Monthly Archives: April 2018

Why I Spent International Women’s Day Serving Males

Why I Spent International Women’s Day Serving Males


Being brave or vulnerable is neither male or female.

I’ve been reflecting on the fact that on March 8th, International Women’s Day, I was coordinating training for youth-serving professionals, including substance abuse counselors and social workers who provide services to adolescents and young adult males, 15-24 years-old to help these professionals inform young men about the importance of reproductive health and refer young men to reproductive health services. This is a big deal to me. International Women’s Day is an important day to me to mark the struggle that women face every day: That women need council, need community and need support, especially this year in the wake of the #metoo movement.

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I would whole-heartedly say that men also need council, community, and support. Part of the reason we have the #metoo movement is that culturally men aren’t encouraged to embrace these wonderful things. I just listened to a TEDtalk about bringing up strong girls (I am all for that) and how we need to teach our girls to be brave as this isn’t a typical attribute they are taught like boys are. I would also say we need to teach our boys how to be vulnerable. Or how about this…let’s move away from “genderfying” states of being. Being brave or vulnerable is neither male or female. It’s human.

My training event was a culmination of several years and hard work with many partners on the ground in Gaston, NC to improving young men’s knowledge about the need for reproductive health services and how to obtain these services and improving young men’s use of clinical reproductive health care services.

Engaging young men in teen pregnancy prevention can help prevent early fatherhood, which can have serious consequences for the young men, their partners, and their children. Young men are also more likely to exhibit pregnancy ambivalence, which is associated with a lowered likelihood of their partner using birth control. Engaging young men in sexual and reproductive health education and health care services is critical to preventing unintended pregnancy. But, only 25% of male adolescents report receiving sexual reproductive health services compared to approximately 50% of females. However, both male and female adolescents report an interest in receiving sexual reproductive health information from their providers.

Young men want to be involved in preventing pregnancies within their relationships….young men want connection…..young men want healthy relationships. We in public health have a role to play in this. If we empower young men to embrace their vulnerability and accessing sexual reproductive health services, this empowers young women. When we support the collective good we are lifted up as individual parts of the whole. The challenge, however, has been and continues to be the pragmatic application of the research to achieve our objective of increased gender equality.

On College Campuses, Students Push For Free Condoms

On College Campuses, Students Push For Free Condoms

Only about 13 percent of colleges have condom dispensers or vending machines that allow young people privacy and better access, says one researcher.

When Boston College student Connor Kratz came out as a freshman, he realized he didn’t have any tools available on campus to learn more about sexual health and staying safe.

“I didn’t have the resources to have those discussions on my campus,” he explained. He then joined Students for Sexual Health, a group that had previously received pushback for handing out contraceptives on the Catholic campus.

That experience “helped me realize this is what I wanted to share with other people, these resources. Everyone deserves and has a right to sexual and reproductive health care.”

Kratz is one of 1,000 college students participating in the Great American Condom Campaign (GACC), an Advocates for Youth project providing each student with a box of 500 condoms to hand out in their community during a semester. The GACC has existed for several years—but now many students are advocating for their schools to be the ones handing out condoms instead.

ecause young people are a population with relatively high sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates, and contraceptives are a right like any other form of health care, these students are pushing their campuses to put up free condom dispensers as part of the campaign.

Young people have the right to lead healthy lives and make their own choices about their futures. There are proven links between a person’s ability to decide if and when to become pregnant and their academic achievement and rates of attending and completing college.

Of the estimated 20 million new STIs infections reported in the United States each year, people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up more than 50 percent of new gonorrhea cases and more than 60 percent of new chlamydia cases. When Kratz and his group surveyed nearly 400 Boston College students about condom use, they found 80 percent of students on campus were sexually active, yet 60 percent of those surveyed did not always use protection during sex. Demonstrating how useful it would be if the school provided condoms, more than 70 percent of respondents said they would use resources if they were provided by a student group or the university. Almost 45 percent didn’t know where to find sexual health resources and treatment near campus.

A majority of colleges do make condoms available. But where condoms are available, they’re often not used as much as expected, given the sexual health needs of college students, said Scott Butler, assistant director of the School of Health and Human Performance at Georgia College.

Butler is one of a few academics who has done studies about condom availability in colleges, and according to his research, 85 percent of colleges in the United States distribute free condoms somewhere on campus. Butler said that “most colleges that give out condoms—about 96 percent—do so at their college health center.” But one reason this isn’t effective is because “people associate going to the health center with when they are sick or ill. You need to make condoms available in different places within the student’s environment, so they have them when they need them.”

As Butler explained, “colleges only give out an average of 1 condom per student per year. It’s clear that that’s not enough to meet the sexual health-care needs of students.” But Butler is not sure that colleges have “realized that the number they were giving out was low in comparison to the student population.”

This makes sense to me: I manage the Great American Condom Campaign, and thousands of students apply to hand out 500 condoms themselves in their free time without any compensation or additional incentives, aside from knowing that people on their campus really need these sexual health resources and a desire to help people have the reproductive care they deserve.

Stephon Camp, a junior at Indiana University Southeast and a leader in an LGBTQ group on campus, is collecting petition signatures for his school to put free condom dispensers in public places. “Not everybody always knows where these resources they can get are, and some people are still going through embarrassment to even go to the store and buy them, or think it’s not important until something happens,” he said. “We’re trying to get a condom dispenser … and figure out if we can possibly have them in bathrooms.”

While distributing condoms with the GACC, Camp has noticed a high demand while giving out condoms at his school. “Outside our club office, people can grab condoms, and that’s been going really well since I’ve had to fill that up numerous times,” said Camp.

Camp noticed a lot of shame around needing condoms while handing them out at Indiana University Southeast. “With the free condom dispenser that we are working on, I know that would help with the privacy part because people do get really hesitant, especially with it being a small campus. We’ve got paper bags if people want privacy,” said Camp, as he’s overheard groups of students making snarky comments about others who are grabbing condoms.

Some of the stigma around condom distribution also concerns ideas about youth and sexual activity. Opponents of condom distribution often claim that giving people free condoms will make them have more sex than they already do. On the other side, the American Academy of Pediatrics has statedthat condoms should be made widely available in schools and to teens. There is no evidence that increased access to condoms or contraceptives increases young people’s sexual risk taking.

Having free condom dispensers in campus bathrooms would also normalize condom use and safer sex, as well as reduce the stigma around the need for condoms.

Only about 13 percent of colleges have condom dispensers or vending machines, added Butler.

Free condom dispensers have been a success at American University in Washington, D.C., where they were installed last year. Those machines cost $75 to $100 each (condoms are provided free from the local health department)—definitely a worthy and inexpensive investment in young people’s health and safety.

Mickey Irizarry, the director of the Wellness Center at American University, realized that the 9-to-5 hours of her office, which provided condoms, were a barrier for students. “We had heard, especially from students that live on campus, that they were frustrated that they couldn’t get condoms in their residence halls.”

With help from students, she began exploring location options. They wanted “somewhere that was easily accessible, and public space in the halls, but that wasn’t so in your face, in case some students who aren’t sexually active were not going to be comfortable with it, but also not so private that it would be hard to get to or that they wouldn’t know where it is.” They ultimately ended up placing them in three residence halls, where they “were having to fill up the dispensers about every week or two.” The campus plans to put up more free dispensers in residence halls.

Although the movement for free condoms is a new and growing one—and faces uphill battles on some religious campuses—some students have succeeded in getting their schools to give out free condoms. Jasmine Wilson, who’s a part of Advocates For Youth’s Student Organizing team, advocated for her school, Kenyon College in Ohio, to provide free internal condoms (sometimes called female condoms) last semester.

“I began organizing for free condoms on my college campus because I believe that people should not be restricted [from] living a safe and healthy life. Condoms are a form of protection and safety,” said Wilson.

She added another reason: economic equity. Cost is a major barrier to condom access for some young people.

Free condom distribution “would eliminate the large income gap, where affluent students can afford better health care and therefore afford things like contraception …. I know all too many people who do not use condoms because they could not afford to purchase them, and that should not be the case. Condoms should be available for free to everyone.”

Interested in joining the movement for free condom dispensers on college campuses? Email to learn more. Students can apply here

Here’s what a world without birth control might be like

Here’s what a world without birth control might be like


 April 14

Remember the early 2000s, when the United States passed laws banning condoms and the pill, and sex was officially designated for reproductive purposes only?

Of course you don’t — it never happened. But a new art exhibition in New York imagines what life would be like if it had.

“Museum of Banned Objects,” at the Ace Hotel New York Gallery through April 30 (continuing online after that), looks at the history of “The Ban” from the vantage point of a dystopian future. The law — sweeping legislation in which all reproductive-health products and contraceptives were made illegal — took birth control underground.

Artists Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, the museum’s “curators,” have assembled a collection of items that, while ordinary today, would be historical artifacts post-Ban, including condoms, birth control pills and bottles of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Truvada, used to prevent HIV infection. Each item is displayed in isolation along with a placard that delves into its history and use before it was made illegal.

If the museum is chilling, it’s supposed to be. Sachs and Starr intend the installation, which they developed along with Planned Parenthood, to illuminate unnerving uncertainties about reproductive rights. It evokes memories of not-so-distant days in which contraception was illegal in many states and strict anti-obscenity laws made the frank discussion of sexuality — and sexual health — complicated. And its exploration of the erosion of protections for contraception raises questions about how safe those rights are today.

Sachs and Starr say the point of their work is to drive social change and raise awareness about how close their fictitious world could be. Birth control isn’t banned. But the power of the Museum of Banned Objects is in its plausibility.

Sex education set to become part of school curriculum

Sex education set to become part of school curriculum

It’s official. Sex education is set to become a part of the country’s school curriculum. The programme will be rolled out by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself this Saturday at Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, under Ayushman Bharat, a national health protection scheme.

The “role play and activity based” module, titled School Health Programme, will be imparted in government schools across the country with the help of specially trained teachers and peer educators (selected school students).

The module will address various aspects of growing up including sexual and reproductive health, sexual abuse, good touch and bad touch, nutrition, mental health, sexually transmitted diseases, non-communicable diseases, injuries and violence and substance abuse in an age-appropriate manner. The 22-hour programme is a joint initiative by the Union health ministry and the ministry of human resource development and is expected to benefit 26 crore adolescents.

“Instructions have been given to dedicate one period a week for the programme,” said a senior health ministry official. “The module will cover important aspects related to adolescence in an age-appropriate manner,” said the official.

Bijapur, where the programme will be officially launched by Modi, is one among the 115 ‘aspirational districts’ from across the country, identified by the government for development under the aspirational districts scheme. Under this, the government intends to transform these districts through real-time monitoring and various welfare schemes. (Incidentally, Modi will also be the first prime minister to visit Bijapur, one of the most backward regions of the country but has started doing well on various development parameters.) “We will focus on students from class IX to XII in the first phase and eventually extend it to cover all school-going children from class I onwards. All the programmes will be role play and activity-based,” said the health ministry official.

The health ministry believes the manner in which the programme is conducted is as important as its content. “It is important how we tell them. Two teachers from each school will be selected for this purpose and trained by the education department. The ownership of the programme is with the education department, because it’s they who are going to implement it. Our health ministry officials will provide them with all the technical support,” said the official.

Attempts to introduce activity-based adolescent education programme in schools had courted controversy in the past.

A Rajya Sabha committee chaired by the then BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu (now vice-president) had rubbished an activity-based comprehensive Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) launched by the union education ministry in 2005 “as a cleverly used euphemism whose real objective was to impart sex education in schools and promote promiscuity.” It said, there is “no justification” or need to teach HIV/AIDS to schoolchildren in the 14-18 age group, sex education “incites stimulation of instincts which is detrimental to society”, basic human “instincts like food, fear, greed, coitus, etc, need not be taught, rather control of these should be the subject of education”.

Ayushman Bharat, which covers over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families have twin missions. First, creating a network of health and wellness centres to deliver comprehensive primary healthcare close to the community, and second, providing insurance cover to 40 per cent of India’s population that is most deprived, for secondary and tertiary care including for instance, hospitalisation costs.

What We Want When It Comes To Our Periods

What We Want When It Comes To Our Periods

As a woman who’s been getting my period for a couple decades now, I thought I knew everything there was to know about menstruation. That is, until my team started developing Spot On, a period and birth control tracking app. In the two years since launch, we’ve gotten feedback from thousands of real users. The lessons they had to offer serve as the North Star as we continue to develop the app, and can also be useful for anyone trying to build products that serve people around their periods.


Help me out. Yes, for many people, periods suck. Cramps hurt, remembering tampons is annoying, and the whole thing is inconvenient more often than not. But women have had enough of products that perpetuate period myths and stereotypes equating periods with weakness. They aren’t looking for a pep talk or a promise of chocolate; they just want to be told something useful, like when to expect their period or how to manage their symptoms, and broader advice about their sexual and reproductive health. They want actionable information that’s easy to understand — and specific to their own situation.

Keep it to yourself. According to a recent survey, 68% of U.S. consumers worry about how brands use their personal data — and people are even more sensitive about health data, with 70% distrusting health technology. Whether looking for protection from their information being shared with strangers, or needing an app style and icon that is discreet enough to prevent people looking over their shoulder, people want a worry-free way to understand what’s up with their own bodies.

Period pride. Menstruation can be as empowering as it is annoying. In fact, many of the people we spoke to described their periods as a time to get back in touch with their bodies and take better care of themselves. In early user research, one young woman described her period as “My free rein for a few days,” while another said, “It’s cleansing. We should embrace it. It’s not a burden to have a vagina.”

Please stop with the pink. Regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the vast majority of the users we’ve spoken to are fed up with seeing heavily gendered design in anything and everything period-related — a lesson that most of the products out there, from apps to tampons, seem to have missed. As Mashable writer Rachel Kraus says, “Please stop marketing my vagina to me in a color that reeks of stale marketing meetings, approachability, and tranquility. I’m not afraid of my period, and your app can’t tame it.”

Don’t make assumptions. With all of the sexual health products I’ve worked on, there is one resounding theme in the feedback we hear, especially from those potential users young enough to have grown up with smartphones: they expect their products to treat them like individuals, not like demographics or categories. Regardless of how our users identify, they are wary of anything that makes assumptions about their gender, lifestyle, and sexual activities — including the countless period trackers that default to treating them as cisgender women with male sexual partners.

Don’t be the usertalk to them. It can be tempting to build products that solve the problems that are most familiar — especially when you’re building a period tracker as woman who’s experienced your fair share of periods. But it’s crucial to remember that, as someone working on a product, your own experience is only the tip of the iceberg, and your best guesses about what other people want often say more about you than they do about your potential user. Getting ongoing user feedback, especially if you’re supporting experiences that people often keep private, is invaluable. Whether you’re building something on your own or as part of a big company, find as many opportunities as you can for your team to get some perspective from the people your product will serve. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it will get you out of your own head and broaden your point of view.

It’s not one-size-fits-all. Periods are the most normal thing in the world (at least, for those of us who have had one — some dudes seem a little scared?), but that doesn’t mean there’s any “normal” period experience. We talked to some people whose flow came like clockwork and never bothered them. Others got debilitating cramps, and were using birth control to manage their symptoms even if they weren’t worried about preventing pregnancy. Some identified as men, and struggled through gender dysphoria with each cycle. And others still had mostly stopped having their periods thanks to birth control like the implant or hormonal IUD, which can reduce or eliminate periods for many users, and suddenly found themselves feeling a little nostalgic for that monthly marker.

The most important lesson? Whether it’s a cherished marker or one to be avoided, there is no single way to get a period — and our technology has to make room for the full spectrum of experiences.

We Asked 5 Sexual Health Experts What Made ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Such a Revolutionary Resource

We Asked 5 Sexual Health Experts What Made ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Such a Revolutionary Resource

Earlier this month, the group responsible for publishing the long-running sexual health resource Our Bodies, Ourselves announced that it would no longer produce new editions. The website will also no longer be updated and will instead show excerpts from the book, archived reporting from the last 12 years, and information about the history of the book.

The book was originally published in 1970 under the name Women and Their Bodies as a 193-page booklet. Put together by a group of women first known as the Doctor’s Group, then the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (and now Our Bodies Ourselves), it was a revolutionary resource, thanks to its accurate and honest depiction of women’s health topics, including detailed information about reproductive anatomy and abortion. A year later, the title was changed to Our Bodies, Ourselves and, in 1973, the first commercial edition was published by Simon & Schuster, opening it up to a much wider audience.

Since then, it has been consistently updated every few years and translated into 31 languages. It’s become a staple in many women’s lives—something you might grab out of curiosity from your parents’ bookshelf as a kid or something your mom might gift you once you got to a certain age.

So, certainly, for anyone who grew up with Our Bodies, Ourselves, the announcement felt like the end of an era. But it’s also a sign that the way we seek out information and the wealth of information that’s available has evolved considerably since the book was first published nearly 50 years ago. And, at this point, there are many other ways to get that kind of information (hello, Internet).

Below, we spoke with five sexual and reproductive health experts about how Our Bodies, Ourselveshelped shape their ideas of women’s health and how we can help pass those ideas along to younger generations.

It’s hard to overstate the legacy of a book that’s impacted women’s lives for nearly five decades.

Our Bodies, Ourselves was the women’s health book for decades,” Debra Herbenick, M.D., professor and director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, tells SELF. “Many people don’t know this, but when it was first published, the collective of women who made it priced it incredibly low in order for the most number of women to be able to access it.” It was originally sold for just 75 cents.

Our Bodies, Ourselves is one of those rare books that generations of women can recall shaped their early sense of their bodies and their sexual and reproductive health,” she says.

Bodies in the book were realistic and authentic—rather than sexualized or pornographic.

“I remember reading Our Bodies, Ourselves cover to cover before I had even had my first period, which was probably the mark of a future gynecologist,” Gillian Dean, M.D., senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, tells SELF. “It was hugely important to me, it gave me a powerful feeling of being in control of some very important information and was a resource to me as I looked ahead to the changes that I was going to be going through.

“I’m sure it [impacted the way I practice medicine], I certainly came across it at a very formidable time,” she says. “I remember things like, in the ’70s, pen-and-ink drawings with all of the hyperrealism, the bodies with their different shapes and hair and in all of their real material humanness. And that really was part of why it was so powerful, because it didn’t provide an idealized image of people’s bodies and sexuality, but just a very real one that was nonetheless very positive and embracing without having to resort to something airbrushed or pornographic.”

The book covered all aspects of sexuality—not just safe sex, but also pleasurable sex.

“It really was a critical book,” Lauren Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. “When it came out it was the very first time there was a book that was frank, that looked at women’s sexuality in a way that was medically accurate and that was accessible to women, taking away the mystery behind it. For a lot of women this was really their only source of information, they certainly weren’t getting it in sex ed, they weren’t getting it from their doctors. And if not for Our Bodies, Ourselves they would have had no source of this critical information to help them navigate through these reproductive issues and even something as simple as normal anatomy.”

At the time it was originally published, marital guides—which contained information about how to keep your husband happy—were common. But Our Bodies, Ourselves “took a very different approach,” Dr. Streicher says. There were other books out there that explained safe sex or what happens in terms of the reproductive cycle, but this one also covered “the element beyond that, [which] is pleasurable sex, pleasurable intimacy,” she says. “This was about what you need to know as a functional mature woman in terms of your own body, your own sexuality, and your own reproductive functions.”

It encouraged everyone to take ownership of their body in a revolutionary way.

“I was privileged to work on an update of Our Bodies, Ourselves a few years ago and it’s difficult knowing where to start in reflecting on the impact of this ground-breaking publication,” Fred Wyand, director of communications at the American Sexual Health Association, tells SELF.

“The title itself gives insight into the value, and Our Bodies, Ourselves is much more than a book, it’s a vision of empowerment and ownership in a world where women still often struggle for basic rights. Proclaiming ‘our bodies’ makes it clear that this ownership is fundamental to good health and reproductive justice. It is an honor to be associated with Our Bodies, Ourselves and we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.”

Having accurate knowledge about our bodies is the first step toward advocating for our health.

“Learning that Our Bodies, Ourselves will no longer be published struck me with a pang of grief,” Michelle Nichols, M.D., a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells SELF. “This iconic book of the women’s liberation movement was born from a brave group of women’s desires to empower other women through education.”

“By learning about the anatomy, functionality, and health of female bodies, it emboldened a generation of women to advocate for themselves both in health care as well as in society at large.”

And that’s something we can’t let ourselves lose sight of.