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.

Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 1: Birth Control

December 6, 2010 § 7 Comments

by ELENA

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait.

Before writing this post, I dug out my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and perused the chapter on Birth Control. There were pages of information about the history of birth control, cultural or socioeconomic obstacles to obtaining birth control, how pharmaceutical interests might affect health care providers, choosing the birth control method that is right for you, the safety of birth control, and a special segment on the need for services that can provide teens with birth control. And then , after that, the chapter described, in detail, how different birth control methods worked, how to properly use each method, side effects, and what they cost.

Under “Birth Control” on the W2W page was this statement:

Not ready to be a parent yet? Want to avoid a suprise pregnancy? Here are some methods for keeping a pregnancy from happening along with their failure rates, advantages, and disadvantages.

What follows is a table listing different birth control methods. That’s it. Since the main message of abstinence-only education is “DON’T DO IT!!!”, then why bother actually explaining how birth control works in depth, which might improve the success rate of each method?

“Abstinence” is listed first on the chart, and the ‘Advantages” include “no medical or horomonal side effects”, “protection from STIs”, “free”, and “always works”. In Our Bodies, Ourselves, disadvantages of “Complete Abstinence*” include the difficulty of maintaining an abstinent relationship, and the high risk of unplanned pregnancy/contracting an STI if an abstinent couple has sex without knowing how to use birth control or barrier methods. One thing that neither W2W or Our Bodies, Ourselves discusses is sexual assault. Abstinence is not “100%” effective, because there still is a risk of a person engaging in sexual acts, either consentually or through force. Is W2W implying that abstinent teens are magically protected from sexual assault, and only the “bad” sexually active teens are sexually assaulted?

Continuing down the chart, one of the “Disadvantages” listed for condoms on the W2W chart was “men usually don’t like them”.

What.
The.
Hell?

« Read the rest of this entry »

Men are from Earth, women are from Earth too

August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

ADORE WITH UNBRIDLED PASSION: Headline that reads “Male and female ability differences down to socialisation, not genetics” followed by subheading that reads “Behavioural differences between the sexes are not hard-wired at birth but are the result of society’s expectations, say scientists.”

DESPISE WITH NAUSEATING DISGUST FOR REASONS THAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS (DOES ANYONE REMEMBER EVERYTHING MEL GIBSON HAS EVER SAID, OR HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT ALREADY, IT SEEMS SO, THIS PISSES ME OFF, THOSE PEOPLE SHOULD GOOGLE MEL GIBSON AND DO A WEE BIT OF READING): Photo still of Mel Gibson in a scene from What Women Want that was selected to accompany the article. Because Mel Gibson doing yoga is the best visual representation of researcher Cordelia Fine’s findings that “there are no major neurological differences between the sexes.” And also because now is the best time to publish random pictures of Mel Gibson.

Random, but AWESOME

December 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

This is just really cool. It combines three of my favorite things: Christmas, Copenhagen, and eco-friendly practices.

Check out this AWESOME christmas tree!

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!

Condoms Shouldn’t Be A Secret

May 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

Last week, my grade went on a school bonding trip to the Liberty Science Center. I must admit, I enjoyed it immensely, at least once I got over the fact that we were the only people there over the age of 11, excluding parents. I took a look at the Infection Connection exhibit, which had a lot of cool interactive displays like digital representations of disease rates by country and a model of the human body which you could diagnose after examining (I was quite proud that I got cholera correct on the first try).

I particularly liked the exhibit because of its firm handling of decidedly squishy subjects – namely STIs. A video discussed the global impact of the HIV/AIDS virus; it was accompanied by an excellent display of posters promoting condom usage (No Glove, No Love! and simply, Use a Condom!). We barely (and begrudgingly) grazed over the subject of condoms in my tenth grade health class, and here is a well-funded museum teaching kids old enough to read why they are so damn important! It blew my mind, in a great way.

The curators did something so right by presenting STIs as any other harmful infection: they resisted the Puritan urge to turn that section of the exhibit into a hypersexual caricature or a judgment zone. Contrary to conservative fear-talk, teaching youngsters about the dangers of STIs and ways to have fun while keeping their bodies safe does not need to be a big brouhaha. I’m so sick of the online “articles” that profess the secret to having “that conversation” with your kid. It shouldn’t be a single potent encounter that makes both sides nervous and leaves lethal questions unanswered; rather, talking about sex should be a life-long reality.

Sex for Dummies: Deflating Myths About Female Desire

March 14, 2009 § 5 Comments

I wrote this editorial for my English class. As always, feedback is appreciated in comments!

Maybe you’ve already read Daniel Bergner’s recent New York Times Magazine article, ominously titled What Do Women Want? In the piece, Bergner chronicles the research of four contemporary sexologists trying to discover what “ignites female desire.” The scientists are given huge sums of money to make sweeping, oversimplified generalizations about what women crave, while paradoxically concluding that women’s true desires are still a scientific mystery. If you’re anything like me, your reaction might have gone something like this:

Part A: Intrigue and excitement. You’re thinking, “Sweet deal! An article about female sexuality that hasn’t been relegated to the Style section? It even has the word feminist in the subtitle! Okay, postfeminist, but I’ll take what I can get.”

Part B: Mid-read, you pause to catch your intellectual breath. “Wow, this article is incredibly dense. I expected it would be research-heavy, but this is just ridiculous. How will other women be able to relate to such clinical language?”

Part C: You’ve finished the article, but nothing’s become any clearer. “I thought I was supposed to have that crazy woman code cracked by now!” Sorry, my friend. Bergner seems morbidly confused about the answer to his own weighty question.

Allow me to help.

MYTH: All women want the same thing.
While he never says it outright, Bergner’s narrative is based completely on this lofty idea. In the first few pages, one of the researchers bemoans the fact that “no one right now has a unifying theory.” The sexologists are portrayed like explorers in some bizarre Nicholas Cage movie: through tireless excavation and sifting, they might one day uncover THE SECRET! to women’s sexuality.

I don’t want anyone to be too disappointed, so let me just fill you in now before you get sweaty: there is no secret.

There are 3.4 billion women in the world. How could it be possible that we all have the same sexual inclinations? The human race is fairly well-known for its incredible diversity; did Bergner think that such sexual multiplicity only applies to men?

Well, it doesn’t. Women are just as varied as men, and that means we like a lot of different things in the bedroom department. Sorry, sexologists, but there isn’t just one light at the end of the tunnel; there are literally billions of them.

MYTH: Women are inherently sexually passive.
Bergner and his subjects spend many a page ruminating on the subject of female sexual docility. I’m going to take a page from activist Jaclyn Friedman’s book – or, rather, letter in response to Bergner’s article: “Wondering why women gravitate toward sexually passive roles? The answer has far less to do with evolution than with the ways women are shamed for expressing aggressive desire and with the pervasive idea that women who pursue their own satisfaction are asking to be raped.”

Our society presents women who purposefully and insistently seek sexual pleasure as laughable, desperate caricatures. We are demeaned and labeled as sluts, hussies, skanks, and whores. Men who pursue such gratification, on the other hand, are just guys being guys (can you think of a single male equivalent for the word slut? No, man-whore doesn’t count). This is not biology – it is a socially constructed power dichotomy that’s been actively created to keep women submissive. We don’t need million dollar studies, Mr. Bergner, to understand why the majority of women take on more subservient sexual characters: we are at risk for ridicule, rape, and murder when we do otherwise.

MYTH: This research will help women understand their sexualities.
I’d like to believe that Bergner had women’s best interests in mind when he wrote this article. The same is true for the scientists involved: “‘I wanted everybody to have great sex,’ [Meredith Chivers] told me, recalling one of her reasons for choosing her career, and laughing as she did.”

But the somber reality is that articles like these actually corrupt women’s sexualities by overcomplicating them with jargon and alienating women whose sexual preferences fall outside the accepted “norm.” As activist Andrea James writes in a letter to the Times, “‘Sex science’ will eventually be viewed as we view ‘race science’ today: as 19th-century eugenic pseudoscience produced to justify oppression. Sexology oppresses women and sexual minorities by describing their desires and behaviors as exotic and diseased.” The tone of this article – which portrays female sexuality as something mysterious to be comprehended instead of celebrated – has the potential to divorce women from their authentic desires. I’d much sooner consider this text a study in social stigma and pervasive sexism than in biology.

MYTH: We need scientific investigation because without it, women won’t know what they really want.
Contrary to what researcher Chivers says, female sexuality is not a “giant forest” that must be mapped. Most of us are already pretty familiar with the path.

It’s true that some women are in the dark about what brings them pleasure – but that unfortunate phenomenon has little to do with science and much more to do with the fact that society is turning the lights off. As Deborah L. Tolman, professor of social welfare, writes in response, “When girls and young women are more than ever socialized to be the best ‘sex objects’ they can be, is it surprising that women grow up struggling to know what they want?” My generation’s women are constantly shown how to please men; blow jobs, masturbation, and sex from a straight male perspective dominate every aspect of popular culture. We can’t even get our health teachers to say the word “clitoris.” It’s no wonder that there’s such a wealth of women who don’t want to talk about orgasms, who don’t know how to ask for what they want. That is society’s fault. The sort of science that Bergner rallies behind isn’t going to change anything for these women as long as our culture still shames us for being sexual.

But the majority of women do know what they want. And we might be happy to share the information – it’s just that no one ever asks. Instead of relying on academics and big-time newspapers for our female-sexuality-101 lessons, I propose we do something radical: talk to females. Our culture generally has little interest in what women have to say – but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re talking about. If you’d like to know what a certain lady wants, ask her. No university lab scientist can be surer than she is about what turns her on.

I want an end to articles that encumber my sexuality and rely on what Jaclyn Friedman fittingly terms “tired clichés dressed up as science.” I want reputable newspapers to devote these seven thousand words to the real problems that today’s women face. I want journalists to stop belittling their female subjects with sexist, irrelevant commentary (Chivers “favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses”). I want an end to subtitles that claim we are in a “postfeminist” age, when everything I know tells me feminism is needed now more than ever.

I want a world where my peers know the difference between science and speculation, my sisters aren’t mocked for expressing desire and expecting satisfaction, and my daughters will see their own pleasure discussed in health textbooks.

I am a woman, and that’s what I want.

Did You Know? Sexism and the Atomic Bomb.

February 10, 2009 § 4 Comments

Sexism, as many of you know, doesn’t just hurt women. It destroys and hinders all kinds of great discoveries – personal, political, and everything in between.

Take this example from a great New Yorker article that ran December ’08:

After Little Boy and Fat Man (our country’s first atomic bombs) were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, our government worked really hard to keep the inner workings and dimensions of those weapons a secret.

Researchers who believed that such information should be made public, such as 61-year-old John Coster-Mullen, worked tirelessly for years trying to discover and publish all of the measurements and mechanics of these early nuclear weapons. 

John Coster-Mullen was not a scientist. In fact, he didn’t have a college degree at all. He worked as a commercial photographer for a part of his life and later on he took up work as a truck driver. But through the careful analysis of public records, national archives, old pictures, and museum recreations of the bomb, he managed to create one of the most comprehensive and accurate reports in existence about nuclear technology. 

One of Coster-Mullen’s biggest breakthroughs came when he considered what the scientific community referred to as the “sex” of the bombs. New Yorker journalist David Samuels writes: 

In the standard historical accounts, the way that the bomb’s gun mechanism worked was by shooting a cylindrical “male” uranium projectile into a concave, stationary uranium target. This act of atomic coitus created a mass sufficient to produce a critical reaction. But no matter how many times Coster-Mullen did the math, the numbers never quite worked out…The source of error, Coster-Mullen realized, was an assumption that every (male) researcher who studied the subject had made about the relation between projectile and target. These scholars had apparently been unable to conceive of an arrangement other than a “missionary position” bomb…But Coster-Mullen realized that a female-superior arrangement – in which a hollow projectile slammed down on top of a stationary cylinder of highly enriched uranium – yielded the correct size and mass. 

In short, an “uneducated” truck driver solved a HUGE scientific mystery because he could see past all of the sexist and heteronormative bullshit that is, unfortunately, so entrenched in scientific thinking. 

So props to you, John Coster-Mullen, for using your street smarts and feminist ideals to beat out all those lab coats who were trying to figure out the exact same mystery.

Another cool thing about Coster-Mullen: Born John Mullen, he changed his name to Coster-Mullen after marrying his wife, Mary Coster. Rock on. 


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