a partner. In other words, STDs can make a person with HIV more infectious. HIV is more likely to appear in their genital secretions, making it easier to transmit HIV through sexual activity. Continue reading

September 2, 2014
Let’s Talk Contraception: The One-Size Diaphragm, a New Contraceptive

In June of 2013, a new barrier contraceptive, the SILCS diaphragm, entered the market in Europe, and in May of this year, it became available in Canada. The new diaphragm is called the Caya contoured diaphragm, and it’s being marketed as “not your mother’s diaphragm.” This is exciting because Caya is a user-friendly, one-size diaphragm that can fit most users without the need of a pelvic exam. It is being sold through pharmacies and health care providers.

The SILCS diaphragm was developed with the financial help of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), by CONRAD and PATH, nonprofit leaders in global contraceptive research. USAID was created in 1961 by President Kennedy, and provides financial support to improving the lives of people in developing countries, including support to find safe, effective, and acceptable contraceptives in low-resource areas. CONRAD began in 1986 as a division of the obstetrics and gynecology department of East Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and collaborates on research to improve reproductive health around the world. PATH is a Seattle-based international nonprofit that works globally to develop and deliver health solutions that are affordable and effective, including vaccines, drugs, and medical devices.

Caya works as well as traditional diaphragms, but has been redesigned to make it easier to insert and remove. During its development, many women, their partners, and health-care providers on four continents had input on its design. Continue reading

July 16, 2014
STD Awareness: Is Syphilis Making a Comeback?

Before antibiotics, syphilis was the most feared sexually transmitted disease (STD) out there. It was easy to get, quack cures were ineffective and often unpleasant, and it could lead to blindness, disfigurement, dementia, or even death. When we were finally able to zap infections away with drugs like penicillin, it seemed like we’d finally won the battle against this scourge. Whereas syphilis rates were highest before antibiotics became widespread in the 1940s, by 2000 we saw a low of 2.1 cases of syphilis per 100,000. At the dawn of the new millennium, many scientists thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of syphilis.

Must all good things come to an end? They shouldn’t have to, but in the case of syphilis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that syphilis rates are rising, with incidence doubling since 2005. In the United States, there are now 5.3 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people, but that number is a bit misleading because it represents an average across the general population. When you break the population down by age, race or ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, that rate might be much higher or much lower. For example, syphilis rates are actually on the decline among women (at only 0.9 cases per 100,000), but among men it is 9.8 per 100,000. In fact, most new syphilis cases — 91.1 percent of them, to be precise — are in men, most of whom are gay or bisexual.

Syphilis is rising the most dramatically among men in their twenties, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM). While some wonder if syphilis is growing among twenty-somethings because this group didn’t live through the early era of AIDS, when HIV was seen as a death sentence and safer sex practices were more common, it might also be due to the fact that STD rates are higher among young people in general. Continue reading

July 14, 2014
Care Is Here Because She’s Seen a World Without Planned Parenthood

My relationship with Planned Parenthood has grown and evolved over my life. When I was a kid, my dad, who was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, would tell me how important their work was and how thankful I should be every day for it. He used to walk up to anti-abortion people and ask them how many kids they had adopted, or offered to adopt, during their time as protesters.

I was never more than cursorily interested in Planned Parenthood and what they did though. Sure, they did STD prevention and treatment. Sure, they did women’s health. Sure, they did abortion services. But, like most people who grew up post-Roe v. Wade, that last one meant little to me. I never knew a world where abortions and birth control were inaccessible. I never knew a world where condoms and safer sex were not taught. So it is understandable that my dad, who would tell me about girls he knew who were seriously injured or even killed by back-alley abortions, would be more of an activist than I was.

This all changed in 2006. I was 23 years old and a Peace Corps volunteer. I was assigned to a village in a remote part of West Africa. The community told me that what they really needed was someone to help out in the “hospital,” a rural health clinic, the only one in the district. We served more than 20 villages in two countries. I was lucky — I worked with dedicated people who cared more about the welfare of the community than anything else.

One of these things was helping with women who had “fallen off a bicycle.” For the first time in my life, I was living in a place where abortion was illegal. Continue reading

July 1, 2014
My Partner Just Told Me They Have Herpes. I Don’t. Now What?

Has your new partner just informed you that he or she has herpes? People have many reactions when hearing this kind of news — and, depending on how informed you are about herpes, your reaction might be tinged with panic or fear. If that’s your instinct, try to keep those feelings in check: Your partner might be feeling very vulnerable, so it’s best not to react with shunning or shaming.

By being open about his or her STD status, your partner has demonstrated a sense of responsibility toward your sexual health and a respect for your ability to make informed decisions. It’s possible that your partner was not given this same consideration by the person from whom he or she contracted herpes — some people with genital herpes choose not to disclose their status, while most don’t even know they carry the virus in the first place.

Herpes is more widespread than most of us realize. It can be caused by one of two strains of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 or HSV-2. While HSV-1 is more commonly associated with cold sores and HSV-2 is more commonly associated with genital herpes, either virus can infect the genital area. One estimate states that 1 out of 5 American females and 1 out of 9 American males between 14 to 49 years of age have a genital HSV-2 infection.

Now that you know your partner has herpes, you might have some questions. How easy is it to transmit genital herpes from one partner to another? What can you do to minimize your chances of catching the virus? And, while it is certainly stigmatized in our culture, is herpes something to fear? Continue reading

May 6, 2014
STD Awareness: Genital Herpes

In the most recent Planned Parenthood annual report, a Tucson mother describes her daughter’s mysterious ailment, which stumped doctors at the hospital. Her symptoms included an itchy, tender genital area with painful lesions — but the physicians who “pored over her poor vulva” decided it was nothing to worry about and sent her home. A few days later, though, she called her mother in the middle of the night, sobbing, her condition now worse. “There were lesions, pustules, and the area was deep red,” her mother wrote. So this time, she called the experts: Planned Parenthood.

The condition wasn’t nothing — it was genital herpes, and the mother praised Planned Parenthood for “spot[ting] something other pros missed.” Indeed, sexual and reproductive health is what we do — day in and day out! Whether you’re young or old, sexually active or celibate, insured or paying out of pocket or eligible for sliding-scale fees, we’re here to share our expertise with you.

The word “herpes” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “to creep,” after the “creeping” nature of skin lesions that might spread across areas of one’s body. We now know that the herpes simplex virus can “creep” up and down nerves, retreating to nerve cells to go dormant and returning back to the surface of the skin to cause symptoms or “shed” new virus particles. (Like a cat sheds fur, so too can people shed viruses.) Continue reading

April 21, 2014
Home Pregnancy Testing 101

You missed a period. You had unprotected sex. You didn’t take your birth control pills. Are you pregnant? How soon can you know? What are your options to find out?

Approximately every month, most sexually active women of child-bearing years could become pregnant. During ovulation, an egg is released from the ovary and makes its way to the uterus. If it is fertilized by a sperm and implants on the uterine wall, a woman is pregnant. If she is not pregnant, the lining of the uterus sheds (this is your period), and the cycle repeats.

When a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall, the body begins producing a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. The levels of this hormone rise rapidly in early pregnancy, almost doubling every two to three days. hCG is detectable in urine and blood, and is a sign of pregnancy.

There are different types of pregnancy tests available. Home pregnancy tests, which you can buy in drugstores, test for hCG in urine. Blood tests done in a health provider’s office don’t just test for the presence of hCG, which indicates you are pregnant, but also can tell how much hCG is present. Measuring hCG levels helps a provider determine how far along you are, if you have more than one developing embryo, or if there might be a problem with the pregnancy. Continue reading

April 16, 2014
Let’s Talk Contraception: New Contraceptives and HIV Protection

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012 there were 35.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. A whopping 69 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children reports that 2 out of 5 children born in developing countries are the result of unintended pregnancies.

Condoms remain the gold standard for protection against HIV transmission. But not all women are able to negotiate condom use. The same can be said for contraceptives. Health-care providers in some areas of the world are not even able to provide condoms consistently due to political or financial pressures.

But there are nonprofit groups researching and developing products to meet the needs of women in these countries. With the financial backing of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CONRAD, a nonprofit committed to improving reproductive health globally, is testing a new intravaginal ring that combines a hormonal contraceptive, levonorgestrel, and an HIV microbicide, tenofovir, in the same product. When inserted vaginally, it slowly dispenses both drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission. Continue reading

April 9, 2014
GYT: The New Third Date!

The infamous third date … Why does it carry so much pressure? Media and peer pressure tell us that the third date equals sex. But, after only three dates, how can you know if you’re ready to jump into bed with someone? Have you talked to your partner about their expectations and yours? Have you discussed your sexual histories? When was the last time the two of you were tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Never fear! Planned Parenthood Arizona is here to help.

April is GYT month. GYT: Get Yourself Talking. Get Yourself Tested. During the month of April, Planned Parenthood Arizona will be offering discounted STD testing at its health centers. We sexuality educators recommend getting tested with every new partner, or at least once a year. GYT month is a great time to get your STD screening done for a great price!

Read more here: http://advocatesaz.org/2014/04/03/gyt-the-new-third-date/

April 8, 2014
STD Awareness: Can Lesbians Get STDs?

A couple of months ago, in time for Valentine’s Day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would start using the term “condomless sex” instead of “unprotected sex.” The move was hailed by many HIV advocacy groups for taking into account other risk-reduction practices, such as medications that decrease the chances of HIV transmission.

However, while medications can reduce HIV risk, condoms still offer protection from both pregnancy and many other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. One reason that condoms are so valuable is that they can be placed over a penis to collect fluids before and after ejaculation — dramatically reducing risk for both pregnancy and many STDs. So, even when using anti-HIV meds, engaging in “condomless sex” can still be risky.

But what if partners are engaged in sexual activities that don’t involve penises? Not all sexual couplings involve a cisgender man, and even those that do might not utilize a penis at every encounter. When two people without penises have sex, they’re probably going to be engaging in condomless sex — though condoms can be placed over penetrative sex toys or cut along the sides to be converted into dental dams, they might not figure too prominently in this couple’s safer-sex arsenal. Lesbians protecting themselves with dental dams are technically engaged in “condomless sex,” but it’s still a far cry from being “unprotected.” Continue reading

February 6, 2014
STD Awareness: Is There an STD That Causes Maggots?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been confronted by two mysteries. The first was a collection of search terms that led curious Web surfers to our blog. Take a gander at them and see if you can tell why they raised my eyebrows:

  • new std that causes maggots
  • what is the new std superbug that causes maggots
  • stds that cause worms

There were dozens of similar searches leading to this blog, enough to make me take notice — and dig around.

First, the obvious: I Googled “STD maggots” and looked at what came up. While there was absolutely nothing to be found in the legitimate news media, there was a proliferation of recently published stories on websites that I’d never heard of, all containing the same unsourced viral video of someone removing maggots from someone else’s vagina. (Actually, I could only find stills — none of the websites I looked at had functioning video. Not that I was hugely motivated to find one that did.)

The accompanying articles described a female patient with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) said to be called “sex superbug,” an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which caused maggots to grow in her vagina. While there is no STD formally called “sex superbug,” the original author was probably referring to antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which is caused by a strain of bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae that have evolved resistance to the drugs we use to kill it. Someone would have to track down the video’s source, however, to confirm that the subject actually suffered from gonorrhea in addition to the infestation of maggots. Continue reading

January 28, 2014
STD Awareness: Chlamydia trachomatis

In the microscopic world of germs, organisms called Chlamydiae are dwarfed by their fellow bacteria. An E. coli bacterium can hang out with 100,000 of its closest friends on the head of a pin, but Chlamydiae are smaller still. Infectious particles are about one-tenth the length of an E. coli, rivaling the size of a large virus. And, just like a virus, Chlamydiae can still pack quite a punch, proving that sometimes, not-so-good things can come in small packages.

There are many types of Chlamydiae bacteria, but one species, Chlamydia trachomatis, is responsible for not one, but two sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in humans: chlamydia and lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). (Humans aren’t the only ones affected by sexually transmitted Chlamydiae. A different species, Chlamydia pecorum, is devastating wild koalas in Australia, which has got to be one of the biggest bummers ever.)

Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in the United States — there were almost 1.5 million diagnoses in 2011 alone, but experts estimate that there were around another 1.5 million cases of chlamydia that went undiagnosed. How can this be? Chlamydia is often a “silent” infection, meaning that symptoms are rare, allowing people to harbor these bacteria without even knowing it. (When symptoms do occur, they might include swelling in the genital region; vaginal, cervical, or penile discharge; or painful urination.)

It might seem like a small mercy that this common infection is unlikely to torture us with harrowing symptoms — but, in actuality, those of us who have to deal with discharge or burning urination should try to appreciate the heads up: Left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious complications. When it spreads along the female reproductive tract, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can severely compromise fertility and cause chronic pain. Rarely, in a male reproductive tract, it can cause epididymitis, which can also spell bad news for future fertility. Continue reading

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