Archive for the ‘Activism & Resources’ Category

June 10, 2013

“Crow After Roe” Looks at Inequities in Reproductive Healthcare

Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo, co-authors of the new book “Crow After Roe: How ‘Separate But Equal’ Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That,” joined Amy Goodman of Democracy Now last week to discuss states where laws have “practically regulated abortion out of existence.”

You can also follow their excellent reporting at RH Reality Check: Marty is the publication’s senior political reporter, and Pieklo is a senior legal analyst.

June 4, 2013

New Survey on Childbirth Details Experiences, Problems with Hospital-Based Births

Listening to Mothers III: Pregnancy and BirthChildbirth Connection, a nonprofit organization that produces evidence-based information and resources on pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum period, has released its third major survey on the experiences of childbearing women in hospitals across the United States.

The results of Listening to Mothers III provide insights into numerous issues, including childbirth education; the use and need of government services such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); medical interventions during birth; provider choice; and health disparities.

The 2,400 women who completed the online survey were 18-45 years of age, gave birth in a U.S. hospital to a surviving single baby at some point between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, and could participate in English. The research firm Harris Interactive collected the data.

Among the findings, the number one factor driving a woman’s choice of maternity care provider and hospital was acceptance of her health insurance plan. Insurance compatibility ranked higher than  recommendation by a provider, friend or family member, and higher than familiarity due to a previous birth.

Only about half of the women ever saw information that allowed them to compare the quality of potential providers and hospitals, but when they did have that information, 80 percent used it as a factor in their decision.

Pregnant women reported difficulty communicating with their providers at times — 30 percent said that at least once they had let a question go unasked because their provider seemed rushed, and 15 percent reported that their prenatal care provider “always” or “usually” used medical words they did not understand.

The survey provides a variety of data about various medical interventions, including induction, mode of birth, pain relief, labor support.

Close to one-third (31 percent) of survey participants had Cesarean-sections, which is pretty similar to the overall national rate.

There are a number of data points that suggest practices that are not evidence-based or are otherwise problematic, including hospitals not allowing VBAC attempts, somewhat high (17 percent) rate of episiotomy, reports of pubic hair shaving (10 percent for vaginal birth), c-sections performed because the provider had concerns about the baby being too big, and providing formula samples/coupons to moms and bottles with formula or water to babies, even when the moms wanted to exclusively breastfeed.

While it’s not clear how accurately the provider rationale and medical interventions were self-reported by the women, they’re worth a look for women’s perspectives on their care before, during and after childbirth.

The report includes women’s stories about these interventions, and the sometimes-poor communication they experienced with their providers. One respondent commented: “I was not told that I was going to need an episiotomy, and it was done without my permission. I just would have liked to know what an episiotomy was, why it happens, and what it’s like to deal with and take care of after giving birth.”

Another woman reported: “I felt bad because the doctor delivering my baby didn’t give me details. He just told me my baby was in danger and that I needed a c section. I believed him because I care about my baby.”

A companion report, “Listening to Mothers III: New Mothers Speak Out,” will explore postpartum experiences and further explore childbearing and maternity care. It is expected to be released later this month.

May 31, 2013

Reproductive Justice: The Movement Whose Time Has Come

The Reproductive Justice: Activists, Advocates, Academics in Ann Arbor (“A3 in A2″) conference taking place this week aims to foster learning, dialogue and collaboration around reproductive justice issues. OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian, one of the conference advisory board members, is leading a session on informed consent and moderating Friday’s final panel.

Until recently, the term reproductive justice was used mainly by a relatively small number of people involved with abortion rights and women’s reproductive health (read about its history at SisterSong). The phrasing is more inclusive than abortion rights and takes into account all aspects of women’s ability to control their own reproduction, including social inequalities that affect the ability and right to have or not have children and to parent children in healthy environments.

The term has been discussed, and debated, quite a bit lately. Over at RH Reality Check, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, recently argued why reproductive justice cannot be a substitute for the terms “choice” or “pro-choice,” prompting this response from reproductive justice activists (who, it should be noted, consider Catholics for Choice an ally). Their response notes in part:

Women of color struggled within the pro-choice movement to bring their needs to the forefront, and they also created new organizations built on a broad, intersectional analysis and understanding of reproductive rights and health. The shift from choice to justice does not, as O’Brien says, devalue the autonomy of women who face obstacles. Instead, locating women’s autonomy and self-determination in human rights rather than in individual rights and privacy gives a more inclusive and realistic account of both autonomy and what is required to ensure that all women have it. Advocating for reproductive justice was not counter-posed against being “pro-choice” or supporting abortion rights. Rather, reproductive justice re-framed and included both.

The push toward a more comprehensive understanding of reproductive rights has also been adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations. Delegates at last year’s General Assembly meeting selected “Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling” as the 2012-2016 Congregational Study/Action Issue — meaning congregations and districts are invited to engage and reflect on it, in any way they see fit — and the subject will be the focus of this summer’s GA meeting.

Earlier this year, Billy Moyers invited Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, to discuss the topic.

“What’s happened is that women are beginning to recognize that what’s at stake is more than abortion,” said Paltrow. “It is their personhood — their ability to be full, equal, constitutional persons in the United States of America.”

For more information: Check out the Reproductive Justice Briefing Book. Produced by the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, it offers a comprehensive look at a variety of topics, including sex education, abortion, adoption, pregnancy, disability, incarceration, immigrants, LGBT issues, race, and class.

May 29, 2013

Campaign Against Gender-Based Hate Speech on Facebook – Activists Win!

#FBrape campaignLast week, Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer/activist Soraya Chemaly — with the backing of more than 100 organizations, including Our Bodies Ourselves — issued an open letter to Facebook calling for the social media giant to address hate speech targeted at girls and women.

Facebook pages that had been allowed, despite the company’s existing anti-violence content policy, featured depictions of men kicking “sluts,” images of beaten and restrained women, and numerous rape jokes. A link to examples is provided on this WAM! page.

Smartly, the #FBrape campaign asked supporters to contact advertisers whose ads appear alongside this content, noting that “advertisers should be aware that their brands will appear in positions that sponsor content that mocks, trivializes or promulgates gendered violence.”

Campaign leaders also emphasized that the existing reporting functions were insufficient, providing clear examples where Facebook moderators failed to remove reported content. Meanwhile, we have witnessed instances in which pages created by women that feature photos of moms breastfeeding or health information graphics have been banned.

Some companies responded positively, agreeing to pull their ads from Facebook until it takes real steps to address and remove pages that promote gender-based hate speech. Other companies, including Dove, said that while they object to the content, they could not control placement of their ads — which is why better action on Facebook’s part is necessary.

On Tuesday afternoon, after supporters sent more than 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails to advertisers and Facebook, Facebook made an official response to the campaign, committing to the following actions:

  • Reviewing their hate speech standards and working with representatives of the campaign coalition and others for input
  • Updating their training for staff members who evaluate reports of hate speech
  • Increasing accountability for content creators
  • Establishing more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working on this issue

You can read the delighted response from the campaign organizers, along with lots of media coverage. And, hey, the campaign made The New York Times – the business section, no less, rather than being placed alongside more “lifestyle”-oriented content where stories that affect women often appear.

Big congrats to WAM!, Everyday Sexism, Chemaly, and everyone who worked to call attention to this issue. One look at the comments on Facebook’s statement reminds us that there is a long way to go toward making the internet a less hostile place, but this is a great step forward.

May 23, 2013

Adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for Iranian and Vietnamese Women and Girls

Friends of the Vietnamese OBOS project

Committed friends of the Vietnamese OBOS project Susan Bailey (left) and Roslyn Feldberg and Nancy Hammett (right), join Project Director Khuat Thu Hong (center) and OBOS’s Judy Norsigian and Sally Whelan.

The Our Bodies Ourselves Global Network is a dynamic coalition of social change organizations, all of whom talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to the health and human rights of women and girls.

This year, OBOS welcomes two new partners into its growing network.

The Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, in collaboration with the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, is adapting sections of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into Farsi. This is a critical effort to reach Iranian women and girls, especially those living in Iran and routinely subjected to oppression and censorship, both by government and other forces.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, director of the Institute, told OBOS that the Farsi resource, which will be available online, will lead the Institute’s effort to integrate gender into a broader social change framework.

“We have so far been an academic institution with a fairly small reach,” said Keshavarz. “I am trying to expand our reach to Persian speakers across the globe, particularly inside Iran, mostly through the internet. I am also adding gender to the range of lenses we have used for understanding and instigating social change. The current project is one of the very first steps in that direction.”

Further away, in Vietnam, OBOS is working with the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) in Hanoi to provide nearly 3 million women and girls evidence-based, culturally appropriate information based on Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Toolkits with discussion guides, stories and proposed actions will cover such topics as relationships and sexuality, sexual health and reproductive choices, bodies and identities, and post-reproductive years. ISDS will use the resources in trainings across the country, and tap a large, close-knit collaborative network that spans the provinces to maximize print and digital access. One of ISDS’s allies, the Vietnamese Women Union, has 13 million members.

The timing and impact of our Vietnamese partnership are critical. The UNFPA reports that about half the country’s population is under 25, with high rates of unplanned pregnancies, abortions and HIV infection. Yet condom use is low, and young people are continually exposed to inaccurate and misleading information.

In a country where nearly 38 percent of the population subsists on less that $2 a day, millions of poor and rural Vietnamese women and girls are unable to pay for reliable information and services. Access is further limited by the lack of capacity and neglect exhibited by state agencies overseeing sexual health education. A strong response is needed — and the ISDS is well positioned and equipped to lead the way.

Established in 2002, the ISDS is renowned in Vietnam for the quality of its research and ability “to inform as well as influence,” as it applies academic knowledge to meet national challenges. At the community level, the ISDS is strongly rooted in the philosophy of “knowledge as power,” and has successfully adopted an approach that keeps women and girls front and center as it builds public awareness around gender, sexuality and sexual health.

With support in place from Oxfam Novib, the Dutch affiliate of Oxfam, ISDS and OBOS are responding to a growing health crisis in Vietnam. In November 2012, Khuat Thu Hong, ISDS co-director and director of the adaptation project, met with OBOS staff and a circle of committed friends in Boston to formalize our partnership and launch the project.

OBOS is honored to collaborate with ISDS and the Roshan Insitute to bring Our Bodies, Ourselves to Vietnamese and Iranian women and girls. These projects speak to the urgent need for evidence-based, culturally appropriate health resources – and underscore our commitment to ensuring the health and human rights of all women and girls.

Ayesha Chatterjee is the OBOS Global Initiative program manager.

April 2, 2013

Lessons in Denial: A Student Perspective on High School Health Class

by Hanna Pennington 

Hanna PenningtonNo one ever really wants to take health class; it’s a required course, something people try to get out of the way so they aren’t that about-to-graduate senior who still has to take health. And that’s because at most high schools, health class doesn’t offer much — and everyone knows it.

I spent 80 minutes every other morning in health class during the second semester of my sophomore year, and when faced with an end-of-the-year survey about the class, I realized that the time had not been “spent,” but wasted.

We had not discussed birth control; condoms were the only form of contraception mentioned, and they came up only in the context of preventing STIs. A significant number of high school students are already taking hormonal birth control, like the pill, for a variety of reasons, whether to regulate hormone imbalances that can cause acne, reduce the pain of bad menstrual cramping, or because they are having sex, but the pros and cons of the pill were never addressed.

Through reading “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and other feminist websites and books, I have learned about many types of birth control. But this is because I care about this kind of thing. Most people don’t know what they should have been taught until it’s too late.

Another way in which my health class was insufficient, and also offensive, was that LGBTQ people were only mentioned in the context of HIV/AIDS, which we learned about by watching the film “And The Band Played On.” There was no other discussion.

As a bisexual person, I felt shortchanged. I sought out resources online, much the way I did with birth control, but again, this didn’t make up for the lack of class information. The majority of high school students are straight, but it is important to provide for those who aren’t, or who might be questioning. It is important to learn about how to have safe gay sex, not only safe straight sex; that information is a lot harder to find, unless you know where to look.

Related: A “Real” Sex Ed Story: A Teenager Recalls Lessons From “Our Whole Lives”

Another issue we did not discuss is consent. People need to learn not only that it’s OK to say no, but that enthusiastic consent is the key to happy, healthy sex (in fact, there’s a petition to make consent a mandatory part of sex-ed in public schools).

Abuse, both physical and sexual, should also be discussed. And resources should be provided for everything: where to get help if you’re being abused, where to purchase prescription contraception at a discount, where to get tested for STIs, and the number for the closest Planned Parenthood, for starters.

Finally, we never discussed masturbation. It is important for students to know that instead of it being something unholy or disgusting, masturbation is a perfectly healthy and important way to explore one’s own body and sexuality.

According to research by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), comprehensive sex education is more effective in preventing teen pregnancy than abstinence-only education. In her 2008 New Yorker article “Rex Sex, Blue Sex,” Margaret Talbot analyzed the differences in sexual patterns of teenagers living in different parts of the country, including the prevalence of teen pregnancies and STIs and use of contraception.

In conservative red states, where abstinence-only education is the norm and religion dictates much of the discourse, teenagers have sex earlier, usually without protection. In more liberal blue states, where there is often (but not always) more comprehensive sex education, teenagers wait longer to have sex and use protection more often when they do.

Although I live in blue-state New York, my health class was not all that. It is possible to acknowledge teenagers being sexual without encouraging it, but our teachers didn’t acknowledge any part of it. It is irresponsible to teach the class assuming that everyone is and will remain abstinent until marriage.

The 2009 documentary “Let’s Talk About Sex” examines young people’s attitudes toward and knowledge of sex and sexuality, comparing America’s largely insufficient programs to those of places like the Netherlands, where parents and children talk openly about sex (and which have lower rates of teen pregnancy and STIs).

Although I was briefly tempted to move overseas, there are comprehensive sex-ed curriculums in the United States, even if they can be hard to find.

One of my friends attends Rye Country Day School in Rye, N.Y. A program there encourages underclassmen to ask upperclassmen leaders whatever they want about sex, relationships, and so on. I was really impressed when I first heard about this, as it fosters an environment that removes shame from asking questions, which is how people get the answers they need.

At Manhattan Country School, there is a sex-ed curriculum, designed by Dr. Cydelle Berlin, that involves theater arts and peer education. Trained actors answer questions while in character. There is a box in every classroom in which students can leave anonymous questions.

The Unitarian Universalist Church, instead of strictly discouraging or not discussing sex as other churches often do, teaches a K-12 sex ed curriculum called “Our Whole Lives.” As stated on the website, the program “not only provides facts about anatomy and human development, but also helps participants clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.”

This curriculum is based on SIECUS’ “Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education,” which spans the same age range and includes such important topics as body image, gender identity, masturbation, abortion, and sexuality and society.

When reading this curriculum, I was pleasantly surprised how enlightened, inclusive, and accurate it was. But this should not be surprising; accurate language should be the norm.

It is bad enough that decisions about women’s health are made mostly by male politicians, but it is even more disheartening when you realize that some of them have no idea what they’re talking about. High school students aren’t the only ones who need basic education about reproduction, but it’s a good place to start.

Hanna Pennington is a high school senior in New York whose first foray into feminist activism was at age 7, when she wrote a letter to a children’s magazine protesting the omission of Sacagawea in an article about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

February 28, 2013

Delivery of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Members of Congress Launches on Capitol Hill

Erin Thornton, Judy Norsigian, Rep. Jim McGovern, and Christy Turlington Burns

Last fall, following a sex-ed road trip with The Ladydrawers to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to former Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame), Our Bodies Ourselves launched Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver the book to all members of Congress and key administration officials.

The basic premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health — especially those who write the laws.

Today OBOS kicked off delivery of the book, as Judy Norsigian, OBOS executive director and one of the original authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” hand-delivered copies of the newest edition to about 20 legislators and staff members.

The point was made that the problem isn’t just poorly chosen words; rather, a lot more needs to be done to advance evidence-based health policy.

Norsigian walked the halls of Capitol Hill with Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, and EMC’s executive director, Erin Thornton. They submitted EMC’s petition to female members of Congress, asking them to support policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Doing this on the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act made it particularly poignant.

NWHN interns Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli with Judy Norsigian and Rep. Chellie Pingree

Thanks to Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, interns at the National Women’s Health Project, the book launch was a success. More books will be delivered in the coming weeks, until every member of Congress has, in their office, up-to-date information they can rely on when drafting bills that have a real impact on girls and women.

A big thank you to the supporters of Educate Congress! And a special shout out to fellow road-trippers Anne Elizabeth Moore, Rachel N. Swanson, Nicole Boyett and Sara Drake; Congress scheduler Christina Knowles; everyone who participated in the making of the Educate Congress video, especially Paul Noble and Anthony Cupaiuolo (bro!); and Malcolm Woods, who helped organize the Educate Congress launch at the National Press Club and kept the word going on Twitter (with the aid of “The West Wing” staff). All of you made this happen!

Erin Thornton, Christy Turlington Burns (holding the film “No Woman, No Cry”) Rep. Gary Peters, Judy Norsigian, Allyson Reddy, and Grace Adofoli

February 26, 2013

Women’s History Makers: “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Boston Women s Health Book Collective MAKERS

Makers: Women Who Make America,” the PBS/AOL documentary, debuts tonight on PBS at 8 p.m. (check local listings). If you’re on Twitter, join the discussion during the broadcast at #MAKERSchat.

Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film covers the last 50 years of the women’s movement — the accomplishments and setbacks that followed the publication of “The Feminine Mystique.”

“Most of us have seen the old television commercials before, those 1950s ads that marketed products by telling women how stupid and disappointing they were. So, in the beginning, this program feels like old news (one generation has seen it all before, and the other doesn’t care), but the narrative quickly comes together and still has the power to astound,” writes Anita Gates in The New York Times.

Extended Interviews Online
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” founders Judy Norsigian and Miriam Hawley were interviewed for Makers about the medical and social conditions that prompted a group of women to research, publish and distribute their own findings on women’s health and sexuality. Their interviews are available online.

“You have to understand that back in the late 60s, 98 percent of OB-GYNS were male. About 90 percent of all physicians were male. There was a tremendous amount of condescencion and paternalism,” says Norsigian, who is also executive director of the organization Our Bodies Ourselves.

“I remember one doctor saying to me, dear dear, you’re a smart intelligent woman — you ought to have more children,” says Hawley, later noting, “I kept saying we’re going to sell a million copies. And people kept laughing till we did.”

Produced by filmmakers Dyllan McGee, Betsy West and Peter Kunhardt, the Makers website proclaims to have the largest video collection of women’s stories. It is quite a mix. Browse through the offerings and you’ll find author Alice Walker, food pioneer Alice Waters, racecar driver Danica Patrick, artist/architect May Lin, comic creator Cathy Guisewite, actress Rita Moreno, former college president Ruth Simmons, and coal miner Barbara Burns, who fought sexual harassment in the workplace.

And, of course, Gloria Steinem.

And, suprisingly, Phyllis Schlafly.

Women’s Health Activism
Some of our colleagues in health activism are featured, including Susan Love, who discusses innovative breast cancer research as well as her own coming out story:   “Living out loud really allows you to be who are and to get into the work you need to do as opposed to spending a lot of time trying to protect yourself.”

Byllye Avery, founder of the Black Women’s Health Project (now the Black Women’s Health Imperative) and co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices, discusses access to abortion and opening a women’s health clinic in Florida — and working to “de-medicalize” the interior with shag carpeting, posters on the ceiling, and pot holders on the stirrups (to eliminate the chill). She also addresses the importance of community and self-care on multiple levels.

“Once you can get the emotional stuff straight, then you can start talking about the body,” says Avery. “Because if I’m worrying about someone coming home and beating me, I’m hardly thinking about I haven’t had a pap smear in five years.”

Sharing personal stories, Avery reminisces about her late husband, who died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970. Before his death, he recommended “The Feminine Mystique,” which he thought she would appreciate.

“I hated that I didn’t read it before he died so we could have had some discussions, ’cause I could have confronted him about the dishes,” she said.

New Voices, New Issues is a historian’s treasure trove, yet it also covers history in the making with the inclusion of younger women like media creator Tavi Gevinson, editor of Rookie magazine (Gevinson praised the new “Our Bodies, Ourselves“), feminist organizer Shelby Knox, and youth organizer Maritza Alarcón, whose energy about her work is infectious.

The Makers blog has pulled together quotes around timely themes, such as “5 Views on Job Flexibility” and “5 Views on Women in Film– Past, Present and Future.”

One of Norsigian’s online interview segments addresses finding support, and she concludes with this advice:

“Don’t go it alone, if possible. Get in place the kinds of friends and families around you that will make it possible to be a good parent, a good co-worker, and to contribute to the community around you. I think it’s important that we find space to be part of a larger community, that we don’t just see ourselves as part of a nuclear family.”

Updated to reflect that the OBOS interviews are available online and not in the film itself.

February 21, 2013

Selling Sickness Conference Takes on Disease Mongering This Week in D.C.

selling sickness 2013 people before profitsThe Selling Sickness 2013 conference is taking place in Washington, D.C. this week, focusing on the idea of “disease mongering,” or defining health and disease in a way that promotes the sales of drugs and other treatments that may be unnecessary.

Discussion topics include a number of subjects related to women’s health, including increased or inappropriate use of drugs for conditions such as osteopenia (NPR did an excellent story a few years back on the creation of osteopenia as a disease and the drugs marketed to treat it); the problems with routine screening, such as using mammograms to detect breast cancer; and a workshop on unanswered questions on HPV vaccinations.

The conference is attracting academics, health journalists, consumer advocates, and others. Today’s line-up includes a roundtable on the women’s health movement chaired by Harriet Rosenberg of York University. From the description:

The women’s health movement that began in the 1960s challenged the status quo of medicine and heathcare across the board: clinical research, clinical practice, treatment approvals, trial conduct, pt-dr relations, patient education, disease funding, patient rights … it was a revolution. this roundtable will bring the Whm up to date and discuss what it has to offer current issues.

Participants include Colleen Fuller, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Anne Rochon Ford, Canadian Women’s Health Network; Cynthia Pearson, National Women’s Health Network; Gail Hornstein PhD, Mount Holyoke College; and Kay Dickersin, Consumers United for Evidence-Based Healthcare.

On Friday, Pearson will be joined by NWHN staff members Amy Allina and Kate Ryan to lead a symposium on “Fighting Disease-Mongering with Evidence to Protect Women’s Health.”

You can check in with the conference from afar by following @sellingsickness and the hashtag #sellingsickness on Twitter. Updates are also being posted on the conference Facebook page.

February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day – A Safer Sex Reminder

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day! Seems like a good time to revisit the topic of safer sex and sexually transmitted infections!

The CDC just released a new fact sheet on STIs, indicating that there are about 20 million new infections each year, and that young people (ages 15-24) account for about half of these.

In its report, CDC provided the following recommendations for women for STI screening:

  • All adults and adolescents should be tested at least once for HIV.
  • Annual chlamydia screening for all sexually active women age 25 and under, as well as older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners.
  • Yearly gonorrhea screening for at-risk sexually active women (e.g., those with new or multiple sex partners, and women who live in communities with a high burden of disease).
  • Syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, and gonorrhea screening for at-risk pregnant women at the first prenatal visit, to protect the health of mothers and their infants.
  • Trichomoniasis screening should be conducted at least annually for all HIV-infected women.

Have questions about sex, sexuality, STIs or related topics? Beloved sex-ed site Scarleteen has just launched a new live help feature, providing anonymous live chats with Scarleteen staff and volunteers. The full website, which tackles all kinds of questions about sex, is an amazing resource for young people.

February 13, 2013

One Billion Rising on V-Day: Are You Ready to Dance?

One Billion Rising

On Feb. 14, One Billion Rising events will take place around the globe marking V-Day’s 15th anniversary and inviting “one billion women and those who love them to walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence.”

Why are we rising? The numbers tell the story:

1 in 3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

1 billion women violated is an atrocity.

1 billion women dancing is a revolution.

Yup, it’s a worldwide dance party, and we like the rationale:

Dancing insists we take up space. It has no set direction but we go there together. It’s dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive. It breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere at anytime with anyone and everyone. It’s free. No corporation can control it. It joins us and pushes us to go further. It’s contagious and it spreads quickly. It’s of the body. It’s transcendent.

Check out the map and search tool to find an event near you.

Boston-based Our Bodies Ourselves staff members will be participating in an event at Lesley University, starting at 3:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public — join us if you can!

It starts with a procession and dance performance followed by a screening of “Power and Control: Domestic Abuse in America.” As the description notes:

This is an opportunity for men and women to form an alliance in ending the violence against women in an act of solidarity and demonstrating to women around the world the commonality of their struggles and our collaborative power to take action and bring awareness through dance! Bring flashlights and glowsticks!

Want to learn the One Billion Rising “Break the Chain” dance in advance? Debbie Allen will teach you!

February 4, 2013

Getting Personal: What It’s Really Like Living With a Sexually Transmitted Infection

Jenelle Marie, STD advocateby Jenelle Marie

When you hear the term STD (sexually transmitted disease) or STI (sexually transmitted infection), what do you think of first?

Grotesque pictures of maimed genitalia displayed on a projector during yesteryear’s sex-ed class geared toward frightening you into abstinence? That scene from ” The Hangover” where Sid says, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas … except for herpes. That shit will come back with you”?

Whatever first comes to your mind is not likely to include your neighbor, professor, or best friend living with an STI, having an incredible sex life, and otherwise prospering. That is, of course, unless you’re also living with an STI and you know better.

I am your neighbor, a professor at a community college, and am enjoying a wonderfully healthy sex life with a man who thinks the world of me and nothing of my STI. I’ve been living with genital herpes for over 14 years now; I’ve also contracted HPV, scabies, and vaginitis throughout the years. And yet not once did an STI hinder my relationships or happiness once I stopped allowing it to dictate my self worth.

Embracing Stigma

At 16, when our family doctor peered at me with a lazy eye, through thick glasses, and accompanied by a partially missing ear to tell me my genital herpes outbreak was the worst case he’d ever seen, I was devastated. Embarrassment coursed through me as he handed me a prescription and sent my mother and me on our way – sans brochures, additional information, and references to resources, support groups or even a mention of the vast number of people living with an STI everywhere. I was a pariah – a leper – even the doctor was disgusted by my condition.

For years, I accepted my fate and considered myself as being punished for having been sexually active before marriage. As a high-schooler, I was called a slut or a whore and “friends” of mine forewarned men who took interest in me that I would merely infect them, hurt them, and they should steer clear entirely. I actually maintained some of those friendships for a period of time, not knowing otherwise about STIs and those who contract them, thinking myself deserving of such treatment.

A Long Overdue Paradigm Shift

It wasn’t until a few years ago I began to see myself for who I truly was: a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, and valuable individual who just happened to contract a long-term infection. In fact, my infection had not stopped me from obtaining two honors degrees, getting married, conquering my fear of heights by going skydiving – not once, but three times – or pursuing my dreams by auditioning for “American Idol.”

While I’m not the next American Idol, I learned an invaluable lesson throughout that period of self-discovery: I am not deserving of poor treatment, cruel friendships, or snide remarks; the stigma placed upon those living with an STI is inaccurate, ignorant, and illogical. And I have the power to change that. We all do.

In order to change the status quo, though, one has to first understand where the misunderstandings and wrongful judgments originate. Rather than be angry at my doctor for leaving me with nothing more than a crass diagnosis or at my childhood friends for mistreating our relationship, I am choosing to delve into why those perceptions persist.

Part of the problem came from within. I didn’t challenge what little I knew about STIs, and I embraced the negative opinions for years before I was able to distinguish between the laymen’s view of STIs and the reality behind the array of people who contract them. STIs do not define one’s character; they’re merely a reflection of an experience – an experience that is as individually unique as are the people who contract the STIs themselves.

Consequently, I’m not angry or frustrated by the amount of time it took for me to finally find solace in my infection. Rather, I have a holistic appreciation for the process one undergoes when being diagnosed with any type of taboo condition (infection or otherwise). Not only have I taken great pains to find myself in a place of self-love and self-respect, I want very much for others to have an opportunity to feel the same fortitude after their diagnosis as I do now and over a far shorter time table.

Becoming an Advocate

Hence, I have become an advocate.

Due to the immense stigma behind contracting an STI, most people don’t speak openly about their experiences. However, as people, we learn best through community. Naturally, we are pack animals – we nurture our young for years beyond most other mammals and we develop complex (and hopefully, healthy) relationships with others outside of our family nucleus. It makes sense then we need others to help overcome obstacles and boundaries – in this case, contracting an STI and/or living with an STI.

So, I’m willing to tell you how horrible my experience has been at times, and how I’ve found incredible happiness, love, success, and rewarding relationships despite living with an STD all in hopes you can move through the process with much more clarity, community, and understanding than I once endured.

Join me, and I welcome you.

Jenelle Marie is the founder and administrator of The STD Project, a website geared toward eradicating the sigma associated with having a sexually transmitted infection. This entry was originally posted at BlogHer and is reposted with permission.

January 30, 2013

Evidence-Based Health Information: Resources from Cochrane Collaboration and CUE

If you spend any time reading about evidence-based medicine, eventually you are going to hear someone mention a “Cochrane” review. These reviews take a systematic look at the research on a health topic, and try to provide answers to questions about best practices.

The Cochrane Collaboration is the international non-profit organization that produces these reviews and works to spread the findings to health care providers and patients. There’s a helpful newcomers’ guide to introduce people to Cochrane, and the video below provides some history and context for the organization.

The United States Cochrane Center, one of 14 centers around the world, is based at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. In addition to performing evidence reviews, the USCC also runs Consumers United for Evidence-based Health Care (CUE), a coalition of advocacy groups working to provide consumers with access to evidence-based information about health. Our Bodies Ourselves is a member organization.

CUE offers an online course on understanding evidence-based healthcare topics, such as research design, statistics, and other topics.

The video below offers more explanation, and features Zobeida Bonilla, who works on OBOS’s Latina Health Initiative.

Meeting Dispatch: Resources from the CUE/Cochrane/Campbell Colloquium - Links to sources of evidence-based information, critiques of health journalism, info on pharmaceutical company payments to doctors, and more, collected from the 2010 joint meeting of CUE and the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations.

January 18, 2013

Fixing Persistent Liability Concerns in Maternity Care: We Can Do It!

by Carol Sakala, Director of Programs, Childbirth Connection

One of most commonly cited barriers to improving maternity care is the risk of providers and hospitals being held liable for bad outcomes. Whether it is reining in overuse of tests and procedures, honoring women’s preferences, or increasing interdisciplinary collaboration, good ideas often cannot move forward once the issue of liability is raised.

If we cannot make progress toward more evidence-based, woman-centered care because of liability concerns, then the liability system is functioning poorly. But what are the aims of a high-functioning liability system? Is it just to avoid lawsuits and hold liability insurance premiums down?

In our new report, Maternity Care and Liability, we hold 25 possible liability reforms up to a framework that addresses the needs and interests of all of the system stakeholders: those who deliver care, those who pay for care, and most importantly, the women and newborns who receive care.

We developed this framework based on maternity care and liability studies and with the input of clinicians, legal scholars, consumer advocates, policy makers, and others. For each possible reform, we asked whether it does or would likely:

  • promote safe, high-quality maternity care that is consistent with best evidence and minimizes avoidable harm
  • minimize maternity professionals’ liability-associated fear and unhappiness
  • avoid incentives for defensive maternity practice
  • foster access to high-value liability insurance policies for all maternity caregivers without restriction or surcharge for care supported by best evidence
  • implement effective measures to address immediate concerns when women and newborns sustain injury, and provide rapid, fair, efficient compensation
  • assist families with responsibility for costly care of infants or women with long-term disabilities in a timely manner and with minimal legal expense
  • minimize the costs associated with the liability system

The proposed framework has the potential to move discourse and policy forward. When options for reform are held up to criteria in the framework, many that have been widely implemented do not appear to meet any of the criteria. Most notably, the best available evidence shows that tort reforms fare poorly against these aims, despite the fact that they are the most widely advocated and enacted liability reforms.

On the other hand, various reforms have the potential to be win-win-win solutions for women and newborns, providers, and payers. Strategies are needed both to prevent harm and ensure that it is rare and to respond appropriately to harm or claims of harm when they occur. For preventing negligent injury and related lawsuits, these reforms include rigorous quality improvement programs and shared decision making initiatives.

A series of recent reports clarifies the “business case” for quality improvement initiatives: successful programs with strong leadership are achieving better care, better health outcomes, and rapid substantial declines in liability claims, payouts, and premiums. Among redress approaches, disclosure and apology programs were the most promising, but have not yet been evaluated in maternity care.

The report includes summary tables with the full list of more promising and less promising strategies assessed and their demonstrated or plausible impact on the various areas addressed in the framework.

To achieve the high-performing maternity care system that stakeholders need, we cannot allow longstanding liability concerns to continue to rankle. By seeking guidance from the best available evidence about the nature of liability problems in maternity care and the effectiveness of possible solutions, we can move constructively beyond belief and entrenched positions.

It is time to pilot and evaluate the most promising strategies and scale up those that are effective, beginning with routine maternity care quality improvement initiatives. They have the potential to transform the quality and value of maternity care, and to ensure that maternity care work offers the joy and honor that draws talented, passionate individuals to the profession and keeps them caring for women, babies, and families.

For the full report, a set of 10 fact sheets, links to three related open-access Women’s Health Issues articles and an invited commentary from legal scholars Sara Rosenbaum and William Sage, and other resources, please visit

This entry was originally posted at Transforming Maternity Care and is republished with permission.

Carol Sakala, director of programs at Childbirth Connection, is a long-time contributor to “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” She has worked on maternity care issues as an advocate, educator, researcher, author, and policy analyst for more than 25 years, with a continuous focus on meeting the needs of childbearing women and their families.

January 11, 2013

The White Ribbon Campaign: Men Working to End Violence Against Women

In light of Congress’s recent failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, it’s heartening to hear about the ongoing efforts of White Ribbon, a movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls.

Here in Boston, the Men’s Initiative Project of Jane Doe Inc., a coalition of community-based sexual assault and domestic violence groups, is gearing up for the sixth annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day. The event will take place at the State House in Boston on March 7.

The event, which is open to all, aims to change societal attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and make excuses for violence against women, promote safety and respect in all relationships and situations, and promote the safety, liberty and dignity of survivors.

Men can sign up online to be an Ambassador for the campaign and to participate in other ways.

OBOS Board member and MA White Ribbon Day co-chair Jarrett Barrios spoke about the campaign recently in an interview with New England Cable News’s BroadSide program. Jarrett talks about the negative media imagery about women that young boys receive, and the need for parents and others to take responsibility for actively countering those messages and work to address rather than excuse them.

Jarrett calls for people to wear the white ribbon, to talk to their sons about treating women with respect, and to not “let go” of or overlook the language that is used against women that is part of a culture of violence.