Student Voices Apr. 22 2016

Not Just Abortion: A Sexual and Reproductive Health Round-up

On March 2, the Queer Health Task Force and SHAG along with faculty and staff in the Sexuality, Sexual, and Reproductive Health (SSRH) Certificate program held a rally in support of a women's right to choose, but abortion rights are only a small piece of reproductive health. Below are a few reproductive health topics that three students in the rally wanted to share. Reproductive rights affect all of us, not just women seeking treatment.

Planned Parenthood isn't just for abortions

Craig HeckThe proper terminology for reproductive health clinics seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of the ongoing war for abortion access. An insidious rhetoric has set a precedent for these clinics by changing their common name from reproductive health clinics to abortion clinics. 

While these clinics do perform abortions, it is often forgotten that abortions only account for a small percentage of the services they provide. In fact, Planned Parenthood stated that abortions were only 3 percent of the services they provided in 2013, while the other 97 percent were for contraception services, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection tests and treatment, pregnancy tests/prenatal services, and other family planning services. Conversely, abortion critics have cited that abortions actually make up 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.

This unfounded and dangerous discrepancy between the reported numbers and fabricated figures has been adding fuel to the anti-abortion movement’s fire. Due to this misrepresentation, anti-abortionists have been extremely successful in painting these clinics as abortion mills, whose sole purpose is to provide abortions.           

Even though fanatics have been somewhat successful in closing down clinics, this does not mean that the demand for abortions decreases. It just means that the most disenfranchised groups – primarily women of color – lose access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare and services. 

Abortion opponents, however, present the argument under the guise of preserving principles and morality. The sooner that we eradicate this preposterous smear campaign, the sooner that we can stop the sham and get that much closer to winning the fight for reproductive justice.

This is not just a war against abortions. It is a war on a woman’s autonomy. 

–Craig Heck, Population and Family Health, MPH '17

The state of sexual rights in America

Rebecca CrawfordExplicit discussion of sexual rights is all but absent from domestic policy, political debates, and popular media, despite the fact that many of today’s most talked about issues – such as sexual consent laws, LGBTQ discrimination, and the CDC’s endorsement of PrEP for individuals at risk for contracting HIV – are closely linked to the issue. Every person in this country can benefit from the recognition, protection, and promotion of sexual rights.

The World Association for Sexology and the WHO define sexual rights as the human rights that must be upheld in order for individuals to achieve the highest standard of sexual health, “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality…not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. …[which] requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

At its core, the sexual rights framework is inclusive. Its foundation in human rights such as the rights to bodily integrity, health, and privacy ensures that all individuals can be free to exercise their sexuality and sexual agency – including those pushed to the margins of the sexual health conversation: adolescents, LGBTQ individuals, older people, those living with HIV, and people with mental and physical disabilities. 

It is time for policymakers and public health practioners to work towards a future in which every person can exercise their sexual rights. In this future, every individual can access unbiased and comprehensive information about sexual health and sexuality. In this future, every person has equal access to sexual health services without undue burden. In this future, every individual can enjoy safe and healthy sexual experiences. We not only deserve this future, it is our right.

–Rebecca Crawford, Population and Family Health, MPH '17

Sex-positive education

Monica Chase FuentesIt seems as if the United States is one step closer to finally removing abstinence education from the federal budget and hopefully from the classroom, after countless research studies have shown its ineffectiveness. When President Obama announced the 2017 budget, cries of victory should have been heard from comprehensive sex educators around the nation. Instead, we are still left with the reality that even without abstinence education, the United States is failing its young people.

According to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 23 states mandate sex education, and less than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach the 16 topics recommended by the CDC. These figures don't even include discussion on topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity. In many states, those discussions are against the law.

So how can we improve upon this bleak atmosphere? For one, a comprehensive sex education curriculum should be mandated federally. The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which was introduced to Congress in February 2013 is one such bill that would allocate federal funding to comprehensive sexual health education programs across the U.S. Second, we must reevaluate the recommended CDC curriculum so that sex education goes beyond disease prevention and includes topics, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as honest conversations about self-exploration, masturbation for both men and women, consent, and pleasure.

Sexuality education, when taught today, is often taught as something to be prevented, whether that’s sex itself, pregnancy, STDs, or HIV. Those topics are important, but I argue that when we approach sex and sexuality with normalcy and include both prevention and sex-affirmative education, we can help young people develop into healthier sexual beings. 

–Monica Chase Fuentes, Population and Family Health, MPH '16

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