Casual sex is a controversial issue. Whilst some believe it to be the best way to spend a Saturday night, others condemn the morality of it as well as the physical and psychological dangers. Generally, casual sex has a bit of a bad reputation and that reputation can easily stick to those who regularly partake in it. That said, a great number of people find themselves involved with casual sex at one point in their lives. In fact, around 80% of undergraduate students admit to having casual sex, and by the age of 25, around 70% of the population will have ‘hooked up’ at least once. With such a large amount of the population having had some experience of casual sex, even on a small scale, it seems bizarre that there should be a negative feeling around it, but perhaps there are reasons for that. Putting aside the more obvious ones, such as the risk of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies, many are beginning to question whether casual sex is actually bad for your wellbeing.
Everybody occasionally partakes in behavior that is potentially dangerous, whether this is intentional, such as casual unprotected sex, or unintentional, such as a workplace injury. The consequences of those actions can be scary, but perhaps the scariest of all consequences is transmitting a life-affecting virus such as HIV – and both of the previous examples could have this result. Of course, there are ways in which you can help protect yourself – avoiding risky situations where possible and following safety advice such as using condoms are a good start – but it’s impossible to avoid every potentially dangerous situation in life. Sometimes, risk of exposure to HIV is going to happen. So is there any way that transmission of HIV can be prevented after exposure? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes. PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is a treatment given to those who have been exposed to a high risk of HIV transmission and it’s used as a preventative medication in order to stop the virus in its tracks.
What is PEP?
PEP is essentially an antiretroviral (ARV) therapy made up of a combination of one to three ARV drugs and is actually the same therapy used to treat HIV once transmitted. Originally only given to occupational exposures, such as needlestick injuries in health care workers, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered guidelines in 2005 for the use of PEP in non-occupational (nPEP) cases such as exposure through sexual activity or drug use as well. The treatment is given to those who test negatively for HIV and have been exposed to a high risk in a single case (ongoing exposure, such as a person with an HIV positive partner, is not normally treated with PEP, but with an alternative drug, PrEP – pre-exposure prophylaxis). In contrast to occupational PEP, nPEP is generally coupled with risk-reduction counselling and education in order to help patients learn from their damaging behavior. It is also only administered if treatment is sought within 72 hours of the exposure – any longer than that, and the treatment simply isn’t effective and therefore isn’t prescribed.
Transgender Americans and their struggles have become much more prominent in recent times. Last year, an article about the transgender rights movement focusing on actress Laverne Cox made the cover of TIME magazine;[i] and earlier this year, Caitlyn Jenner made her transition from male to female public, discussing it in interviews with 20/20[ii] and Vanity Fair.[iii] It would be fair to say, then, that there is a fair amount of public interest and discussion on the subject of transgender people and the life they experience at present. However, most of the public discourse appears to focus on a clearly delineated change: male to female, female to male. But for many people, gender can actually a much more complicated issue than simply being one or the other.
People who do not feel they fit in the world as either male or female will often refer to themselves as “genderqueer” or “nonbinary” rather than simply transgender.[iv] Both are umbrella terms used to cover many ranges of gender expression. Some people will use both terms interchangeably; others feel they have slightly different connotations. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term “nonbinary” to refer to this group of people, as it came into use for this purpose more recently than “genderqueer,” and I have seen it used more often in recent discussions of gender. The word nonbinary refers to the fact that these people consider themselves as living outside of the gender binary, which is to say, the male/female dichotomy we usually think of when describing a person’s gender.
Many pregnant couples have a lot of questions when it comes to their sexual relationship during the pregnancy. There are many different ways that a pregnant woman will experience her sexuality during pregnancy and it can sometimes differ greatly from how she felt about her sexuality before and after pregnancy. Couples want to know if having sex is safe for the baby, how their sexual desire might change throughout the pregnancy, different positions, and various other questions.
Is having sex safe during pregnancy?
This is one of the top questions that couples have. The simple answer is yes, it is safe. Your baby is protected within the amniotic sac, the uterus and the surrounding muscles. Apart from that, the mucus plug in your cervix will protect the baby from any infections (although if you have concerns about sexually transmitted infections, you should always use protection). Unless a doctor has specifically told you that you can’t have sex because of some kind of complication with your pregnancy it will be safe to have sex right up until you go into labor. Such complications can include placenta previa, premature labor, unexplained vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge, cervical insufficiency, a dilated cervix, when your water has broken, if you or your partner have or feel an outbreak of genital herpes coming on, or have other sexually transmitted infections. If you ever have any doubts about whether or not it’s safe to have sex during your pregnancy, your safest bet is to check with your doctor. If your doctor says that sex is off limits for you, make sure to have him or her define what sex is. You might still be able to have oral sex, engage in mutual masturbation or other forms of intimacy even if vaginal intercourse is off the table for the time being.
The LGBTQ community is often seen as a monolithic entity, with everyone working towards the same end goal. It’s certainly easy to think that way, since they’re united as a community by the marginalization they experience for their sexuality and gender expression. But that acronym itself shows the inaccuracy of that assumption. This community includes gay men and lesbians, who are linked by their homosexuality but often experience different, gender-specific forms of homophobia – for instance, while a gay man might be greeted with simple disgust and even violence by a straight man, a lesbian might instead be told that her homosexuality is “sexy” by the same man and find that he is sexually aggressive towards her despite her orientation or even because of it. Bisexuals often face marginalization in the LGBTQ community because their homosexual peers resent their option to “pass” for straight, or find that potential partners outright reject them for fear of not being able to fully satisfy them. The “queer” label that rounds out the acronym is itself an umbrella term for several other disparate groups who face similar problems in how they are treated by their society for their sexuality and gender identity; often “queer” is used as shorthand for these groups or even for the entire LGBTQ community, due to how many terms would need to be rattled off to mention all of them.
In the past decade, the US has seen significant progress in LGBTQ rights. The most high-profile issue, that of same-sex marriage, has also seen the greatest gains: 35 states allow same-sex marriage outright, the remaining 15 states are awaiting action in the courts on the issue, and the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages as legal.[i] In an era where DOMA and DADT have been struck down, it would be easy to think that most of the work to be done on LGBTQ rights has been accomplished. However, the unfortunate truth is that these victories, while a great step forward, only affect gay and lesbian adults. For others in the community, and especially for queer youth, there are plenty more hardships to face, and far less national attention to support them.
In particular, homelessness is a huge problem for LGBTQ youth. It is perhaps unsurprising that young people in the queer community are most vulnerable to this problem. Sadly, despite making up a small percentage of the US population, a 2012 study found that as much as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ.[ii] In a cruel twist of irony, the prominence of gay rights issues might even be contributing to the disproportionate number of gay youth on the streets; encouraged by seeing adults like them fighting for their civil rights, LGBTQ children are coming out far earlier than before, often well before gaining independence from their families.[iii] Since they often have little to no contact with the LGBTQ community, they have no support network to fall back on if their families should reject them, as families unfortunately often do. Consequently, the homeless population of this group is growing at a disturbing rate, and in 2012 94% of agencies reported working with LGBTQ youth, compared to 82% ten years earlier.[iv]
Scientists have been searching for a way to help women prevent contracting HIV during heterosexual sex for some time now. Eighty-four percent of women contract HIV in this way and at present the only preventative options are condoms (both male and female versions). This might seem simple and accessible enough to a number of women living in the United States, but the reality is that for many women around the world guaranteeing that their male partners will use a condom certainly can prove to be difficult, if not impossible. Half of the people in the world living with HIV are women and women are twice as likely as men to contract HIV. This is one of the reasons that scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle are interested in creating a new form of protection in which women can take their sexual health back into their own hands regardless of their situation.
As mentioned before, this idea is nothing new. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PreP) is a prevention method that can be used by people who have a high risk of contracting HIV. This might include people with HIV positive partners, intravenous drug users, or people who regularly have unprotected sex with partners with unknown HIV statuses. The anti-HIV drugs are given in the form of a pill that must be taken every day. Scientists have also been working on topical creams and gels that contain the anti-HIV drugs microbicides for years. While the intention is good with these products, they still lack usability and convenience. They can leak out, be quite messy, and the anti-HIV drugs take about 20 minutes to absorb into a woman’s system, so she would have to know she was going to have sex beforehand and have already applied the gel or cream in order to be properly protected. Microbicides are a promising way to help women prevent HIV, but the engineers at the University of Washington agree that the delivery method of these drugs need serious improvement.
Cancer is a nearly universal health concern in our lives; it would be difficult to find anyone whose life has not been touched by the disease, in all its various and horrifying forms. This year alone, the American Cancer Society reports that 1.6 million people in the U.S. will develop cancer, and nearly 600,000 will die from it.[i] HPV, or the human papillomavirus, causes an estimated 19,000 of those cases in women, and just under half that in men.[ii] HPV is a common disease transmitted through sexual contact, which is usually known for causing genital warts and, once contracted, is incurable.[iii] HPV is best-known for causing cervical cancer, but it is also associated with cancer in the head, neck, anus, and genitals of both sexes. But though it cannot be cured once contracted, the variant of the disease which leads to cancer can very easily and effectively be prevented by readily available vaccines.
In March of this year, former president, Jimmy Carter, spoke out against sex-selective abortion on the David Letterman show. President Carter had been invited on the show to discuss the release of his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” When Letterman broached the topic of the book, Carter’s first comments were about gendercide and sex selective abortion, which he identified as the worst statistic he knows of. The exact conversation went as follows:
It’s a story so strange that at first read it sounds like it could be an urban legend rather than a development in sexual health and allergy research. Several years ago, a 20 year old woman from the United Kingdom with a severe allergy to Brazil nuts reportedly had an allergic reaction after having sex with her partner who had consumed the nut just hours before their encounter. This was the first documented case of a woman having a sexually transmitted allergic reaction. In a world where more and more people are suffering from dangerous allergies, is this something the rest of us need to be concerned about?
You’re probably thinking, “there is no way the Brazil nut was transmitted through her partner’s semen, there had to have been some remains in his mouth, skin, or hair.” Fair enough, but the couple reports having taken every possible precaution before having sex. The man, having known that his partner was allergic, showered, washed his face, skin, teeth, and thoroughly rinsed his mouth before engaging in sex. The scientists who later studied the case stated that if the reaction were in fact from residue in his saliva or skin, she would have had the allergic reaction much faster than she did. She only started showing symptoms after they finished having sex.