Do you know everything you need to know about STDs? …Are you sure?
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month!
Another January, another chance to get educated about cervical cancer. Last year around this time we posted our “Smeared and cleared” Fact or Fiction to make sure everyone’s clear on exactly what a Pap smear tests for (Spoiler alert: Paps check for early signs of cervical cancer, not STIs).
New year, new video, this one from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England with the fabulous Laci Green.
A few points from the video we’d like to emphasize:
1) As Laci rightfully notes, safe sex is an important part of prevention. 99% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, a super-common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Since HPV can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, not having sex is the only way to be 100% sure not to transmit or be exposed to the virus. If the no-sex approach doesn’t work for you, the next best thing is condoms. Dr. Robin Wallace wrote for us about doubling up with condoms and a super-effective method of birth control to make sex safer.
2) The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is another important piece of the prevention puzzle. Gardasil has already shown evidence that it may be making a difference—and research has found it won’t actually turn girls into raging trollops (phew, right?). Oh, and Gardasil is now recommended for guys, too.
3) If you do have an abnormal Pap, don’t panic. A lot of the time abnormalities will resolve themselves and there are further tests your health care provider can run to decide whether there’s cause for any concern. If an abnormality ends up being cervical cancer (which is extremely rare), the likelihood of beating it is much greater for women whose cancer was found through a Pap.
When you’re due for a Pap will depend on your age and on the results of your last Pap. Whatever your check-up status, we say seize the moment to take stock of your cervical health—make a plan for safer sex, get the HPV vaccine, set up your next Pap smear appointment, or if you’re already on top of all that, spread the word to a friend.
World AIDS Day, 2012
We’ve come a long way in the battle against HIV/AIDS—there have been advances in prevention, testing, and treatment. But are we out of the woods? Hardly. Over a million people in the U.S. are living with HIV and 50,000 people become infected every year. Scariest of all? 1 in every 5 people living with HIV doesn’t realize it.
Unplanned pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers $12 billion a year. A big chunk of that number comes from the cost of providing health care for low-income women during and after the birth of their child through Medicaid. Medicaid covers 41% of births in the U.S.—the average cost for one of those births as of 2008 was $12,613. On the other hand, Medicaid spent an average of $257 to cover birth control for one person that same year. That comes out to $3.74 in taxpayer savings for every dollar invested in birth control through Medicaid.
Here’s a Secret: Size Really Does Matter
As an avid sports fan, I spend many hours watching sporting events with my guy friends, and the conversation always seems to veer toward sex. I act annoyed that the boys just have to bring it up, asking me questions I would prefer not answer or consider. But, I must admit I actually enjoy these “sex talks.” I love watching NBA star Kevin Durant make an unbelievable three-pointer while sharing stories and information with friends.
I remember one evening in particular in the lounge at my friend’s apartment building. We discussed our high school sex-ed classes. Although our teachers demonstrated how to put on a condom, it was much more difficult on our first attempt. Practice makes perfect, right? Struggling to put a condom on, though, can be a real turn-off. (If only young men and women were taught some sexy tricks to practice safe, and hot, sex.)
We also talked about how to know what size condoms to buy. The boys said they use whatever is cheapest or what is guaranteed to feel the best. But in this instance, size is just as important as pleasure.
Condoms are 98 percent effective when used perfectly, but only 82 percent effective with typical use. Wearing a condom that is too small or too big (Come on, guys! We know you don’t ALL need Magnums) can make a difference in how effective a condom is at preventing pregnancy. Wear a condom that’s too tight and it could break. Wear one that’s too big and it could slip off.
How can we expect young people to engage in safe and healthy sexual activities if we never inform them that both size - condom size that is - and correct use matter?
Fortunately there are a variety of innovative male contraceptive products either on the market or in clinical trial that will make putting on condoms easier and offer contraceptive alternatives.
South Africans developed the ready-to-wear Pronto condom. The condom is in an applicator and one simply has to break the packaging, stretch, and pull down. This design limits the time it takes to put on a condom and the potential for mishaps. This condom, or others like it, could really help close the gap between potential and real effectiveness; however, this condom is currently not for sale in any nation outside of South Africa.
There is also the prospect of a new male contraceptive gel. The University of California Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute shared its study that combined Nestorone and Testosterone to lower sperm count in men. However, this option will not be available for a few more years due to the need for further testing.
A couple of other options appear promising in theory, but not all that attractive to potential male consumers. A testicular contraceptive injection is being tested in India and the use of ultrasound to kill off sperm-growing cells is also being studied. Let’s be real - pap smears and speculums are not exactly comfortable so I guess I can understand if some guys are not that excited about zapping or stabbing their testicles.
This is just a glimpse of what may come in the near future, but we still need to continue to push for research, development, and testing of new technologies. The more options that are available to sexually-active young people, the more likely we are to find one that fits our personal sex lives and protects us adequately.
Until this happens, we have to stop short-shafting men (pun intended). We need to teach young men and women how to use a condom properly, including knowing which size to use.
Annie is currently a senior at George Washington University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in International Affairs and History. She has held several internships at non-profit organizations, including at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, the Equal Rights Center, and the Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. Annie also participates in a variety of student organizations on campus and is the Secretary for Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Sorority.