Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Testosterone, the Pope, and ‘Happy Endings’

Martha Kempner

This week, a study says testosterone replacement therapy may increase risk of cardiac issues; the pope asks Catholics across the world to weigh in on contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce; and San Francisco lawmakers make it very clear that there is to be no sex in massage parlors.

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

Testosterone Treatment May Raise Cardiac Risk

Testosterone replacement treatment may have a dangerous side effect, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers analyzed data from the Veteran’s Association medical system, looking at the history of over 8,700 veterans who underwent an angiography between 2005 and 2011 and also had low testosterone levels. They divided the men into two groups: those who used testosterone therapy after the procedure and those who did not. They found that even after adjusting for coronary artery disease, testosterone therapy was associated with a greater risk of dying from any cause, as well as a greater risk of myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke three years after angiography.

Experts say this new study should serve as a warning to men and their health-care providers. Testosterone replacement therapy is big business in part because of direct-to-consumer advertising. According to the study’s authors, there were 5.3 million prescriptions for testosterone therapy in 2011, which represents a five-fold increase from 2000, and a new-found $1.6 billion market for drug makers.

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Steven Nissen, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic who is skeptical of this new demand for testosterone, told MedPage Today that a “fall in hormone levels in both men and women is a normal part of aging; it is not necessarily a disease. Making it into a disease may end up causing more harm than good.”

The new study does have some limitations both because it was retrospective and because it relied on VA records. Veterans are known to be at higher risk for a number of health problems than the general population. More research needs to be done, but in the meantime men may want to think twice before they beg for treatment for “low T,” and health-care providers might want to think twice before they agree to write that script.

The Pope Wants to Know What Catholics Think About Sexuality and Contraception

The Vatican has sent out a survey asking national bishops’ conferences around the world 38 questions designed to determine how they and their parishioners feel about contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and premarital sex.

The survey is being sent out in preparation for a meeting called by Pope Francis to discuss the “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” to be held in October next year.

Archbishop Bruno Forte, who will serve as the secretary for next year’s meeting, said the questionnaire is part of a “broad and deep process of listening to the life of the church and of the most pressing challenges posed to her.”

There Will Be No “Happy Endings” in San Francisco

While it may have already seemed clear that paying for sex as part of your massage services is not legal—because, you know, paying for sex is not legal—at least one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thought the city needed to explain it just a little better. Supervisor Katy Tang says that the existing codes are vague and hard to enforce. She authored legislation that spells out penalties, including fines and the revocations of permits, and makes it clear that business owners—not individual masseuses—are the ones who will be punished.

Tang’s law, which also requires masseuses to wear photo identification while working, passed this week. According to the San Francisco Gate, “Tang said she authored the legislation in part because a measure she helped craft four years ago as a legislative aide isn’t doing enough to stop prostitution and human trafficking.”

Whether it becomes law in the city is now up to the mayor.

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.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: ‘Global Warming’ May Equal Cooling in the Bedroom

Martha Kempner

This week, a Spanish town did not actually hold a clitoris festival, an economic analysis fears that as global temperatures rise our sex lives (and birth rates) will suffer, and new research suggests veterans suffer from sexual dysfunction.

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

No, a Spanish Town Did Not Host a Clitoris Festival

As Pontes, a small town in Northwestern Spain, hosts an annual festival celebrating rapina, a green leafy vegetable similar to spinach. A glitch in Google Translate, however, led some web visitors to believe the festival had a very different theme.

The problematic word turned out to be “grelo,” which in Galician Spanish refers to this locally grown vegetable. Google Translate did not recognize it, however. Instead, it interpreted it as the Portuguese word grelo, which means clitoris. So when a portion of the website was translated from Galician Spanish to Castilian Spanish, the description of the festival read, “Since 1981, the festival has made the clitoris one of the star products of the local gastronomy.”

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Google Translate is not done by humans. It’s done by computers that look for patterns in millions of documents to make the best translation. Since Portuguese is a much more common language than Galician, the mistake is easy to understand.

Nonetheless, the people of As Pontes were not amused. Town Hall spokesperson Monserrat Garcia told the Local: “It’s a very serious error on the part of Google and we are thinking about making an official complaint for Google to properly recognize the Galician language so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

“Global Warming” May Lead to Cooldowns in the Bedroom

The hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the increasing frequency of super storms are all related to climate change, sometimes known as “global warming.” According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, we may soon be adding less sex to the list of things affected by the planet’s rising temperature.

Though the concept may seem like a stretch, the math is actually pretty simple. Researchers looked at 80 years of fertility data next to 80 years of temperature data. The trends were clear—when it’s more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside on any given day, fewer babies will be born ten months later, suggesting that less was going on inside the bedroom.

A “hot day” like this, according to the researchers, leads to a corresponding 0.4 percent drop in birth rates or 1,165 fewer babies born in the United States. Couples only make up 32 percent of that when the temperature cools down. This means that a long-term warm up could actually cause a decrease in the already shrinking birth rate in this country.

The paper, titled Maybe Next Month? Temperature Shocks, Climate Change, and Dynamic Adjustments in Birth Rates, uses severe scenarios predicted by climate scientists, in which there are 64 additional days above 80 degrees in the United States between 2070 and 2099. If this happens, the researchers anticipate a 2.6 decline in the birth rate, or 107,000 fewer babies born in the country. This, as Bloomberg Businessweek notes, could be disastrous for the economy.

From a political standpoint, this is yet another reason to work on policies that might stem or even reverse climate change. And from a personal one, it might be a good idea to invest in central air conditioning. According to the researchers, an increased use of air conditioning inside may have compensated for some fertility losses that rising heat would have caused since the 1970s.

New Research Suggests Veterans May Be Likely to Experience Sexual Health Issues

New research emerged this week suggesting that many of those returning to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from sexual health issues. About 18 percent of U.S. veterans at one post-deployment clinic screened positive for sexual dysfunction, but experts think it might be higher given the reluctance many people have to talk about sex.

The study is based on responses given by nearly 250 veterans who received routine physical and mental health assessment at a post-deployment clinic run by Veteran’s Affairs in Houston. Veterans were asked to rate their level of function or impairment in five areas related to sexuality: libido, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction. Males were also asked about erections and females about vaginal lubrication.

The average age of respondents was 31, most were male, and more than half said they did not have a primary romantic partner. The results, published in the journal Sexual Medicine, found that one in four veterans reported serious impairment in at least one area of sexual functioning.

The researchers noted that there may be a variety of reasons for this, including prescription medication use, the stress of deployment, and the difficulty of returning home. Female veterans and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were more likely to report sexual dysfunction.