Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New Research on Improving Intimacy, and a Kegel Counter That Vibrates

Martha Kempner

This week, new research suggests that orgasms promote positive pillow talk and improve intimacy but alcohol has the opposite effect; a study finds that the new HIV-prevention drug Truvada may also reduce the risk of genital herpes; and a vibrator company introduced a Fitbit for your vagina.

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

Want Better Pillow Talk? Try More Orgasms and Less Alcohol

A new study in the journal Communications Monographs asked couples to document their conversations and feelings after engaging in genital sexual behavior of any kind. Respondents were also asked whether they had consumed alcohol before the sexual event and whether they’d had an orgasm. The results should not come as much of a surprise: Orgasms made post-coital feelings better, and alcohol did not.

Specifically, the study found that individuals who had an orgasm disclosed more information, more important information, and generally more positive information than those who did not. They also perceived more benefits to disclosing to their partners than those who did not orgasm. As for alcohol, those who drank more found themselves disclosing less deep and less positive information and felt fewer benefits after having done so, perhaps because they were more unintentional with their disclosures than those who hadn’t been drinking.

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The researcher explained that after an orgasm the body releases oxytocin, which has been called the “bonding hormone” or the “love hormone” because it makes people feel calmer, less stressed, and more connected to the person they’re with. (Oxytocin also is released during breastfeeding.) Alcohol has a very different effect on the brain. As Tamara Afifi, one of the co-authors of the study, told the Huffington Post, “Oxytocin is an ‘upper’ and alcohol is a ‘downer,’ so it’s not surprising that they have opposite effects on behavior.”

Alcohol also depresses the central nervous system, making it harder to orgasm. In the study, the worst results were among those who drank alcohol and did not orgasm.

So maybe this summer we should all skip the frozen cocktails, concentrate on the big O, and enjoy some positive pillow talk, because the authors of this study think it “may play a pivotal role in maintaining intimacy.”

HIV-Prevention Drug Also May Prevent Herpes

The HIV drug Truvada has been making news lately, as research has found that daily use of the drug by those who are HIV-negative can cut the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 90 percent. While many in the public health community are thrilled by the prospect of a new, effective prevention method, others worry about the cost of the drug (about $1,000 a month in the United States) and question whether those using it will stop using condoms, thereby putting themselves at risk for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A new study suggests that the drug may prevent herpes as well.

Truvada is actually a combination of two HIV drugs: tenofovir and emtricitabine. The new study enrolled 1,500 heterosexual adults in Africa who were randomly assigned to receive either tenofovir alone, the combination of drugs in Truvada, or a placebo. Initial enrollment spanned 2008 to 2010, and the participants, none of whom had HIV or herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2, or genital herpes) when the study began, were monitored until 2011. The study found that tenofovir alone reduced the risk of getting HSV-2 by 24 percent, and the combination found in Truvada reduced the risk by 36 percent.

These results are encouraging, and it is good to know that those taking Truvada have extra protection against herpes, as HIV and herpes often occur together. Still, this does not mean that the drug will be prescribed solely to prevent herpes. Dr. Myron Cohen, associate vice chancellor for Global Health at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told HealthDay, “No one is going to use tenofovir specifically to reduce herpes. There are some side effects and the drug is not cheap. It will only be used as prevention for HIV—not herpes—for high-risk people.”

Count Your Kegels

A new device can help women know if they’re “kegelling” correctly. As most women know, kegels are exercises done to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help during childbirth, prevent or control urinary incontinence, and improve orgasms. The muscles involved in kegels are the same ones used to stop the flow of urine. Women are often told to use this as a way to identify the correct muscles and then to do kegels at various intervals throughout the day. But how can we know if we’re doing them correctly, and how can we remember how many we’ve done? Enter the kGoal, produced by the sexual health company Minna, which is being dubbed by the media as a Fitbit for your vagina.

Jon Thomas, the vice president of manufacturing for kGoal, told Fast Company that studies have found 30 percent of women are doing these exercises wrong. The device, which is shaped like an unequal U, is designed to train the body and motivate the user. The wider side goes into the vagina and can measure how well a women is squeezing, how often she does it, and for how long. The other side can be hooked up to a smartphone, and an accompanying app can keep track of these measurements so women can try to improve their performance.

Other devices called biofeedback machines (which are far more clinical than fun) are used by physical therapists with women who have urinary incontinence or vulvodyinia (a chronic pain condition) to measure the strength and duration of kegels. Thomas told Fast Company that physical therapists say compliance is a problem because women just don’t do their exercises. To make them more fun, Minna, which also manufactures vibrators, has added vibration. When the user gets it right—the device vibrates. A positive feedback loop to be sure.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: News From the HIV Epidemic

Martha Kempner

This week in sex: Scientists report the first case of HIV transmission to a patient adhering to PrEP protocols, two studies show a new vaginal ring can help women prevent HIV, and young people still aren't getting tested for the virus.

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

With the death of Nancy Reagan, the 1980s AIDS crisis is back in the national spotlight. But, of course, HIV and AIDS are still ongoing problems that affect millions of people. This week in sex, we review scientists reporting the first case of HIV transmission to a patient adhering to PrEP protocols, two studies showing a new vaginal ring can help women prevent HIV, and evidence that young people still aren’t getting tested for the virus.

First Case of HIV Transmission While on Truvada

Last week, Canadian scientists reported on what they believe to be the first HIV infection in a patient who was following a PreP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) regimen.

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PrEP is a method of HIV prevention. By taking a daily pill that contains two HIV medicines, sold under the name Truvada, individuals who are HIV-negative but considered to be at high risk of contracting the virus can prevent infection. Studies have found that PrEP is very effective—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that people who take the medication every day can reduce their risk of infection by more than 90 percent from sex and by more than 70 percent from injection drug use. One study of men taking PrEP found no infections over a two-and-a-half-year period.

PrEP is less effective when not taken regularly, but the new case of reported PrEP failure involves a 43-year-old man who said that he took his medication daily. His pharmacy records back up that assertion. The man’s partner has HIV, but is on a drug regimen and has an undetectable viral load. The man did report other sexual encounters without condoms with casual partners in the weeks leading up to his diagnosis.

Dr. David Knox, the lead author of this case study, notes that it is difficult to know if a patient really did adhere to the drug regimen, but the evidence in this case suggests that he did. He concluded, “Failure of PrEP in this case was likely due to the transmission of a PrEP-resistant, multi-class resistant strain of HIV 1.”

Experts say, however, that they never expected PrEP to be infallible. As Richard Harrigan of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS told Pink News, “I certainly don’t think that this is a situation which calls for panic …. It is an example that demonstrates that PrEP can sometimes be ineffective in the face of drug resistant virus, in the same way that treatment itself can sometimes be ineffective in the face of drug resistant virus.”

Still, some fear that the new study will add to the ongoing debate and apathy that seem to surround PrEP. While some experts see it as a must-have prevention tool, others worry that it will encourage men who have sex with men to forgo using condoms and perhaps increase their risk for other sexually transmitted infections. Still, only 30,000 people in the United States are taking the drug—an estimated one-twentieth of those who could benefit from it.

A New Vaginal Ring Could Help Women Prevent HIV Infection

Researchers have announced promising results from two studies looking at new technology that could help women prevent HIV. The dapivirine ring, named after the drug it contains, was developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides. It looks like the contraceptive ring, Nuvaring, and is similarly inserted high up into the vagina for a month at a time. Instead of releasing hormones to prevent ovulation, however, this ring releases an antiretroviral drug to prevent HIV from reproducing in healthy cells. (A ring that could prevent both pregnancy and HIV is being developed.)

The two studies of the ring are being conducted in Africa. One study recruited about 2,600 women in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. It found that the ring reduced HIV infection by 27 percent overall and 61 percent for women over age 25. The other study, which is still underway, involves just under 2,000 women in seven sites in South Africa and Uganda. Early results suggest that the ring reduced infection by 31 percent overall when compared to the placebo.

Both studies found that the ring provided little protection to women ages 18-to-21. Researchers are now working to determine how adherence and other biological factors may have impacted such an outcome.

Young People Not Getting Tested for HIV

A study in the February issue of Pediatrics found that HIV testing rates among young people have not increased in the last decade. The researchers looked at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which asks current high school students about sexual behaviors in addition to questions about drugs and alcohol, violence, nutrition, and personal safety (such as using bike helmets and seat belts). Specifically, the YRBS asks students if they’ve ever been tested for HIV.

Using YRBS data collected between 2005 and 2013, the researchers estimated that 22 percent of teens who had ever had sex had been tested for HIV. The percent who had received HIV tests was higher (34 percent) among those who reported four or more lifetime partners. Overall, male teens (17 percent) were less likely than their female peers (27 percent) to have been tested.

Researchers also looked at data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which asks similar questions to young adults ages 18 to 24. Among people in this age group, between the years of 2011 to 2013, an average of 33 percent had ever been tested. This review of data also found that the percentage of young women who get tested for HIV has been decreasing in recent years—from 42.4 percent in 2011 to 39.5 percent in 2013.

The authors simply conclude, “HIV testing programs do not appear to be successfully reaching high school students and young adults.” They go on to suggest, “Multipronged testing strategies, including provider education, system-level interventions in clinical settings, adolescent-friendly testing services, and sexual health education will likely be needed to increase testing and reduce the percentage of adolescents and young adults living with HIV infection.”

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.