Analysis Abortion

Get Real! Did I Break My Hymen with Masturbation?

Heather Corinna

You do not lose your virginity from masturbation. Nor does a woman lose her virginity because she's sexually excited, touches her own anatomy or talks about sex with others.

This article is published in partnership with Scarleteen.org.

prince_12 asks:

I hope you would be able to answer my message as soon as possible. It is very urgent. I have passed through the site and decided of asking you some questions maybe you could help me. I am an Indian girl. My age is 26 and I never had ever sexual intercourse because it is against our traditions here. A girl is not allowed until she is married. I never ever masturbated using machines or finger. I never ever touched my area down before. I even never knew anything about girls and guys masturbation. Here we are not taught about sex issues.

I entered accidentally one of the sex sites and most probably out of curiousity about a new thing, depression, and much free time. I started chatting dirty(no voice) with these guys and I watched some. I never did this before in my whole life really. I noticed that i gave water from under when I chatted dirty or watched a guy and I become very jelly like down there. I really never knew this is masturbation i am really ignorant about that. I did this only about two months but I chatted and masturbated several times in a day.

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Really I am very ignorant that this is how the girl masturbate. I chatted with several guys two days ago, and now i am very worried about my body. Until this moment, I still feel jelly like and watery from down inside for no reason. I am not chatting for two days and I still feel very jelly and watery from down. I also feel very hot from down. Also, I am entering bathroom many times in one day. I got very worried and afraid about my body. Why the water did not stop? Why do I still feel jelly like down? Why entering bathroom many times? Am I suffering an infection or something? I am very afraid about that. Also, Another important question came to my mind: May a girl break her hymen only from chatting dirty many times in a day for a month or two month. Really I never did this my whole life and I am very frustrated and afraid. I don’t want what I did out of ignorance, curiousity, and depression and only for a two month period affect my health negatively or break my hymen. Please tell me I did not break my hymen. And please tell me whether i should visit a doctor to see why i still give water from down or not? Is it a big problem? I am very afraid really and frustrated and not sleeping. I hope you answer my questions quickly it is very urgent. Thank you a lot in advance.

Heather Corinna replies:

Before I talk about anything else, I want to address a couple things right off the bat in the hopes that you will feel some quick emotional relief, and can let go of some of the fear and panic you’ve been living with.

What you experienced — that “water” or “jelly” — when you were chatting was most likely vaginal lubrication. When female-bodied people get sexually excited, when we get turned on, usually the vagina will start to self-lubricate, becoming more wet than usual. For those who get excited and choose to masturbate or have genital sex with a partner, that lubrication is part of what makes any kind of sex feel good. And because our vaginas clean and adjust themselves over cycles of several days at a time, it’s possible to get very lubricated one day, and a couple days later still find the consistency of your vaginal discharges is a little bit different. Changes in lubrication like that are not causes of vaginal infection.

I have yet to hear anyone define the loss of virginity as a woman getting excited, looking at or touching her own anatomy or talking about sex with others. I also have not generally heard anyone say that someone who masturbates is not a virgin, even in very traditional cultures or communities.

In cultures, communities or individual ethics where virginity is a big deal, what people usually mean when they talk about who is and who is not a virgin is who has or has not had a sexual partner. Usually when people say someone is a virgin, they mean they have not had any sexual partnerships. In some cases, they may allow for someone having had sexual partnerships, but not penis-in-vagina intercourse. In other words, a great deal of the time, people who espouse or subscribe to virginity as an idea define a virgin as someone who has not had penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse primarily, or more broadly, as someone who has not done any kind of genital sexual activity with a partner.

Virginity isn’t a medical condition: in other words, it has nothing to do with body parts or how yours may look or be. In medical reference books, we won’t find a definition of virginity like we’ll find for dermatitis or a given nerve or muscle, because virginity is neither a medical condition nor is it anatomical (a body part).

Those who think virginity is about the hymen, or that the hymen can show us who has and has not been sexual need to understand that that is simply not an accurate measure of who has or has not had sex, and the idea that it is is very outdated, and based on ignorance of women’s bodies. The hymen — now called the corona — is folds of thin, flexible membrane just inside the vaginal opening most female-bodied people have at birth. It gradually wears away over time through puberty and adulthood (through our normal vaginal discharges, menstruation, because of hormones, physical activity and yes, also with vaginal sexual activities), with or without any kind of sex. For sure, vaginal sex can speed up that process, but most people who have had vaginal sex once or twice will often still have at least some of their hymen. There are even women who have given birth with parts of their hymen still remaining before a delivery (birth), and still remaining after delivery. Even when a woman’s hymen is mostly worn away, small bits of it always remain.

Most female-bodied people who have started menstruating and been through some of the process of puberty will not have fully intact hymens anymore, even if they have not had any kind of sex OR masturbated. If the corona was not at least somewhat worn away — if small openings in it had not started to form — then a young woman would not have any menstrual flow, because it would be trapped behind that membrane. That can happen, but it’s rare, and when a hymen is that resilient, it often will not wear away with intercourse, either. Women with very resilient coronas need to have a minor surgery in order to engage in intercourse.

The hymen also actually doesn’t usually “break” at all, nor do most women bleed with first-time intercourse from a “broken” hymen. In other words, it is not usually all there, then through one action is all open, unless someone gets a severe genital injury or someone is forcibly raped, or has a partner for intercourse who is exceptionally rough with them. Even in those cases it won’t often “break” though parts of it may get torn in ways it would not otherwise. Instead, it gradually wears away, like water wears away the surface of a rock over time. But I can absolutely assure you that getting excited and chatting did not have any impact on your hymen.

Of course, the tricky part when it comes to a realistic conception of the vagina is convincing other people, particularly in cultures or communities where that idea is still pervasive and part of traditions (for instance, they may do Kukari ki Rasam in your area), and where the truth about female bodies is kept secret or rarely discussed. However, even in cultures where this idea can still be widespread, there are people questioning and opposing it and other dubious, sexist or harmful ideas about or approaches to virginity. For instance, in India, your National Commission for Women very recently questioned an action that was based in virginity beliefs and ideals. And international human rights organizations like Amnesty International — made of people of all cultures — have also spoken out in the past about virginity “tests” performed in some areas, particularly when performed publicly and/or by force.

Virginity, as we explain here often at Scarleteen, is an idea, and like many ideas, it tends to differ among people.

I don’t know how you define virginity, nor can I know how anyone you marry or how your family or community may define it. I’m afraid I can’t tell you how I define it, because personally, I don’t. The idea of virginity is not one I myself ascribe to or espouse because, in short, a) it often considers rape to be sex, stating rape survivors are not virgins b) it doesn’t take people who are not heterosexual or who have sex lives without intercourse, even after marriage, into account and c) it’s something that puts a character value or judgment on a person, usually only a female one, based on their sexual history alone, which I am not comfortable with and do not feel is respectful of people in my view.

But I don’t hear people defining masturbation as being about chatting — in person or online — or looking at something sexual, nor stating those things have anything to do with virginity. While those things can be part of what someone looks at or takes part in when they masturbate, masturbation is defined as touching one’s own body in some way for sexual gratification. In other words, if you were not touching yourself during all of this, you were not masturbating. If you were touching yourself seeking sexual gratification — in other words, you touched your own body in any number of ways because you felt the sexual desire to, and it felt sexually good to you to do that — then that was masturbation. Here’s one link that talks about ways that women masturbate if you want more information on that to get a better idea of what that often involves. But just getting wet from sexual excitement, just talking or looking at pornography or some kind of sexual video, those are both things which, by themselves, most people do not define as masturbation.

I don’t know why you’re going to the bathroom several times a day, but it is unlikely to be related to any of this. But if you feel you are urinating more often than is usual for you over several days or longer, and if urinating feels in any way painful, or if your vaginal discharges have radically changed lately (in color, in how much of them there is, or in scent), you certainly might consider a visit with your doctor. Women sometimes develop genital infections without having had any kind of sex at all, or without getting sexually excited. Infections like yeast infections or bacterial infections can happen just due to vaginal imbalances due to the way we have eaten, a soap we washed with, douching, or changes in the weather or our hormonal or insulin levels. In the case you do have an infection like one of those, I can assure you it had nothing to do with the experiences you’re so worried about and feeling ashamed of, so you also shouldn’t feel you need to tell a doctor about them if you don’t want to.

I can’t tell you what is or isn’t okay sexually when it comes to your culture, both because any one culture often has several different ideas or standards, and also because the kind of culture you’re in is so different than my own. Whatever I know about your culture is not the same as being part of it, so I have not had your same experiences, nor have I, as a Western woman far outside that culture, felt the same fears and pressures you do. I also can’t tell you how much or how little to choose to stick with your cultural standards: that’s always going to be a choice each of us has to make for ourselves, and we’re the only ones who can know what the right choices are for us. But it is a choice. There are a lot of things here in the Western world that are pervasive I don’t cotton with or sign on to, and while I certainly have more freedoms than a woman in a culture that’s more restrictive to women, you likely do still have at least some options yourself.

But what I can say, and I say with respect for all cultures, is that I think it makes a lot of sense to identify and question double-standards, like the idea that it’s okay in a given culture for males to think about sex or masturbate before marriage (or during or without), but not for women. I also think that however our cultures differ, you and I can probably agree that there’s nothing positive or of real benefit to you or anyone else in your feeling fearful and ashamed about your body or your sexual feelings and curiosities. It’s normal for people of all cultures and genders to be curious about sex, and it’s normal for people to have sexual desires and the desire to explore sexual curiosity in many different ways. I don’t think you have anything to be ashamed of.

You’ll want to figure out for yourself what you feel good about and don’t so you can decide what you’re comfortable doing from here on out. Did you were doing with the chats and watching videos leave you feeling good enough during those times and afterwards that you want to keep doing that? Or, did how you felt during and/or after leave you feeling a way you don’t like? How do you feel about whatever cultural traditions and ideas you want to be part of work or don’t with what you’ve been doing? When you think about all of that, you can figure out if this is something you still want to do or not. My view may well differ from yours or from that of some in your culture, but in my opinion, if you feel good about a sexual chat or about masturbating, and those are things you want to do, there isn’t anything wrong with doing those things, nor do they have anything to do with a marital relationship you are not yet in or with your character or how “pure” a person you are or are not.

I also think we can probably agree that if any of us are being held to certain standards by others, the very least we deserve is to be informed of what, exactly, those standards are. So, if you want to stick to your community standards about virginity until marriage, but aren’t clear what that all means, what I’d suggest is finding someone who you trust and feel is knowledgeable in your community and ask them to explain to you what they think it means, and what the standards you are being held to, or are asked to abide by, are. I know that it can be scary to ask those kinds of questions, and not everyone is open to answering them or will answer them without judgment, but I bet you can think of someone — an aunt, maybe, an older sister or a nurse — who is a good and safe person for you to ask, who will answer you without shaming you.

I’m going to leave you with a few more links that relate to the things you have asked here, and I hope they and my answer here will leave you feeling comforted, able to get some rest and able to be kind to yourself.

Looking, Lusting and Learning: A Straightforward Look at Pornography

 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Culture & Conversation Maternity and Birthing

On ‘Commonsense Childbirth’: A Q&A With Midwife Jennie Joseph

Elizabeth Dawes Gay

Joseph founded a nonprofit, Commonsense Childbirth, in 1998 to inspire change in maternity care to better serve people of color. As a licensed midwife, Joseph seeks to transform how care is provided in a clinical setting.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Jennie Joseph’s philosophy is simple: Treat patients like the people they are. The British native has found this goes a long way when it comes to her midwifery practice and the health of Black mothers and babies.

In the United States, Black women are disproportionately affected by poor maternal and infant health outcomes. Black women are more likely to experience maternal and infant death, pregnancy-related illness, premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Beyond the data, personal accounts of Black women’s birthing experiences detail discrimination, mistreatment, and violation of basic human rights. Media like the new film, The American Dream, share the maternity experiences of Black women in their own voices.

A new generation of activists, advocates, and concerned medical professionals have mobilized across the country to improve Black maternal and infant health, including through the birth justice and reproductive justice movements.

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Joseph founded a nonprofit, Commonsense Childbirth, in 1998 to inspire change in maternity care to better serve people of color. As a licensed midwife, Joseph seeks to transform how care is provided in a clinical setting.

At her clinics, which are located in central Florida, a welcoming smile and a conversation mark the start of each patient visit. Having a dialogue with patients about their unique needs, desires, and circumstances is a practice Joseph said has contributed to her patients having “chunky,” healthy, full-term babies. Dialogue and care that centers the patient costs nothing, Joseph told Rewire in an interview earlier this summer.

Joseph also offers training to midwives, doulas, community health workers, and other professionals in culturally competent, patient-centered care through her Commonsense Childbirth School of Midwifery, which launched in 2009. And in 2015, Joseph launched the National Perinatal Task Force, a network of perinatal health-care and service providers who are committed to working in underserved communities in order to transform maternal health outcomes in the United States.

Rewire spoke with Joseph about her tireless work to improve maternal and perinatal health in the Black community.

Rewire: What motivates and drives you each day?

Jennie Joseph: I moved to the United States in 1989 [from the United Kingdom], and each year it becomes more and more apparent that to address the issues I care deeply about, I have to put action behind all the talk.

I’m particularly concerned about maternal and infant morbidity and mortality that plague communities of color and specifically African Americans. Most people don’t know that three to four times as many Black women die during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States than their white counterparts.

When I arrived in the United States, I had to start a home birth practice to be able to practice at all, and it was during that time that I realized very few people of color were accessing care that way. I learned about the disparities in maternal health around the same time, and I felt compelled to do something about it.

My motivation is based on the fact that what we do [at my clinic] works so well it’s almost unconscionable not to continue doing it. I feel driven and personally responsible because I’ve figured out that there are some very simple things that anyone can do to make an impact. It’s such a win-win. Everybody wins: patients, staff, communities, health-care agencies.

There are only a few of us attacking this aggressively, with few resources and without support. I’ve experienced so much frustration, anger, and resignation about the situation because I feel like this is not something that people in the field don’t know about. I know there have been some efforts, but with little results. There are simple and cost-effective things that can be done. Even small interventions can make such a tremendous a difference, and I don’t understand why we can’t have more support and more interest in moving the needle in a more effective way.

I give up sometimes. I get so frustrated. Emotions vie for time and energy, but those very same emotions force me to keep going. I feel a constant drive to be in action and to be practical in achieving and getting results.

Rewire: In your opinion, what are some barriers to progress on maternal health and how can they be overcome?

JJ: The solutions that have been generated are the same, year in and year out, but are not really solutions. [Health-care professionals and the industry] keep pushing money into a broken system, without recognizing where there are gaps and barriers, and we keep doing the same thing.

One solution that has not worked is the approach of hiring practitioners without a thought to whether the practitioner is really a match for the community that they are looking to serve. Additionally, there is the fact that the practitioner alone is not going to be able make much difference. There has to be a concerted effort to have the entire health-care team be willing to support the work. If the front desk and access points are not in tune with why we need to address this issue in a specific way, what happens typically is that people do not necessarily feel welcomed or supported or respected.

The world’s best practitioner could be sitting down the hall, but never actually see the patient because the patient leaves before they get assistance or before they even get to make an appointment. People get tired of being looked down upon, shamed, ignored, or perhaps not treated well. And people know which hospitals and practitioners provide competent care and which practices are culturally safe.

I would like to convince people to try something different, for real. One of those things is an open-door triage at all OB-GYN facilities, similar to an emergency room, so that all patients seeking maternity care are seen for a first visit no matter what.

Another thing would be for practitioners to provide patient-centered care for all patients regardless of their ability to pay.  You don’t have to have cultural competency training, you just have to listen and believe what the patients are telling you—period.

Practitioners also have a role in dismantling the institutionalized racism that is causing such harm. You don’t have to speak a specific language to be kind. You just have to think a little bit and put yourself in that person’s shoes. You have to understand she might be in fear for her baby’s health or her own health. You can smile. You can touch respectfully. You can make eye contact. You can find a real translator. You can do things if you choose to. Or you can stay in place in a system you know is broken, doing business as usual, and continue to feel bad doing the work you once loved.

Rewire: You emphasize patient-centered care. Why aren’t other providers doing the same, and how can they be convinced to provide this type of care?

JJ: I think that is the crux of the matter: the convincing part. One, it’s a shame that I have to go around convincing anyone about the benefits of patient-centered care. And two, the typical response from medical staff is “Yeah, but the cost. It’s expensive. The bureaucracy, the system …” There is no disagreement that this should be the gold standard of care but providers say their setup doesn’t allow for it or that it really wouldn’t work. Keep in mind that patient-centered care also means equitable care—the kind of care we all want for ourselves and our families.

One of the things we do at my practice (and that providers have the most resistance to) is that we see everyone for that initial visit. We’ve created a triage entry point to medical care but also to social support, financial triage, actual emotional support, and recognition and understanding for the patient that yes, you have a problem, but we are here to work with you to solve it.

All of those things get to happen because we offer the first visit, regardless of their ability to pay. In the absence of that opportunity, the barrier to quality care itself is so detrimental: It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Rewire: How do you cover the cost of the first visit if someone cannot pay?

JJ: If we have a grant, we use those funds to help us pay our overhead. If we don’t, we wait until we have the women on Medicaid and try to do back-billing on those visits. If the patient doesn’t have Medicaid, we use the funds we earn from delivering babies of mothers who do have insurance and can pay the full price.

Rewire: You’ve talked about ensuring that expecting mothers have accessible, patient-centered maternity care. How exactly are you working to achieve that?

JJ: I want to empower community-based perinatal health workers (such as nurse practitioners) who are interested in providing care to communities in need, and encourage them to become entrepreneurial. As long as people have the credentials or license to provide prenatal, post-partum, and women’s health care and are interested in independent practice, then my vision is that they build a private practice for themselves. Based on the concept that to get real change in maternal health outcomes in the United States, women need access to specific kinds of health care—not just any old health care, but the kind that is humane, patient-centered, woman-centered, family-centered, and culturally-safe, and where providers believe that the patients matter. That kind of care will transform outcomes instantly.

I coined the phrase “Easy Access Clinics” to describe retail women’s health clinics like a CVS MinuteClinic that serve as a first entry point to care in a community, rather than in a big health-care system. At the Orlando Easy Access Clinic, women receive their first appointment regardless of their ability to pay. People find out about us via word of mouth; they know what we do before they get here.

We are at the point where even the local government agencies send patients to us. They know that even while someone’s Medicaid application is in pending status, we will still see them and start their care, as well as help them access their Medicaid benefits as part of our commitment to their overall well-being.

Others are already replicating this model across the country and we are doing research as we go along. We have created a system that becomes sustainable because of the trust and loyalty of the patients and their willingness to support us in supporting them.

Photo Credit: Filmmaker Paolo Patruno

Joseph speaking with a family at her central Florida clinic. (Credit: Filmmaker Paolo Patruno)

RewireWhat are your thoughts on the decision in Florida not to expand Medicaid at this time?

JJ: I consider health care a human right. That’s what I know. That’s how I was trained. That’s what I lived all the years I was in Europe. And to be here and see this wanton disregard for health and humanity breaks my heart.

Not expanding Medicaid has such deep repercussions on patients and providers. We hold on by a very thin thread. We can’t get our claims paid. We have all kinds of hoops and confusion. There is a lack of interest and accountability from insurance payers, and we are struggling so badly. I also have a Change.org petition right now to ask for Medicaid coverage for pregnant women.

Health care is a human right: It can’t be anything else.

Rewire: You launched the National Perinatal Task Force in 2015. What do you hope to accomplish through that effort?

JJ: The main goal of the National Perinatal Task Force is to connect perinatal service providers, lift each other up, and establish community recognition of sites committed to a certain standard of care.

The facilities of task force members are identified as Perinatal Safe Spots. A Perinatal Safe Spot could be an educational or social site, a moms’ group, a breastfeeding circle, a local doula practice, or a community center. It could be anywhere, but it has got to be in a community with what I call a “materno-toxic” area—an area where you know without any doubt that mothers are in jeopardy. It is an area where social determinants of health are affecting mom’s and baby’s chances of being strong and whole and hearty. Therein, we need to put a safe spot right in the heart of that materno-toxic area so she has a better chance for survival.

The task force is a group of maternity service providers and concerned community members willing to be a safe spot for that area. Members also recognize each other across the nation; we support each other and learn from each others’ best practices.

People who are working in their communities to improve maternal and infant health come forward all the time as they are feeling alone, quietly doing the best they can for their community, with little or nothing. Don’t be discouraged. You can get a lot done with pure willpower and determination.

RewireDo you have funding to run the National Perinatal Task Force?

JJ: Not yet. We have got the task force up and running as best we can under my nonprofit Commonsense Childbirth. I have not asked for funding or donations because I wanted to see if I could get the task force off the ground first.

There are 30 Perinatal Safe Spots across the United States that are listed on the website currently. The current goal is to house and support the supporters, recognize those people working on the ground, and share information with the public. The next step will be to strengthen the task force and bring funding for stability and growth.

RewireYou’re featured in the new film The American Dream. How did that happen and what are you planning to do next?

JJ: The Italian filmmaker Paolo Patruno got on a plane on his own dime and brought his cameras to Florida. We were planning to talk about Black midwifery. Once we started filming, women were sharing so authentically that we said this is about women’s voices being heard. I would love to tease that dialogue forward and I am planning to go to four or five cities where I can show the film and host a town hall, gathering to capture what the community has to say about maternal health. I want to hear their voices. So far, the film has been screened publicly in Oakland and Kansas City, and the full documentary is already available on YouTube.

RewireThe Black Mamas Matter Toolkit was published this past June by the Center for Reproductive Rights to support human-rights based policy advocacy on maternal health. What about the toolkit or other resources do you find helpful for thinking about solutions to poor maternal health in the Black community?

JJ: The toolkit is the most succinct and comprehensive thing I’ve seen since I’ve been doing this work. It felt like, “At last!”

One of the most exciting things for me is that the toolkit seems to have covered every angle of this problem. It tells the truth about what’s happening for Black women and actually all women everywhere as far as maternity care is concerned.

There is a need for us to recognize how the system has taken agency and power away from women and placed it in the hands of large health systems where institutionalized racism is causing much harm. The toolkit, for the first time in my opinion, really addresses all of these ills and posits some very clear thoughts and solutions around them. I think it is going to go a long way to begin the change we need to see in maternal and child health in the United States.

RewireWhat do you count as one of your success stories?

JJ: One of my earlier patients was a single mom who had a lot going on and became pregnant by accident. She was very connected to us when she came to clinic. She became so empowered and wanted a home birth. But she was anemic at the end of her pregnancy and we recommended a hospital birth. She was empowered through the birth, breastfed her baby, and started a journey toward nursing. She is now about to get her master’s degree in nursing, and she wants to come back to work with me. She’s determined to come back and serve and give back. She’s not the only one. It happens over and over again.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.