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Archive for the ‘Sexual health’ Category

nwghaad-webbadge-125xEach year on March 10th people across the country come together to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). For too long, HIV/AIDS was classified as a disease that only affected gay men – a dangerous and inaccurate myth that left many women out of the conversation. However, in the 33 years since the epidemic started we have seen that  HIV can affect anyone, regardless of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender. NWGHAAD was established to bring awareness to a specific population – women and girls – that is affected by HIV/AIDS, but is too often forgotten.

HIV/AIDS is a serious public health issue for women and girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Of those people, one in four (25%) is a woman 13 or older. Furthermore, an estimated 27,000 women have HIV but don’t know their status. Because of the misinformation surrounding the disease, many heterosexual women may not be aware of their own risk factors.

While HIV/AIDS has a serious impact on all mujeres y niñas, Latin@s are disproportionately impacted by the disease. In 2010 Latin@s represented eight percent of new HIV infections, which was more than four times the rate of new HIV infections for non-Hispanic white women. Additionally, the areas of the U.S. where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent – including California, Florida, Texas, and New York – are also the areas with the highest Latino populations and fastest growing Latino populations.

Why are our herman@s at such high risk for contracting HIV? According to the CDC, there are several complex factors that increase Latin@s’ risk of catching the virus, including:

  • Socioeconomic factors: Factors such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare are major contributors.
  • Stigma: The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, including how it was contracted, may prevent Latin@s from seeking prevention services, testing, and treatment.
  • Cultural factors: Latinos in the U.S. are diverse and trace their roots to many countries. Studies show that country-specific cultural factors may impact behavioral risk factors, including how HIV is contracted. Additionally, traditional gender roles and cultural norms, which perpetuate harmful mandates about Latinas’ sexuality, may increase prevention challenges.
  • High rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Latin@s have higher rates of STIs than non-Hispanic white women. Pre-existing STIs can increase an individual’s risk for HIV infection once exposed to the virus.
  • Immigration status: Immigrant women and families may be hesitant to seek preventive, testing, and treatment services due to fear of having to disclose their status and being deported.

Although the statistics paint a somber picture, NWGHAAD provides an ideal opportunity start changing them for the better. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health encourages everyone to use NWGHAAD to take action and take control by getting the facts, getting tested, and starting a conversation about HIV/AIDS and Latin@s.

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Say it with me, hymen!

The hymen is a covering that surrounds the vaginal opening. Female babies are born with. Most hymens are donut-shaped and have a small opening in the middle. They’re thick when we’re babies and with time wear away, thin out or no longer exist because of exercise, masturbation, washing etc. That’s right. Hymens are NOT a covering on top of the whole vagina. If it were, we wouldn’t be able to get our periods while virgins.

Why am I even talking about this?

Because I’m sooo tired of the discourse around virginity and our bodies; why is it so violent?! (What else is new). No, our virginity is not a cherry one has to “pop”, “pierce”, “rip”, “puncture”, “tear” etc. This idea that we need to bleed to know for sure we’re no longer virgins or that our partner needs to make us bleed, needs to stop. If we’re bleeding, that means tissue was torn, we’re in pain and that’s not okay!

First off, virginity is more than just going into a vagina. It’s also a state of mind. And it isn’t something that someone takes away or steals. It’s like we’re connecting our body, mind and/or soul. No one is a virginity collector. Stop it.

I found some really awesome tips on how to decrease the pain during your first sexual encounters:

1. TAKE YOUR TIMEEEEEEEEE

Many times partners who have consented to sex may be scared someone will change their mind so proceed with sex right away that can cause pain. Hymens can be stretched out before using an object and/or penis and it’ll be less painful. Days, maybe even weeks, before objects and/or penises enter the vagina, the hymen should be stimulated with fingers or smaller objects to stretch it out. If it hurts, stop, and try again later. Also keep in mind your partner may have some trauma they’re dealing with and need time to be there mentally, spiritually etc.

2. FOREPLAY AND EXPLORATION. DO IT.

It’ll lubricate stuff down there. And if you have trouble lubricating, they sell stuff in the store. Buy it! And of course, get to know your body.

3. IT’S NOT PORN Y’ALL

Don’t attack the holy vagina. Praise it.

4. REPEAT REPEAT

If you haven’t had sex in a while and start again, you might want to start off slow again. Our hymen will reduce back to its original size and there may be discomfort again.

5. COMMUNICATE

The most important of all. Communicate. Everyone is allowed to change their minds prior, during and post sex. Respect and practice that.

hymen

Any other tips or things folks can try to do to have less painful sexual encounters?

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Post By Nicole Catá

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has long defined reproductive healthcare, autonomy, and decision-making as human rights.  Nowhere is the need for a human rights framing of reproductive issues more acute than in the case of the California prison system.  Last month, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that, between 2006 and 2010, doctors sterilized nearly 150 female inmates in California prisons without anything remotely resembling informed consent. State documents further divulge that doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may have completed up to 250 tubal ligations since the 1990s.  Many former inmates are coming forward as having felt ill-informed regarding and coerced into the procedure.  This case reminds us that absolutely everyone, incarcerated or not, deserves dignity in reproductive decisions.

 

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photoValentina Forte-Hernandez is a Berkeley California born Immigrant/Reproductive rights activist. She is interning at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health this summer before returning to her second year at Hampshire college where she studies film production. During her first year of college she worked for Civil Liberties and Public Policy and wrote for the online political blog, The Black Sheep Journal. She is a 19 year old, biracial Latina who writes about topics that speak to her personally. She has voiced her opposition to the shaming of teen moms, Texas’ anti-abortion legislation, immigration reform that hurts the lives and rights of immigrants and now she writes about the need for comprehensive sexual education for teenagers:

Post By Valentina Forte-Hernandez

Teenagers are having sex and will continue to do so whether you like it or not. It’s nothing new, but people are still acting as if it were a shocking discovery. Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is that many teenagers are sexually active, not liking it does nothing to prevent teenagers from having sex and it certainly does nothing to protect them. Instead of frowning and wagging your finger, why don’t we put more effort into making sure teenagers are physically and emotionally safe when they do make the decision to have sex? We need sex ed that actually teaches teenagers how to be smart and safe about sex. We do not need education that shames us and our bodies, we don’t need to be taught that we shouldn’t talk about sex. Sex will be a part of our lives whether we choose to be sexually active or not, so we need to know about it and be prepared for it.

999613696749556760   Opponents of comprehensive sex ed may claim that it puts dirty ideas in teenagers’ heads and encourages them to be sexually active. If that’s true, then could somebody explain to me why the states that take the abstinence only approach to sex ed have higher rates of teen pregnancy than states that require comprehensive sex ed? Abstinence only classes do not deter teenagers from being sexually active. These classes provide students with no resources or information about safety, they teach teenagers to be ashamed of their bodies and sexuality. Shaming teenagers about sex does nothing to protect them. Teaching abstinence only classes not only puts teenagers in danger of spreading disease and unwanted pregnancy, it also increases the chance that they will be in emotionally unsafe situations. If your teacher is saying that you are wrong for having sex, you’re not going to feel comfortable asking your teacher any questions if you are considering having sex. If a teenager already feels ashamed for having sex it is so much harder for them to come forward with an incident of sexual assault or rape. They have already been told sex is wrong, so who do they go to when something wrong has happened to them?

   Comprehensive sex ed gives students the information to help them make their own decisions about their bodies and it gives them the confidence to be honest about their desires and experience. Students who have been given the tools to protect themselves have the knowledge and ability to practice safe sex, while students who don’t have any information may not know how to have safe sex. A teenager who has been told that being sexually active is their choice to make is more likely to have the confidence to refuse unwanted sex than one who has learned to be self-conscious and secretive about their sexuality. Teenagers in abstinence only classes are not learning about sex in school but they’re still having it so comprehensive sex ed is clearly not to blame for the fact that teenagers are sexually active.

   Comprehensive sex ed is miles ahead of abstinence only classes when it comes to protecting teenagers, but that’s not to say it’s perfect. I grew up in California, a state that offers comprehensive sex ed and has just seen it’s lowest rate of teen births in 20 years. My first sex ed class happened every other wednesday afternoon. This was the only classes where the boys were separated from the girls. I don’t know what the boys were learning about while we were watching our teacher put tampons in glasses of water because we never talked about it. That was the problem, we didn’t talk to the boys about sex and the segregation of genders was teaching us that we shouldn’t have these discussions with each other. Some might say that these early sex ed classes should be taught separately so students feel comfortable asking embarrassing questions. Sex ed is uncomfortable no matter what, but we should have been going to that comfort and feeling that embarrassment along with the boys. We should be learning from an early age that it is okay to talk about ourselves with anyone, regardless of gender. In my first sex ed class, I was taught about my period, I was taught about contraception but I learned that my body, my experience as a girl was icky to boys and I should never talk to them about it.

   All of my sex ed classes were severely lacking when it came to teaching us about the emotional aspects of sex. The word consent was never uttered, nor was there any discussion about any of the emotional choices that come with being a sexually active person. We never discussed the depiction of sex in popular culture which may not seem like it’s directly related to sexual safety, but considering that we are surrounded and influenced by dramatic, idealized depictions of sex, we probably should have at least one conversation about it. When our movies and advertisements are teaching us things like, girls who have sex are slutty, and if you have sex with him, he’ll stay with you forever it would have been beneficial to talk about the reality of choosing to be sexually active and to debunk some of these artificial depictions. There was no discussion of rape ever. Maybe the topic was avoid in hopes that it was an issue we would never have to deal with, but hoping for the best did nothing to prepare us for the worst, it did nothing to teach us about preventing rape, or what help was out there for us if we had had such an experience. We were given the number to a confidential hotline….Oh, and we watched an episode of Law and order: SVU once, that’s sufficient, right?

   Maybe these conversations weren’t happening in my comprehensive sex ed class because adults didn’t feel like we were mature enough to discuss the emotional impacts of being sexually active but the fact is many of us were already sexually active so these conversations should have been happening. If we were old enough to learn about protection and use it we were old enough to learn about communicating with partners, and we were definitely old enough to learn that sex in the movies is miles different from sex in real life. We knew there were physical consequences to having unsafe sex, we saw the pictures. When it came to the emotional impact of having sex, we were left to figure it out on our own through trial and error and in sometimes the error did a lot of damage.

   Sex ed needs to improve across the board. The abstinence only approach to sex ed needs to be thrown out the window because it doesn’t work. Any class that fails to discuss why being a safe and responsible sexually active person requires more than just using condoms needs to rethink their curriculum. Teenagers need to learn to be honest and confident in their sexual decisions. They need to know that it is not only okay to talk about sex, but that they should be talking about it! If you can’t have a real discussion about sex, you shouldn’t be having it. Sex ed should be about equipping teenagers with all the knowledge, resources and confidence to make the most best, most informed decisions for themselves. If your sex ed class isn’t rooted in teaching teens about sexual safety, then it is not serving the actual needs of teenagers. Sexual safety means physical protection, it means communication, it means honesty, self-awareness and respect. Stop trying to shame teenagers out of having sex, it won’t work. Protect and respect teenagers’ rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

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Throughout 20 Days of ACA, we have discussed many ways the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or health reform) prioritizes the prevention of disease and illness. We have discussed the creation of the National Prevention Council and National Prevention Strategy as well as no co-pays for a wide range preventive care services including cervical cancer screening, pregnancy-related care, STI/HIV testing, and maternity and newborn coverage in the state insurance “exchanges.”

Today, we discuss another preventive health service that will be offered with no co-pay: domestic violence screening.

Starting on August 1, 2012 new health insurance plans must begin to cover this important service at no additional cost to patients. This important provision was included thanks to the Women’s Health Amendment (WHA).

How does domestic violence or inter-partner violence (IPV) impact Latinas?

According to year 2000 estimates, nearly 1 in 4 (23.4%) Latinas face domestic violence over the course of their lifetime. This violence comes in many forms including but not limited to verbal abuse, physical assault, and sexual assault. Abusive partners also cut off access to support systems and money (even partners’ earned wages.) Increasingly,  reproductive coercion – including sabotaging birth control methods, threatening to leave a women if she does not become pregnant, forcing contraception or abortion, and forcing partners to use recreational drugs to enhance arousal - is being used a form of violence against partners.

And while more data is needed, we know that immigrant Latinas are  overrepresented among IVP-related homicide victims and they face more barriers to leaving abusers due to lesser developed support systems, ineligibility for public benefits, and limited English proficiency among others. We also know a pregnant woman has a 35% increased chance of experiencing IPV compared to non-pregnant women and that IPV in LGBTQ communities occurs, but is often ignored.

To add to the challenges, states like Arizona and Alabama have enacted a series of dangerous immigration policies that only  decrease Latinas’ confidence in law enforcement, break apart families through incarceration, detention and deportation, and create an “anti-immigrant” culture.  Despite the creation of the U-Visa in 2000 to protect immigrants who assist law enforcement, these egregious state immigration policies threaten public safety and health by making it more difficult for Latina immigrants of IPV to leave their abusers.

Why is no co-pay for domestic violence screening and counseling important for Latinas?

Much needs to be done in this country to end domestic violence, address domestic violence in LGBTQ communities, and elevate the status of those who identify as women. For starters, NLIRH called for comprehensive immigration reform and condemned Arizona-like immigration policies.

The Affordable Care Act make a small but necessary contribution to the health of women who face domestic violence. By requiring no co-pays for domestic violence screening, the health care law removes a barrier for women whose wages and access to money have been cut off by abusers.

Health reform recognizes that women face unique barriers to health care that men do not face. From no co-pays for women’s-specific preventive care to non-discrimination protection, the ACA hopes to reduce health disparities faced by women, and particularly women of color by improving women’s access to health care insurance and public health services. And as Latinas have disproportionately been excluded from health services, they stand poised to gain from the reforms under the ACA.

There are only a few more posts in 20 Days of ACA — stay tuned throughout this week!

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This week you have been reading many perspectives on “what will it take to end cervical cancer?” as part of NLIRH’s blog carnival, ¡Acábalo Ya! Working Together to End Cervical Cancer.

All of us here at the  National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) emphasize the importance of monitoring cervical cancer incidence rates because they serve as indicators of a community’s access to preventive health care services.

Why is this? Because no woman should be diagnosed, let alone die, of cervical cancer. For the first time, we have a comprehensive set of tools to prevent and fight the disease. Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular Pap tests, the HPV test, and a provider’s monitoring and treatment of precancerous changes to the cells of a cervix. The HPV vaccines (both Gardasil® and Cervarix®) are also effective tools in the prevention of cervical cancer. Furthermore, the disease is also highly treatable when detected early.

Yet Latinas continue to have the highest incidence of cervical cancer among women of all ethnic/racial groups and the second highest mortality rate after African American women. In certain states, particularly along the southern border, Latinas have the highest incidence and mortality rates.

NLIRH recognizes and raises awareness of the myriad barriers Latinas face to preventing cervical cancer: lack of health insurance, stigmas around STIs and sexual health, cultural and linguistic barriers with health care systems and providers, the high cost of health care, fear associated to immigration status, racism and xenophobia.

Thus, while we serve to educate Latinas about the importance of gynecological health and demystify sexual health issues, we also will work year-round to bring down the barriers Latinas face in accessing health care.

This year, we will work to increase federal funding for Title X, the only federally funded family planning program, that provides cervical cancer screening and STI counseling to low-income women. We urge the federal government to support other programs that positively impact Latina health including Medicaid,  Community Health Center grants, funding for immunizations and school-based health programs. We will continue to advocate for access to health care for immigrants, for instance by urging Congress to lift the five-year ban for qualified legal immigrants from accessing means-tested benefits under Medicaid.

In 2012, there will be many opportunities to reduce health disparities and increase Latinas’ access to health services. Beyond January, we hope that our elected officials will not only speak about cervical cancer awareness, but work work us to ensure Latinas live cervical-cancer free.

For more information, please visit NLIRH’s resources on cervical cancer.

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Guest post  by Marisa Spalding, Black Women’s Health Imperative

Each January we celebrate Cervical Cancer Awareness month. This month gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends that we have lost to this preventable disease, and a time to consider how we will get the cervical cancer incidence and death rate among women of color to zero. There is no better time to educate and empower women to protect themselves from cervical cancer and make their health a priority.

It is no secret that women of color—specifically Black and Latina women—are at greatest risk of cervical cancer.  Latina women have the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer and Black women have the highest death rate from the disease, which is almost two times greater than for White women. These staggering and unacceptable figures are only worsened by the knowledge that this disease is largely preventable through timely screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Then what will it take to put an end cervical cancer? (more…)

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What if the federal government took action against the long-standing health disparities between groups of different race, ethnic group,  immigration and citizenship status, English proficiency,  sexual orientation and socioeconomic status? Sounds pretty awesome, right?!?

Well, we are closer than we have ever been thanks for the recent introduction of the Health Equity and Accountability Act (H.R. 2954)!

The Health Equity and Accountability Act was introduced on September 15th 2011 by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA-9th) with the support of the Congressional Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – and has 72 co-sponsors.

The Latina Institute is proud to note that its recommendations on the issues of affordable mental health services, culturally appropriate care and expanding support for community health services were adopted into the final draft of the bill.

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Por Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Ver en ingles

Todos queremos que nuestras familias se mantengan  sanas. Y un factor principal para lograrlo es asegurarse que nuestras madres, hijas y hermanas tengan acceso a los servicios médicos preventivos que necesitan. Cuando el tema es sobre  la salud, las mujeres son quienes a menudo se encargan de tomar las decisiones para el cuidado de la salud de sus familias y también son una fuente de información confiable para sus amigos.  De la misma manera, las mujeres son consumidoras importantes de atención médica.

Las mujeres tienen necesidades únicas de atención médica durante su ciclo de vida. También, tienen tasas altas de enfermedades crónicas, como la diabetes, enfermedades cardíacas y ataques cerebrales. A pesar de que las mujeres son más propensas a necesitar servicios preventivos de salud, a menudo tienen menos posibilidades para pagarlos.  Frecuentemente, las mujeres no reciben los servicios médicos de prevención necesarios debido a sus  bajos ingresos y al costo que tiene que pagar de su propio bolsillo por servicios médicos. Sin embargo, al eliminar los gastos compartidos requeridos por los seguros se puede mejorar el acceso de las mujeres a servicios preventivos importantes. De hecho, un estudio demostró que cuando se eliminaron los gastos compartidos, la tasa de las mujeres que se hacían una mamografía subió hasta un 9 por ciento.

La Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio ayuda a que los servicios médicos de prevención sean accesibles y estén al alcance de todos.  La Ley requiere  que los nuevos planes de salud cubran los servicios preventivos recomendados y eliminen los gastos compartidos, tales como los deducibles, copagos o co-seguros, para muchos servicios de prevención. La ley también requiere que las compañías de seguros cubran otros beneficios de salud preventiva adicionales para las mujeres.

Por primera vez, el Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de los Estados Unidos (HHS por su sigla en inglés) está tomando pasos importantes para mejorar los servicios médicos de prevención de las mujeres que se basa en recomendaciones existentes.  Hoy, HHS anuncio un guía nuevo sobre los servicios preventivos de salud de la mujer. El guía ayudara  que la mujer se mantenga saludable en todas las etapas de su vida.

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By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Read in Spanish

Everyone wants their family to be healthy. And a key component of this is ensuring that mothers, daughters, and sisters have access to the preventive services they need. When it comes to health, women are often the sole decision maker for their families and the trusted source in circles of friends – and they are also key consumers of health care.

Women have unique healthcare needs across their life span and have high rates of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  Yet while women are more likely to need preventive health care services, they often have less ability to pay. Too often, the combination of women’s lower incomes and out-of-pocket health costs mean that women forgo necessary preventive services. But removing cost sharing requirements improves women’s access to important preventive services. In fact, one study found that the rate of women getting a mammogram went up as much as 9 percent when cost sharing was removed.

The Affordable Care Act helps make prevention affordable and accessible for all Americans by requiring new health plans to cover recommended preventive services and by eliminating cost sharing, such as deductibles, copayments or co-insurance, for  many preventive services. The law also requires insurance companies to cover additional preventive health benefits for women.

For the first time ever, HHS is adopting a new comprehensive set of guidelines for women’s preventive services that builds on and fills the gaps in existing preventive services recommendations for women’s health.  Together, these guidelines will help ensure that women stay healthy at every stage of life.

(more…)

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