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Archive for the ‘Sexual health’ Category

By Octavia

My name is Octavia, and I’m a mother.

I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified. I felt like there was no one on my side. Like the whole world was against me. My mother and the father were both pressuring me to get an abortion. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I needed to decide what was best for me. I then felt happiness because I thought I couldn’t have children. I was also in denial and just tried to forget about my pregnancy. If I had a little more money and a better or safer environment that would’ve helped me obtain work, maybe things would’ve been different. I didn’t have insurance to get contraceptives. In the end, I decided to become a mother because I wanted to treat somebody better than how I was treated. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

ImageI am glad that I became a mother. I don’t regret a thing about it. Tracy pushes me to go farther than I’ve ever gone. I am 19 years old now. My son is two years old. I love him so much. He saved my life and he woke me up from my downfall.

I am a single parent. No one helps me pick Tracy up or care for him. Alone, I make decisions for myself and for my son’s safety. I changed Tracy’s day care multiple times to ensure he was in an environment that was appropriate for a child, while I worked hard to get us in a better situation.

It’s been difficult as a single young mother. I had a lot of disappointing moments with my son’s family. His father and grandmother completely ignore my wishes and do whatever they want. Simple things like taking care of Tracy became a disagreement with them. The cherry on top was when they cut all of my son’s hair behind my back. I know it sounds silly, but they disregard me at all times. His father lies about helping me; in reality, we barely see him.

My mother isn’t as involved as I wish she were. Rent in New York became too expensive for us to manage so my mother decided to move to New Jersey last minute. I left with her. Commuting to New York while living in New Jersey wasn’t easy. My mother kept demanding I get a job and calling me lazy. I became fed up. Everything was too far for me to pursue the dreams I had set out for myself. I had to find another place to go stay. I knew I deserved better. Tracy and I left home.

I will not let them bring me down.

I lived a group home that made it difficult for me to attend school. I had to find an alternative place to live or get kicked out of school. I had to drop my classes in college in order to stay within the requirements of my group home.

I decided to apply for the Year Up internship. Guess what? I got in! They support low-income young adults reach their professional career goals. I’m still participating in this internship. Year Up is teaching me hard and soft skills that are going to stay with me for life. I’m getting college credits for the classes I take. I am learning about financial operations while juggling my personal problems. I’m grateful for this program, it isn’t easy to get into. I plan to go back to school in the fall. I love art and everything about it.

I hope my son grows healthy and appreciates and values life. I want to raise him in a place that offers decent food. I want to get him away from all these artificial flavors and preservatives. I dream of obtaining a decent amount of money and moving to Europe. I want to study there. I dream of becoming a fashion designer and owning my own company. No one and nothing is going to stop me.

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Each April public health and civil rights advocates work to raise awareness about the health inequities that continue to impact communities of color in the U.S. Among the health conditions that are usually highlighted are diabetes, HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, mental illness, and obesity. While it’s certainly critical to address the high rates of these conditions in our communities, another persistent minority health issue is often overlooked.

Women of color (WOC) consistently face reproductive health injustices that are rarely discussed in the context of a minority health issue. This topic is usually relegated to the WOC realm of women’s health. But this April, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is shifting the dialogue about minority health and highlighting the lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion as a very real health crisis for many of our herman@s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court passed the landmark Roe. v. Wade decision, granting women the right to safe and legal abortion. While this was a major victory for the women’s rights movement, the fight for abortion rights did not stop then. In fact, over the years, the right to abortion has been consistently attacked, restricted, and limited at both the state and federal level.

Among the most harmful of the restrictions enacted was the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services. Rep. Henry Hyde, author of the Hyde Amendment, said of his intentions for the rider: “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”  This rider has been renewed each year for over three decades, and currently, federal funds can only be used in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted as a deliberate attack on low-income women’s reproductive freedom. Considering that women of color are more likely to be low-income – 24 percent of Latin@s, 27 percent of black women, and 18 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live below the poverty level – the Hyde Amendment is essentially an attack on women of color’s reproductive rights, by denying them the ability to access affordable abortion. The denial of affordable healthcare that covers abortion is yet another issue on the long list of ways and means used to undermine the bodily autonomy and reproduction of WOC in the U.S.

As a result of the Hyde Amendment, abortion has remained out of reach for many low-income or uninsured women despite it being legalized in 1973. For many of our Latina herman@s, access to affordable abortion has never been an option because they are low-income, uninsured, or don’t have private insurance that covers abortion. The reality is, one in three Latin@s is uninsured, which is higher than other race/ethnic group in the country. Of those that are insured, many rely on federally funded programs for coverage, which don’t cover abortion. Without the ability to afford it, the right to abortion is meaningless.

In fact, the first woman who died as a direct result of the Hyde Amendment was a Latina. Rosie Jiménez was a Latina college student and single mother who had Medicaid coverage. Since the Hyde Amendment had recently eliminated federal Medicaid funding for abortion, Rosie resorted to unsafe abortion because she didn’t have the means to pay for the service out of pocket. She died one week after her abortion in October 1977 due to complications from an unsafe procedure. Harrowing as it is, Rosie’s story is not unique. Each year tens of thousands of people are denied access to affordable abortion because of the Hyde Amendment. Although not every person’s story ends tragically, many people’s lives are greatly impacted by the financial burden of paying for an abortion or having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

For Latin@ immigrants, access to affordable abortion can be even more difficult due to many factors including, high rates of uninsurance, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of information about abortion in the U.S., immigration status, and poverty.

It’s undeniable: the Hyde Amendment hurts women. Moreover, the Hyde Amendment hurts WOC, who are disproportionately low-income, making this not only a women’s health issue, but a minority health issue as well. This National Minority Health Month let’s raise awareness of all health inequities, including the ability to access to safe and affordable abortion.

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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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