Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Female Circumcision (FGM) in Kenya/Tanzania

As you may know, the project in which I was participating in Kenya was supposed to have had a focus on Female Genital Mutilation (called female circumcision in Kenya) and early marriage, i.e. the cultural practice wherein girls are married at very young ages to older men. As it turned out, the project had nothing to do with those practices. More on that later.

The area in which I was working is called Kuria, after the people who populate it. Kenya has dozens of different tribal identities, and Kuria people are found in the southwest of the country, in an area that spans the border with Tanzania. About 2/3 of Kuria people live in Tanzania, and about 1/3 live in Kenya. Although some Kenyan tribes don't practice female circumcision, among the Kuria it is a very strongly held cultural tradition. In that area of the country, the prevalence rate is believed to be over 90%. The good news is that the tradition seems to be slowly waning, and is not as common or accepted among the younger generation. I met many women who said that the practice stops with them; that they will not subject their daughters to it, although they themselves were circumcised. It is very easy to criticize the practice of FGM, especially if you do not understand the cultural context, and hard to understand how difficult it is for women and girls in these communities who counter tradition. Women and girls who resist FGM face enormous pressure and censure from their families and their communities. They may be shunned, or become victims of violence or other human rights abuses. Here is an ARTICLE about the cultural forces at work among the Kuria (here spelled Kurya) people in Tanzania, and how some women are resisting FGM, forced marriage, and other cultural traditions that violate their rights and their endanger their health.

In related news, the Ugandan Parliament officially OUTLAWED FGM on December 15th of this year. Mind you, FGM is illegal in many countries, including Kenya, yet still widely practiced. But having a law on the books, and stiff penalties, is of course an important step.

(links to articles are in caps)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Back! Article in NY Times re Menopause and Drugs

I got back from Kenya last week and I'm happy to say that things went very smoothly. And I didn't get sick! The project turned out to be rather different than I had anticipated, but I had been told by people who had done development work in Africa that I should not have fixed expectations, and that turned out to be very good advice.  As I anticipated, there wasn't much internet access, so I was unable to post from there. I do of course want to tell you about the trip, and I will, but I haven't even uploaded photos to my computer yet. In fact I haven't finished unpacking yet! I just wanted to check in, and also draw your attention to an article in the New York times regarding the pharmaceutical "treatment" of menopause.

I'm not sure what prompted this article, as it's not linked to a specific topical event. Rather, it presents an overview of the pharmaceutical industry's cashing in on menopause, and how recently the tide has turned against the drug companies as women are winning big suits for damages caused by these drugs. Of course no amount of damages will bring back the tens of thousands of women who have died from endometrial and breast cancer as a result of these drugs, but it's good to see that the judicial system is holding the drug companies accountable. Ultimately, they will only listen to their bottom line. If women stop buying the drugs, and if the lawsuits make these drugs unprofitable, they will turn their attention elsewhere, and find some other condition to pathologize and exploit.

Like premature ejaculation. (The illustration alone is worth clicking on the link.) Good lord! I love the quote from Lenore Tiefer, my colleague from The New View Campaign: “Rapid ejaculation as opposed to slow ejaculation is common, but there is slow and fast everything in the world: slow and fast walkers, slow and fast eaters, slow and fast breathers,” said Dr. Tiefer, who is a psychologist specializing in sexual problems. “When you tell someone they are a fast ejaculator, it makes it sound like there is a right time to ejaculate and, if you ejaculate before, it’s a medical problem.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why You Won't Be Hearing From Me For A While

I think most of the people who read this blog already know this, but for those of you who don't: I am super happy and excited to say that I will be soon be going to Kenya, to participate in a volunteer project. The project is being administered by the Kenya Voluntary Development Association, and the organization with which I signed up is called Volunteers for Peace. The project for which I originally signed up had a focus on "harmful cultural practices" affecting women, i.e. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. My project was merged with another one, and now the focus is broader, and includes work around HIV/AIDS, and work with children, as well as tree planting and brick making. There should be around 20 volunteers, from 6 different countries including Kenya. Conditions are going to be, well, basic. We need to bring our own eating utensils, sleeping bag, mosquito net, etc, and we will be cooking for each other. The project itself will last 3 weeks, and I plan to stay in Kenya for another week or so after that.

Since I will be away and without much internet access, and since there is a tremendous amount of preparation involved in a trip like this, I am currently on hiatus. I plan to be back to work on Monday, December 7th. (For details re whom to contact during my absence, see below.)

The organizers asked us to bring materials related to the project. Among other things, I will be bringing a few copies of Katie Singer's book(let), Honoring Our Cycles in Africa. From Katie's website: "The book describes what happens during a healthy menstrual cycle, how the traditional practice of Female Genital Cutting affects a woman's reproductive health, and what happens in the male reproductive system." It's a wonderful, simple book, and I only wish that I could bring more copies with me.

I will also be bringing a copy of a film that will soon be having its premiere in the US. It's called Africa Rising, and it focuses on the movement to end FGM in Africa, and the brave women (and men) leading the fight. Although headway is definitely being made, approximately 6000 girls still undergo FGM everyday, primarily in Africa. The people behind the film (see below) very generously sent me a copy. Despite the sadness of the topic, it's a beautiful, inspiring film. I hope you'll be able to see it when it opens in the US. See the website for screenings.

Still from Africa Rising

Africa Rising is brought to you by the amazing people at Equality Now. Their website and newsletters are decidely unglamorous, but they are at the forefront of the movement to stop FGM and other forms of violence against women. I encourage you to support their efforts with your time and/or your dollars.

You may know, or you may not, given the dearth of media coverage, that Kenya has been devastated by drought in recent months, and years. Semi-annual rains have just begun to fall, so I hope that, by the time I go, the situation will have been somewhat ameliorated. But that's not guaranteed, and regardless of how much rain comes, the impact of the last few years will be long-lasting, especially among nomadic communities. I don't know how the drought will affect my trip.
For most of my time away, I anticipate having very little internet access. (The community that I'm going to has no electricity.) So as of now until after my return, I am on hiatus. Two of my colleagues will be covering for me in my absence. Should you need assistance before I return, please get in touch with one of them:

Sarah Bly
(541) 821-2522

Lisa Leger
fertilityfairy at hotmail dot com
(250) 951-0243

Please note that both Sarah and Lisa are West Coast gals, on Pacific time. Lisa is in Canada and Sarah is in the US.
Thank you to those of you who have supported my trip with your donations of funds and goods. I look forward to sharing stories with you after I return.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Hey everyone. Today we present an announcement from the folks at The New View Campaign regarding an upcoming event that looks like it'll be wonderful. Even if you're not in NYC, you can still participate in the Campaign. And join the International Vulva Knitting Circle!
VULVAGRAPHICS: An intervention in
honor of female genital diversity!
Recent years have seen increased concerns about genital appearance for women, alongside publicity about labiaplasty and other procedures to cosmetically alter female genital appearance. It seems that there is a general lack of knowledge of vulva diversity, meaning that:
· Many women don’t know whether their vulva looks ‘normal.’
· Some women compare their vulva to a perceived norm or ideal, and don’t like how theirs looks. This supposed ideal vulva is often depicted on the websites of surgeons who offer genital cosmetic procedures, in ‘after’ photos that appear alongside ‘before’ photos.
An upcoming Brooklyn event provides a challenge to this cultural shift, offering a very visual celebration of diversity. Vulvagraphics is the second (annual) activist event organised in NYC by New View Campaign in response to the rise and promotion of female genital cosmetic surgery.
The New View Campaign opposes the medicalisation and corporatisation of (female) sexuality. Past work challenged Big Pharma, but last year we turned to the rise of female genital cosmetic surgery and conducted a vigorous street protest, complete with street-theatre, outside a Manhattan surgeon’s office. It was covered in both BUST and TIME!. This year we celebrate the role of art in activism, with a multi-media show to promote understanding and appreciation of female genital diversity.
Vulvagraphics is a 2-day exhibit of explicit photography, drawing, print, craft, video, and film, including the premiere of the international vulva knitting circle! It features a brunch salon on ‘critical issues in genital activism,’ as well as numerous activism opportunities!
If this sounds like you, bring your intrigue, passion and creativity, not to mention your relatives, friends and partners, and come down to Vulvagraphics to learn about, and celebrate, vulval diversity. If this doesn’t sound like you, even more reason to head on down! We look forward to seeing you there!
WHEN: Saturday October 24th: 6-9pm (opening reception & exhibition);

Sunday October 25th: 12-6pm (exhibition); 1-3pm (brunch salon).

Further information: see our website or email Rachel Liebert.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another Awesome Blog

"re: Cycling is the new blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. re: Cycling is written by members of SMCR about all matters menstrual, especially sociocultural aspects of menstruation and new research about menstruation and women’s health. Currently, the bloggers are Chris Bobel, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at University of Massachusetts-Boston; Giovanna Chesler, filmmaker and Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at Marymount Manhattan College; Chris Hitchcock, researcher at the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research at the University of British Columbia; and Elizabeth Kissling, Professor of Women’s Studies and of Communication at Eastern Washington University. The new blog can be found at MenstruationResearch.org/blog.

The blog was developed as a way for the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research to discuss issues related to menstruation with a wider audience. Most posts on the site are open to public comment. We welcome readers and links from other feminist blogs."

From the Society for Menstrual Research.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

If You Like This Blog...

you'll probably like this one, too:

Life After Birth Control chronicles the fascinating journey of Katie and Matt as Katie goes off the Pill, tries FA, becomes pregnant (fairly intentionally, though she misinterpreted her chart), struggles with a very difficult pregnancy, and as they now parent their daughter Eden. It's a very thoughtful blog, and full of detailed information on topics such as symphysis pubis pain (pelvic pain) and Hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme nausea during pregnancy). Katie and Matt are determined to live life as naturally as possible, so you'll also find entries on such things as Elimination Communication and cloth pads. The whole thing has the feel of positivity and practicality, without being sickeningly sweet.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Glutton Baby

The name is definitely problematic - Bebe Gloton translates to "Glutton Baby." But name aside, what do you think of this new nursing doll? The child straps on a pink flowered halter top with flowers where the nipples should be, and when the doll, which has an electronic sensor in its mouth, is connected to a flower, it makes suckling motions and sounds. It's raising quite a ruckus, as you'll see if you do a google search or look on You Tube. There was an interesting essay about it on the Times Motherlode blog. As is often the case with the New York Times, the comments were at least as thought provoking, if not more so, than the original essay. A common thought, with which I agree 100%, is why on earth do we need this? Children (both boys and girls) naturally imitate their mothers by bringing their dolls and stuffed animals to their chests and pretending to nurse them. Imagination good; earth-polluting technological crap bad. But as one reader pointed out, only children who are breastfed and/or who have younger siblings will engage in this type of imitative play as children who are bottle fed won't have the nursing model to imitate. So I can see there being some utility in that instance. But would children who are bottle fed have parents who would buy them a nursing doll? Of course, most of prurient America is just caught up in the scandal of encouraging a child to pretend to use the breasts she will one day have (and I can guess what they think of a boy playing with this toy). These are the same Americans who would not be happy checking their cervical fluid, or hearing you talk about yours. Heck these are the same Americans who are upset when they see a woman nursing in public. Le scandal!

Warning: the sound track on this video may make your cat completely flip out. At least that's the effect it had on mine.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Even Doulas Need Doulas

I have a friend and former student who moved to Israel right around the end of her first trimester. She has a blog where she recently posted her birth story.  The title of this post is "Why Even Doulas Need Doulas." Aside from being a gripping story, there are valuable lessons here, as well as questions that no one can answer. Food for thought for anyone pregnant or hoping to be pregnant. (I can't believe she wrote all this, and so cogently, so soon after her birth!)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Male Contraceptive Shot Has Successful First Trial

Efforts to develop a long-term, reversible contraceptive for men have thus far been unsuccessful, but a recently completed study showed sufficiently promising results that further trials will no doubt soon be underway. The trial lasted 2.5 years and involved 1045 men in China. The mechanism by which this  contraceptive works is the same by which hormonal contraception for women works: if you interfere with the feedback loop that regulates the production of gametes (eggs and sperm), you can turn it off. In other words, you supply a form of the hormone that the body normally makes itself, and the body stops making it, and reproductive function stops. In this case, the men were given monthly administrations of a form of testosterone, which suppressed sperm production. Side effects were minimal, and sperm production returned to normal within 6 months of stopping the drug in all but 2 cases. But don't look for this to appear at your doctor's office any time soon. I found a nearly identical study conducted in 1996 that was also very successful.

Funny, one article describing the recent study said this:
"Previous attempts to develop an effective and convenient male contraceptive have encountered problems over reliability and side effects, such as mood swings and a lowered sex drive. "
Um, I'm sorry, but haven't women using hormonal contraception been putting up with those side effects, not to mention at least 2 dozen others, for, like, 40 years?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Couple of Questions about Cycle Health

I answered a couple of questions from a student today, and it occurred to me that the answers might be of interest to other people, so I decided to post them. Note: I don't take random questions! I would love to work with you if you want to learn more about your cycles, but you do need to make an appointment with me. For more info on private consults & classroom instruction, please visit my website

On to the questions:

(Q1) The first day of my period is always REALLY painful. I always get it around dawn, and the cramps and nausea force me to stay in bed until at least noon. Should I see someone about this? 

(A1)  It doesn't sound as though you have anything seriously wrong. One day of bad cramps is not at all unusual, and I don't think you *need* to see anyone unless you want some treatment. If so, as always, you have two options: the Western approach, and the non-Western approach. The Western approach would basically be drugs (over the counter pain-killers etc). And I'm not against them. Especially for women who don't have insurance, and/or who can't afford non-Western care (which is usually not covered), painkillers can be a cheap and effective solution. You have to make sure you don't take them on an empty stomach and follow label directions carefully. Some need to be taken with food and/or water, some require you to not lie down for 30 minutes afterwards, never exceed the maximum dosage, etc. Heat is also very helpful, applied directly to your belly in the form of a heating pad or hot water bottle. Now in terms of non-Western treatments, there are many options. Acupuncture and/or herbs would be a good place to start. You might also look at the nutritional recommendations in Marilyn Shannon's book, Fertility Cycles and Nutrition. The nausea might be from the pain or it might be from something else. Ginger can be helpful with nausea, and can relieve cramps, too. You can brew up strong ginger "tea" from fresh ginger (or Alvita teabags) when you know your period is coming, and keep it in the fridge so you don't have to make it that morning. Lastly, while I think it's important to try to relieve pain and discomfort, Katie Singer emphasizes that we don't give ourselves a lot of room to have our periods these days. If you're feeling guilty or dysfunctional because you're staying in bed with cramps, try to let go of that. Use the time to read a lightweight book, focus on your breathing, and in general give yourself permission to have a little downtime. Stress makes cramps worse. 

(Q2) Between milk and soymilk, which one is better for your cycle?

(A2) I'm not a big fan of either cow or soymilk, for environmental, nutritional, and animal-rights reasons. If you're going to drink cow milk, make sure it's grass fed, organic milk from pastured cows. Don't drink commercial cow milk. If you're going to drink soymilk, I wouldn't drink a lot of it, as there is some evidence that large quantities of processed soy products might impact human fertility. (On the other hand, there is also evidence that soy foods are good for the heart, protect against cancer, etc.) But soy is kind of an environmental disaster, and I don't think the types & amounts of soy we eat are natural or good for us. There are lots of other milks available now. You can find milk made from almonds, hazelnuts, oats, and hemp. Read the labels and beware of sugar - some of them are loaded with it. Personally I'm a huge fan of Blue Diamond plain, unsweetened Almond Breeze. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why Doesn't My Doctor Know Anything About Fertility Awareness?

Hmmm. Could it be because medical schools are absolutely riddled with influence (and money) from pharmaceutical companies? It's not exactly news, but the scope of it is really depressing. This extends way beyond what contraceptive choices your doctor makes available to you.

Harvard Medical School considers influence of drug companies

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eggs Are Precious, Sperm Are Cheap

That wonderful line is from Isabella Rossellin's fantabulous video series, Green Porno . Ok, it's only peripherally related to human Fertility Awareness, but it's sufficiently awesome that I had to post it. It's a series (actually 2 series) of very short, beautifully costumed & wittily scripted videos, each of which describes the reproductive process of a different living being. There is a mind-boggling array of reproductive processes out there - stuff you couldn't  have made up if you tried. Season 1 looks at the mating habits of small critters such as snails, worms, spiders, and bees, while season 2 elucidates the sex lives of marine animals. Appropriate for kids & adults alike, they're even suitable for watching at work! (Though you may want to skip "Why Vagina" until you get home.) Take one minute and learn how limpets do it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Giving Withdrawal Its Due

Those of you who have studied with me know that I consider withdrawal "legit" as a method of birth control, especially when used in conjunction with another method. Well a new article in the June 2009 issue of Contraception makes the same case. Unless you enjoy reading science journal articles, I suggest that you skip to the summary published on the Guttmacher website. (If you want to read the original article, you'll find a link there.) The article basically says that withdrawal has a perfect use rate of 96%, and a typical use rate of 82% (vs 98% & 83% for the male condom), making it a perfectly reasonable and cost-effective choice for couples not in need of STD protection, or as a back up to another method of birth control (such as Fertility Awareness! OK, Fertility Awareness is not actually mentioned in the article.) The article also examines why withdrawal is not perceived as a viable choice for contraception, and the consequences of that misperception.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Mammogram or Not to Mammogram

If you're like most women in the Western world, you probably think that routine mammograms (along with breast self exam) are your best weapon against breast cancer. Increasingly, the benefits of such routine screening are being scrutinized.

NY Times article on risks/benefits of routine mammography

Typically excellent article from the National Women's Health Network re pros & cons of baseline mammography

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If Male Amphibians Are Being Born With Ovaries (Or 6 Legs), What's Happening To Us?

photo by Yamanaka Tamaki

This Week: "Poisoned Waters" (120 minutes),
Tuesday April 21st at 9pm on PBS (Check local listings)
You can also watch this show online.


For years, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith has reported from the corridors of power in Washington, on Wall Street, and overseas. But these days, he's worried about something that he's found much closer to home -- something mysterious that's appeared in waters that he knows well: frogs with six legs, male amphibians with ovaries, "dead zones" where nothing can live or grow.

What's causing the trouble? Smith suspects the answers might lie close to home as well.

This Tuesday night, in a special two-hour FRONTLINE broadcast --"Poisoned Waters"-- Smith takes a hard look at a new wave of pollution that's imperiling the nation's waterways, focusing on two of our most iconic: the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. He also examines three decades of environmental regulation that are failing to meet this new threat, and have yet to clean up the ongoing mess of PCBs, the staggering waste from factory farms, and the fall-out from unchecked suburban sprawl.

"The environment has slipped off our radar screen because it's not a hot crisis like the financial meltdown, war, or terrorism," Smith says. "But pollution is a ticking time bomb. It's a chronic cancer that is slowly eating away the natural resources that are vital to our very lives."

Among the most worrisome of the new contaminants are "endocrine disruptors," chemical compounds found in common household products that mimic hormones in the human body and cause freakish mutations in frogs and amphibians.

"There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disruptors just in the Mid-Atlantic region," a doctor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells Smith. "And yet we don't know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia that are happening at a broad low level so that they don't raise the alarm in the general public."

Can new models of "smart growth" and regulation reverse decades of damage? Are the most real and lasting changes likely to come from the top down, given an already overstretched Obama administration? Or will the greatest reasons for hope come from the bottom up, through the action of a growing number of grassroots groups trying to effect environmental change?

Join us for the broadcast this Tuesday night. Online, you can watch "Poisoned Waters" again, find out how safe your drinking water is, and learn how you can get involved.

Ken Dornstein
Senior Editor of Frontline

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More awesome events in NYC

This blog isn't meant to be an events calendar (esp as we have lots of readers outside of NY), but there are so many great things going on lately, I feel compelled to let you know about at least some of them. As always, readers outside of NY might want to note the books, organizations and websites mentioned in these postings, as you can read the books or check out the orgs even if you aren't lucky enough to live in this happening burg. And if you do live here, for goodness sake, get out there and dig in. 

(1) Reading and signing of Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. Meet Attachment Parenting International co-founders and authors Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker.  

Metro Minis 821 Park Ave (@ 75th St), 212.313.9600.
Tuesday, April 28, 2pm - 4pm

Attached at the Heart is available now at Metro Minis, your local bookstore,
or www.attachedattheheartbook.com .

Out of towners: Check this page for readings in other parts of the US.

(2) Fertility Event for women who are trying to become pregnant or considering it. Hosted by The Pregnant New Yorker  with a fabulous list of guest speakers . Go here to read more and to register. Note that The Pregnant New Yorker has ongoing events so check their site to see what else they've got going on.

Wednesday April 22nd, 6:30-8:30pm
at Renew Physical Therapy
149 Madison Avenue, Suite 903 (btwn 31st and 32nd Street)
$10 per person
(3) This one's for women only, and requires a bit of explanation. My friend, the artist & activist Alexandra Jacoby is a woman of many talents, and for several years she has been working on a project called Vagina Verite . Though the title mentions vaginas, it's actually centered around Alexandra's portraits of women's vulvas (meaning the parts you can see, not the internal bits). Periodically Alexandra hosts "salons" where you can view the portraits, and where memorable discussions take place. The next salon will be held on Sunday, May 3rd, and will feature (along with Alexandra herself), the "luscious lifestyle diva" Yolanda (Shoshi) Shoshana . The topic of this salon is "Pleasure."

Sunday May 3rd, 3pm - 6pm
Midtown east location; rsvp by 4/30 for location & directions


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Free Teleclass on Prenatal Testing with Ayelet Schwell

On April 5th, my friend/student/colleague (and pregnant mama) Ayelet Schwell will be offering a FREE teleclass on prenatal testing & screening to help you make informed decisions during your pregnancy (now or in future).

From Ayelet's blog:

In this call you will get:

* an overview of the pre-natal tests that are offered and their purposes
* risks vs. benefits for various tests
* a description of patient rights in the US
* and a special invitation to have access to an exclusive program that will open up the information of pregnancy and birth in a way that has never been available before!

If you want to participate but aren't available at 8PM that night, go ahead and register anyway as you will receive an MP3 of the class the next day, as well as a PDF of the info covered. Here's where to sign up.  And fyi, here is Ayelet's blog.

And here is Ayelet!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Little Red Book

My Little Red Book is an anthology of stories about first periods, collected from women of all ages from around the world. The author/editor Rachel Kauder Nalebuff was 18 when she put the book together and the profits are being donated to charities promoting women's health and education. Buy it, read it, share it. Get this stuff out of the closet once and for all.
review in NY Times

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

Think about some of thousands of things you probably take for granted:
-sanitary water to drink
-ample food of infinite variety
-hot water in the shower, the shower itself 
The list is endless. Now add to the list (if you are a woman) the products you use for menstruation. Whether you have a real period (the result of ovulation, when cycles are unmediated by external hormones) or a fake one (withdrawal bleeding which results when you stop taking your pills or remove your ring or patch or whatever), chances are that you bleed about once a month, and when you do, you use pads or tampons or a reusable cup or something sanitary and cheap that you take completely for granted. Imagine being so poor that you had nothing with which to catch your flow, and little access to water for washing clothes and rags. What would you do? Would you go to school, or work? Now you understand (intellectually) the plight of millions of women around the world. An innovative project, run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is helping women in Uganda have access to affordable sanitary pads. It is also providing income for about 60 Congolese refugees who now have an environmentally sustainable way to earn a living, in a model program that they hope to expand to other countries. Check out this article about pads from papyrus.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crazy That We Need It, But We Do

God I love California. Check out this campaign for breastfeeding acceptance which features lifesize cutouts of breastfeeding women.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rare Slap on the Wrist for Deceptive Birth Control Ad

It doesn't happen very often, but ads for Yaz, the best-selling birth control pill in the US, were considered so misleading that the FDA actually stepped in and required the manufacturer, Bayer, to run a corrective ad campaign

Wait - you mean it's not a great idea to take hormones that cause you to stop ovulating and carry a risk of serious side effects in order to clear up your skin or improve your mood? 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Upcoming Events at Bluestockings

Yah, these events are for the New Yorkers in the audience, but the rest of you can still buy the books or watch the film. Or arrange a reading / screening in your home town! All events will be held at Bluestockings Bookstore and Fair Trade Cafe, 172 Allen Street @ Stanton.

Saturday, February 21st @ 7PM - Free
Reading: Carol Leonard "Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart." Teamed up with Choices in Childbirth, we celebrate the release of "Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart," Carol Leonard’s memoir about her 30 years as a midwife and advocate for reproductive freedoms. Leonard is a co-founder of Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), and her book is inspiring, hilarious, touching and a might full of beans. Doubtlessly, this book is a future classic in birth literature.

Thursday, March 5th @ 7PM - Free
Reading: Julia Watts "Women. Period." Please join contributors to "Women. Period. Women Writing on Menstruation," a new anthology of poetry, essays, and short fiction exploring the monthly cycle which unites all women. While menstruation is perhaps the most universal of
female experiences, surprisingly little has been published on the subject. Period.

Wednesday, March 11th @ 7PM - $5 Suggested
Screening: Carol Ciancutti-Leyva "Absolutely Safe" (2007, 85 minutes) While more women than ever are getting breast implants, few people seem to be asking: why? Even fewer are asking: are implants safe? Join director Carol Ciancutti-Leyva for a screening of "Absolutely Safe," her documentary about everyday women who find themselves and their breasts at the tangled intersections of health, money, science, and beauty.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why We Still Have a Long Way to Go

It's been over 40 years since Natural Family Planning, the predecessor of Fertility Awareness, was pioneered. FA & NFP are now codified, and have been repeatedly proven to be safe and effective methods of fertility management. They are empowering, safe, inexpensive, reversible, environmentally friendly, and vegan. They do not diminish sexual pleasure, and provide added benefits such as shortening the time to a desired pregnancy and being safe to use for contraceptive purposes while breastfeeding. They are also acceptable by people with a wide range of moral and religious belief systems. So why the hell are they such a big secret?? Why aren't we being taught this stuff in schools? Why are there so few teachers of FA in this country? Why don't our gyns tell us about it? Why don't you see ads on it for TV along with all those stupid ads for various kinds of Pills? (See 2/22 post for an article on Yaz and their less-than-truthful ads.) I'll tell you why. Yes, there is the profit factor. Yes, there is the squeamish factor. But mostly, there is the ignorance factor. When even a well-known reproductive rights activist/author like Cristina Page does not understand what Fertility Awareness is or why women might want to practice it, you know that we have a long way to go:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Return of the Rhythm Method

My credo is that the more contraceptive options women have, the better. There is no one right method for all women, and a wide variety of methods increases the likelihood that any given woman will be able to find a method that works for her. However, I recently found that I'm not quite as broadminded as I thought it was on this topic. Georgetown University's Institute for Reproductive Health recently received a 3 year, $600,000 grant to increase the availability of natural family planning here in the US, primarily to low income women. Sounds great, right? So why am I angry and slightly nauseated? Because the method they are going to be promoting is the Standard Days Method, aka Cyclebeads. And Cyclebeads use exactly the same principles as the Rhythm, or Calendar Method. It is a purely statistical method that does not take into account individual variability or use any observational methods except for keeping track of menstruation. Mind you, this heavily field-tested and deeply funded method can be very effective. If women fall strictly within the parameters for its usage (regular cycles always between 26 and 32 days), they can expect a 95% effectiveness rate. And I have stated in the past that I think this method, along with the Two Day Method, can and will be a boon to women in the global south who lack access to decent health care. My objection is not to the effectiveness of the methodology, but rather to the return to the dark ages that this grant represents. Are American women really so stupid and unmotivated that they cannot be taught to observe their fertility? No, not everyone is going to be up for detailed charting and lessons in anatomy & physiology, but even a simple temperature-only method would empower women far more than this Birth Control for Dummies approach, in which fertility is regarded as a great mystery that cannot be understood. Women all over the world, many of whom lack numeracy and literacy, have been taught to observe their cervical mucus and track it with colors and pictures (as with the Billings Method). Surely if rural women in China can learn this technique, and practice it effectively, women in this country can, too. 

Is this really the direction we want reproductive health care and sex education to be moving in this country???