sexual health


To Turn Undergrads On To Sex-Ed: Phallic Name Tags And Orgasm Trivia

Attention-grabbing nametags at a sex-ed event for undergrads (Photo: Sascha Garrey)

Attention-grabbing nametags at a sex-ed event for undergrads (Photo: Sascha Garrey)

By Sascha Garrey
Guest contributor

How do you get busy undergrads to focus on their sexual health? Try penis name tags.

That was among the many strategies deployed this week at a sex-themed trivia night organized by the Boston University Health and Wellness Office.

Diners who went to the Sunset Cantina just for the Mexican food on a recent evening were in for a surprise. Amidst the usual busy hum of this popular night spot, the thunderstorm of phrases like “female orgasm” and “pus-like discharge” booming continually across the restaurant may have shocked some into choking on their tacos.

The Cantina played host to BU’s sex-ed evening, “Sex at the Sunset”: students sporting comical penis-shaped name tags were spread around the venue, talking excitedly and sipping drinks from pink, labia-inspired straws.

A team of peer-health educators, known as the BU Student Health Ambassadors (SHAs), partnered with Bedsider — a pro-sex health outreach organization that advocates for the responsible use of birth control — to bring this racy, but informative, event aimed at BU students as a casual and amusing opportunity to learn and talk about sex.

Meilyn Santamaria, a senior at BU majoring in health sciences and one of the SHAs, helped organize the event and was also the mastermind behind the mood enhancing playlist — hot, throwback tunes like “Sexual Healing” and “Like a Virgin” were thumping all night.

Santamaria has learned a thing or two as a peer-health educator. For instance, she says, approaches to sex-ed like this light, fun-filled evening are important because they engage kids on a different level; and they sure beat those dry, awkward gym class lectures on hygiene.

“You actually get to interact with the material,” says Santamaria. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s a safe environment that is a less intimidating way for people to learn this kind of important information about sex.” Continue reading

Why Bill Gates Wants A Condom That Actually Feels Good

It’s rare to see the words “Bill Gates” “condom” and “enhance pleasure” in the same sentence but that’s precisely the gist of the latest global health challenge by the tech billionaire’s charitable foundation.

Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s latest public health quest is truly inspired: $100,000 to anyone who can invent the “next generation condom,” one that actually feels groovy and might even “enhance pleasure.” Here are the specifics, from the Foundation’s web site:

Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth. New concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly. Large-scale human clinical trials are not required. Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place.

We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Continue reading

Women Cyclists: Raising Handlebars May Protect Sexual Health

A Women’s Challenge bicycle stage race (James F. Perry via Wikimedia Commons)

The sexual risks that serious cycling can pose to men are widely known and feared, from genital numbness to erectile dysfunction to possible effects on sperm from high pelvic heat. Now there’s a highly preliminary warning signal to all the hunched-over women in Pearl Izumi shirts and bike cleats: The price of cutting your wind resistance by lowering your handlebars may be higher than you want to pay — and come due in the bedroom.

A recent study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine looked at 48 women who cycle competitively:

Researchers measured saddle pressures and sensation in the genital region to see if placing handlebars in different positions affects pressure and sensation in the genital region. Results showed that placing the handlebar lower than the seat was associated with increased pressure on the genital region and decreased sensation (reduced ability to detect vibration).

“Modifying bicycle set-up may help prevent genital nerve damage in female cyclists,” Guess notes. “Chronic insult to the genital nerves from increased saddle pressures could potentially result in sexual dysfunction.” Continue reading

Report: ‘Sexting’ Among Teens More Common Than Previously Thought

Here’s another reason to put a lock on your teenager’s computer: a new report by public health researchers in Texas found that teens are sexting — sending nude pictures of themselves by email or text — even more than we imagined. Nearly 30 percent of teens send these nude pictures, the report says, despite being ‘bothered’ by such requests.

Here’s the news release:

In the first study of the public health impact of teen sexting, researchers found that close to 30 percent are engaging in the practice of sending nude pictures of themselves via email or text. Further, the practice is indicative of teens’ sexual behavior overall and, particularly, girls’ participation in risky sexual behaviors.

These findings, from a University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston study that is the first to explore the public health impact of sexting, are published in the July 2 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers surveying nearly 1,000 students at seven public high schools in southeast Texas found that 28 percent of adolescents have sent a nude pictures of themselves through electronic means; more than half (57 percent) have been asked to send a nude picture; and about one-third (31 percent) have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them.

These rates are at the higher end of other estimates generated from available online research and polls and substantially higher than recently published peer-reviewed data suggesting that only a little more than one percent of teens had sent naked pictures. The authors note that the current findings, based on a much larger and more diverse sample than those used in previous research, provide a more accurate depiction of U.S. adolescents’ sexting behaviors.

“It appears that sexting is a modern version of ‘show me yours and I’ll show you mine,’ Continue reading

Possible Help For Men With Peyronie’s, Crooked Penis Disease

dupuytren's contracture

Xiaflex, which could help with Peyronie's Disease. is already approved for a hand-bending problem called Dupuytren's contracture (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I first heard of Peyronie’s Disease way back in college, though I didn’t then know its name. A dorm neighbor came back from a big-city sexual adventure with an older man, and when we pressed her for juicy details, she crooked her index finger into a hook and shared the perplexing news that this was the geometry of his arousal.

Years later came Bill Clinton’s sexual scandals, and rumors that his paramours could describe a telltale bend in the president’s erect anatomy. Not long afterward, a new almost-boyfriend bravely sat me down for a well-rehearsed talk: “I have Peyronie’s Disease,” he said, clearly mortified but toughing it through. “My penis was injured during sex and now it just doesn’t straighten or perform the way it used to. It’s gotten shorter, and sometimes it hurts.”

‘It’s disabling and deforming in the worst possible place for a guy.’

If you’ve never heard of Peyronie’s Disease — which can range from mild curvature to bends so sharp they make intercourse impossible — you’re in the great majority. Not because the disease is uncommon; it’s estimated to affect between 3 and 9 percent of adult men, peaking in their fifties. Rather, Peyronie’s is likely so little known because it is so deeply embarrassing that men just don’t tend to talk about it.

“It’s disabling and deforming in the worst possible place for a guy,” said Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, founder of Men’s Health Boston and an associate clinical professor at Harvard. “A lot of these guys are distressed, distraught, and don’t know what to do. And the treatments we’ve had up to today have not been fantastic.”

This week, however, brought potentially promising news for men with Peyronie’s disease: Two clinical trials for a drug called Xiaflex found that it significantly reduced penile curvature, by a mean of 31 to 38 percent, and tended to lighten their distress.

If you, like me, have trouble computing erection angles in your mind’s eye, look at the chart below from Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes Xiaflex. Very roughly, men started the year-long trial just under the 60-degree curvature in the middle, and ended up close to the 30-degree curvature at the bottom.

Peyronie's disease

Xiaflex, which is given by injection, is already FDA-approved for a hand problem called Dupuytren’s contracture, and Auxilium says it aims to apply for Peyronie’s Disease approval by the end of this year. If approved, Xiaflex could start going out to urologists in the second half of next year. Continue reading

Longtime Mass. Planned Parenthood Leader Stepping Down

Dianne Luby, longtime head of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts

This just in from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts: Dianne Luby, who has led the league for 13 years, has told the board that she’ll step down at the end of this year.

(My first thought: “Wow, 13 years is a long time to endure the level of controversy that swirls around a group like Planned Parenthood, with all its work on contraception and abortion.”)

The Planned Parenthood press release says that Ms. Luby worked to “change the public conversations around sexual health,” to introduce a new approach to sex ed, and to expand access to sexual health care, particularly in “underserved communities.”
From the press release:

“Thirteen years ago, my overarching vision was to make PPLM an essential part of the mainstream healthcare community and I am so pleased about how far we’ve come,” said Ms. Luby. “I feel that this is an excellent time for me to be moving on. Not only are we successfully completing our five-year strategic plan, we have also reached our $30 million Sexual Health Matters campaign goal, which funded a broad range of health care initiatives.”

Under Dianne’s leadership, some of PPLM’s most notable accomplishments include:

•Opening five new health centers in Springfield, Fitchburg, Marlborough, Milford, and Somerville and building a new, eco-friendly facility in Worcester.
•Broadening public understanding of the full scope of PPLM’s programs and services by introducing its “Sexual Health Matters” brand.
•Developing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for middle schools and high schools that is now in 131 schools and reaching over 30,000 students. Wellesley Centers for Women is conducting a rigorous five-year evaluation of the middle school program’s effectiveness with very positive early results. Continue reading

Sex Toys For The Masses, Or Building A Vibrator More Like An iPhone

Upgrading the vibrator for the iPad set

A very long and very excellent piece in The Atlantic (thanks for passing it along, J.) profiles San Francisco industrial designer Ethan Imboden, whose company,  Jimmyjane, embraces an ambitious vision: to redesign the vibrator with such aesthetic and engineering prowess that it actually improves peoples lives. Mostly their sex lives, of course, but their overall lives as well.

To do that, it seems, Imboden wants to up the cool factor for vibrators (they’re elegant, silent and waterproof, according to the marketing) much as Starbucks and Apple have for coffee and phones.

Here are a few snippets of Andy Isaacson’s piece “Can A Better Vibrator Inspire An Age Of Great American Sex:”

Jimmyjane’s conceit is to presuppose a world in which there is no hesitation around sex toys. Placing its products on familiar cultural ground has a normalizing effect, Imboden believes, and comparing a vibrator to a lifestyle accessory someone might pack into their carry-on luggage next to an iPad shifts people’s perceptions about where these objects fit into their lives. Jimmyjane products have been sold in places like C.O. Bigelow, the New York apothecary, Sephora, W Hotels, and even Insinuating beautifully designed and thoughtfully engineered sex toys into the mainstream consumer landscape could push Americans into more comfortable territory around sex in general. Jimmyjane hopes to achieve this without treading too firmly on mainstream sensibilities. “Not everyone sits in a conference room and talks about vibrators, dildos, anal sex, clitorises — and we do,” Continue reading

Study: Elusive G-Spot Identified On Cadaver, But Controversy Remains

(wikimedia commons)

A controversial Florida researcher says he’s identified the ever-elusive G-spot on an 83-year-old cadaver. The G-spot (for Grafenberg) is, of course, the part of a woman’s anatomy that when stimulated is supposed to lead to more powerful sexual arousal and orgasms. Its existence has long been up for debate.

But wait. The researcher behind all this, cosmetic gynecologist Adam Ostrzenski, has some baggage of his own, according to numerous reports.

Here, for instance is some major debunking in Scientific American by blogger Ricki Lewis who suggests the doctor is slightly confused:

The discovery of the G-spot in a lone elderly corpse and the lack of information on just what Dr. O dissected are obvious limitations of the paper in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, a peer-reviewed publication from Wiley. Less obvious is trouble with a different G – the guanine in genes. Continue reading

Sex After Cancer: How To Get Your Groove Back

Michelle Nagel is grateful to be alive.

Diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia at age 49, she underwent intense chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant. At one point, after a drug reaction rendered her unconscious, she went into a coma and her family was told she might not survive through the night. She finally stabilized, but found her body ravaged and her sex life in tatters. “The treatment rendered me sexually dysfunctional,” Michelle says. “It’s upsetting. You go through all that, and then this gets taken away? Frankly, I’m pretty pissed off.”

There are nearly 12 million cancer survivors living in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. Many of those patients — estimates range between 40 and 100 percent depending on the type of cancer and how it’s treated — suffer from some kind of sexual problem directly related to their illness.

Michelle had no idea that surviving cancer would destroy her sexual well-being. For the past year, she and her husband have been in therapy with Dr. Sharon Bober, a clinical psychologist and director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Sexual Health Program. The couple is determined to rebuild the sexual connection that was shattered after Michelle’s experience with cancer. “I like to joke with my friends and say, ‘I’ve been prescribed vibrators,'” Michelle says. “How about that?”

Bober’s patients tend to show up at the survivors’ clinic here at the renowned Boston cancer institute in a sort of medical limbo: they are thrilled to have beaten back cancer, but their bodies and spirits are often broken in more intimate ways. Young women diagnosed in their 20s have become infertile due to treatment-induced menopause; men can’t sustain erections after prostate cancer; confused spouses long for sex but fear their cancer-plagued partners are too fragile. Even the “lucky” ones, while alive, have been cut and bloodied and shot with toxic chemicals and it’s no wonder they’ve lost interest in sex: shame and a pervasive sense of “damaged goods” has set in. How can anyone still feel beautiful and desired after so much has been taken away?

“Sexuality is not something that’s often at the top of the list when it comes to conversations about cancer and cancer treatment,” says Bober. Indeed, facing up to the many ways cancer can decimate a patient’s sexual well-being can be singularly painful, says Colleen Feltmate, a gynecologic oncology surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber. “For some it’s as hard as talking about death and dying.” Continue reading

‘Orgasm Inc.’ Local Premiere: The Sinister Quest For The Pink Viagra

“Thank you for coming,” the filmmaker told the Coolidge Corner Theatre capacity crowd at her local premiere last night — and then waited for the audience to get the joke.

I confess, I didn’t, at first. And then I had a “Duh!” moment. At a film about female sexuality, “Thank you for coming,” is actually a laugh line. And there were others: The gallant questioner who introduced himself at the audience microphone and told filmmaker Liz Canner that he was “at your cervix.” The panel member who invited the audience to check out the “cliterature” on tables outside.

But the topic of “Orgasm, Inc.,” is serious — feminist-serious — even though the film itself was great fun to watch. It amounts to an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to develop a “female Viagra” and persuade the American public that 43% of women suffer from a previously unrecognized syndrome called “Female Sexual Dysfunction.”

The film is already sparking debate, including this Radio Boston segment this week and the online comments that followed it. The Boston Globe magazine ran a “Perspective” piece last Sunday that included this:

Orgasm Inc., which premieres locally at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Thursday, is already being hailed as a sort of modern feminist manifesto, and indeed the film is a much-needed denunciation of the designer vagina era, which brought women everything from “vajazzling” to labiaplasty. But the film’s suggestion that sexual difficulty is “all in our heads” – and that women are particularly susceptible to buying the lies that Big Pharma is selling – strikes me as limiting at best, vaguely antifeminist at worst.

Many doctors specializing in female sexuality argue that women are indeed candidates for FSD drugs. “The pharmaceutical industry did not create distressing sexual problems for women,” says Dr. Jan Shifren, director of the Vincent Menopause Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She says the percentage of women who experience such difficulties hovers around 12. Not Big Pharma’s 43, but not insignificant, either. “That doesn’t mean we need to treat women exclusively with pills,” she adds. “The answer is somewhere in between.”

Liz Canner responded last night that though the Globe piece did not note it, Dr. Shifren had run clinical trials for one of the major recent attempts to develop a female-sexuality treatment, Proctor and Gamble’s testosterone patch Intrinsa.

Also present on the post-screening panel was Judy Norsigian of “Our Bodies Ourselves” fame (note to fans: the next edition is scheduled to come out soon.) And Dr. Susan Bennett, Liz Canner’s doctor and the teacher of a human sexuality course at Harvard, who noted that female sexuality “is a tremendous sinkhole of ignorance for the vast majority of women throughout the world.” Her bottom line: “To develop a medication for something that really isn’t a disease is just wrong.”

I walked out wondering, though. Is that really true? Can medicine only fix diseases, or may it also enhance lives? What about all the men who’ve been thrilled by the effects of Viagra? Certainly, persuading women that they’re abnormal in order to make a buck is, as Susan Bennett put it, “just wrong.” And certainly, sex is about a whole lot more than physiology. But if there really were a female equivalent of Viagra — which, at this point in drug development, there most certainly is not — would it really be so bad?

Orgasm Inc. is now playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.