Monthly Archives: April 2011

STIs: The Basic Facts

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).  You can acquire an STI through vaginal, anal or oral sexual contact with an infected partner who may or may not have symptoms or signs of an infection.  Most of these infections do not go away on their own.  You may be embarrassed or feel guilty if you think you have a sexually transmitted infection, but it’s important to see your doctor. Untreated STI’s can cause complications for your health and the health of your partner.

STI’s are usually caused by bacteria or viruses.  Some common symptoms may include:

  • Rashes, open sores, blisters or warts in the genital area
  • Uncomfort or painful intercourse
  • Swelling or tenderness
  • Pus, bleeding, odor or abnormal discharge
  • Burning during urination
  • Sometimes there may be no symptoms at all

Women usually make an appointment with their gynecologist, but both men and women may see their regular doctor for STI testing.  Anyone can make an appointment for an STI test using Planned Parenthood’s website .  For a discount code, click here. Continue reading

Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Reproductive Rights

Recently, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona co-hosted a workshop with Catholics for Choice, where we explored the intersections of faith and reproductive rights. Marissa Valeri, a Senior Associate in CFC’s Domestic Program, gave workshop attendees an overview of Catholic beliefs as they relate to abortion and birth control, and encouraged the audience to think about how their own religious background has influenced their views on abortion.

One of the points that really resonated with me is that Catholics believe that their individual conscience should be the ultimate guide to what is right, and what is wrong. If someone’s conscience tells them that something is morally right, they should follow their intuition, even if it contradicts a teaching from the Vatican.

I grew up in the Mormon Church. Mormons share a similar belief that everyone will be judged for their own lives and not be held accountable for something someone else does. Mormons also believe in personal revelation from God. I personally believe that if a woman prays about the decision to obtain an abortion and she feels that it is the right decision, no one is in a position to call her decision into question – not even her bishop.

Another thing that stood out for me was that even the Pope doesn’t know when life begins, or when the body receives a soul. If the Pope is the right hand of God and he doesn’t even know the answer to this question, I doubt that the debate will ever be settled. Continue reading

What to Expect From Your First Pelvic Exam

You may be apprehensive about making your first gynecological appointment.

When should I go?  What will happen?  Why do I need to have a pelvic exam? How do I find a gynecologist?  But having a pelvic exam is a normal and responsible part of taking care of your body and keeping yourself sexually healthy.

Most women, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology  should have their first pelvic exam by the age of 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active, whichever comes first. Whatever your sexual orientation, pelvic exams are part of a healthy woman’s checkup.

So when should you schedule a pelvic exam? It can be part of your regular health check-up.  But you should also make an appointment if you have any of the following problems:

  • If you have abdominal or vaginal pain.
  • If you have a vaginal discharge that itches, burns, or smells.
  • If you have vaginal bleeding lasting longer than 10 days
  • If you have missed periods or have severe menstrual cramps
  • If you have not had a menstrual period by age 15 or 16

You also need a pelvic exam to be fitted for a diaphragm or have an IUD inserted.

How to get ready for your exam

You do not need to do anything special to prepare for your exam. It is usually best to schedule your appointment when you will not be having your period. Also you should not have sex, douche or use vaginal creams 24 hours before your visit.  Let your doctor or nurse practitioner know that this is your first pelvic exam.

PlannedParenthood.org provides ample information on well-woman and pelvic exams, including tips for finding doctors and making appointments.

You may be asked questions before your exam about your menstrual periods or your sexual activities.  It is always best to answer honestly so that the doctor is able to provide the best care for you and your lifestyle.

Your well-woman examination may also include other screenings such as a  breast exam, weight and blood pressure check – the pelvic exam itself lasts only a few minutes.

What happens during the actual examination;

You will be asked to undress and given a gown to wear.  You will be asked to lie down on an examination table and place your feet up in holders called stirrups which are connected to the end of the table.  You will need to slide to the end of the table and hold your knees open for the doctor to perform the exam. It is best to try to stay calm  and breathe steadily to relax your muscles and make yourself more comfortable. It is normal to be nervous.

The exam consists of three parts. First the doctor examines the outside genitals visually, looking for signs of infection or other problems.  Then a speculum, usually warmed, is inserted gently and keeps the walls of the vagina open so the doctor can examine the cervix and vagina. This may cause a feeling of pressure or some discomfort, but relaxing can help. While the speculum is in place, the doctor may swab some cells from your cervix for a Pap smear.  These cells are put on a microscope slide and sent to a lab to check for signs of precancerous or cancerous cells.

The speculum is removed and the doctor will use a lubricated gloved hand to put one or two fingers inside your vagina while pressing gently on your abdomen with the other hand.  This allows him or her  to feel your internal organs and  check for any abnormalities.  Sometimes the doctor will also insert one finger into the rectum to check for abnormalities or better feel the internal organs. Sometimes you might feel like you need to have a bowel movement but this sensation passes quickly.  You may have a tiny bit of spotting or bleeding after the exam.

All of this is over in just a few minutes and then you can get dressed  and meet with your doctor to discuss your exam results.  This is a good time to ask the doctor any questions you may have about your sexual health.  You may receive tests for STIs or prescriptions for contraceptives at this time.

Congrats! You’ve survived and made your sexual health an important part of your overall well-being!

STI Awareness: Gonorrhea

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria species that causes gonorrhea, is pictured here in a photograph taken with a scanning electron microscope. Projecting from the organism’s surface are many pili, powerful appendages that enable the bacteria to adhere to human cells. Image from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

April is STD Awareness Month, but this blog has sought to increase your awareness of sexually transmitted infections on a monthly basis. So far in 2011 we’ve pointed the spotlight at human papillomavirus, barrier methods, and herpes. This month’s installment will focus on gonorrhea, colloquially known as “the clap,” a common sexually transmitted infection caused by sneaky bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is spread by vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and can infect certain cells in the throat, mouth, rectum, urethra, or cervix. It can also be transmitted manually to infect the eye. If you are sexually active, you can reduce risk of transmission by consistently and correctly using latex barriers such as condoms and dental dams.

Four out of five females infected with gonorrhea do not experience symptoms – males, however, usually do, but they can be mild and therefore easy to overlook. Symptoms can appear within a month, and might include painful or frequent urination, vaginal or penile discharge, painful bowel movements, itching, or sore throat. Additionally, females can experience abdominal pain, fever, irregular menstruation, or bleeding between periods. In pregnant women, untreated gonorrhea infections can lead to complications such as premature labor or stillbirth. The infection can also be passed from mother to infant during delivery.  Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • A victory for no one: Mike Pence’s fight against Planned Parenthood will actually cause MORE abortions (Salon)
  • Are all the attacks on abortion by various states making your head spin? Me too. Here’s a handy guide to help you keep track of how our health choices are under seige nationwide (National Partnership for Women and Families)
  • Alabama “Personhood” Law Could Ban All Abortions (Jezebel)
  • Money NOT Well Spent: Bristol Palin’s Nonprofit Paid Her Seven Times What It Spent On Actual Teen Pregnancy Prevention. #Fiscal FAIL (Think Progress)
  • Terrorizing Abortion Providers: The “Other Abortion War” Quietly Continues (RH Reality Check)
  • Nancy Pelosi reminds us all that the U.S. is actually fighting a 3rd war. The war on women and women’s health. (CNN Political Ticker)
  • Ohio Abortion Heartbeat Bill Approved By House Panel (Huff Po)
  • Scottsdale School District Debates Updated Sex Education Curriculum (TheBody.com)
  • Dispensing heaping doses of judgment but not medication: Illinois Pharmacists can now legally opt not to do their jobs by denying women Emergency Contraception (Care2 Blog)

Go Ahead and GYT You PYT!

As we previously informed you, April is “Get Yourself Tested” month!

Exciting, huh?!

Obviously we want to use this time to urge everyone to get themselves tested because it is so colossally important to know your STD status.

The CDC recommends being tested at least once a year if you engage in anything that can transmit HIV infection. This includes:

  • injecting drugs or steroids with used injection equipment
  • having sex for money or drugs
  • having sex with an HIV-infected person
  • having more than one sex partner since your last HIV test
  • having a sex partner who has had other sex partners since your last HIV test

Since I personally have never been tested at a Planned Parenthood facility, I decided to put on my “Woman About Town” cap and go through the process so I could blog about it here!  Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Our beloved Arizona: the home sweet home of flagrantly anti-choice politicians. This time it’s Congressman Trent Franks who states that Planned Parenthood “kills children for profit”. Hmm…we’re a non-profit organization the last time we checked and if he’s talking about allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy, that’s been the law of the land for nearly 40 years. I can appreciate his newfound concern for the health of “children” though. That’s progress right? (Political Correction)
  • More AZ stupidity courtesy of Jan Brewer (RH Reality Check)
  • It’s odd how these anti-choice billboards never say things like “Every 21 minutes, our next possible career felon is aborted.” Cause statistically speaking, the odds of your average American becoming President are likely 25 million to one while the prison population grows exponentially with every new generation. Food for thought anti-choicers! (Jezebel)
  • Family planning organizations abroad also under threat from U.S. Republicans (Guardian)
  • Surprise! Teen Pregnancy is Really Expensive for Taxpayers (Free Times)
  • Nebraska Denies Prenatal Care to Undocumented Women. Translation: They’re only “pro-life” and concerned with the well-being of a fetus if it’s Mommy is a U.S. citizen (Mother Jones)
  • Teenage Fatherhood Stunts Educational Development (Red Orbit)
  • Former PA senator and anti-choice zealot, Rick Santorum, says abortion is to blame for social security insolvency woes. ABORTION! Not common sense items like: the failure of our government to tax high income workers a SS tax on ALL of their wages rather than just a small percentage, their failure to limit benefits for wealthy retirees, further limiting the benefits early retirees would receive, etc.. Yeah, none of those things. It’s all the fault of women and their ridiculous right to choose whether or not they give birth! (L.A. Times)