Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Prostate Cancer Sexually Transmitted? And State STI Rankings

Martha Kempner

This week, a new study presents evidence that the parasite that causes trich might lead to prostate cancer, a new list shows the best and worst states for STIs, a Gallup poll shows the most support ever for same-sex marriage, and gay rights activist Harvey Milk is honored with a stamp.

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

Could Prostate Cancer Be Sexually Transmitted?

There is precedence for the idea that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause cancers: We know that two strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers and that the virus is likely responsible for the recent rise in head, neck, and throat cancers as well. Now researchers are suggesting that an STI may also be responsible for cases of prostate cancer.

Researchers at the University of California infected human prostate cancer cells with the common STI trichomoniasis (known as trich). They found that the parasite that causes trich produced a protein that promotes the growth of both benign and cancerous prostate cells.

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There is other research to suggest a connection between prostate cancer and trich; a 2009 Harvard study found that a quarter of men with prostate cancer had trich, and those who did had more advanced tumors.

Even when put together, however, these studies are not enough to confirm that prostate cancer is indeed caused by trich. In fact, Nicola Smith, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC that previous evidence in patients failed to show a clear link between prostate cancer and this common STI.

More research is clearly needed, as 233,000 men in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and there are an estimated seven to eight million cases of trich annually. It is important to remember that unlike HPV, trich can be cured with antibiotics. Moreover, consistent and correct use of condoms can prevent infection in the first place. If confirmed, these results could suggest that some prostate cancers would be preventable.

Which States Have the Most STIs?

We know that while there is an STI epidemic in this country, incidence and prevalence of infections are not evenly distributed throughout the 50 states. Some states and regions have far worse track records than others. The good folks at Nerd Wallet recently culled the data and put it all together in an easy-to-read list of the best and worst states when it comes to STIs.

To calculate the ranking, they looked at the prevalence of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. All three of these STIs are reportable to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which means we have a clear picture of how many cases of each disease have been diagnosed in each state. The states were ranked according to prevalence of each STI, and then the rankings were added together to get the overall score. (In the case of a tie, the final ranking was made based on the state’s chlamydia rate, because that is the most frequently reported STI.) Though this should be obvious—since we are looking at it from the point of view of humans and not pathogens—the “best” states are those with the fewest cases of STIs.

The five best states are: West Virginia (48th for chlamydia, 41st for gonorrhea, 49th for syphilis); Maine (49th for chlamydia, 44th for gonorrhea, 43rd for syphilis); Vermont (46th for chlamydia, 46th for gonorrhea, 44th for syphilis); Utah (47th for chlamydia, 45th for gonorrhea, 42nd for syphilis; Wyoming (37th for chlamydia, 50th for gonorrhea, 46th for syphilis); and Montana (35th for chlamydia, 48th for gonorrhea, 50th for syphilis).

The ten worst states are: North Carolina (tenth for chlamydia, sixth for gonorrhea, 24th for syphilis); New York (11th for chlamydia, 16th for gonorrhea, seventh for syphilis); Texas (13th for chlamydia, 13th for gonorrhea, sixth for syphilis); Illinois (ninth for chlamydia, tenth for gonorrhea, eighth for syphilis); and Arkansas (seventh for chlamydia, seventh for gonorrhea, ninth for syphilis).

This list provides some good information for state lawmakers, who can and should be doing a better job ensuring education about sexual health and providing sexually active people of all ages access to condoms and other contraceptive methods needed to prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs.

Support for Same-Sex Marriage at All-Time High

This week, in the latest of a series of decisions paving the way for same-sex marriage across the country, a judge in Pennsylvania struck down that state’s ban. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is running for re-election, says his administration will not challenge the decision. While that would seem unheard of a few years ago, other Republican governors—including Chris Christie in New Jersey, Susanna Martinez in New Mexico, and Brian Sandoval in Nevada—have also decided to stop fighting same-sex marriage.  A new Gallup poll suggests this is a wise move, as support has reached an all-time high.

Gallup has been asking the same question since 1996: “Do you think that same-sex couples should be or should not be recognized as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?” The first time the question was asked, 68 percent said no and only 27 percent said yes. In 1999 the needle moved a tiny bit, with 62 percent saying no and 35 percent saying yes. In 2004, 55 percent said no and 42 percent said yes. Though the number changed incrementally from there, by 2011 there was a cross-over, with more Americans supporting same-sex marriage than opposing it.

The newest poll, conducted in May, shows the mirror image of what was going on just one decade ago: Now, 55 percent of Americans believe that same-sex marriages should be valid, and only 42 percent said they should not be.

Harvey Milk Stamp Released

Last week, on what would have been his 84th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp featuring a picture of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country. Milk, an outspoken advocate of gay rights who had been elected as a city supervisor in San Francisco, was assassinated along with the city’s mayor in November of 1978. In a White House ceremony dedicating the stamp to Milk, Postmaster General Ronal Stroman said, “Harvey Milk joins other civil rights pioneers who have been honored with stamps including Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez.”

Anne Kronenberg, who served as campaign manager during Milk’s run for office and is the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, joked at the ceremony, “During our campaign we didn’t have enough money for postage. So Harvey, here you are today on a United States Postage stamp and I say this is a wonderful thing because you will be there forever.”

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: Women Want More Sex Than Men Think, and Who Needs a $15K Vibrator?

Martha Kempner

This week, there's not enough of an important syphilis drug to go around, a new study shows that men don't know how much sex their female partners want, a beer company unveils a new same-sex marriage ad, and a sex toy recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow's website is gold (literally).

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

Temporary Penicillin Shortage Could Be Dangerous for Pregnant Women with Syphilis

The development of antibiotics in the 1940s ushered in a new era in which bacterial infections—including syphilis, one of the oldest sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—could be treated or cured. With that came the ability to prevent congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant woman passes the bacteria to her infant. Congenital syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, severe illness in the infant, and even early infant death. And, as Rewire recently reported, it is on the rise; between 2012 and 2014, there was a 38 percent increase in the rate of congenital syphilis.

The good news is that if a pregnant woman is treated with an antibiotic at least 30 days before giving birth, there is a 98 percent cure rate, meaning her infant would not be born infected. The bad news is that, until next month, there is a shortage of the one antibiotic approved for treating syphilis in pregnant women.

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Bicillin L-A, an injectable form of penicillin that is also used to treat other infections such as strep throat, is manufactured by Pfizer. The company said in April that it was experiencing “an unanticipated delay in manufacturing,” and that it would be shipping just 30 percent of the usual supply until July.

Typically, pregnant women are tested for syphilis during their first prenatal visit. If infected, they are treated with three injections of Bicillin L-A. In an attempt to keep these routine “test and treat” efforts going despite the shortage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked that health-care providers refrain from prescribing Bicillin L-A for any infection other than syphilis if other treatments are available.

Supply issues are unfortunately common in the pharmaceutical industry. NPR explains that generic, injectable drugs—like Bicillin L-A—are particularly susceptible to shortages because they are difficult to make but cheap to purchase, meaning few drug companies manufacture them. If those companies experience a difficulty in manufacturing that forces them to shut down temporarily, such as rust in the equipment or mold in the factory, there is no other supplier to pick up the slack.

Luckily, Pfizer expects to be back to full capacity on Bicillin L-A by July, which will help make sure there are no disruptions to efforts to prevent congenital syphilis. This is particularly important given the number of cases that have been seen in recent years and the seriousness of the outcomes. In 2014, there were 438 nationwide cases of congenital syphilis, which led to 25 stillbirths and eight deaths within 30 days of birth.

Women Want More Sex than Their Male Partners Think

There is an enduring myth that men always want sex and women, well, not so much. It turns out that women in long-term relationships with men want more sex than their partners realize. To determine if perception and reality differed, researchers conducted three studies with couples—44 couples in the first study, 84 in the second, and 101 in the third. All but ten were opposite-sex couples.

Though questions varied according to the study, each participant was asked to keep a diary that recorded some combination of the following factors: their own sexual desire; relationship satisfaction; commitment to their partner; and their perception of their partner’s sexual desire, relationship satisfaction, and commitment. Couples were also asked to keep a log of their sexual activity. Couples in the third study were asked to record how motivated they were to avoid sexual rejection on any given day.

While men in the study did report higher levels of sexual desire than their female partners, what was more striking was that across all three studies men consistently underestimated their partner’s desire. The researchers are not sure why men’s perceptions were so frequently off but they have at least two theories.

First, as Amy Muise, the lead author on the study, told Fusion via email it might be about avoiding complacency: “We don’t know exactly what men do when they underperceive, but it’s possible that this keeps them from becoming lazy about maintaining their partner’s interest.”

Alternatively, men may perceive less desire from their partners as a way to avoid sexual rejection. This is supported by the additional finding that men were particularly likely to underestimate their partner’s desire on days when they felt ill-equipped to handle rejection.

Of course, it could just be that men have been trained by every television show, movie, and magazine to believe that women just don’t want sex as much as they do.

No matter where the misperception comes from, the results of this study once again point out how important it is for couples to communicate openly and honestly about what they want and how often they want it.

Bud Light Ad Celebrates Same-Sex Marriage

While Budweiser ads of the past seem to have mostly celebrated bikini-clad women and Clydesdale horses, a new ad released in honor of LGBT Pride Month takes a big turn for the beer company. The ad depicts scenes of a wedding and features actor Seth Rogan and comedienne Amy Schumer leading a beer-bottle toast to the groom and the groom.

The company said in a press release: “June is the height of wedding season, and it is also LGBT Pride [M]onth in America. That’s why right now is the time to spark a national conversation by celebrating every kind of wedding—and everyone’s right to marry whoever they choose.”

The ad was released in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres and first appeared on her social media channels. The company will continue to air the ad on social media and plans a primetime television airing as well.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Suggests a Gold-Plated Vibrator

You may remember when Goop, the lifestyle site launched by Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, suggested steam-cleaning vaginas with the herb multwort, a practice that was roundly criticized by experts as unnecessary (the vagina cleans itself) and potentially dangerous (steam is hot). Goop made news again recently with a sexual-health suggestion that may be good for vaginas, but not so great for bank accounts.

Suggested on the website’s list of favorite sex toys was the LELO INEZ, a 24-karat gold vibrator that costs $15,000. Other pricey toys included a whip for $535 and a vibrating necklace for $395.

We here at This Week in Sex are all for sex toys. But we want to assure you that there a lot of good sex toys out there that won’t break the bank. You should be able to find some reliable toys for between $35 and $65 and even less, if you want to visit a local pharmacy and find vibrating rings (which, as an added bonus, are often packaged with a condom).