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.