Roundups Abortion

Sexual Health Roundup: An App to Diagnose STDs, No Condoms as Evidence in D.C., and No Sex Ed for Utah Parents

Martha Kempner

Think you might have an STD? There's an app for that. Plus more sexual health news from the past week.

Sexual Health Roundup is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Pimple or Sexually-Transmitted Disease? There’s an App for That

STD Triage, a new app developed by a Swedish orthopedic surgeon, allows users to take pictures of suspicious spots on their genitals and send them to a licensed dermatologist in Europe. For a $10 fee, the doctors will look at the photos, evaluate the user’s symptoms, and give a few possible diagnoses and recommendations for treatment. If the doctors can’t provide a diagnosis or treatment recommendation, users are told to see a doctor and given a map of nearby clinics. According to the app’s designer, about 70 percent of users are given treatment advice and told to see a doctor if the symptoms persist or get worse, while 30 percent are sent directly to a doctor.

The app is an outgrowth (pun intended) of iDoc24, a service that allows people to submit pictures of worrying birthmarks and moles. The apps’ designer, Alexander Börve, told Wired that he was inspired to develop STD Triage when he realized that a surprisingly large number of iDoc24 users (30 to 40 percent) were sending pictures of spots on their genitals.

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I’m all for encouraging testing and treatment of STDs, but this worries me a bit. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it really the best way to get an STD diagnosis? A number of STDs may not be visible to the naked eye (or smartphone camera), either because they are too small or on an area like the cervix that can’t be photographed. And then there’s the issue of picture quality. The app’s developers say that even though 10 percent of the pictures they get are poor, the accompanying explanation of the symptoms allows doctors to figure out a diagnosis.

The app is being promoted as a way to calm people’s fears about STDs, but I can’t imagine it doing that, because the only acceptable answers I can imagine are, “You have herpes. Go see a doctor.” or, “You have symptoms of an unknown disease. Go see a doctor.” A doctor telling me via an iPhone app, “Oh, that’s nothing” wouldn’t do much to stop my hypochondriacal tail spin.

Even in this high-tech world, we should stick to some low-tech advice about genital health: If you find a sore that you haven’t seen before or anything starts itching, burning, or dripping, go to the doctor!

D.C. Police Department: Condoms Can’t Get You Arrested

As we’ve reported at Rewire, police in New York and other cities around the country and world have been known to use the possession of condoms as a factor in determining whether there’s probable cause to arrest someone for prostitution-related crimes. A 2012 Human Rights Watch report found that police in Washington, D.C., had informed sex workers that they could be arrested for carrying three or more condoms at a time. Moreover, police had reportedly been confiscating condoms from sex workers and suspected sex workers. This is so very ridiculous, especially in a city with one of the highest HIV rates in the country.

Whether it was ever official or not, that rule has now been officially shunned by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The department has started distributing “Know Your Rights” cards to sex works and officers. They say:

–The MPD supports the distribution of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
–Individuals are allowed to carry as many condoms as they want. There is no “three condom rule.”
–MPD officers cannot conduct a stop or conduct a search of a person or premises based on whether or not that person possesses condoms.

The cards also provide a phone number that individuals can call if they want to file complaints against police officers. This seems like a step in the sensible direction.

Utah’s Sex Education for Parents Bill Laughed Out of the Chamber

Last year, Utah state Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden) proposed legislation that would offer sexuality education to parents and then allow parents to choose whether their children receive similar education in school. His ultimate goal, unfortunately, was not to educate parents but to see more of them opt out of school-based sex education classes for their children. Reid said that after a failed attempt to make sex education in Utah’s schools even more restrictive (the state already has one of the most restrictive laws in the country), he wanted to bring the discussion back to the importance of parental responsibility for teaching this subject.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously, but was literally laughed off the House floor by fellow Republicans, many of whom felt that developing an online resource for parent sex education would be a waste of state time and resources. Rep. Bran Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) said, “There is an abundance of materials that would allow a parent, if they are so inclined, to choose a curriculum they were comfortable teaching their children. I don’t think this is going to encourage parents to do that. I think this is simply going to be a use of resources that could better be used in another area.”

Rep. Spencer Cox (R-Fairview) held up a smartphone during the debate and jokingly referred to it as a “magic box” through which parents can already learn how to teach kids about sex. He went on to say, “I know the old adage in marketing is that sex sells and maybe as a legislature we continue to feel the need for this type of attention. I just really don’t understand why we continue to walk down this path.”

Other legislators expressed concern that children would be able to access the information. However, perhaps the oddest speech of all came from Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden), who held a baby girl during his remarks and said he “wasn’t totally comfortable with the effort.” He reportedly also drew laughs from his fellow Congressmen.

Sex may sell, but it also seems to reduce elected officials to a room-full of seventh graders, complete with giggling, joking, and maybe even blushing. Yet these are the people who decide what actual seventh graders should (and should not) learn.

Update: Sex Ed for Kindergartens Passes in Chicago

Last week I reported that the board of Chicago Public Schools, the third largest public school district in the country, was set to vote on a curriculum change that would make sex education start in kindergarten instead of fifth grade. Good news: the rule passed the board.

Under the new plan, students in kindergarten through third grade will learn about their anatomy and appropriate and inappropriate touching and that all living things reproduce. Fourth graders will focus on puberty, HIV, and AIDS. Conversations about human reproduction, contraception, and abstinence will still not take place until after fifth grade. Let the early learning begin!

News Sexual Health

Alaska Republican’s Campaign Against Sex Ed Reaches ‘Peak Desperation’

Nicole Knight Shine

Gonorrhea and chlamydia rates have surged in the state. Alaska reported 808 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2011—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla) practically pulled an all-nighter this week to write legislation designed to dismantle school sexual health education in a state with the nation’s highest chlamydia rate.

No friend to sexual health curricula, Dunleavy crafted his newest measure one day after his bill to restrict sex education in Alaska schools, SB 89, met defeat in the House Health and Social Services Committee. The measure would have prohibited Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from teaching sexual health courses in Alaska schools.

The committee rejected it 5 to 2 amid public outcry from parents and the state union representing 13,000 teachers.

Then on Wednesday, Dunleavy introduced an amendment to an education bill that, in essence, bars anyone who isn’t a certificated teacher from providing sexual health instruction in schools.

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Dunleavy on Wednesday told the Senate Education Committee, which he chairs, that he “stayed up most of last night” to craft the newest attempt to gut sex education.

Dunleavy’s amendment requires the school board to vet and approve sex education curricula and allows parents to review the lessons. It includes language barring anyone who isn’t a teacher in the school where the instruction takes place from teaching about sexual health.

The provision has the effect of banning nearly all doctors, public health nurses, pharmacists, teenage peer educators, and Planned Parenthood instructors from teaching.

The bill, with Dunleavy’s amendment, now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education. The state senator insists that teachers are best equipped to offer sexual health instruction in a state where advocates say evidence-based health education is sorely needed.

“We’ve been clear that sex education should be taught, reproduction education should be taught and the new concept that I think a lot of us are learning about—sexuality—probably should also be touched upon,” Dunleavy told the Alaska Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, as the Juneau Empire reported. “Sex education is the biology. Sexuality is now the new view of sex. I think we’ve got to be very careful, very careful that we have the right people in there.”

Gonorrhea and chlamydia rates have surged in the state. Alaska reported 808 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2011—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is also higher than the national average.

Explaining his rationale for SB 89 on the Senate floor in February, Dunleavy said, “Most parents don’t send their kids to school to be trained by abortion providers. They don’t want their children indoctrinated in public schools, and that’s what’s happening. This is a process of indoctrination.”

“Mike Dunleavy has reached peak desperation, staying up all night to come up with his worst idea yet,” Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said Thursday in an emailed statement. “Make no mistake: this amendment may be a different method from SB 89, but it has the same result of barring Planned Parenthood’s sexual health educators from Alaska schools and making it harder for youth to access the information they need.”

Dunleavy recently inserted language in another bill, SB 191, to penalize teachers who use sexual health materials from abortion care providers. The legislation is awaiting committee action.

2014 study in the Journal of School Health, which examined Massachusetts’ Planned Parenthood sex education programs, showed that 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls had sex between the sixth and eighth grades in schools that taught the programs, compared to students in schools without them.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Can an Orange a Day Really Keep Viagra Away?

Martha Kempner

This week in sex: Tinder adds an STI test locator, research shows a connection between HPV and oral cancer, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help with erectile issues, and the Brits weigh in on the ideal number of past sexual partners.

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

Tinder Adds a Sexual Health Landing Page, But It’s Not So Easy to Find

Amid criticism that online dating is increasing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Tinder agreed to add a sexual health page to its website and app—but some outlets argue that it’s not at all user-friendly.

Tinder and other apps like Grindr have been targeted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) as a culprit in rising STI rates. The California-based advocacy organization, famous for its long battle to make condoms mandatory in adult films, paid for billboards in New York City and Los Angeles implying that users of the apps are potentially exposing themselves to chlamydia and gonorrhea. The billboards pointed people to freestdcheck.org, an AHF-run site that provides information on STIs and helps people locate testing facilities.

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Tinder responded to the billboard with a cease and desist order from the company’s attorneys that read, in part, “These unprovoked and wholly unsubstantiated accusations are made to irreparably damage Tinder’s reputation in an attempt to encourage others to take an HIV test offered by your organization … While Tinder strongly supports such testing, the [b]illboard’s statements are not founded upon any scientific evidence, and are incapable of withstanding critical analysis.”

AHF did not immediately back down. On Jan 21st, the two organizations agreed to a settlement: Tinder agreed to add an STI test locator to its website and AHF agreed to take the down the billboards.

The end result, however, may leave users no more informed than they were before. Newsweek points out that the locator is nothing more than a link to an outside website operated by Healthvana and that the link is hard to find. Newsweek notes, “On the mobile app, where Tinder really happens, you [need] to click on the settings button on the top left, then click ‘help & support,’ transfer over to a Web browser, click on ‘health safety’ and then scroll down to the STD locator link.”

In short—locating the link may be just as difficult as it was to locate a clinic without it.

New Study Confirms HPV-16 Increases Risk for Head and Neck Cancers

A study published this month in JAMA Oncology finds that the presence of a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the mouth leads to an increase risk of oropharyngeal cancer. In two studies, 97,000 participants provided mouthwash samples proving they were cancer-free at the beginning of the research. Scientists followed the participants for four years and identified 132 cases of head and neck cancers that emerged. They then compared the original samples of each of these people with those of participants who did not develop cancer during the four years, and concluded that the presence of one strain, HPV-16, in the mouth put people at as much of a 22-fold increased risk of developing head and neck cancer.

Though HPV is known to be transmitted through oral sex, the study does not specifically mention transmission methods.

This was the first time studies have found that the HPV-16 virus precedes these cancers. Researchers warn, however, that this study is not sufficient to prove that HPV-16 specifically caused the cancers that were found.

Another Reason to Eat Your Fruits and Veggies: Better Erections

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating a diet rich in flavonoids may be as good for erectile health as walking briskly for two to five hours a week. Flavonoids give fruits and vegetables their bright colors. The study examined three types of flavonoids: anthocyanins, which are found in blueberries, blackberries, cherries, radishes, and red wine, and flavanones and flavones, which are both found in citrus fruits.

The results showed that men who ate foods high in these nutrients were 10 percent less likely to have erectile problems. And they didn’t have to ingest huge quantities; just a few portions a week.

This correlation, however, is not enough to prove that an orange a day will keep the Viagra away. It is possible that the men who had these fruits in their diet were leading an overall healthier lifestyle than those that didn’t. Still, if a handful of blueberries and a glass of red wine might help get (or keep) you hard—what’s the harm?

Survey Says Ten Sexual Partners in a Lifetime Is Just Right

A new survey of adults in Britain attempted to determine how many lifetime partners adults thought was ideal for a new partner to have had. One thousand adults weighed in: Overall, a person who had more than ten partners was considered promiscuous, but fewer than that and they were perceived as sexually inexperienced.

Interestingly, the survey was conducted by IllicitEncounters.com, a British website that helps people have extramarital affairs. It’s unclear whether the respondents cared how many of those ten partners were in long-term relationships at the time of their new partner’s experience with them.