Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: A Comprehensive Approach to Unintended Pregnancy, Mandated Breastfeeding, and Sex After Breaking Up

Martha Kempner

This week, the United States could learn a lot from a UK town about preventing unintended pregnancies, the United Arab Emirates is mandating that women breastfeed their children for a full two years, and a study looks at sex after breakups among college students.

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

Lessons From the UK on Reducing Unintended Teen Pregnancies

Sexuality educators and public health experts have long argued that reducing unintended teen pregnancy rates takes an all-hands-on-deck approach—one that combines sexuality education, contraceptive access, and public education. One town in the United Kingdom, which was once considered the “teen conception” capital of England, has done just this and has seen a 42 percent drop in teen pregnancy over the last decade.

In 1998, 218 teens under age 18 in Swindon gave birth, but by 2011-2012 the number was down to 118. The teen pregnancy rate (referred to in the UK as the teen conception rate) dropped to 25.2 per 1,000 young women under 18, which is lower than the national rate for England of 29.4 per 1,000 young women.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

This sharp drop is largely credited to a community-wide effort to educate young people about contraception and give them access to methods. The Swindon Health Centre holds dedicated clinics each week for those under 20, but more than that, outreach nurses visit young people at home, school, and college. Resources have also been dedicated to making long-acting reversible contraceptive methods (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, available, as these methods are the most effective in preventing pregnancy.

Schools are also playing an important role. Sex education has been prioritized and school nurses have been drafted into the efforts. Nurses work to connect young people to outside services, but they also provide education and advice as well as emergency contraception and condoms.

This is the kind of holistic approach that communities here in the United States should be trying, and while some are, all too often such efforts (especially those that make condoms and contraception available at school) become controversial and are cancelled because of misplaced fears that they will increase sexual behavior.

United Arab Emirates Mandates Breastfeeding

The United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council has passed a clause to a child rights law requiring new mothers to breastfeed for a full two years. The clause allows men to sue their wives if they don’t breastfeed.

The benefits of breastfeeding, especially in the newborn phase, are well-known and widely accepted. Most major medical associations around the world, including the World Health Organization, recommend breastfeeding and call on governments to make policies that support women in their efforts to do so. These organizations do not, however, suggest that women be forced to breastfeed.

The law is said to apply only to women who can breastfeed, but it is unclear who makes that determination for individual women. It states that women who are prohibited from nursing for health reasons will be provided with a wet nurse, but some critics have questioned how this arrangement will work, practically speaking. It is also not yet known whether the rule will mean that formula—which many mothers rely on either instead of or in addition to breast milk—is no longer legally sold in the country.

In an editorial in The National, a local breastfeeding advocacy group expressed concern over the law:

As a group we wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding should be encouraged and that the sentiment is a good one that clearly follows international guidelines. However, as many of the new mothers we encounter are already under significant pressure, we are concerned that enacting a law that leaves mothers facing potential punishment could be a step too far.

It goes on to say:

It is our opinion that, while encouraging women to breastfeed is a laudable aim, it is by supporting those who can and want to breastfeed, and not by punishing those who can’t, that we will reap the benefits we all want to see in our society.

I expressed a similar opinion in an article for Rewire after a British program announced plans to monetarily reward low-income women who breastfeed for six months. We should encourage breastfeeding with supportive policies and practices, but we should not make women feel guilty for making another choice, and we certainly should not punish them for it.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, So College Students Turn to Sex 

new study looks at sex after breakups. Researchers asked 170 University of Missouri students who had recently ended serious relationships to keep an online daily journal of their distress levels, their self-esteem, and their sex lives for one semester. Two-thirds of the newly single students reporting having sex during the ten-week study. Of those, 54 percent had sex with someone else they had hooked up with in the past, 26 percent had sex with someone totally new, and 20 percent had sex with their ex. Those who had sex cited both getting over their ex and getting back at him/her as their motivation, but soothing sadness was more common than revenge. The study also found that those who were most distressed by the breakup (often those who were broken up with) were more likely to have sex as were those who were just out of relationships that lasted more than a year.

There is a little bit of good news for the romantics out there, especially those who are fond of sex with their ex: Some participants had to drop out of the study because after having rebound sex with their ex, they got back together.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week In Sex: Middle Schoolers Get Condoms, Some University Students Don’t Use Them

Martha Kempner

This week in sex, the San Francisco School Board voted unanimously to approve condom availability for middle school students, agencies provide new advice on Zika virus, and a survey of University of Minnesota students found fewer of them are using condoms these days.

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

San Francisco School Board Votes to Make Condoms Available in Middle School

The San Francisco school board voted unanimously to make condoms available to middle school students despite opposition from some parents. The proposal was put forth by the district’s superintendent after a survey found that while 5 percent of middle school students are sexually active, fewer than 40 percent of those students are using condoms. Board Member Rachel Norton told the San Francisco Chronicle“This is not a giveaway program. They are going to be in a private, controlled space with an educator. This policy really is about the handful of students that really need it.”

Some parents and community members, however, argued that this would encourage sexual activity in other young people. Victor Seeto, issues chairman of the Chinese American Democratic Club, said, “The program’s message says sex is normal, is acceptable, but disease is bad. Let us strengthen the family and not weaken it.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Nikkie Ho, a parent in the district, told local media, “We’re talking about between 11 and 14 years old. And they are not ready for it, so I don’t think this is appropriate.”

Others were supportive of the plan. One mother pointed out, “It’s latex; it’s an inanimate object. It’s not going to tell my kid what to do. I don’t see what the problem is.”

District officials believe this is an opportunity to engage students in discussions about their reproductive health. They are so committed to making condoms available that parents are not allowed to opt out of the program.

Research shows that allowing students access to condoms does not increase sexual behavior but does increase condom use. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that schools are an important place to make condoms available.

Advice Differs on Zika Virus Found in Sperm and Breast Milk 

Zika virus is mainly spread by mosquitos but, as with other viruses, it has been found in both sperm and breast milk of infected people. As of now, however, only sperm is considered a possible route of transmission and breastfeeding women in affected areas are being told to continue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating 14 cases in which the Zika virus appears to have been sexually transmitted. All of these cases involve possible infections in female partners of men who recently traveled to areas with Zika outbreaks. Several of the women are pregnant.

Zika virus is usually mild with symptoms that last about a week, such as fever, joint aches, and a rash. The virus, however, may be linked to a condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that can cause temporary paralysis. In addition, researchers are trying to determine what link, if any, Zika has to an alarming number of babies born in Brazil with microcephaly, a birth defect in which the head is much too small.

The CDC is advising that men who have traveled to regions affected by Zika either abstain from sex or use condoms during sex with pregnant partners.

In contrast, the World Health Organization urges women in infected regions to continue breastfeeding despite evidence of the virus in the breast milk of at least two mothers. The WHO said that scientists still don’t know how much of the virus is present in breast milk and for how long it might remain there. Researchers also question whether mothers who have had Zika can pass along protective antibodies through their breast milk.

Despite these unknowns, the WHO says that for babies exposed to Zika after birth, there have been no reported cases of brain damage or neurological problems. Therefore, the agency believes that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks and is encouraging women in Zika-affected areas to continue.

Condom Use at All-Time Low for University of Minnesota Students

The University of Minnesota wants its students to use condoms to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Like many schools, it makes condoms available free of charge at various places around campus. But a survey says that condom use among students is down and, not surprisingly, STIs are up.

The survey was done with about 2,000 students, none of whom were married or in long-term committed relationships. It found that only 52 percent used a condom the last time they had sex. This is down from 60 percent just five years ago. The number of students reporting an STI diagnosis is, in contrast, up from 6 percent in 2013 to 9 percent this year.

On-campus health center officials do not know for sure what has prompted the drop in condoms use, but speculate that increased access to other forms of birth control (such as the IUD) and a decreased sense of urgency about HIV may be part of the cause.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Surprises Involving Foot Cream, a Homecoming Queen, and George H.W. Bush

Martha Kempner

This week, researchers are hopeful after a common topical anti-fungal medication is found to kill HIV-infected cells, a transgender high school student experiences highs and lows after being named homecoming queen, and President George H.W. Bush is a witness at a same-sex wedding.

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

Could the Answer to the HIV Epidemic Already Be in Your Foot Cream?

Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey announced this week that a common anti-fungal drug is able to “kill” HIV cells, or more accurately make the cells kill themselves. The drug, Ciclopirox, is a topical cream frequently prescribed by dermatologists and gynecologists to treat fungal infections. In cultures, the researchers found that it inhibits the expression of HIV genes and blocks the essential function of the mitochondria, which reactivates the cell’s suicide pathway.

As the researchers explain, cells naturally have a tendency to destroy themselves when they become damaged or infected in order to protect healthy cells, but one of the things that makes HIV so persistent is that it blocks this altruistic natural instinct. In cultures, Ciclopirox was able to reactivate the suicide pathway of infected cells without affecting healthy cells in any way.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Even more promising is that the HIV cells did not rebound after the treatment was stopped. The researchers point out that while antiretroviral medication can suppress HIV, an individual must take them for life as the effects wear off quickly once the medication is stopped. Michael Mathews, the lead researcher on the study, told CNET, “The key thing these drugs do is, unlike anti-retrovirals in the current clinical arsenal, and there are lots of them and they have controlled this disease pretty successfully, these drugs kill the HIV-infected cell. That’s what’s so new and so promising about it.”

It is not yet clear how this drug ultimately will be used in the fight against HIV—it could be a topical application that prevents transmission, or researchers could try to find a way to administer the drug throughout the body’s systems as a way to cure HIV. This discovery is still a long way from being used as a treatment or prevention method, but researchers hope they can move forward at a more rapid pace than human trials usually do, because the drug has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and proven safe in humans.

Transgender Student Named Homecoming Queen

Cassidy Lynn Campbell had a very emotional night last Friday when she won the popular vote among students and became this year’s homecoming queen at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California. Campbell is transgender; she has been living her life as a girl for the last three years. She has been very public about her transition, posting frequent YouTube videos that show her putting on make-up and making her own long-haired wig. She told local news channel KTLA that when she won, “I instantly just dropped to the ground and started crying. I realized it wasn’t for me anymore and I was doing this for so many people all around the county and the state and possibly the world and I am so proud to win this not just for me, but everyone out there.”

Unfortunately, her joy was somewhat short-lived as she says she was subjected to a good deal of bullying and “ignorant lies” that night. She posted a tearful video to her YouTube channel in which, still wearing her sash and tiara, she cries, “I’m always judged and I’m always looked down upon. … Sometimes I wonder if it’s even worth it and if I should just go back to being miserable.”

Campbell, however, seems to have bounced back quickly. She told Reuters that she realized the comments other people made about her were “based on ignorance” and not something she would dwell on or take too personally. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve had the time to look at the situation and evaluate it more.”

Campbell is not the first transgender girl to have won the homecoming queen title—in 2009, Jessee Vasold was named homecoming queen at the College of William and Mary—and she will likely not be the last. Her victory comes just a month after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring public schools to allow transgender students to choose which restrooms to use and whether to join the girls’ or boys’ sports teams.

Former President George H.W. Bush Witnesses Same-Sex Marriage

Though his press office was quick to say that his presence was the act of a private citizen and was not meant to be not a political statement, it was still interesting to see pictures of former President George H.W. Bush at a same-sex wedding (in two different colored socks no less).

Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, owners of HB Provisions, a Kennebunk, Maine, general store, got married last weekend in Maine, where same-sex marriage became legal last December. The former president and his wife, Barbara Bush, who have a compound in the town and strong ties to the community, not only accepted their wedding invitation, but President Bush served as an official witness and signed their marriage certificate.

Same-sex marriage had not yet become a hot-button issue when Bush was in office, and he has not vocalized an opinion, but members of his very political family have differing thoughts on the subject. His son, President George W. Bush, supported a constitutional amendment that would permanently ban same-sex marriage. The younger Bush’s wife, Laura, and daughter, Barbara, however, have both come out in support of marriage equality, as has his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has an openly gay daughter. Jeb Bush, who may try to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother and run for president, has taken the political middle ground, saying the decision should be left up to the states.