Wednesday March 5, 2014
According to a local news site, state senators in Tennessee have just filed a bill condemning the state university's sex week and saying that the school should warn parents that some of their student activity fee money may be going to "controversial" programming so that they can opt out. I'd like to say that I have no idea how sex education for college students can still be controversial, but that's not true. The voices of those who would like to police sexual behavior by denying young (and not so young) people information about responsible sexual behavior are loud, particularly in election years. This remains true despite extensive research suggesting that sex education doesn't encourage sex or any other outcomes that are feared by its vocal opponents.
The main thing that quality sex education encourages is thinking - about when people want to have sex, how they want to have it, and who they want to have it with. It may also encourage students to question blind, evidence-free proclamations by authority... which likely explains another reason why it's so unpopular with those politicians who are more motivated by personal beliefs and biases than research. Anything that teaches young people to look for evidence and consider their decisions has a decent risk of putting them out of a job.
Monday March 3, 2014
Although modern fairy tales about reproductive coercion mostly talk about women who trap men into marriage by pretending to use birth control and getting pregnant, or lying about a pregnancy in order to keep them around, most reproductive coercion in the real world is coming from the other side. Men threaten to hurt women, or abandon them, if they don't get pregnant on demand. Or, alternatively, they hide women's birth control pills or promise to use a condom... and then break them or commit other acts of condom sabotage. A study recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 16 percent of women receiving routine obstetrics care at a large Rhode Island hospital had experienced at least one of those forms of reproductive coercion at some point in their lives - one third of them in the context of other intimate partner violence.
It's that type of coercion, the one that's less talked about, which may be the real social concern. If men are worried about their partners getting pregnant to manipulate them, there's something they can do about it -- wear a condom every time they have vaginal intercourse. As long as a man is being responsible about his own sexual health, it's extraordinarily difficult for a woman to "trick" him into impregnating her, at least it is difficult for her to do so without committing sexual assault. However, while women can certainly also commit emotional blackmail over a pregnancy, men often have more of the physical, emotional, and social power in sexual relationships. Women may attempt to take advantage of them for financial or other reasons, but when it comes to risking an unwanted pregnancy, they have a much clearer way out. Unlike birth control pills, condoms are cheap (or even free), easy to access, and have no health risks. Anyone choosing to have sex can choose to use them, and by doing so choose to prevent not only pregnancy but other unfortunate outcomes.
Friday February 28, 2014
Chlamydia is a wily organism. It can lurk, asymptomatic, for years, while the body causes damage to itself trying to stop the silent infection. Long-term infections can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and even infertility, while an infected person has no idea that anything is wrong. It seems difficult to imagine that chlamydia could have any other ways to be sneaky, and yet a new study published in the journal Infection and Immunity suggests that it may.
The study found that the reason chlamydia treatment may sometimes be ineffective at getting rid of an infection is that the organism doesn't only infect the reproductive tract. It also hangs out, but does not cause symptoms, in the gut. The research, which was done in mice, may suggest an alternate explanation for why reinfection with chlamydia is so common. It may not just be that people are getting reinfected through untreated partners. They may also be getting reinfected by their own bodies, as gut infections were difficult to eradicate with standard antibiotics, at least in mice. Whether similar gut infections exist in humans is not yet known, but if they are, it could suggest that we need a whole new way to think about chlamydial disease.
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are at increased risk of a number of negative health outcomes, including depression and suicide. According to an article recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, they are also at increased risk for engaging in a number of behaviors that may predispose them to a variety of cancers later in life. The study, which examined data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), found that LGBT youth were significantly more likely to smoke, drink, engage in early sex, have multiple sex partners, and have a higher body mass index (BMI) when compared to heterosexual youth. They were also less likely to exercise. These factors are all associated with an increased risk of a variety of cancers.
Why are sexual and gender minority youth more likely to engage in such behaviors? In all likelihood, it's because they are far more likely to be exposed to stigma, harassment, and stress related to their identity than heterosexual youth from similar backgrounds. In other words, if we want to encourage LGBT youth to live healthier lives, we have to encourage the people around them to treat them in a healthier manner.