No More Annual Pelvic Exams? Can It Be True?

Doctors Appointment

I have a very scientific method for choosing a new doctor. First, I look at their website. If it doesn’t look like a Geocities site from 1995, they’re definitely in the running. If they offer text reminders for appointments, even better. And if I can make an appointment online? I’m basically sold. I told you, science.

Needless to say, I’m not so great at making and keeping doctor’s appointments. How do I know where I’ll be on at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday six months from now? Will I have the same job? Will I be living in the same place? What’s my hair going to look like? Too many variables, man. I can’t even begin to think about annual appointments.

That’s why people like me will be pretty psyched about the new guidelines from the American College of Physicians that says most women don’t need annual pelvic exams. Annual pelvic exams benefit those who are pregnant or have some form of disease – otherwise, they aren’t completely necessary for everyone else.

How can this be? Pelvic exams have long been administered out of habit and were simply part of most gynecological exams. Pap smears for cervical cancer are only recommended every three to five years now, and a pelvic exam doesn’t need to accompany a pap smear. STDs can be detected with a urine sample, so no pelvic exam is needed there either. Of course, women experiencing any abnormalities like pain or urinary problems should always get a pelvic exam, so don’t assume everyone is off the hook.

The purpose of a pelvic exam is to screen for abnormalities in the ovaries, uterus and other pelvic organs. But it was discovered years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that these internal exams weren’t that great of a screening tool for ovarian cancer after all.

I’m not sure about you, but a pelvic exam is never the highlight of my day. These new guidelines are especially beneficial for survivors of sexual abuse, as they help women avoid the anxiety and discomfort associated with pelvic exams. This also cuts down on unnecessary costs and time spent too.

Now, the issue here is that people like me can potentially take this as a sign to blow off gyno visits. Not needing annual pelvic exams doesn’t mean you don’t have to make regular appointments – you still do, and you still need to discuss all of this stuff with your doctor. The good news? People like me can be less afraid of making these appointments knowing that they don’t necessarily involve a pelvic exam. And if anything can encourage me to actually make and remember a doctor’s appointment, I’m all for it.

How do you feel about these guidelines? Do you still get annual pelvic exams? Share with us in the comments section!

A Man’s Guide to Menstruation

Men&Periods

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never encountered a dude who embraced the female menstruation cycle – and if I did, I’d probably run. The subject itself usually elicits some level of discomfort or misunderstanding, which is par for the course. Would I go out of my way to understand some kind of mystery surrounding male genitalia? Um, sorry, but no.

So what’s the general male consensus?

According to John DeVore of The Frisky:

“Men don’t really think about menstruation, because we don’t have to think about menstruation. We don’t have uteruses. Male genitals are embarrassingly simple. Our junk is a Speak N’ Spell. A woman’s private parts are more like an iPad.”

Both hilarious and true, right? Honestly, I get it. I wish I didn’t have to think about getting my period, either. But the next time your guy gets weirded out about taking a trip down the tampon aisle, remind him that there are some serious benefits of a visit from Aunt Flo.

It means you’re not pregnant: If you’re NOT trying to conceive, this is the best news in the world. Heck, it’s a reason to celebrate. Throw yourself party! I personally give myself a pat on the back every time I shed my uterine lining.

It means everything is working down there: How is it that when something’s wrong, your vagina is always the first to know? A wonky period could mean a million different things – stress, sickness, you name it – so if you’re getting it regularly, consider that a blessing.

It’s an excuse to eat all the food: This is my personal favorite. I’m ALWAYS ravenous during that time of the month. Like, scarily so. Therefore, I use my period as an excuse to eat everything in sight. Take-out nightly? Yup! An entire pizza in one sitting? You bet! Enough ice cream to laugh in the face of lactose intolerance? BRING IT!

Now that we’ve covered the positives, let’s move on to naming conventions. Menstruation is just about the least pleasing word in the English language, followed by moist and festering. And period isn’t much better. For me, it conjures up images of my 7th grade health class and the outdated 70’s-era video we had to watch about out changing bodies.

That’s probably why we’ve come up with no shortage of terms for “that time of the month”. In fact, I’m pretty sure we have more terms for “period” than we do for “love”. I’m not sure what this says about us as a society. In no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite “period-isms”:

Shark Week
Carrie at the Prom
Kelly Kapowski Can’t Make It to Cheerleading Practice
Riding the Cotton Pony
Crimson Tide
Code Red
Girl Flu
Red Moon Rising
Flying the Japanese Flag
Red Roof Inn

Guys will probably never understand our Shark Week, but hopefully this guide will help them appreciate it a little bit more.

Why do YOU think guys get so weirded out by menstruation? Tell us in the comments!

Sexual Violence Against Women Is a Reality That’s Too Real

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Two weeks ago, The Daily Show took a stab at sexual assault on college campuses with the impetus being the most recent case at James Madison University. Three JMU students recorded video footage of them sexually assaulting another student, and then passed it around to their peers at the university. After the victim filed a complaint, the assailants were expelled… after graduation. Which just seems like the general idea of graduation, except now they can’t go to alumni functions.

The Daily Show correspondents Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper gave the audience some advice on campus safety. (You can watch the video in its entirety here.) As Klepper’s advice sticks to mainly advertising the most effective ways of partying, Williams speaks about protecting yourself against the constant threat of sexual violence. At first, it’s amusing. Klepper repeats a college freshman’s time-honored phrase, “Beer before liquor, never been sicker.” Williams responds, “Don’t be a doofie, watch out for a roofie.”

But, as the skit goes on, my laughter stops and I start to nod at William’s precautions. Don’t leave a friend alone at a party. Take a cab home but keep one hand on the door handle. Don’t walk home at night. These are all things I have done – when I was at college and today as a single woman living alone – because I feel the constant threat of sexual violence. I carry self-defense tools with me because I feel it. I don’t wear heels not only because they hurt my feet but also because I can’t run in them. At the end of The Daily Show’s segment, Klepper asks Williams, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that women just spend their whole day navigating an obstacle course of sexual menace?” We’re practically taught to expect it – and to live with it.

Typically after a woman is assaulted and choosing to go public, she has to relive her horrific ordeal to friends, family, police officers, and lawyers. Then, the victim blaming begins. “What were you wearing?” “Why were you outside at night?” “How much did you drink?” All questions point to what the victim could have done differently instead of placing emphasis on the wrongdoing of the attacker. In the case at JMU, the victim had video proof of her assault and her assailants were proven guilty; yet, they barely got any punishment. The victim has since left the university due to stress from the judicial process and from the thought of seeing her attackers on campus until graduation day. The culture of victim blaming has permeated into schools so much that the U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 schools for the way in which they handle sexual assault cases. (The full list of those schools can be found here.)

Frankly, this post was a difficult one for me to write since I’m starting to lose count of the women in my life who have survived sexual assault. And I know that I’m not alone in this. Statistics show that one in four women have survived rape or attempted rape. When will women be able to take ownerships of their bodies? When will women be heard when they say no? When will we stop teaching women not to get raped and instead people not to rape? We must work together to break the silence and to find justice in cases of sexual assault on-and-off-campus. Until then, we’re left to simply live with the reality that Williams brings to light.

Why Hobby Lobby is Denying Women a Lot More Than Birth Control

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I’ll never forget the day I attempted to discretely vomit in the middle of an Algebra test during my senior year of high school. I was prone to severe PMS (or, as I later learned, PMDD) and this time it was particularly bad. I could (sort of) deal with the fatigue and weird, sudden depression I’d feel. But the cramps were on another level.

I awkwardly excused myself and tried to walk to the nurse’s office. The pain was so intense I could barely walk and I was having hot flashes so I couldn’t see. When I finally made it, the nurse seemed to think I was faking it. I promptly threw up again and blacked out in the middle of her office. Ha! Take that, lady.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. It happened again at the beach, and then another time in an Au Bon Pain. Not even their cheesiest baguette could save me.

But you know what eventually did? Going on birth control. Believe me when I say I wasn’t having sex at that point. I barfed in the middle of Algebra class, remember?

That’s why the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow Hobby Lobby – and other companies with stringent religious beliefs – to deny their employees health coverage for contraception even more maddening. It isn’t enough that Hobby Lobby is forcing women to pay for something that is mandated we receive at no cost in the Affordable Care Act. It also appears they have no idea how contraceptives actually work or why women take them.

So, allow me to spell it out for you. There are a myriad of other reasons why women take oral contraception besides the obvious. Here are a few of them.

1. Avoiding the soul-crushing symptoms of PMDD: I honestly do not know what I would do without birth control, aside from being a functionless shell of a human for a solid week every month. That’s right, a full week of searing pain, extreme nausea and the general lack of a will to live. My teenage years were pretty awesome.

2. Reducing the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer: Yep, studies have shown that a woman’s risk for both types of cancer decreases the longer she’s taking oral contraception. If that’s not a good reason, I have no idea what is.

3. Treating acne: Did I mention I had chronic acne as a teen too? Plenty of women go on the pill for this reason alone.

4. Alleviating PMS in general: Even if your periods are normal for the most part (in which case, I hate you), the pill can alleviate any PMS symptoms you do have, making your Shark Week more closely resemble a Tampax commercial.

5. Regulating your cycle: No one wants to be surprised by their period, but lots of women are forced to deal with irregular cycles. Well, guess what? The pill can take care of that too – AND make your period even shorter.! !

And these are just some of the benefits of birth control pills – IUDs are an entirely different ballgame.

What’s your take on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling? Do you take oral contraception for any of these reasons too? Let’s hear it in the comments section!

How Much Does Stress Impact Your Fertility? Plus, 3 Relaxation Techniques

Stress

How Much Does Stress Impact Your Fertility? Plus, 3 Relaxation Techniques
By Kristen Dunleavy

One of my closest and most neurotic friends is currently trying to get pregnant. This is the same woman who embarked on her honeymoon directly after her wedding’s after party and upon her return, went directly to the animal shelter to adopt a new dog. Suffice to say, this lady not does waste her time. So when she and her husband didn’t get pregnant within the first month of trying, she immediately started freaking out.

I encourage her to chill out because her life is stressful enough – she’s a nurse in long-term care with a gazillion stories that make my job sound like a day spa. Plus, we all already know that stress can impact your health in so many ways. Why add to that? Well, now there’s an even more important reason to relax: in a recent study published in Human Reproductions, it turns out that stress can have an impact on a woman’s fertility as well.

In the study, researchers monitored couples between ages 18 and 40 who were trying to conceive for one year. The womens’ stress hormones were measured at the beginning of the study to determine their base level of stress. They found that the women with the highest levels of the stress hormone alpha-amylase were 29 percent less likely to conceive within that first year. Not only that, these women also has an increased risk of infertility. Weirdly enough, the researchers couldn’t find a correlation between the hormone related to chronic stress (cortisol) and pregnancy.

Obviously, studies like this tend to be counterintuitive because they freak us out even more. Not only that, relaxation is much easier said than done. So what are we to do? Here are three natural, effective methods of relaxation to consider when you’re trying to conceive.

Meditation

Not everyone can shut their mind off (myself included) but learning breathing techniques to use when you’re hit with a stressful situation can do wonders for your health and your sanity. It can help lower blood pressure, relieve tension and improve circulatory functions.

Yoga

You don’t have to be flexible to reap the many stress-busting benefits of a good yoga session. In fact, yoga has been proven to help reduce anxiety, promote better balance and some even use it to manage chronic illnesses.

Aromatherapy

Rosewood, calendula, geranium, lavender and ylang ylang are just a few of the essential oils that can help relieve tension and nerves. Stash some at work or anywhere you experience stress so you have access to them when you need them the most.

How do you cope with stress? Tell us in the comments section!

Happy Graduation! Now Go Get Tested.

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Happy Graduation! Now Go Get Tested.
By Kristen Dunleavy

Graduating college was completely unreal to me. In fact, I wasn’t entirely convinced I was actually graduating until the day of commencement. And even then, I felt that at any point my advisor would run up to the stage and announce that there was glitch in the system and I didn’t have enough credits to graduate after all. I’m not paranoid or anything.

Post-graduation, I was fortunate enough to get hired from an internship that I loved. This also meant a somewhat hellish daily commute into Manhattan – but for me, it was worth it. Many of my friends were doing the same and that meant I had plenty of people to commiserate with over drinks at happy hour. I was in a relationship at the time, but for my single friends, working in New York was akin to being a kid in a candy store. In this case, the candy was hot dudes with an excuse to wear a tie every day.

Chances are, plenty of young people are in the exact same boat right now, or will be very soon. If you thought hooking up in college was awesome, wait until you’re in the FOR REAL world. It’s a totally different ball game. And that’s why staying on top of your sexual health is a billion times more important than it ever has been in your entire life.

For one, half of all new STDs occur between ages 15-24 and one in two sexually active people will contract an STD by age 25. Think about that. I don’t mean to instill fear in your heart or anything, but there’s an excellent chance that you or someone you know has had an STD.

What’s even scarier is that most STDs don’t have any obvious symptoms right away, or the symptoms are so minor that many women ignore them. But women are far more likely to have more frequent and more serious health problems as the result of untreated STDs, including fertility, birth complications and the high probability of passing the disease onto your child.

You might be thinking, “Ok, but I visit the gyno regularly, so I’ve been tested.”Well, no, not necessarily. About two-thirds of young women believe their doctors routinely test for chlamydia, but that isn’t the case. Getting screened for STDs requires a conversation with your doctor about what specific tests you need. Don’t assume that any past blood or urine test will reveal an STD, because that isn’t how screening works. You have to be proactive about getting tested.

The good news is that many of the most common STDs are 100% treatable. Don’t think that you’ll be marked for life if you discover you have an STD. It’s way better to know for sure if you have something so you can deal with it and move on with your life.

You already know the whole spiel about condoms, but it bears repeating – especially when you find yourself in new surroundings. Always carry a condom (or two!) and use them every single time. You never know where life will take you in a new job or a new city, so prepare yourself now.

Are starting a new job or moving to a new city? Have you been tested recently? Tell us in the comments section!

Sex shouldn’t be a “pain”

No Pain

Boomer women aren’t shy about their sexuality or are they?  We were the generation that had access to various means of birth control; we were liberated, emancipated, and freer than our Mothers?  Unfortunately, we won’t ask for what we want and need when it comes to sex.

I’m talking about vulvovaginal atrophy that affects 20% to 45% of women beginning in midlife and older.  Yes, it is a medical condition AND it doesn’t mean you are somehow inadequate or unsexy! It’s the result of lower levels of estrogen during menopause and the symptoms include itching, dryness, (sometimes women will also have the urge to go to the bathroom more often and with greater urgency), and painful sex.  Just when you threw your birth control out the window and you were looking forward to having sex with wanton abandon**, there’s the issue of pain. In fact, less than 25% of women with the symptom of pain during sex will discuss it; not even with their physician.   Instead they avoid having sex, or if they do have it may come with tearing, bleeding, and discomfort.   Sex is supposed to be pleasurable.  Time to confront the issue and start living life again.

What to do?

  1. Ask for help
  2. Check into non-hormonal lubricants and moisturizers;
    I’m personally not a fan of hormones
  3. iscuss this with your partner
  4. The cliché of use it or lose it is true
  5. Check out Jeffrey Osborne’s “Baby Stay with Me Tonight”
  6. When sex is FUN again, you’ll be “surfing in bed” again and again

**Important: Please practice safe sex. Unprotected sex may lead to sexually transmitted diseases including transmission of the HIV virus.

And, this is TMI for my daughter, so I hope she isn’t reading my blog.

Take good care,
G