Archive for the ‘Sex Education’ Category

January 5, 2009

“The Joy of Sex” and “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: Mmm Mmm Good

We’re only five days into 2009, but I’m hedging my bets that Ariel Levy’s article in The New Yorker on the new edition of “The Joy of Sex” will be among the most memorable writing of the year.

For starters, Levy does a good job of introducing readers to the original author, British scientist and physician Alex Comfort (who died in 2000), and contextualizing attitudes toward sex and sexuality that framed the original book’s release in 1972.

Her descriptions are spot-on, including her humorous impression of the book’s famous illustrations and its hairy male star:

The woman depicted in these drawings is lovely, and, even nearly forty years later, quite chic. Her gentleman friend, however, looks like a werewolf with a hangover. He is heavily bearded; his hair is long, and, it always seemed, a little greasy. His eyelids are usually at half-mast, adding to his feral appearance. In some of the pictures, you can practically smell him. (The smell is unpleasant.)

There are other reasons to love this article. As Levy notes, “The Joy of Sex” wasn’t the only book released in the early 70s that offered a frank, sex-positive perspective. There was also “Our Bodies, Ourselves”:

The book announced on its original, 1971 jacket that it was “By and for Women,” and with its democratic inclusion of numerous voices it had the vibe of a consciousness-raising group. (In fact, it was the product of one.) “Our Bodies, Ourselves” covered much of the same material as “The Joy of Sex,” just with a different tone. It, too, had illustrations of a hirsute couple having intercourse in a series of positions. Both books said that everybody was bisexual, that sex should be a mutually satisfying, full-body experience, and that the communication of turn-ons could be of great benefit to this enterprise. And both books espoused the (distinctly seventies) notion that sex could be a value-neutral experience, as natural as eating, which undermined the traditional belief that sex ought to be in the service of procreation within the bounds of matrimony. “Our Bodies, Ourselves” added information on health, nutrition, self-defense, childbearing, and a rather more involved section on lesbianism. (“The Joy of Sex” has a drawing of two naked ladies kissing under the heading “Bisexuality,” while “Our Bodies, Ourselves” includes a chapter entitled “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes.”) If “The Joy of Sex” was like “Joy of Cooking” — though in some ways it was closer to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” what with its strong authorial voice and affection for elaborate undertakings, to which Comfort assigned French names like pattes d’araignée, cuissade, and feuille de rose — “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was like the “Moosewood Cookbook.” Everything in it was healthful, enlightened, nourishing.

And here’s the part that made this non-meat eater burst out laughing:

Here’s a trick you might try at home sometime: pick almost any recipe in the “Moosewood.” Now add bacon. You will find that the addition of this decidedly unwholesome ingredient makes the food taste much better. “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” likewise, lacked a certain trayf allure. The revised edition of the book — even the original — is a fantastic resource for educating young women (and very sophisticated girls) about their physicality. But as an erotic reference for adults in 2008 it’s a little vegan.

I’ll pass on the bacon, but go read the full article. There’s also a slideshow of illustrations comparing the original “The Joy of Sex” and the new “ultimate revised edition” (the British version was published in September; it will be released in American bookstores this month). And you can listen to Levy talk about how society has changed since the book’s release and whether the new revised edition still fulfills a need.

Plus: The New York Times also recently wrote about the updated “The Joy of Sex” and talked with its author, Susan Quilliam, a British sexologist, advice columnist and relationship counselor. Some of the changes discussed:

“He had a section on tactful ways to take a woman’s virginity,” Ms. Quilliam said. “He had a section called ‘frigidity.’ I’m sure he was a lovely man, but he said that most men, given a young and attractive partner, can always get it up — it’s only when a woman lets herself go that he has a problem. And you’re going, ‘No, no, no!’ But that is what it was like then.”

Dr. Comfort said, too, that another part of the female genitalia, the vulva, was “slightly scary” to many males. Ms. Quilliam’s version has replaced his passages with some suggestions on the proper erotic care and treatment of a vulva and the observation that its image has been “beautifully immortalized in feminist artist Judy Chicago’s exhibition, ‘The Dinner Party’. ”

January 3, 2009

Double Dose: More Proof Virginity Pledges Don’t Work; Genetic Testing and Ambiguity; Cut Health Care Costs, Not Care; The Year in Medicine …

Well, it Wasn’t All Bad: “Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas,” reports The New York Times. Kevin Sack writes:

For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

As a crucial component of the health safety net, they are lauded as a cost-effective alternative to hospital emergency rooms, where the uninsured and underinsured often seek care.

Despite the clinics’ unprecedented growth, wide swaths of the country remain without access to affordable primary care. The recession has only magnified the need as hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance along with their jobs.

In response, Democrats on Capitol Hill are proposing even more significant increases, making the centers a likely feature of any health care deal struck by Congress and the Obama administration.

(Another) Survey Says: Abstinence Pledges Ineffective: “The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a ‘virginity pledge,’ but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers,” reports the Washington Post.

“Taking a pledge doesn’t seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,” Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, told WaPo. “But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking.”

Abortion Battle Brewing in South Carolina: “Abortion foes in the Legislature have sown the seeds of what could develop into another battle over regulating abortion in South Carolina,” reports The State. “Seven S.C. House lawmakers have prefiled a bill that would require women seeking abortions to be given a list of clinics and other facilities that provide free ultrasounds. That list could include pregnancy crisis centers — many run by antiabortion groups — that actively discourage abortion and encourage women to choose other alternatives.”

Genetic Testing and Ambiguity: “‘Information is power,’ has become a common mantra. But for many people seeking answers through genetic testing, all the DNA probing ends in this twist: Less certainty, not more,” begins this NPR report. The story focuses on Nashville novelist Susan Gregg Gilmore, who sought testing for mutations in the genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, which are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Cut Costs, Not Care: The L.A. Times has published the first installment of an ongoing feature on reducing health care costs. Part one covers drugs, doctor visits, surgery, flexible spending accounts, preventive care and insurance. Scroll down for links to online resources.

The Year in Medicine A-Z: Time magazine offers its annual alphabetical roundup of health stories and breakthroughs that made the news. (Ed. note – reading through it all requires clicking through 37 pages. “Single page” feature, anyone?)

Don’t Blink: Via Feminist Peace Network: “As we come to the final stretch of 2008, plagued as we are with the usual collection of horrors–Gaza burning, Tennessee buried in toxic ash, women and children being raped and killed in the Congo, and on and on, I’m sure y’all were just as relieved as I was to know that the FDA is considering approval of a glaucoma drug for eyelash enhancement, an idiocy I would have previously thought would be confined to the cable shopping networks.”

Missing on TV: GLBTQ Women: “Though 2008 comes to a close with word of possible new queer female characters on the horizon in the coming year, the prospects for lesbians and bisexual women on television over the last twelve months have been somewhat grim,” writes Karman Kregloe at “This has been particularly true for lesbians, whose numbers on scripted network television have now dwindled to zero.”

Deep Thoughts for the New Year: “As the country plunges into recession, will financial hardship demote the pursuit of physical perfection?” asks The New York Times. A classic response:

“There comes a point when you are putting too much time and money into your vanity,” said Peri Basel, a practice consultant in Chappaqua, N.Y., who advises cosmetic doctors on marketing strategies. “For me, the vanity issue is: Where does it stop? If you are going for buttock implants, do you really need that?”

December 31, 2008

The Hymen: Breaking the Myths

The value placed on virgin brides in some cultures led to much talk this year about “reconstructing” virginity (see: hymenoplasty) and the legal relevance of virginity (see: “essential quality” for marriage). So it seems only fitting that we should end with an inflated device designed to fake virginity by mimicking the “breaking” of the vaginal tissue known as the hymen.

According to the product description, once inserted the device “will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrate [sic], it will ooze out a liquid that look [sic] like blood not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans, you will pass through undetectable.”

Putting aside the issues of why someone would consider this a necessary product  — and the looming question: what do they use to make the fake blood and do I really want it in my vagina?? — let’s take a step back and discuss the hymen and what really happens to this misunderstood body part.

For this we turn to Carol Roye, a nursing professor at Hunter College and a nurse practitioner who specializes in adolescent primary and reproductive health care. Roye recently wrote an an article on the hymen that was published at Women’s eNews (and reprinted at Our Bodies Ourselves).

First off, contrary to what girls are often led to believe, “the hymen is not a flat piece of tissue covering the vagina, which is punctured during intercourse. If it were, girls would not be able to menstruate before they lose their virginity because there would be no outlet for menstrual blood,”

“Usually, the hymen looks like a fringe of tissue around the vaginal opening,” adds Roye. “It is not an intact piece of tissue draped across it. Some girls are born without a hymen, others have only a scanty fringe of tissue. Moreover, for all its fabled mystery, the hymen is just a body part.”

Furthermore, while hymens can be torn during sex or other physical activity, they don’t “break.” These torn areas can bleed, but it doesn’t always happen.

Some of Roye’s patients ask whether using tampons or riding a bicycle can affect their hymens (and their virginity), or if they are “de-virginized” if a partner inserts a finger into the vagina. Roye also deals with parents who ask her to determine if their daughters are virgins.

“Of course, in New York (and many states) teens have a right to confidential care so I cannot tell the mother anything unless the teen gives me permission to do so,” Roye writes. “But even if I am allowed to talk to the parent frankly, I often can’t give the yes-no answer they want. It is not so easy to tell whether a girl is a virgin, because hymens are so varied. If there is not much of a hymen I have no way of knowing what happened to it. Was it a boyfriend or a bicycle? Or, perhaps, this girl did not have much tissue there to begin with.”

Back to the virginity question, Roye states that she believes “virginity is what the individual thinks it is. It certainly is for men, who bear no tell-tale signs of lost virginity.” She adds:

The concept of virginity has an emotional connotation. It is more than just the physical disruption of hymenal tissue.

If a young woman has had a sexual relationship with her partner, and she feels that she has lost her virginity, then she has, regardless of what actually happened to her hymen during the encounter. There are ancillary issues that each woman must answer for herself.

Well said.

Interestingly, “hymen” is the most popular internal search term at the Our Bodies Ourselves health resource center. (In case you’re wondering, orgasm, abortion, yeast infection and vagina round out the top-five searches.) This self-guided tour is very useful in helping you to find your hymen, if remnants remain.

P.S.: If you enjoyed Carol Roye’s article, there’s more to look forward to — she is currently working on a book about reproductive health policies. Excerpts can be read at her website, Women’s Health is a Family Value.

September 20, 2008

Double Dose: Know Any Great Leaders?; Comment on HHS “Conscience Clause”; It’s Not Just About the Rape Kits; Journal Issue Looks at Abstinence-Only Education Programs; World Wide Web of Pesticides; The Price of Beauty …

Nominate a Great Leader: Know an advocate for women who deserves worldwide attention? Women’s eNews has issued a call for 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Send your nominations to The deadline is midnight on Oct. 6, 2008. Learn about past award recipients here.

Countdown to Conscience Clause Regulation: You’ve heard about the proposed Health & Human Services regulations that would allow federal health officials to withdraw funding from medical providers and services receiving HHS support that do not let employees opt out of providing basic health care — and information — they find objectionable. Now’s your time to act.

Rachel has written extensively about HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt confusing the public (and health experts) with his justification for the regulations — which would affect not only abortion and contraception, but a whole range of health care services — and she wrote a terrific analysis this week at RH Reality Check on the roadblocks Leavitt and HHS have imposed, making it difficult to get information about the rule and delaying the posting of comments for public viewing.

Sen. Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, joined forces this week to write a great op-ed in The New York Times that asked: “The Bush administration argues that the rule is designed to protect a provider’s conscience. But where are the protections for patients?”

The public comment period ends Sept. 25. You can submit your comments directly (although as of this morning the site was done for “planned system maintenance,” scheduled to return at 1 p.m.). Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have both set up customizable comment forms.

And, while you’re at it, you might nominate HHS Secretary Leavitt for Ellen Goodman’s annual Equal Rites Awards.

It’s Not Just the Rape Kits: On the subject of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin approving billing sexual assault victims for the cost of forensic rape examinations when she was mayor of Wasilla, Amie Newman writes: “There is good reason to hunt down the facts about the rape kits.  But the larger issue — of rape, sexual assault and how we deal with violence against women in this country — has been overlooked.”

Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before: The September 2008 issue of Sexuality Research & Social Policy reviews federally funded abstinence-only programs and finds — surprise — that such programs don’t delay teens from having sex and their continued use is not warranted.

The articles in this special issue were selected from research presented at a January 2007 conference, “Human Rights, Cultural, and Scientific Aspects of Abstinence-Only Policies and Programs,” sponsored by the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University, with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

From the introduction:

Taken as a whole, these articles build a strong scientific and human rights case against AOE. Together, they find that the very idea of an abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is scientifically and ethically flawed. Such programs reflect a religious and cultural belief system of socially conservative groups who have attained considerable political leverage at both state and federal levels. AOE programs not only fail the usual public-health standard of program efficacy but also actively restrict lifesaving information and promote misinformation about scientifically accepted public-health strategies such as condom use.

As the articles in this special issue show, science should drive public-health decision making — which, in turn, should inform public policy on health promotion and disease prevention (Koplan & McPheeters, 2004). In the case of AOE, politics and ideology have influenced public health policy and undermined scientific evidence about the best approaches to preventing unwanted outcomes regarding adolescents’ sexual behavior. Science, not ideology, should shape the future of public-health prevention policies for youth.

Plus: Kaiser Family Foundation has released a new fact sheet (the first update since 2006) on sexual health topics facing teens, including general sexual activity; sexual partners and relationships; sex, substance abuse and violence; pregnancy; contraception and protection; STDs; and access to health care services.

World Wide Web of Pesticides: The Center for Public Integrity’s latest investigation, “Wide Web of Pesticides Can Endanger Consumers,” looks at the practice of selling pesticides over the internet, which allows consumers to circumvent regulations meant to protect the public from harmful chemicals.

The dangers of online pesticide sales are many: little accountability on the extent of the practice; lack of training for those who purchase professional grade chemicals online; overexposure to dangerous chemicals and whether they are being properly used. For most states, the lack of resources prevents them from effectively monitoring online pesticide sales. While Colorado, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Nebraska are recognized as states working consistently to stem illegal Internet sales, many argue that the EPA should be doing more, highlighting the challenge regulators face of trying to control an online global marketplace where buyer and seller often never meet face to face.

This is the second article in the Center’s new series The Perils of the New Pesticides. The first, “A Checkered Past,” looks at the EPA’s flawed efforts to monitor poisonings by pesticides deemed safe. In addition to the excellent coverage, visitors can search pesticide incidents on file with the EPA by state and by year.

“The EPA’s pesticide incident-reporting system has not been public until now. Called one of the ‘Ten Most Wanted Government Documents‘ by the Center for Democracy and Technology, the database was released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Center for Public Integrity in early 2008,” according to the introduction.

Going Greener: “Innovations in designing green chemicals are emerging in nearly every U.S. industry, from plastics and pesticides to toys and nail polish. Some manufacturers of cosmetics, household cleaners and other consumer products are leading the charge, while others are lagging behind,” writes Marla Cone in the L.A. Times.

Part 2 of the series on a greener future looks at industries that remain dependent on hazardous substances.

The Price of Beauty: Having trouble getting a medical appointment with your dermatologist? Have you mentioned that you’re interested in Botox?

“Like airlines that offer first-class and coach sections, dermatology is fast becoming a two-tier business in which higher-paying customers often receive greater pampering. In some dermatologists’ offices, freer-spending cosmetic patients are given appointments more quickly than medical patients for whom health insurance pays fixed reimbursement fees,” writes Natasha Singer in The New York Times.

“In other offices, cosmetic patients spend more time with a doctor. And in still others, doctors employ a special receptionist, called a cosmetic concierge, for their beauty patients.”

Doctors Have Babies, Too: “For the growing number of women entering medicine, becoming a doctor increasingly includes a complication: pregnancy,” writes Liz Kowalczyk in the Boston Globe.

In the last 10 years, most teaching hospitals have adopted maternity leave policies for residents. Even so, new moms face a range of difficulties beyond exhaustion, from time limits placed on maternity leaves by boards that certify physicians in their specialties to resentment from fellow residents who must shoulder extra work while they’re gone. Academic medical centers also feel the pressure when a resident gets pregnant, because they depend on these physicians-in-training to provide most of the round-the-clock care to patients, especially in Massachusetts with its large number of teaching hospitals.

“As far as we’ve come, there still are significant barriers to parenting during residency,” said Dr. Debra Weinstein, vice president for graduate medical education for Partners HealthCare System, the parent organization of Mass. General and the Brigham.

Ain’t I a Mommy?: Great piece at Bitch by Deesha Philyaw, who wonders why with so many motherhood memoirs, so few of them are penned by women of color.

“The absence of black mommy memoirs mirrors the relative absence of black women’s voices in mainstream U.S. media discourse about motherhood in general,” writes Philyaw. “The abundance of ink and airtime devoted to a vocal minority of women promotes the idea that this minority’s experience is somehow universal. Low-income and working-class women, black women, and other women of color don’t see their mothering experiences and concerns reflected in the mommy media machine, and we get the cultural message loud and clear: Affluent white women are the only mothers who really matter.”

Motherhood, Activism and Politics: Writing at The American Prospect Online, Kara Jesella looks at maternalist politics, which have a long history in American culture.

September 16, 2008

Senator John McCain and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Ideas on Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule

Foreign Policy magazine recently published a list of the 10 worst ideas proposed or adopted by presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

There’s no overlap. Most of Obama’s ideas that came under fire have to do with trade agreements and energy solutions. McCain gets zinged for policies ranging from flip-flopping on immigration, to calling for 45 nuclear power plants, to balancing the budget through victory in the war on terror (um, seriously?).

But one of McCain’s not-so-bright ideas stands out, because it addresses both a domestic and global issue that women’s health advocates have been writing about forever, but which doesn’t receive all that much attention from policy wonks: supporting abstinence-only education and the global gag rule.

So kudos to FP editors for identifying McCain’s views on reproductive health as one of his 10 worst ideas:

What he said: Asked on the campaign trail if he thought grants for sex education should include instruction on contraception, McCain turned to an aide for help, saying, “Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.” The reporter asked, “Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?” After a long pause, McCain replied, “You’ve stumped me.” Town hall meeting, Iowa, Mar. 16, 2007

Why it’s a bad idea: A landmark, 10-year study sponsored by Congress found in 2007 that students in sexual-abstinence programs “were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, reported having similar numbers of sexual partners, and first had sex at about the same age,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Abstinence-only education is one of the core principles guiding the so-called global gag rule, an executive order passed by President George W. Bush in 2001 that prohibits giving foreign aid to NGOs that offer any kind of counseling on abortion as family planning. McCain voted against repealing the measure in 2005. Critics of the gag rule point to reports showing a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions since it was instituted.

That information is well-documented by the Global Gag Rule Impact Project (a collaborative research effort led by these groups), which has looked at the impact in nine countries since 2002. Most of the research has been done in Africa, but the analysis also includes Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

First introduced in 1984, the Global Gag Rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy, was rescinded by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and reinstated by President George Bush in 2001 on his first day in office.

If McCain is elected, you can be sure he and running mate Sarah Palin won’t be “reforming” or “changing” that policy when they get to Washington.

McCain’s view on abstinence-only education and his failure to grasp the connection between contraception and HIV is something we need to make more noise about. Here’s another item — in a recent op-ed published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ellen Bravo wrote:

Recently, I conducted an informal poll among friends, all smart, politically aware people who keep up with the news. A dozen of the 15 people I asked had never seen the clip of a befuddled McCain stroking his chin when a reporter asked about his position on a proposal to require insurance companies that cover Viagra to cover contraceptive products, reminding him that he’d voted against it.

“I certainly do not want to discuss that issue,” McCain replied. “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote.”

Had that clip — or any of numerous examples of McCain’s other extremist positions and slip-ups — been played more than 600 times in four days, as the “Dean scream” was, today’s polls would be very different.

So, folks, in an effort to amplify the message, please consider embedding this video on your own site (even if you’ve done so before), and spread the word that McCain’s views on abstinence-only education and the global gag rule rank as one of Foreign Policy’s 10 worst ideas.

September 3, 2008

Notes on Sarah Palin, Politics and Teenage Pregnancy

- The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, makes a good argument on the limits of family privacy when there are important public issues at stake. In a column reprinted at RH Reality Check, Haffner writes that the unplanned pregnancy of Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter “raises legitimate questions about Gov. Palin’s positions on sexuality education, teenage pregnancy and reproductive choice. Americans have every right, and American media the responsibility, to explore those questions without exploiting the child involved.”

- Funny that Rachel today cited a section of the Republican Platform that claims the party has “a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy.”

The Washington Post notes that Palin used her line item veto to slash funding for programs that serve teenage mothers:

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed. Inking her initials on the legislation — “SP” — Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.

According to Passage House’s web site, its purpose is to provide “young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives” and help teen moms “become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families.”

Michelle Cottle at TNR says it best:

I’m sorry, but a politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies. [...]

Surely a program aimed at assisting the most desperate of young mothers — those whose boyfriends aren’t amenable to a shotgun wedding or who don’t have a strong family support system — would be something a pro-life feminist such as Palin would work to expand not destroy.

- On the subject of working mothers, Ann Friedman suggests changing the conversation from can Gov. Palin balance work and family in the White House to what is she doing to help other working mothers?

Where does Palin stand on S-CHIP? On fair pay? On paid family leave? I have no idea. But her running mate, John McCain, was rated by the Children’s Defense [Fund Action Council] as the worst senator for children. He supports businesses who discriminate on the basis of gender. He attempted to weaken the Family and Medical Leave Act. And he supported Bush’s veto of S-CHIP. (Gloria Feldt and Carol Joffee have more.)

The real story here is not how Sarah Palin chooses to balance her own life. It’s about whether she (and McCain) are committed to making these choices easier for all women. And clearly, the answer is no.

- FInally, I think Rebecca Traister does an excellent job of summing up the frustration many have voiced about Palin’s nomination:

In his callous, superficial and ill-judged attempt to woo women voters with the presence of mammary glands on his ticket — hot, young ones to boot — McCain has committed a sickening grievance against both voters and those female politicians whom he purports to respect and support. What a failure by McCain to have this woman — with her pregnancies and progeny and sex life and child-rearing prowess now being inspected instead of her policy and voting history — stand in for, and someday, possibly emblemize the political progress of American women, especially at a moment at which women had, temporarily it seems, risen far enough above our gestational capabilities to be taken seriously in the race for the White House.

June 21, 2008

Double Dose: Abstinence-Only Funding Survives Another Vote; Statement of Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women; UN Addresses Rape as War Crime; Debate Over Islam and Virginity; Shopping for Breast Cancer and More …

Best Headline: “Abstinence-only funding is like an evil Energizer Bunny,” courtesy of Vannesa at Feministing. Why the evil? The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies voted to continue funding the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, an abstinence-only education funding stream, despite all the research that’s it’s a waste of money and resources. Scott Swenson of RH Reality Check has a good wrap-up here.

Share This: Via Brownfemipower, I found an online petition — Statement of Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women — written in the wake of R. Kelly’s acquittal. The petition and related useful books, films and organizations are also listed on Mark Anthony Neal’s blog, which itself is a terrific resource on issues on issues of race and masculinity.

UN Addresses Rape as a War Crime: “In Sudan, girls as young as four are raped by rebel forces and government-backed militias. In Democratic Republic of Congo, women are sexually mutilated by roving gangs. In Burma, they are systematically raped as part of a military offensive,” writes Olivia Ward in the Toronto Sun. “[Thursday], the United Nations Security Council agreed that sexual violence against women and girls in war zones is a threat to international stability, opening the way for action against countries that condone or promote atrocities.”

Here’s more from the BBC, and the full text of UN Resolution 1820, which states that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” The 15-member Security Council also demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity: From The New York Times:

As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”

A 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent who paid $2,900 for the procedure, said: “In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt … Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”

Plus: Read Judith Warner’s column, which links hymen surgery, father-daughter purity balls and other news stories related to patriarchy and female chastity.

World Refugee Day: In recognition of the 8th Annual UN World Refugee Day on June 20, Worldview looked at the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Cervical Cancer Screenings Lacking in Developing Countries: “A study published in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine has found that women in the developing world are not getting the cervical cancer screenings that they need,” according to Medical News Today. “Researcher Emmanuela Gakidou (University of Washington) and colleagues report that although women in the developing world have the highest risk of developing cervical cancer, few are effectively screened. Additionally, there exist severe inequalities between and within countries concerning the access to cervical cancer screening.”

Plus: A survey of 38,000 Canadian women found that obese women are significantly less likely (30 to 40 percent, depending on the degree of obesity) to be tested for cervical cancer than women of average body weight, according to CBC News. Breast and colon cancer screening are unaffected by a woman’s body mass.

Shopping for Breast Cancer: The Center for Media & Democracy’s PRWatch recently posted an article about “Pinkwashing” — which is what happens when corporations try to boost sales by associating their products with the fight against breast cancer. “The worst pinkwashers exploit the intense emotions associated with breast cancer while selling products that actually contribute to breast cancer,” writes Ann Landman, who goes on to offer some key examples, including a Ford 2008 V-6 Mustang with Warriors in Pink Package, which proclaims to “add more muscle to the fight.”

Landman also links to Breast Cancer Action’s excellent Think Before You Pink campaign.

Study Finds Drop in Use of HRT: “Fewer older women in Canada are using hormone-replacement therapies to treat the symptoms of menopause, turning instead to natural remedies, says a study released Thursday,” reports The Vancouver Sun.

“The Canadian Institute for Health Information has found only five per cent of women in five provinces who are 65 years and older use hormone-replacement therapies — a drop from 14 per cent six years ago, when a report found the risks of using the menopause therapies outweigh the benefits.”

The Number of Underinsured Grows: Via the L.A. Times – A new study published in Health Affairs journal found that 25 million people ages 19 to 64 were underinsured in 2007, up from 16 million in 2003.

Nearly 50 million additional people have no health insurance at all. In all, “You end up with about 75 million adults who were either underinsured or uninsured at some time during the year,” says study co-author Sara Collins, an assistant vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that supports independent healthcare research.

Those who had inadequate insurance coverage were almost as likely as those with no insurance to avoid getting needed care or to suffer medically related financial problems. Some 53% of the underinsured went without needed care, compared with 68% of the uninsured. And 45% of underinsured people had trouble paying medical bills, compared with 51% of uninsured people. “You can have health insurance and still go bankrupt if you get sick,” the authors note.

ACLU Symposium on LGBTQ Rights: Melissa points to a number of pieces posted at the symposium, including her piece on gay marriage written as a LGBTQ ally. I loved what Rachel Maddow had to say in an interview with the ACLU:

So far the state where I grew up (California) and the state where I live (Massachusetts) and the state where I work most of the time (New York) have legalized, legalized, and agreed-to-recognize-other-states’ same-sex-marriages, respectively. I am accepting applications now from other states that want me to relocate, since apparently I am to second-class gay citizenship what Saint Patrick was to snakes.

June 8, 2008

Double Dose: Disparities in Health Care; Legal Ramifications of Same-Sex Marriage; On Becoming a Woman; Abstinence-Only Supporters Push On; Sexually Harassed? Raise Your Hand

Wide Disparities in Health Care by Race and Region: “Race and place of residence can have a staggering impact on the course and quality of the medical treatment a patient receives, according to new research showing that blacks with diabetes or vascular disease are nearly five times more likely than whites to have a leg amputated and that women in Mississippi are far less likely to have mammograms than those in Maine,” reports The New York Times.

The study was conducted by researchers at Dartmouth and was commissioned by the nation’s largest health-related philanthropy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which announced a three-year, $300 million initiative intended to narrow health care disparities across lines of race and geography.

Repairing the Damage, Before Roe: “With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside,” writes Waldo L. Fielding in this op-ed. “When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe ‘bad old days.’ Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.” Read on.

Legal Effects of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples: The San Francisco Chronicle has a comprehensive run-down of the legal and financial changes same-sex couples face if they get married in California.

Plus: What happens to the status of couples already married if the November initiative to ban same-sex marriage passes? Expect heavy litigation and a decision ultimately decided by the California Supreme Court, says UCLA law professor Brad Sears.

Paying for Health Care in Retirement – Good Luck: “I write about health care, and still the realization hit me like a ton of bricks today after I put down a just-released report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. None of the presidential candidates have been talking about how to fix Medicare," writes Judith Graham at the Chicago Tribune.

Here’s the sobering EBRI report (PDF), effectively titled: “Savings Needed to Fund Health Insurance and Health Care Expenses in Retirement: Findings from a Simulation Model.”

On Becoming a Woman: In case you were looking for some, er, real-life advice, Blinky has excerpts from this 1950′s guide. Here’s analysis from Echidne, who calls it “a fascinating trip into the sexual politics of the past.”

“On the other hand,” she adds, “almost everything in those excerpts is advocated in this country somewhere, right this very moment. Abstinence is the responsibility of girls, for example. Women gentle and home-directed while men are strong and outer-directed? I was just told this by a liberal guy.”

Speaking of Abstinence: The National Abstinence Education Association has launched a $1 million campaign to recruit 1 million parents to “lobby local schools to adopt sex education programs focusing on abstinence and to work to elect local, state and national officials who support the approach,” reports the Washington Post.

The campaign comes as Congress is debating whether to authorize about $190 million in federal funding for such programs, which have come under increasing criticism because of a series of reports that concluded they are ineffective. Such criticism has prompted at least 17 states to refuse federal funding for such programs.

The group hopes to counter that trend, in part with a provocative video that asserts that comprehensive sex education encourages sexual activity by teenagers and a Web site that offers advice to parents about sex education.

Plus: Five days later, the same WaPo reporter, Rob Stein, wrote a page-one story about a new study by the Centers for Disease Control that found “a decade-long decline in sexual activity among high school students leveled off between 2001 and 2007, and that the rise in condom use by teens flattened out in 2003.”

The new figures renewed the heated debate about sex-education classes that focus on abstinence until marriage, which began receiving federal funding during the period covered by the latest survey and have come under increasing criticism that they are ineffective.

“Since we’ve started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity,” said John Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University. “The other piece of it is: Abstinence education spends a good amount of time bashing condoms. So it’s not surprising, if that’s the message young people are getting, that we’re seeing condom use start to decrease.”

Not surprisingly, proponents of abstinence-only programs blamed comprehensive sex-ed.

Hands Up if You’ve Experienced Street Harassment: The F-Word is gathering comments here, in response to comments here.

Breast Cancer News from ASCO Conference: Several breast cancer-related studies presented at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago are summarized here by Daily Women’s Health Policy Report. Meeting abstracts from the conference are available here.

Eat Locally, Think …: “The local food movement typically has been about improving the health of the planet,” writes Tara Parker-Pope. “But now researchers are trying to find out if eating locally farmed food is also better for your health. A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a grant to study the public health impact of moving toward a local, sustainable food system.”

Chicago can’t hold a carrot stick to California when it comes to the availability of locally grown produce, but the farmers markets rock during the summer and fall. How ’bout where you live?

If I Could Be Anywhere Right Now: It would be here.

April 2, 2008

More Evidence on Abstinence-Only vs. Comprehensive Sex Education

A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health reports on a survey of about 1700 teens (ages 15-19) who completed the National Survey of Family Growth. They were asked about whether they received any formal sex education before initiating vaginal intercourse (only heterosexual teens were included), and whether it was abstinence-only or comprehensive (with instruction on contraceptives).

Among the findings:

  • 9.4% of participants reported that they had not received any sex education, 23.8% reported abstinence-only instruction, and 66.8% reported comprehensive sex education.

  • Nearly half of the teens had already had vaginal intercourse by the time of the survey.
  • Neither type of sex ed was significantly associated with reducing rates of vaginal intercourse compared with no education.
  • Neither type of sex ed was associated with reducing rates of sexually transmitted infections. However, many teens may not know their STI status, given that only 4.8% of girls reported ever having received such a diagnosis, compared with recent CDC estimations that suggest the figure should have been more like 25%.
  • Teens who received comprehensive sex ed were significantly less likely to report a pregnancy than those who received no formal sex ed. Abstinence-only sex ed was not significantly associated with a reduction in teen pregnancy.

The authors also noted disparities in sex education, stating that “Generally individuals receiving no sex education tended to be from low-income nonintact families, black, and from rural areas. Participants reporting abstinence-only education were typically younger and from low-to-moderate–income intact families, whereas adolescents reporting comprehensive sex education were somewhat older, white, and from higher-income families and more urban areas.”

In general, it’s good to be skeptical of what teens say of their own sexual behavior, and the authors note that additional formal studies are needed. As the debate continues, however, it’s helpful to have another piece of information indicating that teens are having sex no matter which type of education they receive, but those receiving comprehensive sex ed may be faring better when it comes to teen pregnancy, and not faring any “worse” when it comes to initiating sexual activity.

Related: Lawmakers’ Letter to Obey Asks That Abstinence-Only Funding Go to More Effective Programs

February 25, 2008

Legal Momentum Hosts Panel Discussion on Sex Ed

The Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday will play host to sex, lies and stereotypes. And no one will get in trouble for it.

But there will be plenty of talk about the trouble with abstinence-only programs and the harm they cause to women and girls in particular. “Sex, Lies & Stereotypes” (PDF) is the name of a new report produced by Legal Momentum and the title of Tuesday’s panel discussion.

Based on recommendations arising from a September 2006 roundtable at Harvard Law School, the report argues for the need to limit federal funding for inaccurate and biased abstinence-only programs, both in both the United States and abroad. (Ann has excerpts here.)

Legal Momentum’s Julie Kay, author of the report, will discuss legislative priorities concerning sex-education programs. Also appearing are Jamila Taylor of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and Jen Heitel Yakush of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). The honorary co-chair is Rep. Henry Waxman.

February 22, 2008

V-Bombs and Sex-Ed Fights: Vaginas in the News

“School Newspaper Drops a V-Bomb” reads the headline of this L.A. Times story about the confiscation of a high school student newspaper that featured a labeled diagram of a vagina on the front page of the Valentine’s Day issue.

The paper’s editor-in-chief, 15-year-old Richard Edmond, said he was trying to raise awareness of violence against women with a lead story about playwright Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal,” Edmond said. “But they are really upset.”

Edmond said administrators did not explain to his satisfaction why this copy of Le Sabre was unfit for distribution. He said he was told by administrators: “This is not in the taste of the school; this is a high school, not Hollywood Boulevard.”

That didn’t jive so well with the students. The next day, Edmond and others went to school wearing homemade white, black and pink T-shirts reading “My vagina is obscene.” School officials sent home Edmond and two other protesters who refused to change their clothes.

My favorite quote has to be what Edmond told the Student Press Law Center: “My deans said, ‘We understand there’s violence against women, but we have to send you home because that’s our job. I don’t think there should be a ‘but.’”

* * *
This Chicago Tribune headline, meanwhile, promises more bang than the story delivers: “Sex-Ed Fight Began with Condom and Banana.”

No mess here; rather, it’s about a New Jersey peer-to-peer sex-ed course that has drawn the ire of some parents. Indeed, the original headline to the Philadelphia Inquirer story was a more subdued “Sex Ed Led by Teens is Dividing Parents.”

The program involves faculty-supervised juniors and seniors who conduct a series of five seminars attended by freshmen. The New Jersey Teen Prevention Education Program (Teen PEP) is sponsored by the N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services, HiTOPS Inc. (Health-Interested Teens Own Program on Sexuality) and the Princeton Center for Leadership Training.

Favorite quote:

“Students listen to each other anyway,” said Alex Van Kooy, 16, a Clearview peer educator. They talk about sex “in the halls and at the bus stop, and we’re just trying to give the correct information instead of rumors and whispers.”

Echoing that point, columnist Michael Smerconish writes in a related piece that everything he needed to know about sex he learned playing street hockey.

“In those teenage years, sex came up just about everywhere,” writes Smerconish. “Playing sports. At the movies. Drinking a Frank’s soda. All over. Except home. And certainly not in any classroom.”

His column includes a number of great comments from Michael Porter, a high school English teacher who also serves as a Teen PEP adviser. Tongue in cheek, Porter says, “When I first started to hear some of the revolting things that were happening in Teen PEP workshops, I was ready to start protesting the group myself, until I remembered that I was in charge of it.”

All joking aside, Porter gets that talking about some subjects may be uncomfortable at first, but it’s far easier than dealing with a sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy.

“I am the father of a 15-year-old girl,” Porter said. “Believe me, I am terrified of the sexually saturated culture that she is surrounded by. I sincerely hope that she chooses to postpone sexual involvement for a long, long, long time. At the same time, as a second-best alternative, I want her to have the information to be safer, should she make a different choice.”

February 17, 2008

Double Dose: Finding the Fun in Big Pharma; MacGyver Meets Dr. Ruth; Sex, Lies & Stereotypes: The Truth About Sex Education; Chemical Exposure in Infants

Who’s On Pharma?: Prescription Access Legislation presents a comedy classic updated for the pharmaceutical industry … Check it out. And there’s lots more worth reading on PAL’s blog.

MacGyver Meets Dr. Ruth: Once you get beyond the freaked-out expression on the female avatar, what follows is a very interesting article about the efforts of Dr. Carla Pugh, a surgeon at the Northwestern University medical school who builds low-cost models of breasts and other body parts out of everyday items to help medical students get over their squeamishness. (For the “Who Knew?” files: “Lima beans, it turns out, are excellent facsimiles for tumor tissue,” writes Richard Morgan.)

“Just because you’re smart enough to get into medical school, you’re not smart enough to outwit the social restraints we all grow up with,” Pugh told the Times. “It’s not like med school students are gifted to the degree that they can touch a stranger’s genitals and look them in the eye and have a calm conversation without feeling weird about it.”

Sex, Lies & Stereotypes: That’s the title of a new report (PDF) released by Legal Momentum. Compiled by Julie F. Kay with Ashley Jackson, the report is based on recommendations arising from an expert roundtable Kay hosted on how abstinence-only programs harm women and girls.

Plus: Here’s a column by Courtland Milloy that I’ve kept around for a while on a comprehensive sex education program in place at a Washington, D.C. high school that goes above and beyond most programs.

“While students at the public charter elementary are learning basic skills, they are also being inoculated with heavy doses of self-respect, integrity, discipline, responsibility and teamwork. That’s where you’ll find the cure,” writes Milloy. “This holistic approach to education is known as the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, which was developed in 1984 by Michael Carrera of the New York-based Children’s Aid Society. Clearly, there is more to it than the name implies, and it might well be the gold standard for sex education in public schools.”

Find out more about the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program at

Baby Care Products and Phthalate Exposure A study in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics points to baby care products as possible sources of infant phthalate exposure. Julie Deardorff has more on the study and why phthalates — chemicals found in plastics and personal care products — are a growing concern.

Plus: Check out Deardorff’s post about taking part in testing to determine her individual chemical concentration levels.

Medicine MIstakes: Here’s something worth thinking about before your next hospital visit. The first large-scale study of preventable prescription errors in community hospitals found that one in every 10 patients admitted to six Massachusetts community hospitals suffered serious and avoidable medication mistakes, reports the Boston Globe. The two nonprofit groups that conducted the study urged all hospitals in Massachusetts to install a computerized prescription ordering system.

February 5, 2008

Comprehensive Sex Education in Illinois Not All That

One-third of all sex education teachers in Illinois are not providing comprehensive instruction, according to a new study.

The survey by researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center appears in the February 2008 issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology (here’s the abstract). Among the findings: 30 percent of the state’s sex-education teachers had never received sex-education training. The national average is 18 percent.

“For this study, we set the bar for comprehensiveness fairly low relative to what most medical and public health organizations recommend,” said senior author Stacy Tessler Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at the University of Chicago, “and one out of three programs failed to clear it.”

“Our children learn many of the skills they need to be healthy citizens and to take responsibility for their own health in school,” she said. “That should include information about sexual aspects of health. Physicians who care for adolescents need to know what students are, or are not learning, in school in order to fill gaps caused by deficits in program content, quality and teacher training.”

The survey of 335 sex education teachers in 201 public middle and high schools was was funded by the Illinois Campaign for Responsible Sex Education, a project of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Planned Parenthood Chicago Area. The survey found that seven percent of the schools did not off any sex education. Here are some of the curriculum details from those that do:

The most frequently taught topics, covered by 96 percent of teachers, were HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Almost 90 percent of teachers covered abstinence. Among those who taught abstinence, 57 percent emphasized that it was the “best alternative,” 39 percent said it was the “only alternative,” and four percent described it as “one alternative.”

Practical skills — such as contraception, condom use, decision-making and communicating with a partner — and morally debated topics, such as abortion or sexual orientation, were among the least frequently taught. Teachers who had not received sex-education training were less likely to spend time on practical or morally debated topics.

Of the 17 topics, emergency contraception was mentioned least, taught by only 30 percent of teachers. Only 32 percent of teachers brought up homosexuality or sexual orientation, 34 percent taught how to use condoms, 37 percent taught how to use other forms of birth control, 39 percent discussed abortion and 47 percent taught students where to access contraception and sexual-health services.

The most common reason for omitting a topic was “not part of the curriculum.” Those who omitted condom use, however, most often cited “school or district policy.”

January 19, 2008

Double Dose: Sex Ed Battles; Politics and Misogyny; Doctors Respond to Ovarian Cancer Email; Exercise and Cold Weather – Brrr

Sex Ed Battles: Via the Washington Post, in Montgomery County, Md., opponents of a new sex-education curriculum approved by the school board last year — the first in the district to address sexual orientation as a classroom topic — are challenging the part that describes homosexuality as innate, insisting it doesn’t meet the “factually accurate” standard set by Maryland state law.

Opponents also object to references made during the condom instruction to anal and oral sex. Their attorney said those passages violate a state prohibition against material that “portrays erotic techniques of sexual intercourse.” The case is being heard by Circuit Court Judge William Rowan III, who is expected to issue a written ruling. Here’s more background.

And in Park Ridge, Ill., there’s controversy over a freshman high school biology curriculum at Maine South High School (which happens to be where Hillary Clinton spent her senior year) that teaches about birth control. The lessons follow state code, said School Superintendent Joel Morris, but some parents are less than enthusiastic, especially about the part describing how to put on a condom.

Choice Stories: Courtney Martin reviews a new anthology, “Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion,” edited by Karen E. Bender and Nina de Gramont.

“In consistently original voices and beautifully crafted writing (not always such a hallmark of anthologies),” writes Martin, “these stories enfold you in a dark but deeply compelling fog and remind you of how totally powerful and pained we sometimes are.”

Birth Trends: The Washington Post looks at college-educated couples who have decided to have children while they’re still in their 20s, which strikes some as very young; according to demographic research, college-educated mothers are usually about 30 when they give birth to their first child.

“This is very significant data. It’s giving numbers to a trend people have been only inferring,” said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families. The data, she said, show that “there is this increasing divergence of highly educated women and less-educated women.”

Politics and Misogyny: You probably already read Bob Herbert’s amazing column this week, but if somehow you missed it, go now for honest truths like this: “If there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it’s the dark persistence of misogyny in America. Sexism in its myriad destructive forms permeates nearly every aspect of American life. For many men, it’s the true national pastime, much bigger than baseball or football.”

The Chris Matthews Fairy Tale: Echidne of the Snakes offers an all-inclusive take-down of Chris Matthews’ sexist comments about Hillary Clinton and other female politicians and authors. You might call Matthews’ apology a wee bit “incomplete.”

The Correct Clinton Stereotype: In an op-ed at the L.A. Times about gender stereotypes, author Susan Faludi describes a recent experience she had watching women skillfully and persistently handle their mothers’ medical needs and relates it to attitudes toward Hillary Clinton.

Global Population Under a Democratic President: “If a Democratic president enters the White House about a year from now, some experts in family planning anticipate a boon for mankind: a greater effort by the United States government to restrain world population growth,” writes Christian Science Monitor columnist David R. Francis in this piece on reversing the global gag rule.

Doctors Respond to Email: Ever see a health email take on a life of its own? Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times reports on a controversial message that has circulated online for years urging women to request a special blood test (CA-125) to screen themselves for ovarian cancer. A group of doctors has responded with their own email that they hope will soon be communicated as far and wide.

Deep Freeze: As I write, it’s 2 degrees in Chicago — and it’s expected to plunge to -20 below with wind chill. According to The New York Times, I have no excuse not to stick to my running. (Damn.) Of course, anyone with a fireplace and a good winter brew can easily convince me otherwise … Hope you all are warm!

January 15, 2008

Calls for Action, Votes and Participation

An activism mini round-up

Assault Against Women: Congresswomen Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), have drafted a letter (PDF) to the Department of Defense and the State Department about efforts to address sexual assault crimes against government contracted employees. The letter cites Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang raped by fellow employees and held against her will, and Tracy Barker, who was sexually assaulted by a State Department employee.

Jill at Feministe has more on spreading the word about these efforts, including a note from Slaughter asking readers to contact their members of Congress to encourage them to sign on to the letters.

Sex Ed Videos: You have until Jan. 16 (tomorrow!) to visit and vote on your favorite contender in the Fresh Focus: Sex Ed Digital Video Contest, sponsored by RH Reality Check, Isis, Inc., Advocates for Youth, SIECUS and the National Sexuality Resource Center.

The groups asked people age 15 to 30 years old to create a video about the sexuality education they had (or wished they’d had) or to envision the way they’d like sexuality education to be taught.

“Brutally honest, shockingly perceptive and sometimes hilarious, these videos are a wake-up call from young people of all cultures, ethnicities and gender-identities,” writes Amie Newman, in a post about the contest and finalists.

International Women’s Day: Feminist Peace Network is already sounding the bell for International Women’s Day, scheduled for March 8, and will post related announcements and statements. Send information to

Dreams for Women: Antigone Magazine, a grassroots national magazine that works to encourage young women to get involved in politics in Canada, is launching a Feminist Postcard art project based on your dreams for women.