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Friday, September 19, 2008

Euro Sexy!

Day two (three including the pre-conference workshop!) from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals in Washington, DC. So...I'm going to admit that I slept in this morning and missed the first couple of plenary sessions. Come on! I was still adjusting to being on the East Coast and had only slept four hours each night before. Jeez. What I did see today was pretty amazing stuff. Can you believe that Europeans consider sexuality a health issue rather than a moral issue? What about those wacky Europeans thinking that sexuality is part of an over all well being for humans throughout the lifespan, including during adolescence? Well...I'll fill you in on how out of control things have gotten across the pond and tell you about the rest of my day after the jump.

As most of us know, Western European countries have very low teen birth and abortion rates, especially when compared to those of the United States where our rates are closer to those of developing countries where there is a lack of reproductive health care and services, while the age of first sexual experience and number of teens who have sex is about the same for the U.S. and European countries. So, what's the deal? It seems that after WWII many European nations were experiencing high unintended pregnancy rates and high rates of sexually transmitted infections (sound familiar) and the governments of those countries decided to do something about it. They focused on sexuality as a health issue and worked to improve the sexual health of their citizens by integrating high quality sexuality education into school programs, providing free or low cost sexual and reproductive health services, and providing sexual counseling. They rarely discuss abstinence and focus on responsibility.

BTW, it was mentioned that in Finland 80% of girls and 64% of boys fourteen years of age could correctly state that emergency contraception must be used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse for it to be effective. I wonder how many American adults could answer that question. Also, only 4% of teachers stated that they were uncomfortable talking to students about sexuality while a whopping 80% said that they were not uncomfortable talking about sexuality to their students. I wonder if the fact that most teachers who teach sexuality in most European nations have received adequate training in sexuality has anything to do with it.

That was only one session. I saw some others. Mostly very medical and not that interesting for me and one that was about counseling patients about smoking, dietary habits, physical activity, and alcohol risks. Seriously, there was only a mere mention about sexual health. I did see a great presentation by Dr. David Grimes on using vignettes to teach providers on counseling patients about contraceptive choices. His style was a wonderful illustration of the importance of using humor and focusing on the positive when presenting/teaching about sexuality and sexual health. My favorite example by Dr. Grimes...instead of amenorrhea (which scares the bejeezus out of some women because it sounds scary and makes them think that not menstruating is bad, bad, bad) he prefers to use the phrase menstrual free. Menstrual free...I'm not a woman but I think that sounds nice. More tomorrow.

BTW, the slides from all of the presentations are available on the ARHP website. visit www.arhp.org


Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Citizenship Lesson from Hollywood

Brad Pitt's view of what it takes to promote life and be a good American citizen is historically and sexually literate.

Putting money where his mouth is, he's donated $100,000 to the No on 8 Campaign in California which is fighting hard to avoid marriage being made illegal for non heterosexual couples. Equally as important as the money, he issued this statement:

"Because no one has the right to deny another their life, even though they disagree with it, because everyone has the right to live the life they so desire if it doesn't harm another and because discrimination has no place in America, my vote will be for equality and against Proposition 8."

This is what our founding fathers were talking about when they professed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as revolutionary and uniquely American. This is also almost exactly what the Massachusetts Supreme Court said in its decision to create marriage equality.

Supporters of Prop 8 really need to revisit their history books. Their version of American citizenship -- rooted in discrimination, is exactly what this country was founded to avoid.

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Reproductive Health (and sexual literacy)

For the past two days, I have been at the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. This is a different type of conference for me in that the majority of the attendees are medical providers, whereas I am used to hanging with the behavioral and social scientist types. I'm going to be blogging about my experiences at the conference for the next few days, so keep checking back to see what I'm learning from all these great docs and nurses. Read my take on today's activities after the jump.

On Wednesday, I attended a pre-conference work shop on providing post-abortion emotional health information and resources. Sounds like a yawnfest to me. I had wanted to attend the session on advocating for your hot button issue, but was "advised" to go to this one instead. What a freakin' surprise! I was blown away by not only the workshop content but by the three amazing women who facilitated the workshop. I was particularly impressed by the work and presentation style of Aspen Baker, one of the co-founders of Exhale, an after-abortion counseling talk line. I also learned how providing women and those in their lives emotional health information and resources can make a world of difference for those women, the providers, and the larger community. Think about it...

Thursday morning, at the ungoldly hour of 7:45 am (that's 4:45 in California!), I heard one of the most moving talks I've heard in a very long time. Dr. Richard Horton from the UK talked about the urgent need for reproductive health care globally. He stressed how gender inequity continues to create a lack of badly needed reproductive health services for woman, particularly in developing countries. He stated that "Reproductive Health IS the key to Global Health and Social Justice." Strong words. I think I'm a believer.

However, as you can possibly guess, the reproductive health world has little to say about sexuality and sexual health. Of course, one of the reasons that I am at this meeting is to think about ways in which we can use Sexual Literacy to promote doctors bridging sexuality and sexual health with reproductive health. Interestingly, during a plenary about the top ten articles download from the journal Contraception in the past year, it was revealed that number three (3) on the list, in a list of articles about hormonal contraceptions and IUDs, was an editorial about doctors and parents communicating with teens about sexuality. Maybe clinicians do want to talk about sexuality...hmmmm. I believe that sexual literacy and reproductive health, together, are the key to global health and social justice.

Check back tomorrow for more adventures from Washington.


Monday, September 08, 2008

The Myth of Parental Consent

If you are a media junkie like me, you know that presidential election coverage is seemingly inescapable. Even guilty pleasures like Perez Hilton have articles on Sarah Palin and Julia Allison’s coverage of Fashion Week took on an election theme. However, amid the presidential election brouhaha, local measures on November’s ballot are in danger of being overlooked.

As a San Francisco resident, my ballot in November will also include 11 statewide propositions and a whopping 22 citywide measures. I must admit that with 57 days left until the election I am sadly unaware of most of those propositions. However, I am aware that a parental notification initiative (Proposition 4) is on November’s ballot for the third time in four years. In 2005 and 2006 California voters voted down parental notification propositions, but anti-choice advocates are at it again.

Proposition 4 is the latest attempt of anti-choice advocates to restrict abortion access in California. Currently, California is one of the nation’s most pro-choice states with no restrictions on abortion and a majority of citizens (71%) agreeing that the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. The anti-choice activists that created Proposition 4 hope that by pitting the “rights” of parents against the “rights” of a teenage woman that they will be able to change California’s voters' minds.

The issue of parents’ rights was a hotly debated issue when I spent Sunday afternoon phone banking for the No on Prop 4 Campaign. During the phone bank I called registered voters (all of whom are over 18 and therefore unaffected by the law) and told them why Proposition 4 is bad policy. The script phone bankers (including myself) read to voters acknowledged parents’ rightful desire to what to know what is going on with their teenagers' health but encouraged voters to think outside of their family (where presumably communication is great) and vote on behalf of vulnerable teenagers who could not go to their parents in case of an unplanned pregnancy for fear of violence.

Phone call after phone call, I got responses from voters who are also parents stating that parents are required by law to consent to their child’s healthcare in other instances and asking abortion should be different. My favorite anecdote came from a couple who were clearly anti-choice in which they informed me that parents are required to consent to a tattoo so obviously they should be required in cases of an abortion. I bit my tongue, but I wish I had responded – “Yes but the decision to get a tattoo is incomparable to an abortion. An unwanted pregnancy results in a child. The results of getting a tattoo is having a tattoo. No one is responsible for feeding the tattoo or for its well-being for a lifetime to come.”

Concerned about the claim that parents have a right to consent for their child’s healthcare, I did some research. The results were surprising. Parents are not necessarily required to consent to healthcare of a child. In fact, if a pregnant teen wants to get PRENATAL care in California, healthcare providers are obliged to provide them with confidential healthcare WITHOUT seeking the consent of parents. The “truth” of parental consent for healthcare is a fallacy, and passing Proposition 4 would make abortion the exception to a rule not vice-versa.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

personal, political and palin

governor sarah palin's support of abstinence-only-until-marriage education funding is very much a political issue. the announcement of her 17 year old daughter's pregnancy is a personal issue made public and political by its very disclosure. 

if the second wave of the feminist movement taught us nothing else it is that "the personal is political".....right?

and yet, as barack obama said, "let me be as clear as possible. i think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits."

while i mostly agree with obama on this, i expect (hope) that he will not now shy away from taking mccain and palin to task for their continued support of the failed, life and choice denying, dangerous policy of abstinence-only-until-marriage education.

palin's daughter has far fewer choices for her life now. 

to think that this personal event will not have a major impact on palin's continued (reinvigorated commitment to?) support of abstinence only funding is irrational. to not talk about it on a national level may seem like the most appropriate thing to do....but what might be at stake by avoiding it?