Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Do It for Denmark, But Don’t Charge It to Your Credit Card

Martha Kempner

This week, a travel company launches a racy and playful ad asking Danes to get pregnant for their country, a credit card processing company refuses to work with an online condom retailer, and the STD app Hula comes under fire.

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

Do It for Denmark

“Close your eyes and think of England” was apparently given as advice to Victorian-era women about how to “get through” intercourse with their husbands, which they were obligated to do but supposedly wouldn’t want or enjoy. Today, a travel company in Denmark has an idea that is better but no less patriotic: It wants couples to “Do It for Denmark.”

Of course, there’s a little catch—they’d like you not just to do it but to get pregnant in the process. You see, Denmark, which has been rated one of the happiest countries on the planet, is facing its lowest birth rate in decades, with just ten babies born to every 1,000 women in 2013. (For comparison, the birth rate in the United Sates, which is also at its lowest ever, is 62 babies to every 1,000 women.)

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In a new ad campaign that is making a global splash, travel company Spies Rejser notes that the government does not know how to fix this problem but suggests that it does. Using statistics of unknown origin, the campaign says that Danes have 46 percent more sex while on vacation and that 10 percent of Danish children are conceived on holiday. So it is asking young Danish couples to take a vacation, have a lot of sex, and return home knocked up.

In case people need more convincing, the company has added some incentives. Couples get a discount on their trip if they take it when the woman is ovulating, which is their most fertile time of the month. Plus, couples who can prove that they conceived on a trip can enter to win three years of free baby stuff and a family-oriented vacation once the kid is born.

Don’t worry, though; the ad is not just for heterosexual couples of reproductive age. Over pictures of an older couple, a gay couple, and some intertwining body parts, the ad notes, “But what if you already did your duty. Or what if your chances of conceiving a child are not so high? Well look at it this way: It’s not just about winning. All the fun is in the participation.”

When they put it that way, maybe we should all do it for Denmark!

Hula App Under Fire

Hula is a free app available for iPhones and Androids that helps people locate sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing services and then translates the results into easily understandable language, storing them so users can share their status with potential partners. Public health experts have expressed mixed feelings about the app; while they are pleased that it encourages STD testing and helps people find services in their area, some worry about the privacy issues involved in letting an app store medical information. Others have pointed out that sharing negative test results may give partners a false sense of security. The results are time-stamped so users can’t lie about when they were last tested, but even recent results could be inaccurate if a person has had unprotected sex since he or she was tested.

The newest round of criticism against the app, however, is not about how it works or whether it is a good way for couples to communicate about STDs; it is about the application’s name. Three young people from Hawaii have started a Change.org petition, which argues that using the word Hula, and in particular the tagline “because it gets you lei’d,” is culturally insensitive. In their petition for a name change, the authors say it perpetuates negative images of Native Hawaiians: “The hula girl stereotype not only reduces Hawaiian women to purely sexual play things, but it presents the idea that the embodiment of Hawai’i and its culture is childlike and primitive.”

After providing a history of how Native Hawaiians have struggled to keep their culture alive, the petition notes, “In addition to the implied appropriation of a cultural practice that means so much to Native Hawaiians, the use of our culture in regards to STD awareness seems distasteful … [because] the arrival of Europeans exposed Native Hawaiians to foreign diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which consequently caused death and infertility.”

The CEO of the company, Ramin Bastani, has replied saying that he was glad to learn so much about the culture and promising to stop using the tagline. Bastani told the Associated Press, “We didn’t realize that it was offensive. We removed any connection to it.” He has no plans, however, to change the name of the app. Noting that they’re a small company that isn’t making any money yet, Bastani said, “We want to do the right thing. Changing the name, for us, doesn’t make sense.”

Credit Card Processing Platform Refuses to Work With Condom Company

Start-up condom company Lovability learned this week that Chase Paymentech would not handle its credit card transactions because processing sales for “adult-oriented products” on the platform is prohibited.

Retailers who want to accept payment by credit card—whether online or in brick-and-mortar stores—need to enter agreements with one or more processing platforms. For a fee, the processors make sure the buyer’s credit card is billed and the retailer is paid. Paymentech, which is run by JPMorgan Chase, is one of the largest processing platforms, having handled over 29 billion transactions in 2012 alone.

Lovability’s founder, Tiffany Gaines, who started the company as a way to discreetly sell condoms to women, said a representative told her on the phone that they would not work with her because doing so posed a “reputation risk” to the company. In an email to the company, Gaines argued, “There is nothing ‘naughty’ about my company’s mission of empowering women to take responsibility for their sexual health. Also, if condoms were taken out of the ‘adult’ category, perhaps more teenage women would feel comfortable being prepared with them. This would prevent the 300,000+ unwanted teenage pregnancies that happen in America each year.”

Gaines is, of course, right. Condoms should not be considered an “adult-oriented” product, especially if doing so makes them harder to obtain. Condoms are a hugely important tool in the public health battle against sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, and it is important that they be readily available to both adolescents and adults.

We also can’t help but think that Paymentech’s decision was a bit arbitrary. Condoms are available in drug stores and mass market retailers like Target and Walmart. In fact, actual adult-oriented items like vibrators are also found in such stores as well. Does Paymentech refuse to serve them?

Finally, we have wonder whether such a rule is good business. Grabstats tells us that $3,075.64 is spent on porn every second, and we’re sure only a fraction of that could possibly be done in cash. Just think of all the transactions fees Paymentech is missing out on.

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.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New York City Doesn’t Really Have a Masturbation Booth

Martha Kempner

This Week In Sex: Sex education gets controversial in Omaha, senior men need a refresher course on HIV risk, a new sex toy helps strengthen pelvic floor muscles, and NYC's masturbation booth is just a marketing gimmick.

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

School Board Meetings Get Heated as Omaha Updates Sex Ed for First time in 30 Years

For the first time in about three decades, the school district in Omaha, Nebraska, is updating its sexuality education program. In addition to including new scientific research on growth, development, and medications, the proposed curriculum includes discussions of gender identity and gender roles starting in sixth grade, a lesson on sexual orientation beginning in seventh grade, and information about abortion and emergency contraception in the tenth grade lessons on birth control. All of these topics had been previously excluded from the program.

Most members of the community seem to be on board with the possible changes. In fact, of the nearly 4,000 community members who reached out to the school district via phone or email, reported local television station WOWT, 93 percent supported the overall shift. But at recent school board meetings, the small minority who disapproved were very vocal, to say the least.

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Kathryn Russell, a former employee of the Omaha school district, argued that the change “rapes children of their innocence.” Another speaker bemoaned, “Marriages never make it into the picture of sex education in the schools.”

Still, school administrators argued that many of those opposing the changes were not actually members of the community.

School member Marque Snow told WOWT in December, “So that is the thing with controversial topics like this, is when you do open that up to the public, you get people who aren’t from the district or aren’t from the community commenting … and it kinda skews that view a little bit.”

Despite the controversy, at a meeting this week, the board voted unanimously to approve the changes to the fourth-grade, fifth-grade, and middle school curricula. The changes to the tenth-grade program were also approved with a vote of 8 to 1. Though the board had considered removing information on abortion and emergency contraception from the lesson plans, the package voted on this week still included these topics.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the board’s decision. Gwen Easton, a mother in the district, told WOWT, “I don’t think they spoke for 52,000 kids or their parents. I don’t. I think that they had their minds made up all along to what they were going to decide to do and it doesn’t matter whether parents like it or not because that is what they are telling parents: It doesn’t matter what they think.”

Older Men Who Pay for Sex Need Some Safer Sex Reminders

A survey of men who have paid for sex found that the older they were, the less likely they were to use condoms in those interactions.

Researchers from the University of Portland identified 208 men between the ages of 60 and 84 who had paid for sex and asked them about their sexual behavior, condom habits, and perceived risk of disease.

More than half of the men surveyed said they did not always use condoms with sex workers. Forgoing protection was most common when men were receiving manual masturbation or oral sex.

Many of the men did not perceive themselves to be at risk for sexually transmitted infections—three-quarters reported that they perceived their likelihood of becoming infected with HIV as “low” and only about 60 percent reported having been tested for HIV. However, the men who reported more unprotected sex acts did perceive their HIV risk to be higher.

In addition, 29 percent of the men reported having an “all-time favorite” sex worker with whom they had sex repeatedly. The researchers found that in these cases, men were more likely to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse. The lead study author noted in a statement, “There is a nearly universal perception that older men do not pay for, or even engage sexually with regular frequency. This view may contribute to a false sense of security for both clients and sex workers during their encounters, and may lead to less protective strategies than with younger purchasers of sex.”

Perhaps it’s time for a safer sex refresher course for, and about, seniors.

New Sex Toy Measures Pelvic Floor Strength

OhMiBod, a maker of high-end sex toys, recently released the Lovelife Krush exerciser designed to help women strengthen their pelvic floors. Suki Dunhan, the company’s founder, explained in a statement that most women lose strength in these muscles due to childbirth or just age. She added: “Our Lovelife Krush measures the pressure, control, endurance, and grip of [pubococcygeus muscles] and helps women strengthen them through training challenges.” This, she said, “can lead to stronger, more intense orgasms.”

The device, a small bulb inserted into the vagina, is Bluetooth-enabled and comes with access to an app that sets goals and guides users through a pelvic floor workout, during which they squeeze and release muscles.

Strong pelvic floor muscles not only aid in orgasm; they can also help women overcome issues such as vulvodynia and incontinence.

New York City’s New “Masturbation Booth” Is Nothing More Than a Marketing Gimmick

There have been a number of stories this week about a new “masturbation booth” being installed in New York City. The “GuyFi” booth was originally announced in a press release by the sex toy company Hot Octopuss. Adam Lewis, the company’s co-founder, said in the release, “At Hot Octopuss we are all about looking for new solutions to improve everyday life and we feel we’ve done just that with the new GuyFi booth. We hope the city’s men enjoy using the space we’ve created in whatever way they want.”

The structure consists of a phone booth modified with a wireless connection, black curtain, chair, laptop, and a Hot Octopuss ad.

Of course, public masturbation is illegal in New York City. As questions mounted about how real this was, the company backpedaled a bit. A spokesperson told Mashable: “We may be insinuating that these booths could be used in whichever way anyone would like to ‘self soothe,’ but the brand is not actively encouraging people to masturbate in public as that is an illegal offense.”

If the goal was publicity, this campaign was a success. If the goal was to create a good place for men to masturbate during the workday, well, they’re just going to have to keep looking.