Roundup: FactCheck.org Disproves Claims in McCain Sex Ed Ad

Brady Swenson

FactCheck.org says "Don't believe it" about McCain sex education ad; Teen pregnancy rises in Arizona and around the country; AIDS infection rate doubles for Michigan youth; Demonstrators oppose Colorado's personhood amendment; Check out a selective roundup of recent coverage on Sarah Palin.

FactCheck.org Says "Don’t Believe It" About McCain Sex Education Ad … Yesterday the independent web site FactCheck.org published its review of the recent McCain-Palin ad attacking Obama for supporting "legislation to teach ‘comprehensive sex education’ to kindergartners." The ad insinuates that Obama supports teaching explicitly about sex to kindergarten aged students.  FactCheck reports that the bill Obama supported in the Illinois legislature included provisions to teach an "age-appropriate" curriculum starting in kindergarten to address issues such as "inappropriate touching"  to help students recognize sexual assault and rape.  Obama explained his understanding of "age-appropriate" sex education in 2004 when asked about it by Alan Keyes, his opponent for the U.S. Senate:

We have a existing law that mandates sex education in the schools. We want to make sure that it’s medically accurate and age-appropriate. Now, I’ll give you an example, because I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergartners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who suffered abuse at that age. So, that’s the kind of stuff that I was talking about in that piece of legislation. 

The FactCheck piece goes on to list several other education bills that Obama supported and even co-sponsored to dispute the ad’s claim that the sex education bill was Obama’s "one accomplishment."  FactCheck concludes by noting several quotes shown in the ad that were taken out of context and includes a quote from a blog response by Steve Chapman, the author of one of the quotes taken out of context:

… the ad itself doesn’t bother explaining how the candidates differ on school vouchers, the subject of my column. Instead, it insults our intelligence by expecting us to believe that Obama thinks kindergartners should be taught how to use condoms before they’re taught to read. Right. And Joe Biden eats puppies for breakfast.

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Teen Pregnancy Rises After a Decade of Decline … Arizona newspaper the East Valley Tribune reports that teen pregnancy in the state of Arizona has risen dramatically in recent years after a decade of steady decline:

From 1996 to 2006, the overall teen pregnancy rate in Arizona fell by
31 percent, but increased 4.7 percent from 2005 to 2006. Over the same
decade, the birth rate for 18- and 19-year-olds increased by an
unprecedented 13.3 percent.

At least one professional working in the field blames a lack of education on the troublesome rise:

"They don’t really understand how their bodies work," said Bronwyn
Paes, director of the pregnancy and parenting program. "They’re not
protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections. They aren’t
using condoms."

Of course the rise in teen pregnancy is a national phenomenon not limited to Arizona.  A great piece in the student newspaper of the University of Maryland reminds us that the nation’s highest profile teen pregnancy should compel us to discuss the problem of rising rates of unplanned teen pregnancy:

With the revelation that Sarah Palin’s underage, unwed daughter is
pregnant, both political parties are clamoring to pronounce that her
family is off limits to the political debate.

While on its own this is a noble notion, we as a nation are missing
an opportunity to have a real discussion on the high rate of unplanned
teenage pregnancies in this country. The latest surveys show that the
united States led the industrialized world in unplanned teenage
pregnancies.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC),
the rate for those ages 15-to-19 was 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. The
estimated annual cost just for 1996 can be broken down as follows:

Teenage
mothers cost the country an additional $2.2 billion annually in welfare
and food stamp benefits, medical care costs are an added $1.5 billion,
foster care expenses are increased by $900 million. In addition, the
government loses about $1.3 billion a year in tax revenues from the
reduced productivity of women who bear children as teens. Exactly how
effective our government response has been to this crisis is debatable.

The major debate currently dealing with this issue is exactly how
effective the $10 billion spent by the federal government on
abstinence-only education over the last ten years was. Long term
studies have shown that abstinence-only education will not prevent kids
from experimenting with sex any later than other more traditional forms
of sex education.

 

AIDS Rate Doubles for Michigan Youth … Rising unplanned pregnancy is not the only reproductive health problem facing teens in America today.  New numbers from better tracking methodology recently released by the CDC show that teens in Michigan and around the country are increasingly contracting HIV:

The epidemic is much worse nationwide than the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention previously estimated and it’s growing at a
troubling rate among youth and young adults in Metro Detroit.

In
Michigan, where an estimated 18,000 are living with HIV/AIDS, the rate
for those ages 13-24 has almost doubled from 5.7 to 9.7 cases per
100,000 residents from 2002-2006, based on Michigan Department of
Community Health data.

The CDC previously estimated about
40,000 new HIV cases each year. But better tracking technology has
raised that by 40 percent to 56,300 new cases in 2006, according to a
recent report by the Journal of the American Medical Association. More
than a third of new infections are people ages 13-29.

 

Demonstrators Oppose Colorado Personhood Amendment Saying it "Goes Too Far" … Protestors objecting to Colorado’s proposed Amendment 48, that would define personhood as beginning at conception, demonstrated yesterday:

Opponents of Amendment 48 gathered inside the Tivoli Center at the
Auraria campus Wednesday to kick off their campaign and blast the
measure as going "too far" in its attempt to legally define personhood.

Waving signs echoing that sentiment, about 80 people cheered when
Ryan Osmond arrived with his wife and young daughter to speak on behalf
of those who used in-vitro fertilization to conceive.

Osmond said that by defining an egg at the moment of fertilization
as a person and by giving it full protections under the state
Constitution, the proposed amendment could "open the door to prevent
in-vitro pregnancies."

"It creates legal uncertainty," he said.

 

The Day’s Sarah Palin Coverage … The nomination of Gov. Sarah
Palin for Vice President has caused quite a stir.  Everyday since her
nomination the media coverage of the election has been dominated by
journalists and Opinionators trying to find out more about and define
the public’s perception of this new arrival on the national political
scene.  The past 24 hours have been no different. Carla Marinucci asks
in SFGate asks "In a presidential race in which unexpected factors like
lipsticks and
pigs have driven questions about sexism and feminism, a central
question remains: What do women want?
Rosemary Compesano of WomenCount.org remains confident that women want
a debate on the issues they care about, not made up controversies:

Camposano said women need to stay with issues and not get distracted by such media-created controversies.

"We’re going to quickly grow weary of the accusations of sexism,"
she said. "Women know when they’ve been attacked … and when it was
questioned if (Palin) could be a good mother, that was sexism.

"But is it sexism to use these kinds of stupid phrases? It’s
troubling we’re talking about ‘lipstick on a pig’ over whether Sarah
Palin has any capability to bring wage equality and in ensuring health
care for children and child care programs for women who work.

"It’s about where she stands on the issues," said Camposano. "There, we have a real opportunity to debate."

David Crary, writing for The Associated Press, notes that the selection of Palin has re-energized the abortion debate, especially for those who oppose the right:

Veteran leaders in the anti-abortion camp say they have never before
seen the degree of enthusiasm that greeted Palin’s selection as John
McCain’s Republican running mate. She opposes abortion even in cases of
rape or incest, and lived out her convictions by bearing an infant son
she knew had Down syndrome.

Madeleine Kunin, in the Huffington Post, reminds voters that the McCain-Palin ticket would likely threaten Roe v. Wade
considering McCain’s promise to select justices "in the mold of
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas" and Palin’s opposition to
abortion even in cases of rape and incest. 

The Editorial Board of the New York Times published a word of warning about Palin’s "pro-family" posturing yesterday afternoon saying that her political rollout has successfully portrayed her as "the country’s new No. 1 mom":

The explicit, implicit, and unavoidable message from all the oratory
and the family stagecraft was that Governor Palin understands and cares
deeply about the issues that moms care about, like children, health
care, and education.

But the Editorial Board warns that "people who follow such issues
closely in Alaska say her record as governor suggests otherwise,"
including the failure to expand funding for a successful program that
provides health insurance to pregnant women and children.

Palin’s selection has also generated debate about the amorphous idea
of Feminism and how she does or does not fit into it.  Today Rebecca
Traister of Salon wrote about her personal emotional reaction to the
selection of Palin and explains her belief that the election of McCain-Palin would ultimately be a detriment to the advancement of women and her idea of feminism.  

Real Clear Politics published a piece this morning by Victor Davis
Hanson, a historian from Stanford University, in which Hanson claims
that Sarah Palin has challenged what he believes to be a limited idea
of feminism that has emerged in recent years and believes that Palin’s story is one that should be celebrated according to the "old" idea of feminism that "in its essence feminism still was about equality of opportunity."

 

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.