Friday, April 11, 2014

FA in the Media (And the Return of an Errant Blogger)

Greetings, good people. It's been a long time! Graduate school was a fantastic experience, but as you know, I had to stop teaching FA, for the most part. I just didn't have the mental energy to spare. I'm happy to say that I am once again working with women (and sometimes their partners) to help them manage their fertility naturally. If you are interested in obtaining instruction, either for the first time or to extend your education, my brain is once again available, and I hope you will get in touch!

Graduate school was also not good for this blog. I was happy if I could shave my legs once a month, forget about whipping up a decent blog post. When I finally got my MSW (master of social work) in August of 2013,  I wasn't sure if I'd come back to the blog. Compared to other social media, blogs are pretty old school. All those words! I post on Facebook about 2x a month, and last month, even though I said I never would, I began tweeting (@fertaware) But people do still visit the blog, every day, and every once in a while my writing wants to stretch out a bit, which isn't really possible on Facebook or Twitter. So here we are, blogging again.

And what brings me back to you today? Zeitgeist. A change in the national conversation around contraception. Everyone, it seems, is talking about Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM)! Fertility tracking app sales are through the roof. And we are finally getting some decent media exposure.

Let's start with the most recent: Lisa DeBode wrote an unusually well-researched piece about FABM  for Al Jazeera America. (And I got to say "labia" in international media.)
Birth Control Bitter Pill - Al Jazeera

About 6 months prior, a similar article regarding barriers to widespread use of FABM was published in the Atlantic. It contains a couple of inaccuracies, and fewer people are interviewed, but it does present a more sophisticated view than one usually finds. Note how both articles talk about unmet need, i.e. the desire on the part of women to learn these methods and the limitations to their being able to do so.
New Old School Birth Control Atlantic

And finally, a book. Have you read Sweetening the Pill? It came out in 2013, and it definitely set tongues-a-wagging. Now a movie is in the works (I'm in conversation with the producer) and even before the movie has been made, there is backlash & controversy. It's still considered anti-feminist to question the primacy, safety, and desirability of hormonal contraception. If you've ever been unhappy with hormonal contraception, but couldn't articulate why, or if you knew why, but couldn't get anyone to take you seriously, this is for you. Needless to say, it makes a strong case for FA.

It's great to be back, and I look forward to connecting with new readers and old ones, in this context and in others. FA is moving forward, and I'm thrilled to be part of the journey.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meals, Snacks, and Obamacare

Hello everyone. I know, I've been a very irregular blogger of late. In the 5 years since I started this blog, a lifetime in internet time, blogging has become old school. It's too long-form. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest - they're what's happening. The fewer words, the better. The blog still has its readers, of course. But the FB page is where the action is. Do I think this march toward brevity heralds the decline of literacy and civilization itself? Why yes, I do. Am I guilty of it as well? Absolutely. I post on FB far more often than I post here. Usually just a link with a sentence or two. Blogs are meals. And most people are snackers.

Meanwhile, for you gourmands, here's something more substantial:

The Affordable Health Care Act (aka "Obamacare") is slowly coming to fruition, with many benefits already in effect and others not yet realized. It's a very detailed Act and few people go beyond the sound bites to actually learn what's in it. Today, August 1, 2012, a raft of benefits for women and children came into effect. Two organizations have been doing a good job of getting the word out about specific benefits for women. 

-We Are Ultraviolet has created a lovely graphic (below) which hits the highlights. It's too large to read properly in this space, so click on this link to see the whole thing. Or, you can view it (and share it) on Facebook. Sigh.

-And the wonderful folks over at the National Women's Health Network have created a 
site (actually, a blog!) which has been providing detailed coverage with analysis called Countdown to Coverage, with one post per day in the week leading up to today's rollout. Their name for the Affordable Care Act is Mamacare :)

Do the new regulations provide for free Fertility Awareness instruction? No. The Act only provides  free contraception in the case of FDA approved devices. Now, if you're among the fraction of people who receive FA or NFP education in a medical setting, your healthcare provider can code your visit in such a way that it's covered. That's been the case for years. And as more women gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, more women will be able to take advantage of that coverage. But the majority of women who practice Fertility Awareness to avoid pregnancy will continue to gain their instruction privately. (Or, frighteningly, practice without benefit of instruction.) 

The Affordable Care Act will thus probably not result in much greater numbers of women practicing Fertility Awareness. But with mandatory coverage and the elimination of co-pays for things like Pap smears, gestational diabetes screening, breastfeeding equipment and lactation support, and screening for domestic violence as well as counseling, the Affordable Care Act reaches far beyond "free birth control," and will result in vast health benefits for women and their children, especially those who currently face financial barriers to service. And that's something we should all be able to get behind.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ten Years in the Making! vagina vérité Now Available

Alexandra Jacoby's book of vulva portraits is FINALLY available for purchase! And now, till 2/27, you can get $10 off. How sweet is that? Use code SAVE10 at checkout. I'm very excited that this book is making its long-awaited and much-anticipated debut. This is an artist's print of the book; self-published. Positive buzz will help land a traditional (well not so traditional) publisher. We need more books like this! We need more conversations like this!

If you can't afford the book, or just want to share the text with someone, you can read it here. (Clicking the link will open a text file - no pics. Trust me, it's safe. Unless you don't like stimulating, heartfelt writing about stuff that normally doesn't get written about.)

Viva la vulva! And congratulations to Alexandra.

Oh, and Happy V-Day everyone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Our Daughter's Bedrooms

Yes, as anticipated, graduate school is kicking my butt. I don't know how often I'll be able to post. But when I can, I will draw your attention to stuff I think is worthwhile. Like this new book by Joyce McFadden. It's called Our Daughter's Bedrooms. The book emerged from McFadden's mental health care practice. Following up on trends she was seeing among her patients, she launched the Women's Realities Study, in which she interviewed hundreds of women from 18 to 105. Three major themes (which will not surprise you) emerged from this study: masturbation, menstruation, and relationships with mothers. McFadden found that women's relationships with their mothers profoundly influenced the development of their sexuality: their self-confidence, their feelings about their bodies, and how they deal with challenges around sexuality and fertility throughout their lives. Her book discusses the development of sexuality within the context of the mother/daughter relationship and sets out a model for how we can nurture girls and raise healthy, confident women who are comfortable with themselves as sexual beings.

You can watch a video of McFadden discussing the book on her website (link above). And, if you're in NYC, you can catch her doing periodic speaking engagements. She'll be at Bluestockings on Tuesday, September 13th, at 7PM. Bluestockings is at 172 Allen Street at Stanton (on the Lower East Side). 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ilene is on Hiatus!!!

As some of you know, I will be starting a full-time, two year master's degree program in September, in social work. And, just to make things more exciting, I'm also moving (both home and office, because I work at home). Therefore I am going on hiatus. Actually I am already on hiatus, at least as far as teaching is concerned. I have already begun to refer new clients to other teachers. I'm not sure how long the hiatus will last. I'm going to see how things unfold. 

I will continue to be involved in Fertility Awareness, but mostly in ways that won't be obvious to the general public. In addition to teaching, I do a lot of behind the scenes stuff having to do with Fertility Awareness as a profession. Although there are a few paths to professional certification, there are no national or international standards in place regarding qualifications to teach. Anyone can call herself a teacher (or sell fertility-management software). And of course practitioners in the field find little or no support from the medical community, and are often isolated in their own communities because qualified, secular (non-religious) instructors are so few and far between. Thus it can be difficult for them to find peer support and to grow as professionals.

I have been involved in the issue of professionalism in this field since I began teaching 10 years ago. I will be focusing on this work in the coming year, by expanding and strengthening our professional network, and by creating what I hope will be a widely recognized set of standards. I will also continue to coordinate professional forums through which people involved in the field communicate with and learn from each other. So, in the coming months I will be primarily involved in those activities. I will leave the teaching, at least temporarily, to others. 

One of the things I've been focusing my energies on this past year, as I prepared to make this transition, has been the training of new teachers. I've had the privilege of working with several young women who are well on their way to becoming qualified instructors, with a wide range of interests and areas of concentration. They will continue their training with Oregon instructor Sarah Bly, and I look forward to introducing you to them in the future as they embark on their teaching careers.

I have also been working with Sarah on another project which I think at this point is still a secret :) I will tell you all about it once it's ready to go public.

And actually I've been working on another project having to do with Fertility Awareness that is also not quite ready for launch; that's something else I hope to share with you in the near future. 

Ok, so maybe "hiatus" isn't the right word. I guess it's more like "scaling back." 

So, if you are reading this, and you are in need of instruction, what should you do? Here are my suggestions:

--If you want to obtain instruction in a secular context, the Justisse website lists many qualified FA teachers, including graduates and current students of their own teacher training program. Make sure to pay attention to the various designations. I would suggest sticking to FAE's and full (graduated) HRHP's. A lot of teachers can work by phone or by Skype these days, so don't worry if there is no teacher in your area (and there probably isn't).
Justisse directory of instructors

--Not on the list, but worth considering, are:

Katie Singer (author of Garden of Fertility)
New Mexico
You will need to have read one of her books if you want to make an appointment with her.

Sarah Bly

--Please mention my name if you contact any of these instructors so they know where the referral came from.

--Of course if you're open to studying Natural Family Planning (NFP), as opposed to FAM, you'll have many more instructors available to you, including some from whom you might be able to learn in person (as opposed to long distance). NFP is in many ways the same as FAM, but is taught in a religious/moral context. Sexual activity outside of marriage (and certainly same sex activity) is considered unacceptable, as are all forms of "artificial" contraception and abortion. The main NFP organizations in the US are the Couple to Couple League and the Billings Ovulation Method Association. Their websites can direct you to local teachers. Be aware that NFP teachers often have fairly rudimentary training and may not be able to advise you with respect to complex or health-related issues.

I will miss teaching like crazy, but I am also very excited about all the new developments in my life. I plan to keep updating the blog and the Facebook page, though probably not as often as I do now. As always, I invite you to keep in touch with me. Having a baby? I would love to hear about it! Moving? Send me your new coordinates! My coordinates, by the way, will probably remain the same. The email address will definitely stay the same, and I think the phone number will, too. If not, I'll let you know. 

Enjoy the rest of the summer. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Two Good New Books About Your Down There

You've heard this before: there are so few realistic images of women's bodies, and so many images of airbrushed, surgically-altered women, that most women have no idea what normal is, and often think that they are abnormal, unattractive, etc. Although the problem is pervasive when it comes to women's overall appearance, it's even more acute when we consider women's vulvas. Aside from images in pornography, many women have never seen another woman's external genitalia. And just as our breasts don't look like porn star breasts, our genitals don't look like porn star genitals.

A few women (and men) have taken matters into their own hands. I've written many times about Alexandra Jacoby's vulva portraitraiture project. Now there is a new book, out of Canada, which essentially tackles the same idea. By showing each other what we look like, we can come to understand that variety is normal, and beautiful. I'll Show You Mine consists of 120 portraits of 60 women, all in exactly the same 2 poses (frontal and with legs spread), along with text written by the women about their relationships with their vulvas. The women are fairly diverse, ranging in age from 19 to 60, with varied backgrounds and lifestyles. They comprise a range of ethnicities and sizes; there is even a trans woman. The book is beautifully produced, in an environmentally sound manner, and 10% of proceeds go to women's charities. And as with so many media products these days, there is a highly interactive website to accompany it. The book is mainly available in Canada. If you're in the US or elsewhere, you'll probably need to order it by mail from their website. 

I've also been very impressed by a new book that deals in a straightforward, cogent way with a problem that many women have, but few women talk about. The book is called When Sex Hurts: A Woman's Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain. Although there are many causes of genital pain in women, we generally divide them into two broad categories. Vulvodynia means "pain in the vulva" and is considered a chronic pain condition, though the pain may be constant, intermittent, or primarily provoked by touch. Dyspareunia ("dis-pah-roo-nee-ah") refers to painful intercourse. Just as women tend not to discuss their feelings of shame or inadequacy around the appearance of their genitals, they rarely talk about their vulvar pain, even with their doctors, who can be dismissive and/or ignorant. The authors estimate that up to 40% of women with these pain conditions don't seek medical care, and those that do will often end up seeing many different practitioners before obtaining a diagnosis, if they receive one at all. The book is written by 2 doctors and a psychologist, and I found their approach to be smart, frank, understanding, and hopeful. Women with these pain conditions can become very depressed and disempowered. While this book will never hit the best-seller list, I hope that many women who need it will find it.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

India's Girls Are Being Decimated

Most people who use the word "decimate" do not understand its true meaning or origin. They use it to mean a wiping out, a massive defeat, or a natural disaster. The tornado decimated Joplin, Missouri. In reality, it means the slaughter of 1/10 of a population. Decimation was used as a form of military punishment for cowardice in Roman times, and occasionally thereafter. So there aren't too many instances in which one can correctly use this word. But the appalling truth is that it can accurately be applied to many parts of India, where one in ten female fetuses is now being selectively aborted.

You may be familiar with this phenomenon from China, where the one-child policy, along with a preference for males, has been a major contributing factor to a skewed birth ratio. In a normal human population, slightly more boys are born than girls, with ratios ranging from around 103 to 109 males born for every 100 females. This naturally leads to a roughly 1:1 ratio of adults. But in countries such as China and India, where sex-selective abortion and infanticide occur, this ratio can become extremely skewed. In 2005, the ratio in China was at 119 to 100, and in some parts it had reached the astonishing imbalance of 130 males to 100 females. It is estimated that some 24 million Chinese men will be unable to marry when they reach adulthood around 2020, because their potential brides were selectively aborted.

India has apparently learned nothing from China's example, and although education and income levels have been rising in India, so too has the problem of selective abortion. In fact, according to a new study, it appears that the phenomenon is actually directly linked to affluence and education: educated, well-off women are far more likely to obtain an ultrasound and abort a female fetus. Thus, the latest Indian census found a ratio of 914 girls for every 1000 boys, which is the most imbalanced since India gained independence in 1947. Girls in India are literally being decimated.

The total numbers are staggering: in the last 30 years, it is estimated that between 4 and 12 million Indian females have been selectively aborted. Of course, the practice of using ultrasound to determine the sex of a fetus in order to selectively abort is illegal in India, but until deeply held cultural beliefs are changed, the laws are essentially meaningless. So-called "honor killings" are also illegal in India, yet a 2010 study found that 1000 people per year were being murdered by their family members for bringing "disgrace" to their family.

Here are a couple of recent articles which discuss the phenomenon of sex-selective abortion in India, as well as a link to the original study from which these articles were drawn:
-As Wealth and Literacy Rise in India, Report Says, So Do Sex-Selective Abortions  
-Earlier article on same topic, also from NY Times, with more social context
-Original study published in The Lancet 

Note: An earlier version of this post contained a typo regarding the Indian birth statistic.