Be the Change You Seek

Scott Swenson

I've been signing my emails with the "Be the change you seek" paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi for many years. It is an every day reminder that change starts within. The challenge with change is you don't always know where you're going, or what exactly within you is changing, until you get there. But you take the first step, sometimes a leap, following where your heart leads when opportunity knocks, and change reveals itself.

I'm thankful I answered the knock as my heart led me to RH Reality Check almost four years ago.

I’ve been signing my emails with the "Be the change you
seek" paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi for many years. It is an every day reminder
that change starts within. The challenge with change is you don’t always know
where you’re going, or what exactly within you is changing, until you get
there. But you take the first step, sometimes a leap, following where your
heart leads when opportunity knocks, and change reveals itself.

I’m thankful I answered the knock as my heart led me to RH
Reality Check almost four years ago.

Another challenge with change is people come and go. In
sexual and reproductive health terms, some might consider me promiscuous,
sleeping around with different movements, more interested in the rush of new
love than long-term commitment.  I’m
hoping instead you’ll see me as the quirky boy/girlfriend we always think of
fondly, thankful for the lessons we learn together, recognizing everyone comes
into our life for a reason, and some for only a season. Some relationships aren’t
meant to last, but can still be enjoyed.

Instead of specializing in one issue area, I’ve had the
tremendous good fortune to work with leaders in three. People helping to ease
transitions out of physical life in the Death with Dignity movement; philanthropists
working for equal rights no matter how we find love in this life, regardless of
sexual or gender identity at the Gill Foundation; and most recently with the
fascinating world of sexual and reproductive health, how we transition into
physical life.

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I consider myself a mid-wife in this latest role, bringing
Rewire from concept to reality, knowing from the start I was to
facilitate the process, then let nature takes its course. The gestation period
was a little longer than anticipated, but as with any healthy delivery, the
pain resulted in joy.

We started with a simple concept: build a community of
experts sharing their evidence-based research in easily accessible articles so
more people have facts upon which to make the best decisions about public
policy, and in their own sexual health.

Along the way we found a loyal community of readers that
continues to grow. We built Rewire into one of the leading health,
civil liberties and political blogs as measured by Technorati, and established
it as a go-to resource for mainstream and new media.

As important as those monitors of success are, life is best
measured by the people we meet along the way and how they touch our lives.  In this regard, I am a wealthy man.

David Harwood and Ellen Marshall, the co-founders of RH
Reality Check, are two of the hardest working, most dedicated souls I know.
Thankfully after four years working closely our friendship is stronger for the
tests we’ve shared.

Ian Cairns is a visionary translator of the potential
between advocacy and technology, a Godsend for non-techies like me. He now
works with Development Seed, Rewire’s original designers, with the
brilliant mind of Eric Gunderson.

Tyler LePard lifted Rewire from intriguing blog to
community resource by skillfully coordinating content and adding her own unique
voice to the mix.  Tyler now works on communicating these and
other issues at the Gates Foundation. 

Amie Newman’s excellent writing on a range of reproductive
health issues is exceeded only by her amazing ability to create, nurture and
sustain relationships upon which the site’s growth will continue. 

Brady Swenson’s technological vision and creativity propel
Rewire forward – and you ain’t seen nothing yet.  He’s not only my nephew, though one far-right
luminary once suggested in comments on the site that we were married, he’s also
a great friend and colleague.

Emily Douglas led a shift from our initial blog style toward
a more journalistic enterprise; coordinating, assigning, and developing
original reporting. Emily is now at The Nation.

When we contracted with Amanda Marcotte as a columnist we
signaled we weren’t going to be shy, her wit and pulls-no-punches writing and
podcasts continue to stir the blogosphere. 

Cristina Page’s courageous assertions, in her writing on a
wide range of reproductive health issues, as well as in her efforts seeking
common ground in one of the most contentious issues in politics today, are
significant contributions to our success.

Margaret Conway’s leadership of an enhanced and improved
Communication’s Connection currently in development will further the site’s
role as neutral convener and technology leader.

Finally, Jodi Jacobson’s keen political sense and
provocative style have elevated our political coverage and currency. Jodi will
succeed me as Editor. Since the day I started, each of the people above will
laughingly attest, I’ve said I was not the right person to lead this site.  I knew Rewire’s ultimate success
depended upon someone with expertise on the issues taking it over. The proof is
evident this year, our most successful yet, as Jodi led the site while I
focused on other issues.

That we’ve done all this working in different cities across
four time zones, and feel as close as we do as a team, is a testament to each
person who came aboard uncertain what we were doing, where we were going. They
simply opened their hearts to change.

Each of these people – and many other writers in the US and
around the world equally part of this team – are proof positive that in life,
the right people always show up when you need them most. You never know who
they will be when change begins, but the best teachers are the people you are
with in the moment. I’m thankful for the moments shared with these talented
people, and everyone who is fulfilling a vision of individuals making wise
decisions about sexual and reproductive health based on respect,
responsibility, and what’s best for their health and life.

What fascinates me now are the intangibles in the three
issue areas in which I’ve worked. The science only takes us so far in
discussing transitions in and out of life. As miraculous as it is, science is
just a revelation, a quest by man to explain and understand. Life asks
questions that go beyond the evidence science provides and for many that’s
where faith comes into play.  Too many
people confuse faith with judgment.

Each of us comes to our beliefs in our own way, just as we
find our unique expression of love with and for others in this life.  Faith is not a narrow concept or dogma, and
like change, starts within.  Faith is
often more evident in our good works than words. Rewire is chock full
of words that are evidence of many people’s good works, compassion and efforts
to help inform and lift others. Even if people don’t speak of their good works
in the framework of faith, these words and the good work that goes into them
express the deepest kind of faith, our ability to learn, grow and be better
tomorrow than today.

I’ve been writing about these intangible ideas as part of
the change I’m seeking. It’s leading me someplace, not sure where yet, I’ll let
you know when I get there.

Until then, be the change you seek, and know that starts


News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

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.