Archive for the ‘Sex Education’ Category

January 13, 2008

Double Dose: A Modest Proposal for Pregnant Teens; C-Section Stats Under Review; Googling Your Health; New Info on Medicare and Health Insurance Coverage

A Modest Proposal: “Pregnant students in a Denver high school are asking for at least four weeks of maternity leave so they can heal, bond with their newborns and not be penalized with unexcused absences,” reports the Denver Post, which notes that Denver Public Schools has no districtwide policy, meaning it’s left up to schools to “to work out plans for students to continue their education.”

What that means is some schools have set a policy whereby girls who don’t show up for school the day after they give birth are charged with unexcused absences. Many of the comments on this story argue against “special treatment.”

Florida Considers Proposal to Teach “Abstinence Plus”: “The bill would still require that schools teach abstinence as ‘the only certain way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases,’” reports the AP. “But, the measure would require that starting in the 6th grade, sex education classes provide information about the health benefits and side effects of contraceptives.”

Iowa Gets Funding to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies: Former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack launched a statewide project called “Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies” that will focus on women ages 18 to 30. “As a woman, as a teacher, as a mother, I believe we have a responsibility to give all women in our state the knowledge and the means to prevent unintended pregnancies,” she said. From the Des Moines Register:

Half of all pregnancies in Iowa in 2006 were unintended, Vilsack said, citing state Department of Public Health statistics. Of those, 14 percent ended in terminations, she said, citing Iowa Barriers to Prenatal Care Project statistics.

Iowa ranks 48th in the nation in making family planning services available and 39th in its public funding for those efforts. More than half of Iowa’s counties do not have family planning centers, Vilsack said.

C-Section Statistics Under Review: “In 2006, 31.1% of U.S. births were by C-section, a 50% increase over the previous decade,” notes USA Today in a story that examines the debate over safety of elective c-sections.

For more information, check out this earlier post on c-sections and the rise of maternal mortality, as well as Rachel’s post on c-section rates by hospital.

FDA Takes Action on Biodentical Hormones: “The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on pharmacies that sell customized hormone mixtures as antidotes for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, saying they are being promoted with false claims about their benefits and contain an ingredient the agency hadn’t approved,” reports the Wall St. Journal.

Here’s more from Well, where an interesting discussion follows, and the FDA press release.

Do You Google Your Health?: Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. doesn’t mind if you do and suggests websites that provide accurate, up-to-date medical information. Don’t forget Rachel’s great post on online health research — it includes questions to ask when evaluating the reliability of websites.

Medicare and Health Insurance Coverage: The Kaiser Family Foundation this week released a new issue brief providing an overview of Medicare’s financing and the fiscal challenges the program faces in the coming decades.

KFF also released two updated fact sheets that provide the most current information and data on health insurance coverage for women ages 18-64. The first, Women’s Health Insurance Coverage, provides new statistics on health coverage, describes the major sources of health insurance, summarizes the major policy challenges facing women in obtaining health coverage, and provides data on the more than 17 million women who are uninsured.

The second fact sheet, Health Insurance Coverage of Women by State, provides state-by-state data on the uninsured rate, as well as rates of private insurance and Medicaid coverage.

December 27, 2007

A Look Back: “Doin’ It: Sex, Disability and Videotape”

I love end-of-the-year retrospectives — they help to frame the year that was and I catch up on great stories and bits of culture I missed the first time around.

Today during a look back on Eight Forty-Eight, a local Chicago Public Radio show, I was reminded of a story I had intended to blog when it first aired in April — an interview with members of the Empowered FeFes, a group of young women with disabilities sponsored by Chicago-based Access Living.

The Empowered FeFes collaborated with Beyond Media to create “Doin’ It: Sex, Disability and Videotape,” a documentary released this year that addresses society’s general unwillingness to acknowledge that people with disabilities have sexual needs and desires.

“We have to let people know that because in their mind they’re thinking oh, she’s in a chair, she can’t do that, she can’t date, she’ll never get married,” said Veronica Martinez, a member of the Empowered FeFes.

The film also covers issues ranging from reproductive rights and the history of forced sterilization to sexual health and domestic violence.

“The motivation,” Susan Nussbaum of Access Living told Eight Forty-Eight, “is for young women and girls with disabilities around the U.S. to have a very affirmative image about their own sexuality, the thing I wish I had had myself at that age.”

Listen to the interview here, and check out a great three-minute clip from the film below.

December 24, 2007

Separating Spin from Science

This week, you may have seen media coverage of a study on abortion and future pregnancy outcomes, with headlines such as, “Study Links Abortion and Preemies.

Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors report that the prevalence of low birth weight, term low birth weight, and premature birth was higher in black women, those under 20 or over 40 years of age, less educated, and unmarried, women, among other things. They also reported that the prevalence of all of these things increased with an increasing number of previous abortions. Predictably, some anti-choice outlets jumped on this news.

The problem? The study did not distinguish between spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and induced abortion. It was also conducted via a survey of women between 1959 and 1966, when abortion was still illegal in America, making it difficult both to assess the possible health effects of the black market procedures and to understand the level to which women were honest about what was then a criminal act.

It also ignores how women’s health status and access to healthcare may be different in the study population than in today’s women. In fact, anyone reading the full text of the article would find these limitations quite clearly spelled out in the Discussion portion. Ultimately, then, this single study cannot serve as a definitive statement on today’s risks of induced abortion.

However, this isn’t a problem on only one side of reproductive health issues. Following a study published in the Journal of Adolescent health concluding that formal sex education delays teen initiation of sex, there was no shortage of commentary suggesting that this proves the failure of abstinence-only sex ed. Regardless of the other evidence on comprehensive vs. abstinence-only sex education, this study does not make a conclusion on the issue, because it simply can’t.

The researchers looked at any formal sex education conducted by a school, church, or community organization, but did not separate the programs by the type of content delivered. As in the earlier study, the authors make this quite clear in their Discussion section, stating, “No conclusions about type of sex education (i.e., comprehensive sex education vs. focus on abstinence-only) can be drawn from this analysis.”

The point? It’s important that, when weighing the evidence on a topic, it is clearly understood and accurately communicated.

We can debate issues such as whether the CDC’s involvement in the sex education study might have played a role in the study’s design of lumping comprehensive and abstinence-only sex education together. However, when looking to research to support our policies and agendas, it’s useful to make sure we understand said research and recognize whether it truly does support our positions.

November 27, 2007

Quick Hit: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Sex-Ed

Abstinence only, abstinence-plus or comprehensive sex-ed? Alison Bowen of Women’s eNews has the breakdown for both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

November 10, 2007

Double Dose: Breast Cancer and Environmental Exposures; Another Report Debunks Abstinence Only Programs; Mental Health and Insurance Coverage; and What if Roe Fell?

Linking Breast Cancer and Environmental Exposures: The Breast Cancer and Environment Research Centers (BCERC), a project jointly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute to study the impact of prenatal-to-adult environmental exposures that may predispose a woman to breast cancer, held its fourth annual symposium on Cincinnati this week. Here’s a peek at the program.

Frank Biro, director of the adolescent medicine division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who is heading up a federally funded study looking at the link between chemicals called endocrine disruptors and breast cancer, told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “Most breast cancer is sporadic; it’s not inherited. Looking at the hereditary issues only accounts for 25 to 30 percent of breast cancers … Something else is going on, and that something else is probably going to be environmental in some way, or maybe an interaction between environmental factors and genetics.”

Plus: Lucinda Marshall looks at media coverage of breast cancer in the wake of the Global Summit on Breast Cancer.

Yet Another Study Proves Congress Wrong: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a report (PDF) this week that found abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. As Amie Newman writes, “How many studies, reports and polls do we need until we can finally shove abstinence-only programs in a box and hide them away in that scary hall closet that houses everything under the sun?”

Here’s a summary of key findings (PDF) compiled by the Guttmacher Institute. The ACLU, in a statement, said, the study “provides strong evidence that it is time for the federal government to support comprehensive sex education programs.”

Clinic Buffer Zone Increased: “The Massachusetts legislature gave final approval Thursday to a bill that requires protesters to stand at least 35 feet from clinics that offer abortions,” reports The New York Times. “The bill, which Gov. Deval L. Patrick is expected to sign next week, will be the nation’s strictest state law establishing fixed zones that protesters cannot enter around those reproductive health clinics that offer abortions.”

Authorities said the current law, which was enacted in 2000, was difficult to enforce — it prohibits protesters from going within 6 feet of a person in an 18-foot zone outside a clinic’s doors. The Times also notes that the country’s largest fixed buffer zone, 36 feet, is in effect in — wait for it — Melbourne, Fla.

Plus: The Center for Reproductive Rights answers the question “What if Roe fell?” with a look at the laws in each state that would go into effect.

Mental Health Q&A: Ever wonder why mental health benefits are less generous than insurance benefits for other conditions? The Washington Post has a Q&A column on equal coverage and other issues related to mental health coverage.

The Weight Debate: According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as reported in the Washington Post, “Being overweight boosts the risk of dying from diabetes and kidney disease but not cancer or heart disease, and carrying some extra pounds actually appears to protect against a host of other causes of death.”

Plus: Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have found that inflammation, not obesity, causes insulin resistance.

Did You Hear the One About …: Jokes about blondes and women drivers are not just harmless fun and games, according to a research project led by a Western Carolina University psychology professor. The article, “More Than Just a Joke: The Prejudice-Releasing Function of Sexist Humor,” is scheduled for publication in the February issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“Our research demonstrates that exposure to sexist humor can create conditions that allow men — especially those who have antagonistic attitudes toward women — to express those attitudes in their behavior,” said Thomas E. Ford, a faculty member in the psychology department at WCU. “The acceptance of sexist humor leads men to believe that sexist behavior falls within the bounds of social acceptability.”

Revisiting the Prairie: The Washington Post runs an occasional series in which book critic Jonathan Yardley reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past. This time around: the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. “What surprises me a bit in thinking back to my own reaction to these books as a boy is that it seems to have made no difference at all that girls, not boys, were at the center of these stories,” writes Yardley.

November 2, 2007

Double Dose: A Look at Healthcare for Women Behind Bars; House-Senate Conference Committee Approves Abstinence Education Funding Increase; Majority of Those Polled Support Access to Contraceptives in Schools; Joss Whedon!!

From the It’s About Time Files: “The Department of Veterans Affairs is opening a treatment center exclusively for traumatized female veterans amid an unprecedented wave of reported rapes, assaults and harassment against women,” reports Newhouse News Service. “The facility, to be opened in late December in Bernards Township, N.J., will be the only residential program in the VA system devoted solely to treating women who experienced military sexual trauma.”

Death Tally in Nicaragua: “Nearly 90 women have died in Nicaragua as a direct or indirect result of the repeal, one year ago, of the legislation permitting abortion in cases of risk to the mother’s health, according to women’s and human rights groups,” reports IPS. “In practice what is happening is a government death penalty imposed on women,” said Ana María Pizarro, a gynecologist and the head of the non-governmental organization Sí Mujer.

Healthcare Behind Bars: In her new book, “Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System,” investigative journalist Silja J.A. Talvi looks at multiple aspects of the prison system, including the neglect of women’s health. AlterNet has published an excerpt from the book, a moving account of one prisoner’s death from cervical cancer.

Clinical Trials Loop Hole: “When Congress passed a bill last month requiring makers of drugs and medical devices to disclose the results of clinical trials for all approved products, advocates of greater study disclosure applauded the move,” reports the New York Times. “But a provision that would have mandated disclosures for another group of products never made it into the final version of the bill. It would have covered products tested on patients, but dropped before marketing.”

Yes, that’s right, some patients never learn the results of the clinical studies — including patients in whom medical devices have been implanted. “Trial sponsors can still choose to keep information about some trials confidential, creating serious ethical concerns,” said Dr. Deborah A. Zarin, the director of, a Web site run by the National Library of Medicine.

Just When You Think Congress is Getting Smarter About Sex Education … the Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy report, citing CQ Today, notes that a “House-Senate conference committee on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2008 appropriations measure that would include a $27.8 million increase in funding of abstinence education programs.”

Speaking of Kaiser … If you’ve been a subscriber to the excellent Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, you’ll have to sign up again at the National Partnership for Women and Families, which is taking over publishing the report as of Nov. 5.

Most People Support Access to Contraceptions in Schools: That’s the finding of a new AP poll (via L.A. Times). The survey of 1,004 adults found that 67 percent support giving contraceptives to students, but of that number, 37 percent would limit it to those whose parents have consented, and 30 percent would allow it for all who ask. A whopping 62 percent said they believe providing birth control reduces the number of teenage pregnancies. Which makes them smarter than Congress.

More Research on Caesarean Births: A new study from Latin America published at (read abstract) found that women who have a non-emergency caesarean birth have double the risk of illness compared to a vaginal birth and five times the risk of having to have antibiotics after birth. Researchers also found caesarean delivery prevented deaths in breech born babies. The intro to a related editorial is available here.

Joss is Back: Savor this news about a new Joss Whedon TV series starring Eliza Dushku (thanks, Jaclyn!)

October 21, 2007

Double Dose, Part I: Phill Kline Update; SCHIP and Abstinence Funding; Student Sues Over Rape Kit Refusal

What’s Phill Kline Doing These Days?: The latest, via The New York Times — “A county prosecutor in Kansas who waged a vociferous battle against abortion in his former role as the state’s attorney general filed dozens of felony and misdemeanor charges yesterday against a Planned Parenthood clinic, saying the facility provided illegal late-term abortions, among other crimes.”

Planned Parenthood says the charges are a political attack. “We can’t allow anti-choice politicians to harass and intimidate women or doctors in Kansas,” Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said during a news conference. “… No health care provider should be threatened with felony convictions simply because elected officials oppose legal abortion.”

All of which makes Echidne ponder: “Do you think Phill Kline might suffer from an unusual kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder? That would be a gentle explanation for his single-minded stalking of all abortion providers in Kansas.”

Thanks, Democrats!: Amanda Robb, who is writing a book about the abstinence movement, criticizes the “bipartisan compromise” designed to garner support of a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance program.

“To entice Republicans to support the bill, the House of Representatives agreed to increase money for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million, to a total of about $200 million a year,” writes Robb in an op-ed. “By dropping the financing for abstinence-only sex ed, Congress could save enough money to insure 150,000 children a year. And it would also demonstrate much needed resolve to protect all aspects of children’s health.”

Student Sues Over Rape Kit Refusal: “A Howard student is suing the University for negligence and medical malpractice because she said she was raped and denied proper care at GW Hospital because she allegedly appeared intoxicated, according to documents filed in D.C. Superior Court,” reports the GW Hatchett, George Washington University’s student newspaper.

“The plaintiff, a 19-year-old sophomore, also filed suit against the District, Howard University Hospital and several local doctors. The complaint states she was given a date-rape drug at an off-campus party near Howard and was then denied a rape kit at several hospitals – including GW.” Unbelievable story.

October 17, 2007

Bringing Sexy Back — In Costume: Happy Halloween!

San Francisco State University’s National Sexuality Resource Center publishes the magazine American Sexuality and the journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy. It also publishes a blog, Voices of American Sexuality, which is both informative and amusing.

Here’s a round-up of best moments in cartoon sexual literacy history. And, courtesy of Voices, we bring you a full mix of Halloween options for women. Check out the video below, which prompted this response from Ann at Feministing: “However, actual non-parody sexy racial stereotype and sexy anorexic costumes? Not so hilarious.”

Nor are these “pre-teen girl costumes,” which aren’t that different from what you’ll see in the video. How ’bout the pre-teen “cop,” “firefighter,” or “French maid“? And, three years later, they’re still selling pimp outfits. You know when the dog gets his own pimp costume that fad has so passed. Bring on the mustard!

September 22, 2007

Double Dose: New York Says No To Funding Abstinence-Only Education; More Research on the Research Studies; and “Wack!” Opens in Washington

New York Just Says No: Kudos to New York for joining at least 10 other reality-based states that have just said no to federal grants for abstinence-only sex education. The decision was announced Thursday by the state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, reports The New York Times.

In a statement posted on the Health Department’s Web site, Dr. Daines said, “The Bush administration’s abstinence-only program is an example of a failed national health care policy directive.” He added that the policy was “based on ideology rather than on sound scientific-based evidence that must be the cornerstone of good public health care policy.”

The state had also spent $2.6 million annually to fund the same programs over the last decade. That money will now be spent on other existing programs for sex education, Dr. Daines said in an interview.

Beware of Fat People: Referring to claim published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine that fat is similar to a contagious virus “spread from person to person like a fashion or a germ,” especially among friends — Lakshmi Chaudry writes in The Nation:

“The argument just didn’t sound right to me when I first heard it — and certainly didn’t co-relate to any reality I could detect in my varied body-shape/weight circle of friends. So I was delighted to read this blistering take-down in TCS Daily penned by Jonathan Robison, who exposes the research for what it is: junk science that can’t tell the difference between cause and correlation.”

Egypt’s Movement to Stop Genital Mutilation: After two girls (ages 12 and 13) died in Egypt this summer following surgeries to remove the clitoris (female circumcision to some, genital mutilation to critics), a nationwide campaign is underway to stop the practice. The New York Times reports that is has become “one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades, uniting an unlikely alliance of government forces, official religious leaders and street-level activists.”

But it’s an uphill battle. A recent government survey found that “the practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt.” Michael Slackman writes:

The force behind this unlikely collaboration between government, nongovernment organizations, religious leaders and the news media is a no-nonsense 84-year-old anthropologist named Marie Assaad, who has been fighting against genital cutting since the 1950s.

“I never thought I would live to see this day,” she said, reading about the subject in a widely circulated daily newspaper.

Plus: In an op-ed published in the Modesto Bee, Unicef Executive Director Anne M. Veneman praises the work of Tostan, a Senegal-based organization that has helped to reduce the rate of genital mutilation by working “with communities in local languages to help provide women with a voice in the decision-making.”

Coffee is Good/Not Good for Me: I would have thought that after last Sunday’s lengthy New York Times Magazine cover story on the trouble with epidemiological studies, which Rachel discussed closely here, there’d be no more to say on the matter this week. But that was before I saw the L.A. Times health feature by Andreas von Bubnoff on the same issue. The main story, Scientists Do the Numbers, was paired with related stories on health studies that have come up with contradictory findings; a look at whether there’s a rush to publish medical studies; and tips to help readers assess research.

Making Mammograms Accessible to All: “Despite widespread education that early detection saves lives, women with physical and mental disabilities undergo fewer clinical breast exams and fewer mammograms than nondisabled women, nationally and in Oregon and southwest Washington. One national study found an 11 percent gap,” reports The Oregonian.

Dot Nary, a doctoral trainee at the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas who has written for radiation professionals about having mammograms as a wheelchair user, tells the Oregonian that it’s critical for technologists to consider how to better care for people of different abilities. Medical care is so standardized — “those of us who don’t have standard bodies have trouble.”

That’s Wack!: “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” the groundbreaking exhibit that opened earlier this year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is now at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Barbara Pollack of the Washington Post writes:

It is thrilling to see Louise Bourgeois’s “Unconscious Landscape,” a pile of breast-like forms cast in bronze. Or Elaine Sturtevant’s film “Duchamp Nu Descendant un Escalier,” her take on Duchamp’s famous painting, “Nude Descending a Staircase.” Take time to watch all of Yoko Ono’s early videos, especially “Rape,” a 1969 film in which a camera crew tracks and harasses a young German woman. And don’t miss Yvonne Rainer’s “Film About a Woman Who …,” a 1974 work that was a landmark in the field of feminist film criticism.

In fact, this show has lots of works that are often reproduced in art history textbooks but are too rarely seen in museums. [...]

By bringing together all of these artworks for the first time, “Wack!” does much more than make history. It gives another generation a chance to see art that was not made for a marketplace or even with the hope of having an audience, but with a determination and belief that art can change the way we live. That kind of optimism seems awfully old-fashioned, given the current cynicism in the art market. But who knows? Maybe this time around, feminist art will exert its free-wheeling influence once again.

August 12, 2007

Double Dose: The Gay Presidential Debate; Reproductive Health and Pop Culture; Doctors Deal with Fear of Federal Abortion Ban

Lethal Injections Offer Legal Shield, But Doctors Debate Safety: “In response to the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, many abortion providers in Boston and around the country have adopted a defensive tactic. To avoid any chance of partially delivering a live fetus, they are injecting fetuses with lethal drugs before procedures,” writes Carey Goldberg at the Boston Globe. “That clinical shift in late-term abortions goes deeply against the grain, some doctors say: It poses a slight risk to the woman and offers her no medical benefit.”

Another side-effect of the decision is the impact on medical education. Dr. Mark Nichols, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, told the Boston Globe there is great concern among faculty and staff that anyone watching a late-term abortion could potentially misinterpret the procedure and file a criminal complaint. Medical and nursing students, therefore, are no longer invited to watch. The federal ban, writes Goldberg, “is broadly written, does not specify an age for the fetus, and carries a two-year prison sentence.”

Plus: Read Adam Liptak’s column (TimesSelect) about a South Dakota law that quite simply puts the government’s words in a doctor’s mouth. “South Dakota’s solution — to mandate a set of disclosures — stops short of Justice Kennedy’s, which was to uphold a ban on an abortion procedure on the apparent theory that women cannot sort things out for themselves even with full information,” writes Liptak. “But there is, according to the federal courts that have so far blocked the South Dakota law, a constitutional flaw in how the state seeks to go about informing women of its views. The problem with the law, the courts said, is that it would hijack the doctor-patient relationship.”

The Gay Presidential Debate: E.J. Graff has the scoop on how the answers provided by the Democratic presidential candidates who attended the LOGO/Human Rights Campaign debate went over with viewers at the predominantly gay Club Cafe in Boston.

Reproductive Health Pop Culture Sampler: RH Reality Check has put together another good collection of posts, this time looking at the treatment of reproductive health in books, television and film. Check out Andi Zeisler’s reflection on “The Book of Phoebe,” a young adult novel by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith; Joanna Lipper shares the story of how she made a documentary about teenage moms; and Andrea Lynch offers praise for “Sex and the City” and lists the “Top Ten Movies that Deal Honestly with Abortion, Unintended Pregnancy, Sex Ed, and Related Issues.”

Editorial on the Failure of Abstinence Ed: “Congress has spent $1.5 billion in the last 10 years on programs that deliver a single message: Abstain from sex until you marry. That’s a good message for young people about how to stay healthy and safe. Taken alone, though, it doesn’t appear to be a terribly effective message,” begins this Chicago Tribune editorial.

Mo’Nique’s Real Appeal: “Now, after making her way from loud-mouthed, often profane stand-up comedian who embraced the subjects of sex and her size to playing Nikki Parker on the UPN show “The Parkers” from 1999 to 2004, Mo’Nique Imes Hicks presides over a small but growing empire,” reports The New York Times. “Like Oprah Winfrey, Mo’Nique positions herself as an Everywoman, trying to inspire women through her example. She believes fat women need to exercise and stay healthy (as she does), implores black women to embrace psychotherapy as needed (as she did) and asks those moaning about their weight to figure out what is going on in their heads so they can take control of their lives (as she has).”

The Numbers Aren’t Great, But It’s Progress: “According to preliminary figures, 87 women are entering a freshman class of 206 students in September. That 37% share is Caltech’s highest since it began admitting undergraduate women in 1970, when pioneering females comprised 14% of the entering class. (Female doctoral candidates first arrived in the 1950s.),” according to the L.A. Times. Also read Samhita’s post on a Computer World article about the experiences of four successful women in the IT profession.

Growth of Prostitution in China: “No longer limited to well-known bars or a growing number of karaoke parlors, prostitutes are everywhere in China today, branching out onto college campuses, moving into private residential compounds and approaching customers on mobile phone networks,” reports the Washington Post. “There was no open prostitution 25 years ago,” said Jing Jun, a sociology and AIDS policy professor at Tsinghua University. “Among government officials, Chinese social scientists, health professionals, they are coming around to see that prostitution is not fundamentally connected to a lack of values but a lack of jobs, choices, opportunities and education.”

Abortion Legalized in Portugal: Until last month, abortion was not only illegal in Portugal, but women who had abortions could be criminally prosecuted, along with their doctors. Now abortion is available without restriction up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, but women may still have trouble finding someone to perform the procedure, reports the L.A. Times. “Even with the law, numerous doctors are refusing to perform the procedure and are declaring themselves ‘conscientious objectors.’ Several public hospitals said they would not be able to offer abortions, despite the legal obligation to do so, because they lacked the doctors or necessary equipment.”

July 25, 2007

Women’s Voices and the Democratic Presidential Debate

This post was meant for Tuesday — apologies for the delay!

The CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate Monday night included questions from women about gay marriage, race, healthcare and — from a Planned Parenthood staffer — whether the candidates had ever talked to their children about sex education, using medically accurate and age-appropriate education.

They were terrific — and though I very much enjoyed the format, ultimately I agree with Alessandra Stanley’s point that “over all, the evening turned out to be a showcase for video-savvy viewers, not a showdown between candidates.” With few exceptions, the candidates delivered overly safe, polished responses (as Anna commented here).

The blog Real Women, Real Voices did the numbers and discovered that “of the 39 viewer-submitted questions aired by CNN, 30 featured men speaking and only 12 featured women. (One question, #33 showed four clips, two women and two men.)”

The post also links to the video for each question.

Jenn Pozner of Women in Media & News has more analysis on the under-representation of women here. “The fact that YouTube and CNN would bill their debate as a bold new step for participatory democracy yet would so significantly underrepresent women’s participation is another indication that media accountability is needed even in this brave new world of online communication, despite the much-ballyhooed gender equity it was supposed to bring,” writes Pozner.

July 23, 2007

“Dr. John Butler’s Electro-Massage Machine”: A History of Manufacturing Female Pleasure

electro-massage-vibrator.gifBefore the steam iron, before the vacuum cleaner, we had vibrators. They debuted in the early 1880s as a medical treatment for “hysteria.” They were subsequently introduced as a home medical appliance in 1899 and appeared in magazine advertisements as early as 1904.

A $5.95 model had made the Sears catalog by 1918.

This fascinating but hidden history is the subject of the a new documentary, “Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm,” which premieres this Saturday at Lincoln Center in New York. It will have its West Coast debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October.

Filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori based their work on a critically-acclaimed book-length study by Rachel Maines, who stumbled upon the early advertisements while researching the history of needlework.

As Natalie Angier writes in her review of the book “The Technology of Orgasm” for the New York Times, Maines learned that the history of vibrators — especially their invention as a medical tool — was tied into the entire social history of women’s health:

Her investigations led her to conclude that doctors became the keepers of the female orgasm for several related reasons. To begin with, women have been presumed since Hippocrates’ day, if not earlier, to suffer from some sort of ”womb furie” — the word ”hysteria,” after all, derives from uterus. The result was thought to be a spectacular assortment of symptoms, including lassitude, irritability, depression, confusion, palpitations of the heart, headaches, forgetfulness, insomnia, muscle spasms, stomach upsets, writing cramps, ticklishness and weepiness.

Who better to treat the wayward female plaint than a physician, and where better to address his ministrations than toward the general area of her rebellious female parts?

Of course, this history has its colorful side as well — which would seem to make it a very marketable, if offbeat, subject for a documentary. After winning a fairly competitive process the get the rights to the book, though, Slick and Omori had difficulty securing funding, according to Patricia Yollin, who writes in the San Francisco Chronicle about their struggle and their unflagging desire to make the film.

“Wendy and I both came out of the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation,” Omori said. “We thought we knew it all. We hardly knew anything.”

The photographs that accompany the article are a must-see. (Here’s one example of an antique vibrator.)

With a budget of less than $150,000, they still were able to interview many well-know and not-so-well-known characters in this expansive narrative. Betty Dodson, “the godmother of the masturbation movement” shook up the establishment in the 1970s with her simple feminist message: “Independent orgasm, I guarantee, will lead to independent thoughts.”

Texas housewife Joanna Webb was arrested in the 2004 for selling vibrators at Tupperware-like parties — a felony offense. Her life fell apart as a result of the case.

Obviously, this history continues to be written.

July 13, 2007

Double Dose: Plan B, The Gold Standard of Political Hypocrisy and Political Influence on Public Health

The Popularity of Plan B: “The popularity of the morning-after pill Plan B has surged in the year since the federal government approved the sale of the controversial emergency contraceptive without a prescription,” reports the Washington Post. But advocates for women’s health are quick to note that teenagers under age 18 still do not have access.

“There’s no medical basis for restricting teenagers’ access to emergency contraception,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, which is suing the FDA to remove the age restriction. “This not about morality, it’s about public health and cutting America’s alarmingly high teenage pregnancy rates.”

Plus: The teen birth rate hits a record low. Here’s the government study on which the data is based.

Think This Would Fly in U.S. Schools?: The award-winning Romanian film about abortion, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” will be shown in French schools, “following a u-turn by government officials who had initially vetoed plans to show it,” reports The Guardian. “As well as winning the top prize at Cannes, Cristian Mungiu’s film was the recipient of the National Education Prize, which is awarded to a Cannes-selected film with the relevant artistic, aesthetic and educational values each year. The chosen film then receives government funding to allow a special educational DVD to be produced for upper-secondary schools, which teach children between the ages of 15 and 18.”

OBOB previously covered abortion in movies and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” here.

Going for the Gold: “If hypocrisy were an Olympic event, Senator Vitter would get the gold medal,” writes James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, apologized after his name appeared on the client list of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam.” Vitter is also chief backer of a bill to reauthorize funding for abstinence education.

But Viiter “wouldn’t be the only ‘family values’ champion lining up for the gold,” adds Wagoner, who goes on to name a few other contenders.

Reality Bites: Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified before Congress this week that his term was compromised by political pressure to weaken or suppress important public health information. The accusations would seem surreal if we haven’t all been reminded in so many ways how backward this administration has been:

The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

Trading Shots Over a Vaccine: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the competition between Merck and GlaxoSmithKline to develop the world’s top cervical-cancer immunization.

That Pew Survey on Mothers And Work: Good analysis from Echidne of the Snakes on Pew’s latest survey.

Bridal Media Send “I-Do” Message on Overspending: “Where once a bride could design a memorable day using an etiquette guide and a good caterer, the specialized wedding media of today feed a $161 billion per year industry enriched at the expense of many of the people it purports to serve,” writes Sheila Gibbons at Women’s eNews.

Is Soap Clean?: This was an ongoing debate one year in my college dorm … The New York Times answers the burning question about sharing individual bars of soap.

April 14, 2007

Surprise! Study Finds Abstinence-Only Education Does Not Lead to Abstinence

“In an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education, states are turning down millions of dollars in federal grants, unwilling to accept White House dictates that the money be used for classes focused almost exclusively on teaching chastity,” the Los Angeles Times reported this week.

Those states are on to something.

On Friday, a report produced by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. for the Department of Health and Human Services noted the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education. The study is available here in its entirety (PDF); here’s an overview that describes the impact of the four abstinence education programs under review. From the executive summary:

Findings indicate that youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age. Contrary to concerns raised by some critics of the Title V, Section 510 abstinence funding, however, program group youth were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth.

Scott Swenson at RH Reality Check has the reaction from all sides:

“This report should serve as the final verdict on the failure of the abstinence-only industry in this country,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). “It shows, once again, that these programs fail miserably in actually helping young people behave more responsibly when it comes to their sexuality,” Smith continued.

In 1996, the federal government attached a provision to the welfare reform law establishing a federal program for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. This program, Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, dedicated $50 million per year to be distributed among states that choose to participate. States accepting the funds are required to match every four federal dollars with three state-raised dollars (for a total of $87.5 million annually, and $787.5 million for the eight years from fiscal year 1998 through 2006). Programs that receive the Title V funding are prohibited from discussing methods of contraception, including condoms, except in the context of failure rates.

On a call yesterday organized by the Abstinence Clearinghouse, abstinence-only proponents were clearly rocked by the potentially ruinous news in the report. High profile abstinence-only advocate, Robert Rector, led the preemptive damage-control planning. He outlined several strategies the abstinence-only movement could use to rationalize the findings in the report saying, “The other spin I think is very important is not [program] effectiveness, but rather the values that are being taught,” Rector said. Whether or not these programs work is a “bogus issue,” Rector continued.

How bogus? 10 years worth of public funding to the tune of $1.5 billion.

And the value of disseminating ineffective and sometimes dangerous and demeaning misinformation (PDF)? Priceless.

March 12, 2007

No More Delta Zeta at DePauw: University Severs Ties to National Organization

Some good news concerning the national sorority that last month ousted almost 23 members at DePauw University based on their appearance and popularity.

DePauw University President Robert G. Bottoms made it known today that the university is severing ties with Delta Zeta sorority. The decision was announced in a letter delivered this morning to the sorority’s national president, Deborah A. Raziano, in which Bottom noted, “[We] at DePauw believe that the values of our University and those of the national Delta Zeta Sorority are incompatible.”

As you might recall, university officials had been engaged in a public dialogue with Delta Zeta’s national office about its treatment of the students since December. In a statement released Feb. 28 (scroll down), the university addressed why it did not immediately revoke Delta Zeta’s charter:

Initially we hoped that we could reach an acceptable resolution for our students by communicating on their behalf with Delta Zeta national officers. When that did not occur, a formal letter of reprimand was sent by President Bottoms to the national office outlining our dissatisfaction with Delta Zeta’s treatment of our students. As this issue has continued to unfold, we have tried to be sensitive to the remaining student members of Delta Zeta who continue to live in the chapter house and to the DePauw Delta Zeta alumnae who played no role in their national office’s decisions.

Though admittedly we were skeptical this relationship could (or should) be salvaged, it looks like the final straw was the decision by the national Delta Zeta office to publicly criticize the students it ousted on its website, along with their campus supporters. I can’t get on to the Delta Zeta site (update: it’s reportedly “undergoing maintenance”). But according to The New York Times today, Delta Zeta published the following:

“Delta Zeta National apologizes to any of our women at DePauw who felt personally hurt by our actions,” the sorority said in a message posted earlier this month on its Web site. “It was never our intention to disparage or hurt any of our members during this chapter reorganization process.”

That apology, however, did not bring reconciliation at DePauw.

“It’s like a thief who’s sorry that he got caught, rather than for what he did,” said Rachel Pappas, a junior who left the sorority before the evictions and organized a campus event about it last month.

In addition to the apology, the sorority also posted on its Web site statements critical of the women who were forced out of the DePauw chapter, and of faculty members who supported them.

Bottoms also alluded to the website in his letter — along with Delta Zeta’s decision, as of March 1, to stop communicating with the news media:

Now, three weeks after my initial letter to you, my dissatisfaction with your organization continues to grow. I am proud of our DePauw students and the way they reacted to an unwarranted situation. Our students have shown a maturity beyond what one might expect of undergraduates. Yet postings on your Web site attempt to discredit any DePauw student critical of your actions. Your Web site has also been critical of our faculty for their willingness to openly discuss the way the membership review took place within the Delta Zeta chapter.

In summary, we at DePauw do not like the way our students were treated. We also disagree with your portrayal of the University in the media. We are opposed to your media freeze. One of the foundations of a university is free and open communication, which has been a hallmark of how we at DePauw have responded to this situation. We also vehemently contest the assertion on your Web site that “at all points in this process we (Delta Zeta) have worked with the University, sought their advice and acted upon their advice in our reorganization efforts.”

Sheesh. Delta Zeta’s actions just might inspire one of the other 165 campuses with Delta Zeta chapters to re-think whether this is a sorority with supporting. With sisters like that, who needs enemies?

Plus: Check out the published letters of support for DePauw from Delta Zeta alumnae.