Archive | February, 2012

On genital piercings and assumptions

27 Feb

I probably look like I should teach kindergarten. I’m tall and blonde, and I dress pretty conservatively for work. I have very few visible piercings. I have 3 small tattoos that are hidden by nearly all types of clothing (bikinis aside), and my other piercings are mainly ear piercings. I rarely wear makeup. My personality is, upon first glance, very professional and my sense of humor is a bit dry. I’m sure that I can come off as prudish or stodgy, though neither of those things (I think) are true about me.

So, every time I go to the gynecologist I wonder what they’re thinking when they see my horizontal clitoral hood piercing. As doctors, I’m sure they’ve seen it all, and I’m sure a hood piercing is so blase that they almost barely deign to notice it. I do get nervous though, that they’ll be ultra-conservative and automatically assume that I’m a slut or something because of it.

Similarly, every time I get involved with a new sexual partner, I’m concerned that they’ll jump to conclusions about me. Some, thankfully, don’t. However, some do, immediately assuming that I’m into the kink, and attempt to proceed accordingly (to whatever kink THEY’RE into), typically, without asking consent first. These experiences always leave me quite shocked and dismayed.

What is it about a genital piercing that makes, in my case, straight men think that they can just go for it, whatever “it” is? The answer, sadly, are assumptions and a touch of misogyny. It’s been my experience that the more into porn these men are, the more likely they are to 1) get super psyched about my piercing (repeatedly commenting on it and/or discussing it later), and 2) make the assumption that they don’t need to ask about things like inserting a finger (or attempting a penis) into my anus, slapping/spanking, biting, hair pulling, and other more taboo sexual acts.

I’m very glad to have my piercing though, because it’s an easy gauge of whether a new partner might be worth considering making a habit of, or could be boyfriend material. The ones who ask me questions like “what’s the story behind the piercing?” are less likely to attempt non-consensual sex acts than the ones that are like “man, that piercing is so hot” and move immediately to sucking on it (again without asking if I’m down for oral). We all have our own standards that we judge each other by, and this is one that I’ve found to be pretty accurate and consistent.

So ladies, it didn’t hurt much at all and healed quickly, if you’re wondering. I love mine, for many reasons including the above. And straight males who may want to have sex with me, how about you stop assuming that a genital piercing is a free pass (not a question). Please ask first, and I guarantee you’ll be more likely to get the chance to see it again.


Support a young Canadian activist being targeted by anti-abortion folks

23 Feb

One thing the anti-choice movement seems to do pretty well at is recruiting young people. This is not really surprising, as the anti-choice perspective on abortion can be (and often is) packaged and sold as relatively simplistic: they like babies, and don’t want them to die. It can be very difficult to be a young person, and easy to latch on to a cause that presents the world in easily discernable categories of right and wrong.

Engaging youth in the protection of their reproductive rights has been an ongoing challenge for our movement. Outside of the “second wave vs. third wave” nonsense that is continually dragged out to cause discord, there is a real issue here: the pro-choice view of the world is messier and more complex, and therefore a harder sell, than the nicely packaged anti-choice “I heart babies” view.

One thing the anti-choice movement really sucks at, though, is actually supporting these youth. They love getting them on board in order to trot them out at rallies and use them to score easy political points, but if they cared at all about the actual concerns and needs of youth, well, they wouldn’t be anti-choice. So it was with little surprise that I read about the latest way the anti-choice movement here in Canada is throwing at least two young people under the bus in order to gain a cheap victory.

The Atlantic Council for International Cooperation is running its third annual Active-8 campaign this month. This is a great campaign that encourages youth to present their best idea of how to make a positive change in the world. Allies pledge to act in a way that supports that idea, and the participant with the most pledges at the end of the campaign wins $1000. It’s a great way to support youth living in an oft-overlooked part of Canada, and to encourage them to value their ideas – and learn the skills necessary to turn those ideas into funding.

I have written before about the dismal state of reproductive rights and abortion access on Prince Edward Island. Well, one enterprising young person there, Kandace Hagan, entered the Active-8 campaign to bring attention to the problem, and hopefully to make a difference in the lives of many folks on the Island. Pretty great, right? And pretty bold, too – PEI has the kind of small-town mentality that, while it can be quite positive in some respects, generally discourages this kind of rocking the boat.

This is where the anti-choicers come in. Kandace was doing pretty well and had moved into second place, when suddenly the first place candidate, a young woman named Tara Brinston whose work centres on intellectual disabilities, jumped 100 pledges ahead overnight. Huh. This would have stayed in the realm of vague suspicion until Anne Marie Tomlins (of the PEI Right to Life Association) was found to be the source of an email urging folks to vote for Tara in order to shut Kandace down. Apparently this email was just supposed to go to a few people, but it was “leaked,” and now the antis can smell blood in the water.

So let’s take stock of the situation. Anti-choice folks are pledging their support to a campaign they didn’t give a shit about a week ago, just to make sure a young pro-choice activist doesn’t get $1000. Not only are they essentially sabotaging Kandace’s campaign, they are making a mockery out of Tara’s. Imagine how she will feel if she wins, not knowing if it was because people actually support her work in disability advocacy, or because a bunch of douche-canoes used her to claim a petty victory over reproductive rights. That sucks.

My hope in situations like this is that I’ll be able to take the high road, but really there’s no other way to go here. Anyone who pledges for Kandace – even in reaction to this latest development – is doing so presumably because they genuinely support her cause and want to make the world a better place in that regard. There’s no sabotage (counter-sabotage?) route for pro-choicers to take here, even if we wanted to. We have a candidate. The anti-choicers, if they cared at all about supporting youth endeavours, should have put up a candidate whose campaign was to continue squashing reproductive rights on PEI (what an inspiring dream! Please, take my $1000!). But they didn’t. Instead they crashed the entire campaign and sabotaged two inspiring young women, and for what?

Because that’s the best part: the anti-choicers gain nothing here. Even if Tara wins, her work is in disability advocacy – it doesn’t help their movement at all. The only benefit for them is Kandace losing, and if the anti-choice crowd celebrates every time a pro-choice activist doesn’t get $1000, they must get raging boners every time they look at my bank account. Really, all they’ve succeeded in doing is drawing media attention to three things: 1. the excellent Active-8 campaign; 2. the abysmal reproductive health situation in PEI (which doesn’t get half the media attention it deserves) and the brave activists fighting for change there, and 3. that they (the anti-choicers) are assholes who don’t care about idealistic young people unless they are propping up an exploded fetus sign.

I have already pledged for Kandace (and you can, too!), but I will make this additional pledge: if she does not win this contest, I will figure out a way to personally fundraise $1000 for her and the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization. I hope you’ll help.

Being Prochoice on Instagram

20 Feb

I am obsessed with Instagram. If you aren’t obsessed yet, all you need to know is it’s an iPhone exclusive social networking application used to post and share filtered pictures. The application is a democracy; users can elect pictures to the popular page, and comment freely on public profile’s photos whether or not you are “following” each other.  Like on twitter, you follow/are followed by friends and influencers, and posts can be captioned with hashtags.  Being obsessed with both Instagram and abortion rights activism; I searched the photos for #abortion and #prochoice #prolife images.

#Abortion brought back 555 photos, and Instagram brought up 21 related hashes, only one of which (#abortionrights) was prochoice in nature. The other 20 related hashes were labels such as: #abortionismurder, #abortionholocaust, #abortioniswrong, #abortionisterrible, #abortioniskillingachild. I began looking at the 555 photos that were tagged under #abortion vainly hoping the photos would be a mix bag of positive and negative messages.  But no, the majority of the photos displayed under #abortion are gory fetus porn, pictures of messages such as “abortion is murder”, “reblog if you are against abortion” and “NOT YOUR CHOICE” above a drawing of a fully developed fetus in the mother’s stomach. The rest of the anti-choice tags, #abortionismurder etc., were all photos of the regular ol’ anti-choice hate.  There are 681 photos #prolife compared to 169 tagged #prochoice. The #prolife tagged photos were mostly the same content as the other antiabortion hashes, except the #prolife photos showed more babies and children, supposedly representing the anti-aborion cause. The #prochoice photos are much more diverse, creative and uplifting, than the repetitive #prolife photos (surprise!), but disproportionate representation is frustrating.

I would have left my search unsurprised at that point, but I became infuriated by what I saw next:  In the 21 related hashes to #abortion was #abortiondoctor—it contains one photo.  A user posted a picture of a metal statue of a boy holding flowers, commented “#creepymailbox at the home of an #abortiondoctor.” A commenter asks, “Why are you at the abortion doctor” and the user replies, “it’s on my UPS route.”

Beyond labeling this provider as “creepy” for no reason, the user is, perhaps ignorantly, supporting stalking culture and threatening the safety of the supposed abortion provider.  What if someone who knows this user were anti-choice, and interested in exposing the location of the provider’s house? Given the information provided, it wouldn’t be that hard to locate the provider’s home.

The relative “outspokenness” of the prolife movement on Instagram (169 #prochoice photos vs. 681 #prolife photos) and the hate speak and even (sadly) the threatening of provider’s safety is par for the antiabortion “activism” course.  However, the regularity of hate-behavior towards abortion rights does not make it more acceptable. So, here’s a few things I thought Instagramers can do to counter antiabortion “speak” on Instagram:

1.     Post prochoice pictures under the hashtag #abortion and #prochoice on Instagarm. I posted a photo from an abortion doula meeting I hosted last month, and a picture of my prochoice flare-adorned Christmas tree in December.

2.     If you’re on Instagram, make and effort to bring new hashes. I could see #ihadanabortion or #provoice tags coming onto Instagram, with positive messages and images.

3.     Comment on people’s photos that you find hateful like you would respond to misguided comments on Twitter or Facebook. You can do so with relative anonymity on Instagram, and starting a conversation is better than being complacent.

Women want to know: Does using hormonal contraception increase HIV risk?

17 Feb

Women everywhere want, need, and deserve to know if their contraceptive method increases their risk of acquiring HIV.  This question is not new; for years, there have been equivocal studies on the topic, some pointing towards a potential association, others showing no association.  The topic got new attention in July 2011, when results were presented at the annual AIDS conference in Rome that indicated a potential two-fold increase in HIV infection rates among women using an injectable form of contraception, DMPA (brand name Depo-Provera, a kind of contraceptive that uses a hormone called “progestin”) compared with women who used no hormonal contraception and again in October 2011 when it was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. (The study failed to show a significant increase in risk of HIVamong women who used oral contraceptive pills, but it’s not clear if that has more to do with a lack of effect or was simply because so few women in the study were using pills).

In response, a meeting was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) from January 31st – February 2nd, 2012 to reassess the state of the evidence and to determine if recommendations about the utilization of hormonal contraceptive methods should change for women at high risk of HIV.  Currently, there are no restrictions on the use of any hormonal methods for women at high risk of HIV.

At the meeting, the expert group determined that there was insufficient evidence to change who is eligible for using all methods of hormonal contraception, including “progestin-only” methods like DMPA, although they did add a strongly worded clarification statement reminding health providers and programs that women at high risk of HIV must use condoms consistently and correctly in order to decrease their risk of acquiring the virus.

So, does hormonal contraception, and specifically DMPA, increase HIV risk?  Unfortunately there is no clear answer to that question.  There have been studies in animals that have pointed to potential biological mechanisms for an increased risk of getting HIV while using injectable progestin contraceptive methods like DMPA, so there is a plausible reason to expect an effect.  However, many animal studies of HIV have led us astray in the past.

Looking at the research that has been done looking at humans, some studies show a connection, some show none.  Further muddying the water is that all the studies are observational, not randomized controlled trials (Wikipedia has a good explanation of what a randomized controlled trial is here, but for our purposes it’s a study where people are randomly assigned to a treatment group, in this case either DMPA or oral contraceptives, or an IUD, or condoms.  The main strength is that all the many variations in behavior and biology that can impact results should be equally distributed between the groups and in a way cancel each other out).

When we rely on observational studies, it is much harder to feel confident that we’ve taken into account all the individual factors that can affect the results.  For instance, perhaps women who choose to use DMPA as their contraceptive method are less likely to use condoms than women who use only condoms as their contraceptive method (in fact, we have good evidence that this is true).  When you compare the two groups, you may find more HIV infections in the group using DMPA, but it could be because they are less likely to use condoms than the group of women who rely solely on condoms to avoid pregnancy. There could also be other factors of which we are unaware that are different between the two groups and explain the difference.  The researchers often try to “control” for factors like this statistically, but it is extremely hard to know whether data on condom use (or other sexual behaviors, like number of sex partners or frequency of sexual activity) has been accurately reported.  Just like I exaggerate how often I floss my teeth every time I go to the dentist, and my diabetic patients don’t always spontaneously report the cookie they ate right before coming to the office and having their blood sugar checked, women who are seeing medical staff may not give an accurate description of how often they use condoms and with how many partners they have sex, especially if they have been told over and over how important condom use and having fewer sexual partners is to reduce their risk of HIV.

So where does this leave us?  The disappointing news is that, in 2012, science still doesn’t have a clear answer for us on whether use of hormonal contraception, and specifically DMPA, increases a woman’s risk of contracting HIV, although the experts at the WHO were reassured enough by the evidence that we do have to continue to recommend unrestricted use of hormonal contraceptives for women at high risk of HIV.  Also on the bad news front, many women in high HIV
prevalence settings have few or no other contraceptive options, so they can’t simply hedge their bets and switch to something else with a more clearly established safety profile (like oral contraceptive pills), or to non-hormonal methods (like copper IUDs or sterilization).

However, there is lots of good news.  What we lack in clear answers regarding injectable contraceptives and HIV acquisition is made up for in knowledge of other ways to impact the epidemic of sexually transmitted HIV.  We know that people who know they have HIV are more likely to use condoms, so we need to work on getting voluntary testing for everyone, everywhere.  We know that people who are on treatment are much less likely to transmit the virus to their partners, so we need to get everyone access to treatment; shockingly, less than half of people in need of treatment worldwide currently get it.  And we know that consistent, correct use of condoms greatly reduces the risk of HIV transmission, so we need to work much harder at helping people get over the many barriers that exist to using condoms all the time.

We need to keep offering women as many options as possible for family planning.  Women can safely continue to use DMPA.  The bottom line is that, whether DMPA increases HIV risk or not, condoms are an absolute necessity for all women at high risk of HIV, whether or not they are using hormonal contraceptive methods.

A Thoughtful Journalist’s Guide to Covering Abortion

16 Feb

How do you write about a topic that is both the third rail of US politics and also one of the most common medical procedures in America? There are many things to be mindful of when writing about abortion. This is the first installment of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about writing about abortion with integrity. Let’s dive right in.

Language matters.
Are you using the words “pro-choice” and “pro-life”? Typically, the pro-choice movement prefers “anti-choice” to “pro-life,” since the latter implies that the pro-choice movement is “anti-life,” which is preposterous (not to mention false).  Another alternative to “pro-life” is “anti-abortion rights.” And what about using terms like reproductive justice and pro-voice? If you’re writing about women’s personal abortion stories, you may want to investigate exactly what pro-voice means, and if you’re looking at abortion from an intersectional lens, reproductive justice is your best bet.

Science matters.
Who can you trust to tell you if a certain piece of legislation is based in medical evidence or ideological bullshit? Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, for one (full disclosure: I used to work there and can say with confidence that the doctors affiliated with PRCH are fantastic). Other potential sources of medical information include the clinician/s or medical director at your local clinic and the National Abortion Federation. The best reason to ask clinicians if a piece of legislation is medically necessary or makes scientific sense? Most legislators aren’t doctors.

Planned Parenthood is not the only abortion provider in the United States.
While they’re certainly the most high profile abortion provider, they are far from the only ones. In fact, there are entire organizations composed of independent abortion providers, such as the Abortion Care Network and the Feminist Abortion Network. In covering only Planned Parenthood, you’re getting a small piece of America’s abortion story. Most abortions are done at free-standing (non-Planned Parenthood) clinics. Independent providers have a long and proud history of providing women with compassionate care–why not call them in addition to your local Planned Parenthood?

Be wary of abortion stigma
No one could argue that there isn’t a stigma associated with abortion, whether it’s with the women who have them, the clinicians who perform them, or anyone remotely associated with the topic. The last thing you want to do is perpetuate the notion that abortion is a gruesome procedure performed by badly trained doctors that only slutty, selfish women have (see what I mean by stigma?). Many people perpetuate stigma without even realizing it. How?

  • “Only 3% of our services are abortion!” Planned Parenthood pulls out this statistic every time they get attacked by a politician. They do so to try and emphasize the fact that they are primarily family planning providers, not abortion providers. By doing this, however, they distance themselves from abortion, as if abortion is shameful, as if abortion is something that should only be 3% of their services. Are they proud to provide abortion services? Of course. But you wouldn’t know it with this talking point.
  • Talking about rape, incest, and life threat situations as acceptable instances of when a woman can have an abortion. What woman deserves to have access to abortion care? A woman who was raped? A woman with a fetal anomaly? A woman who can’t afford to have another child? A woman who didn’t use birth control? A woman who’s had an abortion already? Every woman, no matter her circumstance, deserves to have access to abortion care. We stigmatize abortion when deem certain abortions as moral or some women as deserving to have abortions, while others are “bad” or unworthy of legal medical care.
  • Later abortions: Define your terms. When you say “later abortion,” what do you mean? In research land, it usually means abortion after 24 weeks. Some people use the medically innocuous “late term abortion” to signify anything from an abortion in the second trimester to an abortion into the third trimester. Make sure you know which one you’re talking about. Read the literature on second trimester and later abortions. Accept the fact that there is nothing inherently, morally wrong with later abortions. Learn about why women need them, that there’s no medical consensus on viability, and no agreement on “fetal pain.” Check your language–are you somehow implying that later abortions are morally wrong, or that a woman should’ve just hurried up and made a decision earlier? That’s stigma in action.
  • For more on abortion stigma, see ANSIRH’s research.

One woman’s abortion story isn’t every woman’s abortion story.
One in three US women will have an abortion by the age of 45. It follows, then, that one in three US women will not have the the same reasons for having an abortion, or the same reaction afterwards. Who has an abortion? Every type of woman, it turns out: women of every class, race, ethnicity, and education level.  We also know that women seek abortion care for every possible reason: they can’t afford another child, a birth control mess up, a health condition, or simply not wanting to be a mother (whether for the first or sixth time) at that point in her life. Whatever the woman’s reason for an abortion, it’s a valid one, and not your job to make a judgment call on it. Similarly, many women feel relieved after their abortions, some women feel regret or sadness, others feel a mix or something completely different. If you’re writing about women’s reactions to having abortions, make sure you talk to a variety of people who can give you multiple perspective on the experience. If you need to talk about abortion stories in broader strokes, talk to organizations like Exhale and Backline that support women before and after their abortions.

There’s a lot to think about when covering abortion. As much as we want it to be, abortion isn’t just a medical procedure; it’s tied up in political and cultural battlegrounds that demand thorough exploration. You need to make deliberate decisions to seek out medically and scientifically accurate information if you want your article to reflect the reality of abortion in the US.

Do the Catholic Bishops Trust God?

14 Feb

The Catholic Church, through its Bishops, is currently fighting tooth and nail to deny women access to contraceptives- birth control. The Catholic Church believes that contraceptives are immoral, and that women should never ever use them. With the new concept of no-copay birth control, the Catholic Church wants the right to refuse to provide women with access to this basic healthcare- and they want to extend this ability to refuse to any business. This is a dangerous situation for women all across the United States.

There are many arguments against the Catholic Bishop’s position. I’m sure you’ll hear them all over the feminist blogsphere. But I think there’s one idea you will not here shared everywhere: The Catholic Bishop’s position on denying women access to birth control shows that they don’t trust God.

If you’re a Christian, you believe that God is all powerful. He is capable of anything, and He can change our world however He wants to. If the Bishops truly believed this, why would they be so worried about birth control?

If God willed for a specific woman to have a child, then no earthly measures could prevent that (this might sound terrifying for some people, but for Christians it’s usually combated with “God has the best of intentions”). Birth control can fail, even when taken correctly. This wouldn’t be God interfering with free will, but interfering with biological reproduction- just like He did when Mary became pregnant with Jesus, even though she never had any sperm in her
uterus/fallopian tubes, ever. Some methods of birth control may, possibly, somehow, sometimes make it slightly more difficult for a zygote to implant in the uterus (the science on this is still being questioned and debated). Even if this is true, more difficult isn’t impossible- God could ensure a zygote burrows happily into the lining of the uterus without a problem. The same is true for emergency contraceptive, which works by preventing ovulation. If God absolutely wants a specific woman to have a child, He could just ensure she ovulates before she has sex. Again, this is control over biological functions.

If a woman does become pregnant, despite using birth control, the choice of whether or not to carry the pregnancy is then between her and her God — and again, we must trust that the all powerful, all loving God will lead her on the path that He has planned for her, having brought her to this point.

Knowing that God is all powerful, and His will can’t be stopped by using birth control pills, I have to wonder why the Bishops are so worried about including access to birth control. Do they not trust God? Do they not believe He is powerful enough to overcome birth control if He wants to? Do they believe God’s Will can so easily be avoided just by swallowing a daily pill?

I trust in God’s ability. There is absolutely no reason for the Bishops to deny women access to contraceptive. Matthew 18:15-17 says that if someone sins, you should tell them alone, then with some friends, then tell the church- if he still refuses to listen, treat him as a person who does not believe in God or a tax collector. It does not say, “refuse him access to whatever he used to sin.” So if the Bishops think birth control is a sin, they should treat people using it as non-Catholics- still human beings- and not deny them access.

If the Bishops believe in the power of God, they should allow women access to contraceptives, because God’s will is stronger than anything on Earth. However, if they do not believe in God’s power- if they cannot trust God to do what is right, then perhaps they should continue taking this issue into their own hands.

Silencing Men

13 Feb

As a feminist I fight every day to demonstrate that I am not a misandrist. As any feminist knows, that is an uphill battle. It seems that feminism and misandry are synonyms for much of the population, and that really upsets me. In fact, my partner held the belief that feminist hate men before he met me. He quickly realized that is the furthest thing from the truth, but that was only because he met me. When I meet new men I like to get them to like me (as friends of course!) and then “drop the bomb,” so to speak, that I am a feminist. Many of them are usually shocked to hear that I have serious concerns with the family justice system too. Because I so strongly feel that the patriarchy hurts men, and that I love my feminist boyfriend, this next sentence hurts me.

I want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion.

Trust me, it hurts for me to write that. My partner is one of the biggest supporters of abortion rights there is. I know a great many men who are huge supporters of abortion rights and I so greatly appreciate their support. But I still want to silence their voices.

Abortion, as I have previously blogged, has become a hot topic in Canada recently. The major voices from the government for the anti-choice camp are Stephen Woodworth, Brad Trost, and Rod Bruinooge (there is one more but for the life of me can’t find the correct spelling of his name so we’ll leave it at 3). I’m sure you guessed what they have in common: they’re all MEN! The main anti-choice voices for the U.S. are also all men. In fact, the majority of persons in government who are anti-choice, are men. And none of them can get pregnant. The people who are making decisions that affect the lives of women, CAN’T EVEN GET PREGNANT!

And so, I want to silence the voices of all men. I am so tired of men giving their opinion about abortion. I am so tired of it that I am willing to sacrifice the voices of all the men who support women. I truly believe that if men were no longer allowed to speak on the topic of abortion, every country would be pro-choice. Anti-choice women get abortions too. Abortion crosses every religious, cultural, and political line. The only line it can’t cross is biological sex, and that is where the problem lies.

Of course there are anti-choice women, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann being the two most prominent ones. I dislike them just as much as I dislike male anti-choicers, but something about a man, a person who could never fully appreciate the terror upon seeing a positive pregnancy test, a person who could walk away from a pregnancy if he so chose, a person who will never DIE in childbirth, something about him telling a woman that she should be forced to keep a pregnancy sends me into a rage.

It is that rage, that sense of complete and utter anger at a man telling me what I can and cannot do with my body that causes me to write that sentence, that causes me to want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion.

I know not everybody will agree with me, and that is okay. Some people view the male allies as more important than the male antis. I just happen to believe that if we take away the male voices, we will take away most of the antis. Our patriarchal society is based upon male control of women, and control of their bodies is key. I have decided that it’s time to take away male control. It’s time to silence male voices.