By Corinne Yank
According to the documentary, “Lets Talk About Sex”, 10,000 teens catch a sexually transmitted disease, 2,400 teen girls get pregnant, and 55 young people are infected with HIV in the US every day. Meanwhile, despite these alarming statistics, our educational and political culture blurs, obscures, and shrouds discussions of sex with denial, systematically oppressing comprehensive and preventative sex education within institutional settings. According to a study done in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comprehensive sex ed is declining in middle and high schools across the majority of the United States. And despite the fact that around 46% of high schoolers were found to be sexually active, many state programs focus primarily on promoting abstinence, rather than providing teens with real answers and options to reduce their risk and engage in safer sex.
By Ian Lekus
The first I learned of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, came from the signs and postcards around Fenway Health, Boston’s LGBT community health center. Those advertisements appeared as Fenway served as one of two U.S. research sites for PrEP, in advance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving Truvada in July 2012 as the first drug deemed safe and effective for reducing the risk of HIV transmission. As I started learning more, I quickly discovered how its advocates frequently compare PrEP to oral contraceptives. One PrEP researcher I consulted with early on in my investigations explicitly drew the parallel to her decision to use the Pill a few years earlier. Some of the similarities jump out immediately: for example, like oral contraceptives, PrEP -- a pill taken daily to prevent HIV infection -- separates prevention from the act of sexual intercourse itself.
By Lara Freidenfelds
What would you do if you desperately wanted to have a baby, and your spouse had HIV? In the mid-1990s, the introduction of highly-effective HIV drug regimens turned HIV from a death sentence into a chronic condition. People with HIV and their life partners could begin to imagine creating families and living to see their children grow up. But it was not until 2014 that researchers and policy-makers approved a prophylactic regimen that effectively protects against HIV-transmission even without condom use. (It still is not officially condoned for family-building purposes, but some physicians are willing to prescribe it for that purpose.) For almost two decades, HIV-discordant couples faced a special kind of infertility: it was childlessness caused by the threat of illness, by fear, and by a traumatized, cautious public health and medical community that could not move beyond its initial message, that “only condoms prevent HIV transmission.”
A new e-book, Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory over HIV, takes us into the lives of two couples who lived this history.
by Rachel Epp Buller
Creative stamp arrangements. Cross-stitched fallopian tubes. Knitted uteri. This summer’s social media circulation gave witness to all manner of artsy protests surrounding reproductive rights. Practitioners of this sort often call themselves "craftivists," a portmanteau that makes clear the use of craft for activist ends. ("Lactivism" indicates a similar word blend, regarding activists who mobilize around issues of lactation.) Guerrilla knitting, yarn bombing, yarn storming, and granny graffiti are all terms in the craftivist lingo (some lovely examples of which can be seen here). To get their message out, craftivists often work in public spaces - sometimes in a guerrilla, dead-of-night manner - and their colorful, even fanciful creations can provide a non-threatening point of entry for public discussion of serious issues. In July and August this year, craftivists made sneaky appearances at Hobby Lobby stores around the U.S. to leave art-based messages for the retail giant as well as for their fellow crafters.
by Carolyn Herbst Lewis
I have a not-so-secret weakness for historical fiction series. I think, in some roundabout way, this is what started me on the path to studying history. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, John Jakes' North and South series as a tween, and it's been my genre-of-choice ever since. But there is one series in particular that really is my favorite. Maybe even an obsession. I have no idea how many times I've read and reread the now eight volumes in the series. I've even considered going on one of those themed-vacations, where you visit sites featured in the books. It's that bad. My obsession, I mean. The books are simply that good.
When I say that I'm talking about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I imagine that most of you who have read the books will know what I am talking about. I say "most" because I have heard that there are people who have read the books and didn't like them. Seriously, what's not to like? There is adventure. There is drama. There is time travel. There is really great sex. Unlike so many other titles in this genre, the storyline and many of the characters are decidedly feminist. I could go on, but I think I've gushed enough to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Here I actually want to focus on a particular facet of the series: Gabaldon's careful attention to the history of medicine.
By Jenna Tucker
I grew up in a culture obsessed with sexual ethics. As part of a group of Christian teenagers in the Midwest in the 1990's, one thing we all knew, for certain, was that our religious and moral identities were directly linked to our relationships to sex. It was the culture that birthed virginity pledges and organized for abstinence-only sex education. I remember going to one of those Protestant mega-gatherings with youth groups from all over the country. The speaker gave us two messages that I carry with me to this day. The first was that we had to stop relying on our parents' beliefs and develop our own relationship to God. The second was that we should not have sex and that anything that gave us sexual pleasure was sex. He was trying to head off our questions. Sex was bad, but what was sex? Could we have sex that didn't risk pregnancy? Could we masturbate? What if we were engaged?
by Nicole Foti
You may have noticed the recent hype surrounding the “little pink pill” or “pink Viagra,” a pill used to treat female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, a condition affecting nearly 50 million women nationwide. The FDA’s latest rejection of the drug flibanserin has caught the attention of a number of media outlets and women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), who are questioning the motives behind this decision. Why does the FDA refuse to approve any drugs for women with sexual dysfunction, while men have five to choose from, plus another nineteen generic brands of these drugs? After reading many articles indicating that FSD was, in fact, an epidemic affecting millions of women (possibly myself included) and that the FDA was being outright sexist in their reluctance to approve drugs to treat it, I decided to do a little research. Instead of finding answers though, I seem to be left with questions. One in particular is: what are we treating here anyways?
by Nicole Lock
I didn’t discover my clitoris until I was a freshman in high school. It may have been mentioned in some measly sexual education class, but it definitely failed to register as the only organ with a purely pleasurable function. If the teacher had mentioned that over 8,000 nerve endings exist on the clitoral glands alone, while the internal structure had bulbs and legs that were also sources of pleasure, my ears definitely would have perked up. The clitoris has a history of being glossed over, not just in sexual education courses, but also in medical research. It wasn’t until 1998, when urologist Helen O’Connell published her findings regarding the internal structure of the clitoris, that the medical world finally had a true understanding of its size and scope. The organ, so central to female pleasure, has endured a long history of cultural and social norms that have hindered its appreciation and understanding. The Western history of the clitoris has many lessons to teach us about the ways female sexuality has been misled, discounted, oppressed, and even enjoyed.
By Thomas A. Foster
Many Americans could tell you that George Washington was tall and that he had false teeth. Why? Although he is disembodied in national symbols such as the portrait on the one dollar bill and the massive obelisk and the capital city that bear his name, Americans are no strangers to George Washington’s body. The history of representation of his physical body illustrates neatly the ways in which the body informs norms of manhood and how masculinity has long been part of his popular image and even our national identity.
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
One of the writing assignments that I use in my American women’s history class is a series of primary document analyses. Each one uses a different digital database or archive to locate a document and analyze it using course materials. I like to imagine this is building twenty-first century research skills and teaching responsible use of the Internet, as well as our more traditional goal of critical thinking skills. As I was constructing the assignment, I explored several digital repositories, including the North American Women’s Letters and Diaries collection from Alexander Street Press. In the process, I stumbled upon an item that very quickly sucked me in. I had no choice but to drop everything else and read it very, very carefully.