Emergency contraception and the FDA

February 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

I’ve written quite a lot about emergency contraception, and in particular about the shady age restrictions that dictate who can and can’t buy it over the counter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has an excellent recap:

The Center sued the FDA in 2005 for failing to grant over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (a.k.a Plan B) against the advice of its scientific experts and in violation of its own procedures and regulations. In 2006, the FDA agreed to make Plan B available without a prescription, but only to women 18 and over and only behind the pharmacy counter.

Plan B is now available over-the-counter for anyone age 17 or over, but remains inaccessible to those under 17 even though “medical and scientific consensus provides no rationale for age restrictions on Plan B.”

Today, emergency contraception is available without a prescription, but only for women age 17 and older. Pharmacies and clinics must keep it behind the counter and anyone seeking to buy it must show government issued identification proving their age in order to buy it without a prescription.
These intrusive restrictions, unprecedented for drugs with over-the-counter status, make it harder and more stigmatizing for consumers to get the contraception during its most effective window.

These restrictions are undeniably motivated by political and social pressures that seek to legislate sexuality. (I’ll quote myself: “It’s more than obvious that the conservative movement to restrict access is not about the health and safety of teenage women, but about legislating who is and isn’t allowed to have sex.”) Never mind that the political leaders who restrict Plan B access, which prevents conception after unprotected sex, are the same people who restrict abortion access — abortion being what women might logically turn to when faced with an unplanned pregnancy that using Plan B might have prevented in the first place.

But this morning brought some good news:

Moments ago, Teva, the manufacturer of the emergency contraceptive (EC) Plan B, announced that it filed an application with the FDA requesting that EC be available over-the-counter without a prescription for women of all ages.

While it’s phenomenal that Teva has put this pressure on the FDA, their request will only affect restrictions on their specific emergency contraception product. In an email, the Center for Reproductive Rights emphasized: “We want the FDA to know that it is still required to obey the law and end all restrictions once and for all –- not on a piece meal basis.”

They have a petition to pressure Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, to end senseless age restrictions on all forms of emergency contraception. Please sign here.

Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

July 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

by KATIE E.

A new study has shown that women with fibromyalgia are ten times more likely to commit suicide than women without the chronic pain condition.

Researchers in Denmark followed death rates of men and women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and while the death rates overall for both genders were consistent, only the individual mortality causes of males were very similar to the rest of the population. Within the women followed, about 3.3% died through suicide, compared to less than 0.005% of the general female population.

The article notes that this is not truly brand new news, as many doctors, and, more likely, people with fibromyalgia, have been aware of this for years.

I suppose the article can be seen as somewhat of a good thing, because it calls attention to the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition that can have devastating consequences, which many people living in this ableist world don’t or refuse to understand. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of this, but all one has to do to read dozens of stories of misdiagnoses, accusations of lying about the condition, and years of chronic pain is to read the (surprisingly civil) comment section on the article. It is not a safe space by any means, and there are a few ableist comments that are definitely triggering, but all in all, it is one of the few mainstream sites I’ve seen people with fibromyalgia share their stories without excessive attacks, derailing, etc.

The article isn’t perfect, though. There is the obvious issue that this is something people with fibromyalgia and (good) medical professionals already know, but other parts of the article seemed to do nothing but erase the experiences of the exact same women that the article is written about, particularly a section where one of the researchers speculated on the exact causes of the suicides:

“Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s authors, said that other psychiatric illnesses that often occur in tandem with fibromyalgia might not be the only explanation for the high suicide rates.”

This leaves the reader to wonder if Dr. Danneskiold-Samse has actually talked to many women with fibromyalgia who may be suicidal, or if she, being the typical “expert,” just decided it must be true without sufficient evidence. The parts of the article detailing the study make no reference to asking women whether or not they had a diagnosed psychiatric condition, or even asking what their primary reason (the section frames it as a depression vs. physical pain issue, I’ll get to that in a moment) for contemplating suicide was.

Better yet, why not take the focus off the “experts” and actually interview some women with fibromyalgia who may have experienced suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric conditions who are willing to share their experiences? They’re the only real experts here, yet the article silences their voices.

“None of the patients in the study who committed suicide had a history of psychiatric illness before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”

Well, this is a huge, ableist fail. Believe it or not, so-called experts of the world, psychiatric conditions can change radically, especially after the diagnosis of the condition that you just said correlates with suicide. Shouldn’t that be blatantly obvious?

“The high suicide rate could still be linked to depression in these patients, or to anti-depressants that are known to carry risks of suicide, she told Reuters Health. But ‘many of these patients do not take anti-depressant medications because of the side effects, and because they do not feel depressed,’ she said. ‘My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.'”

So much assuming, silencing, and obviousness going on here. Apparently, this doctor knows everything about women with fibromyalgia who’ve committed suicide — why they don’t take anti-depressants, and exactly why they committed suicide. Never mind the fact that some people can’t take anti-depressants because of other conditions, some don’t believe in or see effects of them, and some can’t afford them, among other things. Don’t forget: “My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.”…really? Does she not notice that that is a huge assumption about all women with fibromyalgia? Some women with fibromyalgia take their lives solely because of the pain, some only because of depression that has nothing to do with their physical condition, some solely because of depression caused by pain, and many because of various combinations of the above, along with completely different reasons.

As stated before, the article does acknowledge fibromyalgia as a real condition that can create very severe problems for people, but it cannot effectively do its job while it silences the women affected by the condition everyday.

In Which I Masochistically Attempt to Understand Camille Paglia

July 6, 2010 § 8 Comments

QUESTION: What the fuck is this? That was my first thought when I came across Camille Paglia’s recent column, No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class. I looked her up on Wikipedia, which was a mistake. Lady is contro-fucking-versial and also slightly ridiculous.

The piece is — apparently — about a drug to counter low libido in women, for which there is significant demand. An advisory panel to the Food & Drug Administration recently voted against the approval of such a drug, but recommended further research. It seems the that possibility of providing non-hormonal medical help to women with this kind of sexual dysfunction might soon be a reality.

This is excellent! Agreed? Because women deserve an equal share of the power of modern medicine, we deserve a drug industry that responds to our concerns, we deserve good sex. Because men with sexual dysfunction are just regular guys with a bit of bad luck, but women with the same problems are alien cyborgs who should be quiet and shame-ridden. Because Viagra was covered by insurance before some kinds of birth control. (Erections are reimbursable, but preventing the unwanted potential products of said erections? Out of pocket, bitches. ERECTIONS!! We bow down to your almighty power! Or something.)

Unfortunately, Camille Paglia doesn’t agree. At least, I think that this is her position, though it’s difficult to discern why from the apalling above-linked collection of words and “ideas” that bears little resemblance to a coherent argument.

Below, for your reading pleasure, a selection of astoundingly ridiculous (published! And financially compensated!) excerpts from Paglia’s piece. (Real Paglia words in bold, followed by my own alternate, comparably illogical text.)

“A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class.” “Sometimes I see women of color in my local Victoria’s Secret. Lacy underwear = having sex. Therefore, the aforementioned ladies must be having more sex than white ladies. Therefore, they must never suffer from unpleasant sexual dysfunction, which the aforementioned pharmaceuticals might cure. Conclusion: white ladies are prudes! No lady-Viagra can cure that shit! VICTORIA’S SECRET FOR THE WIN!!!”

“Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.” “FACT: As soon as you get to know someone, it is automatically impossible for you to find them sexy. You’re like, ‘Oh hey, that guy over there is substantially attractive. Shall I go over and introduce myself, maybe acquire his name, maybe acquire his digits of phone?’ Ladies, I am here to say NO! Do NOT talk to the men, do not allow yourself to glimpse them wearing T-shirts, shorts, OR HEAVEN FORBID SNEAKERS, because the sexy will vanish. It will be GONE, and you won’t deserve any lady-Viagra to turn you on again.”

“In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.” “I, Camille Paglia, don’t find Lady Gaga sexually appealing. Since I, Camille Paglia, have recently been crowned The Very Important White Lady Who Is Also The World’s Sole Arbiter Concerning Who Is And Is Not Attractive, the previous statement obviously supports my thesis that white women have an incurable lack of lust, so incurable that not even the most testosterone-packed lady-Viagra can attempt to correct it.”

“In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.” “Because of stupid feminism, today’s poor, poor men sometimes work with their minds instead of their muscles, which is of course degrading and ridiculous. I would prefer if men were once more allowed to roam free in the wild, where they might enjoy a life of staring at their biceps, gnawing on beef jerky, never washing their hands, and impregnating women left and right. Men! MEN!!!”

Men must neuter themselves?! I am literally wondering aloud: what the fuck do these words mean? Is she saying that men have to suppress their masculinity, really? Really, they have to control their rapacious manliness in the unabashed boys’ club that is almost every single “white-collar realm” in this nation? Because 30% of female workers report harassment in their workplace, and men are almost always the perpetrators, dontcha know. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases go unreported, so that 30% estimate is likely far from accurate.)

And maybe some “ambitious women postpone procreation” not because they don’t like sex, as Paglia implies, but because…their lifetime ambitions simply don’t include children? Or because despite being inundated since birth with cultural messages about how they’d better-become-moms-or-else, many of their jobs offer shamefully stingy maternity leave? Or because they fear workplace discrimination based on pregnancy status?

Look, Paglia: I guess I can concede that I admire your attempt at a historical analysis of women’s sexuality in the United States. I live for that shit! Seriously, I love writing about sex and women. Because it is interesting, and complicated. Also, convoluted. A BRIEF AND REALISTICALLY CONFUSING PARAPHRASE OF WHAT WE TELL WOMEN: Everyone is having sex. Also, having sex is weird. Sex feels good. Also, feeling good is bad. Your sexuality is your only power and worth. Also, if you have sex your power and worth will vanish. You must want and be ready for sex all the time. Also, you can never have sex at any time.

Yes, this is what we do. We repeat over and over that women’s most potent power is sexual — which in some ways, unfortunately, is true, because we don’t hold equitable financial, or corporate, or political power — and then we don’t let women have sex!

So yes, I can agree with Paglia that the topic of women’s sexuality is ripe for analysis, and that a comprehensive understanding of such requires dissecting cultural norms. But what I cannot condone is her condescending dismissal of real womens’ sexual problems. Because female sexual dysfunction? Is not cultural. At least, it’s not any more cultural than breast cancer is cultural or fibromyalgia is cultural or any medical condition is cultural — which is, actually, somewhat (because the way we understand and interact with our bodies differs from culture to culture), but not entirely, as her writing supposes.

Paglia’s piece is a farcical charge against the logical and equitable notion that women, like men, sometimes suffer from sexual dysfunction. She betrays and mocks the 43% of this country’s women who will experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. These conditions are real. They are medical. And they are treatable — or will be, if the FDA will approve effective drugs, and if people like Camille Paglia will take seriously the right of women to enjoy fully the pleasure our bodies can provide.

Also see the Harpy Seminar on and Sungold’s takedown of Paglia’s article.

Just for Funsies…

September 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

HAPPY 200th POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was going to save this one for Miranda but I’m in the library right now and thought I’d take a little study break.

Hi everyone! My new obsession at Grinnell is becoming a peer counselor at the Sexual Health Information Center. I’ve been working really hard on my application, so I figured I might share it with you all. That way if I don’t get it (ewwwww) I will have SOMETHING to show for it:

(I’m not posting the questions, but most of them you can figure out.)

1.As a result of having experienced several badly-executed sexual health classes in high school, I am familiar with examples of how not to approach sexual health education For instance, the classes I attended have all been centered on heterosexual issues, usually skirting the topic of gay sex entirely. Classes were entirely fact based, with homework assignments requiring students only to fill in the blank with one or two word answers. The lack of discussion was counter-productive. My goal, should I become a peer counselor, would be to foster as much open discussion as possible. Students can be educated about sexual health only when they’re asked to think about the issues and consider them in personal terms. I think this is in line with Grinnell’s approach to education (both academic and social) in general.

Although I have never participated in a program as a counselor or peer educator I have some experience communicating ideas of sexual health education reform through my contributions to the blog Women’s Glib (http://www.womensglib.wordpress.com). This experience has proven quite useful in forcing to me to think about how best to communicate about sexual topics.

The blog, started by my good friend, has become quite successful in a short time. It has received attention from feminist authors (such as Jessica Valenti, and the bloggers for “Feministe”) The blog was also recently featured in Mother Jones magazine. Connections to these resources could be extremely beneficial to SHIC.

2.I am interested in becoming a peer counselor because I have become interested in exploring the field of public health as a career. I firmly believe that health and medicine are important social issues, and that everyone should have access to information on these subjects. My interest is partly due to an eye-opening experience this summer, attending an amazingly successful sexual health class which took a very different approach than classes I had attended previously. Student participation made all the difference. When teenagers opened up to each other the fear and the stigma of “the sex talk” disappeared. We even got to a point, as a class, when we were debating heavy ethical issues passionately and quite comfortably. I think that peer counseling helps create a much more laid back atmosphere in an otherwise notoriously uncomfortable (though it mustn’t be) situation.

Before I found out about SHIC, I had been planning my own sexual health education club for Grinnell. It was my intention to partner with a local hospital and high school and have Grinnell college students teach sexual health classes to teenagers in the community. When I heard about SHIC, it seemed like an obvious choice for me. I would love to gain experience as a peer counselor, helping students at Grinnell first and then to taking my knowledge to the community. Perhaps at some point later on SHIC can expand to the community level.

Another project I would like to pursue is to create an SHIC blog, with as much sexual health information on it as possible, as well as discussions about health education reform, etc. This could be in conjunction with Women’s Glib, or stand on its own. The internet is too good of a resource to neglect, and SHIC could probably benefit from utilizing it if it has not already.

(Skipping 3 because it’s about my schedule. Boring.)

4.Confidentiality is obviously of the utmost importance for an organization like SHIC. Without the promise of confidentiality, no one would come for help. Confidentiality is the basis of trust and respect between counselors and students, values which SHIC could not exist without. I see confidentiality as somewhat black and white. Anything that is said in the SHIC stays in the SHIC. Obviously, I will adhere to any SHIC or Grinnell College rules about reporting violence or any other kind of sexual misconduct, but ultimately I believe that as adults, we are all entitled to make our own decisions.

5.I think I am a strong candidate for a peer counselor position because I am a very open and talkative person. I would imagine that my primary role as a counselor is to listen and assess, but I think I can make people very comfortable with talking about whatever they need to discuss. I welcome new people quite well, and really love to discuss sexual health. This, I think, shows in most of my conversations on the topic. I think my biggest weakness is the fact that I wouldn’t ever want to give people advice or information that they don’t want to hear. This is obviously something I would have to do, and I’m fully prepared to deal with that. With time it may get easier, but it can be pretty heart breaking sometimes to be the bearer of bad news. My only method of compensating for this is to grit my teeth and deal with it in as sensitive a manner as possible. This weakness should really only affect my comfort level, not whomever I am counseling.

6.I think the hardest counseling session would be with someone who is unwilling to make their own decisions, and unwilling to divulge important information. A counseling session should, in my opinion, be a dialogue. When it is one sided it is impossible to tell how effective a counselor you are. A counselor’s job is not to make decisions for their peers, but to talk things through, listen, and aid the student being counseled in his or her decision making. I would assume that that as a counselor, my primary goal would be to aid my peer in the whatever way he or she needs, within reason. If that means, talking about stuff other than sexual health to break the ice a little, or listening to them vent about their relationships, so be it. I would also try to stimulate the conversation by asking the student to come in with a list of possible solutions, or questions he or she might have to get things moving.

7.I think that the most important thing to learn about sexual health is that it should in no way be a taboo topic! Obviously all the facts about STIs and birth control methods etc. should be available. However, I think discussing the societal aspects of sexual health is equally important. Lastly, I think it is absolutely necessary to convey the idea that sex is fun, and you are supposed to feel good when engaging in any sort of sexual behavior. Sex should not be a commodity under any circumstances. These values are absolutely necessary to pass on to anyone who is willing to listen.

History of Infant Feeding in the US

July 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hi AGAIN! I’m on a roll.

This is a paper I wrote last semester for my US Women’s History class. It’s a little stiff (because I was dying to graduate) but I find the subject matter extremely interesting. Also, I cite my mommy, lactation consultant Bev Solow!

Enjoy!

Choices: Abortion

June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

Coming up next week is another of NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s Choices events.

Choices: Abortion
Wednesday, July 8th
6:30 PM- 8:30 PM
NARAL Pro-Choice New York
470 Park Avenue South, 7th Floor, NYC

NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health in partnership with co-sponsors the New York Abortion Access Fund and Exhale presents Choices: Abortion.

Presenters will share the work they do each day to provide financial assistance to low-income women who cannot afford to pay for an abortion, support and counsel women after they have an abortion, ensure that all women have the health care coverage and access necessary to obtain reproductive health care, and work on the legislative and political levels to ensure that all people have access to safe and legal abortion.

Presenters include:

Event is free and open to all with RSVP to Lalena Howard at lhoward@prochoiceny.org or 646-520-3506. Event space is wheel-chair accessible.

I hope to make it, and I’d love to see lots of people there!

Our State Senators, the “Feuding Junior High Schoolers”

June 26, 2009 § 3 Comments

It’s been two and a half weeks since the feud in the New York State Senate began up in Albany. The Times broke the news on June 8:

Republicans apparently seized control of the New York State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for the Democratic Party, which controlled the chamber for barely five months.

A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control.

The quite possibly illegal coup has had ramifications for many legislation, including a proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage that has been stalled indefinitely. It has also suspended a vote on the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that will codify Roe v. Wade into New York state law and establish political standards for reproductive health legislation.

Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice NY and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, writes:

With passage of this legislation, every woman in New York would have been assured that her fundamental right to choose abortion would be protected. Critically, the Reproductive Health Act would also have clarified that a woman would be allowed to have an abortion if her health or life was endangered. The bill, which has been loudly debated for three years, was going to be voted on quietly and respectfully so that each senator could fully vote his or her conscience.

But two days earlier, the Republicans — with the help of Sen. Pedro Espada and Sen. Hiram Monserrate, both Democrats, ostensibly — engineered a coup that took down the pro-choice Senate leadership and attempted to reinstate the same anti-choice Republicans who’ve been blocking pro-choice legislation for 40 years.

This maneuver appears to have effectively derailed the bill — ironically, as both Monserrate and Espada are co-sponsors of the Reproductive Health Act.

One would think that Monserrate, of all people, might want to make women’s issues a priority. One would think Espada, whose health center serves low-income women, might want to make women’s health a priority. One would think that Sen. Dean Skelos, who really ought to be noticing the national trend away from Bush-era extremism, might want to make women’s issues a priority.

Women’s health and rights matter in New York. Polls have repeatedly shown that nearly three quarters of New Yorkers (across all party lines and demographics) support the Reproductive Health Act.

Yet the anti-choice Republican leadership has maintained a stranglehold on the Senate, kowtowing to fringe interests.

The RHA is near and dear to my heart. In fact, as part of my volunteer work with NARAL over the past year and a half, I’ve been collecting petition signatures in support of the bill at street fairs and calling voters to transfer them directly to their district representatives. The week before this free-for-all began, I walked over to my state senator’s district office to hand-deliver almost a hundred petitions from my district alone. Soon after, he signed on as a co-sponsor.

I have been working to make this bill a law because it’s fun, it’s empowering, and it will have incredible consequences for New York’s women. But my commitment to action and dialogue has been completely silenced, while the people we’ve elected to represent us get paid to act like children.

New York did not have one State Senate on Tuesday [June 23]. It had two.

Democrats sneaked into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, seizing control of the rostrum and locking Republicans out of the room. Republicans were finally allowed to enter about 2:30 p.m., but when they tried to station one of their own members on the dais they were blocked by the sergeants-at-arms.

So then something extraordinary — and rather embarrassing — happened.

The two sides, like feuding junior high schoolers refusing to acknowledge each other, began holding separate legislative sessions at the same time. Side by side, the parties, each asserting that it rightfully controls the Senate, talked and sometimes shouted over one another, gaveling through votes that are certain to be disputed. There were two Senate presidents, two gavels, two sets of bills being voted on.

…and again just a few days later:

This feckless bunch in Albany, a k a your state senators, can’t even scuffle properly. Just when you thought they couldn’t embarrass themselves any further, they reduced themselves this week to “my gavel is bigger than yours” gamesmanship and to nyah-nyah name-calling.

“You’re out of order,” cried George H. Winner Jr., a Republican senator. No, shouted back Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat, “you’re out of order.”

And people think high school students are immature?

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