Tag Archives: Sexual Health

Female Condoms: Difficult to find in the US, easy to get in UK.

Female condoms are an alternative to regular condoms. They provide pretty much the same great protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). What’s different about them? Instead of going on the penis, female condoms go inside your vagina for pregnancy prevention or into the vagina or anus for protection from STDs.

There are hundreds of different kinds of male condoms for sale in the US, but only one female condom and you need a prescription to get it. Female condoms are almost as effective as male condoms, so why are they so hard to find in the US?

At LASS, we’ve been providing female condoms for over 10 years, and when we mention them at our training events or offer them to individuals who test for HIV at LASS, they are often surprised at their existence.

The situation isn’t as bad in the UK compared to America as the above video from Vox describes but publication and awareness of female condoms isn’t as readily available as their male counterparts, (even in the UK) and we want to change that!

Female condoms have been around since the 1980’s, when a Danish doctor named Lasse Hessel came up with a prototype. However, the media ridiculed it, comparing it to a plastic bag.

Female condoms have never been marketed very well and stigma over a sexual health aid still hangs around to the point that in the US last year, the company that manufactures them stopped selling them in stores and changed to a prescription-only model, so indivuals in the states need to see a doctor, just to get a condom.

That’s backwards thinking and we say they are just as valid as male condoms to help prevent STIs (including HIV) Another excellent reason for using female condoms is they’re the only women -initiated method of planning and actively pursuing safer sex. Many say they’re preferable for anal sex too!

How do female condoms work?

Female condoms (also called internal condoms) are little nitrile (soft plastic) pouches that you put inside your vagina. They cover the inside of your vagina, creating a barrier that stops sperm from reaching an egg. If sperm can’t get to an egg, you can’t get pregnant. The female condom also helps prevent sexually transmitted infections.  Female condoms aren’t just birth control — they also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Female condoms help prevent STIs by covering the inside of your anus, vagina, and some parts of your vulva. This decreases your chance of coming in contact with semen or skin that can spread STIs.

Unlike in the United States as the above video shows, female condoms are becoming easier to find online, in stores, and at family planning centers. And you don’t need a prescription or ID to buy them. They’re a small, discreet, and portable way to get big protection from pregnancy and STDs.

We provide them freely at LASS, since all the other condoms out there are worn on a penis, many female condom fans love that there’s a condom they can control. Female condoms let you take charge of your sexual health. Even if your partner doesn’t want to wear a condom, you can still protect yourself.

You can also buy them online, here’s a couple of links from Amazon (Pasante) (Velvet)

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A gay man’s experience of using PEP (Emergency HIV medication)

In recent months I experienced something I never thought I’d have to deal with when I faced the possibility that I might have contracted HIV.

I have been sexually responsible for my entire adult life and have always been heavily influenced by warnings of the past regarding HIV and AIDS, however all it takes is one moment of passion to let your guard down and you can find yourself in a situation similar to mine which resulted in me taking the HIV emergency medication known as PEP. The days leading up to my 28-day treatment were possibly some of the scariest of my life. Experiencing this drug first hand and the people I encountered along the way brought on a variety of conflicting emotions and an understanding of sexual health I never thought I’d have to comprehend.

Story via Metro

What is PEP?

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long course of medication which aims to prevent HIV infection after the virus has potentially entered a person’s body. The drug is used as an emergency measure on a person who may have been exposed to the virus, either through infection or sexual transmission. Although PEP is not 100% guaranteed to always work, the success rate is very high. It’s very important to make clear that PEP should not be considered an alternative to using condoms as prevention for contracting HIV. Using condoms is the most effective method of preventing HIV transmission as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

The drug should also not be viewed as some form of a morning after pill either – PEP is a powerful drug and users like me risk side effects, not to mention the fact PEP isn’t taken on just one occasion like with morning after pills. I myself am lucky enough to have not experienced any side-effects of PEP, but the potential side-effects include prolonged headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these side effects you should not stop taking the medication as once stopped, PEP will not be effective. Contact your doctor to discuss any issues you may be encountering on the drug to get an informed decision on what to do next. Timing is also crucial when it comes to PEP. If the course of drugs has not started within 72 hours of potential infection, the drug will no longer be effective.

Why I took PEP

My reasoning for using this often misunderstood drug was down to one thing: paranoia. The partner I had engaged in potentially risky sexual activity with was someone I know to be practising safe sex, and although we weren’t in a relationship we were very open with one another about our fears of HIV risks in the gay community and HIV tests we had previously taken. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘what if?’ after this particular sexual encounter.

After two days of endless overthinking, excessive Googling and sheer panic I decided to bite the bullet and visit my nearest sexual health clinic. On this particular evening the clinic stated upon my entrance that the session was for appointment-only patients – my heart sank as this was my final chance to obtain PEP before the 72 hour window had closed. However, after quietly asking if I could speak to a nurse in private I was humbled to learn how genuinely concerned and helpful the staff at the clinic were. I was ushered into a private room where I explained my situation and within five minutes the nurse had made space for me and I was on the waiting list.

After a short wait I was seen by the doctor who carefully took note of my situation, perfectly explained what PEP was and reassured me that coming to the clinic after potentially being exposed to HIV was the right thing to do. Hearing that my decision to take PEP was the right one was all I wanted to hear from a medical professional at that time. The doctor agreed with my sentiment that if you’re asking yourself ‘what if?’ then you should absolutely take no risks when it comes to HIV, because, ultimately, the only sexual health status you can be 100% sure of is your own. After taking a few blood samples and a quick HIV test, which is something I had done many times over the past few years, I was given my PEP medication.

The instructions were to take one tablet in the morning and two at night, taken exactly 12 hours apart at the same time every day. I was however only given a three day supply of the drug. The doctor informed me that this is normal practice and it’s up to the patient to pick up the remainder of their 28 day supply from their pharmacy. It is absolutely imperative that users of PEP plan ahead to make sure their supply of pills does not run out before retrieving the full medication.

The future

My experience with PEP, which I am currently still using until my 28 days are up, has been both fearful and insightful. In the short amount of time between considering starting a course of the drug and actually taking it I learned more about HIV and the treatments available than ever before. I also came to appreciate the services we have available in this country – if I wasn’t lucky enough to live in such a privileged part of the world who knows how I would be forced to handle a situation like this. Life after PEP will most likely enhance my sexual health paranoia, however I believe that being overly careful is always better than being slack when it comes to an issue such as this. Although I’m confident my treatment will be successful, I am currently still in my PEP bubble which involves a daily routine of taking pills with an alarm reminder at either end of my days. In the end, whether I actually needed the drug or not in the first place, it was most definitely worth it.

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There’s currently an outbreak of Hepatitis A affecting gay and bisexual men.

Hepatitis A outbreak in England under investigation

Public Health England is investigating a hepatitis A outbreak predominantly affecting men who have sex with men. Between July 2016 and 2 April 2017, 266 cases associated with the outbreak had been identified in England. At least 74% of these were among MSM, and 63% of cases were in London. There is evidence that there have been some cases in the wider population linked to the outbreak.

A high proportion of cases likely acquired the infection abroad at the beginning of the outbreak, but transmission now mainly occurs in England. The outbreak comprises three concurrently-circulating genotype Ia strains, previously not seen in England. Hepatitis A outbreaks caused by the same strains are concurrently occurring in 12 European countries and elsewhere in the UK outside of England [1,2].

As part of the outbreak response, PHE together with the British Association for Sexual health and HIV have recommended that MSM with one or more new or casual partner in the last three months are opportunistically vaccinated in GUM clinics at their next appointment. In addition, pop-up vaccination clinics have been set up around gay venues in London. PHE is considering wider vaccination strategies to respond this outbreak, which is occurring in the context of a global shortage of hepatitis A vaccine.

See the PDF version of this report for the epidemiological curve depicting the outbreak.

References:

  1. ECDC (December 2016). Rapid risk assessment: hepatitis A outbreaks in the EU/EEA mostly affecting men who have sex with men.
  2. Beebeejaun K, Degala S, Balogun K, Simms I, Woodhall SC, Heinsbroek E, et al (2017). Outbreak of hepatitis A associated with men who have sex with men (MSM), England, July 2016 to January 2017. Euro. Surveill. 22(5), 2 February.

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Lorry themed condoms tackle India HIV Transmission & M1 Healthy Hub Roadshow

In India, it is estimated two million lorry drivers regularly use sex workers – but barely 10% of truckers are using condoms. – Story via BBC News

Health officials say there is a strong correlation between HIV infections and the routes used by truckers.

To help raise awareness, lorry-themed condoms are being sold. The colourful packaging of the Dipper brand has been designed to replicate the bright designs of India’s trucks, and 45,000 packets were sold out in just a few days.

This project is not unsimilar to the Healthy Hub Roadshow, an initiative set up by LASS CEO Jenny Hand and Holistic Practitioner Jacqui Tillyard together with  six HIV and Sexual Health Organisations located along the M1 corridor between Luton and Nottingham.

Healthy Hub Roadshow Staff and Volunteers

Healthy Hub Roadshow Staff and Volunteers (© Robson:2016)

The main aim was to raise awareness for Safer Sex, HIV testing, AIDS prevention and condom distribution.  The Roadshow also offered a range of other related health tests and information including diabetes blood sugar level test, BMI, cholesterol and Blood pressure tests to encourage healthier lifestyles.

The roadshow is now closed, however you can find valuable information online at http://healthyhubroadshow.co.uk 

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About the crisis, no not the referendum.. the sexual health crisis!

hangingout

Sexual health and HIV agencies have been left out to dry.

The UK is facing a rising demand for sexual health and contraceptive care. Unacceptable levels of sexual coercion and female genital mutilation (FGM) are being reported, sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses are increasing [pdf], and the UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe.

Despite all of this, key services are facing monstrous budget cuts alongside so many other sectors of our increasingly weary NHS. This means clinic closures, the dissolution of preventative health programmes, further pressure on already overloaded GP practices, and horrifying long-term financial costs.

In truth, sexual health services have suffered financially for some time. With the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, responsibility for sexual health funding was allocated to local authorities and these services put out to tender [pdf].

Private companies can bid for control over them, which the government claimed would improve standards “through competition and choice”. In reality, the winning bids are often ones that offer immediate cost-saving rather than long-term financial benefits and the best possible standards of care.

In 2015, the government announced its £200m public health budget cut, resulting in local councils spending millions of pounds less than planned on sexual health services nationwide. Add to this a potential 40% cut in central funding to local authorities [pdf] and you can see how pressure is mounting.

Elizabeth Carlin, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (Bashh), is one of many specialists to express concern. “Sexual health services play a key role in protecting the health of the nation,” she says. “Coordinated care with sufficient funding is crucial.”

So, what do these services actually do – and what would be the repercussions of service dismantlement?

Let’s start with sexual violence. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year [pdf]. That’s roughly 11 adult rapes per hour. Over 1,200 victims of FGM were recorded between January and March this year, and unknown numbers of girls and women remain unprotected. Gang violence and grooming are increasingly recognised and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community remains at risk from stigma and discrimination. Sexual health services identify and support these vulnerable groups every day so the ramifications of reducing access to this support and expertise will be far-reaching and significant.

Recent coverage of NHS England’s decision not to fund the provision to high-risk individuals of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – a highly effective HIV-prevention drug – highlighted the extent of our HIV epidemic. About 17% of infected individuals in the UK are unaware of their positive status and an estimated one in 20 men who have sex with men (MSM) aged 15–44 are living with HIV. Sexual health services are responsible for huge proportions of HIV testing, education and specialist care for newly-diagnosed individuals.

STIs remain problematic, particularly in MSM, with a 46% increase in syphilis and 32% increase in gonorrhoea reported in this group by Public Health England [pdf] in 2014. The threat of gonococcal resistance also persists, with the frightening possibility that we could end up with no effective treatment for an infection that affects up to 30,000 people in the UK every year. Expert services are essential to ensure the public is tested, managed and educated to reduce STI transmission and prevent long-term health problems.

Teen conception rates are another important measure of the state of health and society for local councils, yet the UK continues to have the highest figures in western Europe. The Family Planning Association (FPA) 2015 report Unprotected Nation estimates that additional unintended pregnancies due to budget cuts could cost up to £8.3bn over the next five years. That’s coupled with the countless women who will deal with the mental and physical implications of an unwanted pregnancy or abortion. In essence, an unforgivable removal of choice from the UK public.

This list of problems is by no means exhaustive. While the health budget remains a challenge and all the unpleasant health problems associated with sex are easier to ignore, the government’s failure to openly address these issues, support sexual choice and put their long-vision specs on will only take us back to the times we’ve worked so hard to leave behind.

Let’s just hope they’re ready to confront the repercussions of their actions – warts and all.

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Fragmented sexual health system is failing users

sex-ed

The reorganisation of sexual and reproductive health and HIV services in England that occurred when the Health and Social Care Act 2013 handed over commissioning responsibility to local government has led to lack of accountability in a complex, fragmented system that is having a direct, negative impact on patients, according to an all-party group of MPs. Their inquiry has found a lack of proper oversight of the quality and outcomes delivered by commissioners, and a lack of national direction on training and development.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the UK – chaired by Baroness Gould of Potternewton and supported by FPA, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV – called yesterday for clarification about national accountability, better data linkage, a single funding mechanism across all services, ongoing ring-fenced public health funding, adequate staff training to be specified in contracts and mandatory sex and relationships education in all primary and secondary schools. Baroness Gould said: “A common theme throughout the inquiry was the lack of clarity identifying who is ultimately responsible at a national level for these services, and what powers they have to drive up standards and outcomes across the country.”

The APPG took evidence from the government, Public Health England, Department of Health (DH), Local Government Association, and representatives of royal colleges, charities and NHS trusts across the country. It reported:

  • Structural divisions in commissioning between the NHS, public health and social care had a significant impact on commissioning responsibilities for sexual health, reproductive health and HIV.
  • There is insufficient national coordination to enable local commissioners to work together effectively in sexual health, reproductive health and HIV. The Health Secretary should clarify and publish a clear accountability structure for sexual and reproductive health and HIV services ‘as a matter of urgency’.
  • Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), local authorities and NHS England need to be accountable for improvements delivered by the service providers they commission for sexual health, reproductive health and HIV.
  • Directors of public health and health and wellbeing boards need to work together to improve integration between services commissioned by the NHS (including general practice) and those commissioned by public health.
  • Commissioners should use a single funding mechanism, either the tariff or a block contract, across all services to avoid income-driven incentives leading to distortions in provision unrelated to patient need.
  • Short-term procurement reduces the incentive to properly train and develop staff and encourages providers to only deliver services to the letter of the contract. Provider contracts must make ongoing education and training mandatory.
  • GP data should be linked with other data in sexual health, reproductive health and HIV, to provide a full picture.
  • Local authority budget cuts for public health will lead to reductions in the service they commission and create knock-on costs for the NHS. The DH should extend the period of the ring-fence for public health as part of the autumn Spending Review.
  • Sex and relationships education should be statutory for all schools including academies and free schools.

Baroness Gould commented: “In transferring commissioning to a local level, it was anticipated that there would be integration and opportunities for joint working – all focused on the specific needs of local communities. In some places these aspirations are being realised and we heard evidence of good practice and successes but, in many areas, these structural changes have created a complex and fragmented system that is not in the best interests of the people who rely on these services.”

Who do you think we are? An insight into the lives of sex workers.

sex-work

A short season of six films offering insights into the lives of sex workers.

Delivered in partnership with Firefly Leicester Community Interest Company and supported by the Big Lottery Fund, the season aims to raise awareness amongst care professionals and the public of how stigmatised representations of sex workers can have a life-threatening impact upon them.

Following each of the films – three of them Italian, three British – there will be Q&A sessions for the audience to explore stereotypes and prejudices with guest speakers including activists, researchers and former sex workers.

Please see individual films for more details. All films are free and seats allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Personal services

Thurs 12 Feb 7pm FREE
1987, Terry Jones, UK

Personal-Services

Waitress and single mother, Christine struggles to make ends meet. She thus decides first to prostitutes herself and then, with a business-like, practical turn of mind, opens what will become a successful brothel. Inspired by a true story.

Guest speakers: – Stand-up Comedian and former sex worker Miranda Kane  and Professor of British Cinema Steve Chibnell (DMU)

ROCCO E I SUOI FRATELLI (ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS)

Thurs 19 Feb 7pm FREE
1960, Luchino Visconti, Italy (subtitled)

Rocco

A controversial masterpiece. A sterile sense of male honour leads to violence and death. Recently immigrated to Milan from southern Italy, Rocco and his brothers seek a better future when a young disenchanted woman enters their lives.

Guest speaker: Sharon Wood (University of Leicester)

IRENA PALM

Thurs 26 Feb 7pm FREE
2007, Sam Garbarski, UK, Belgium, France.

Irena

Middle-aged Maggie must find a way to get enough money for her grandson’s lifesaving medical treatment. When a ‘Hostess Wanted’ sign catches her eye, Maggie naively stumbles into a city sex club. Shy Maggie has a rough start at ‘Sexy World’, more than just a train ride from her conservative suburb.

Guest speaker: Director of Services at Ugly Mugs and a member of the National Police Working Group on Prostitution Alex Bryce

MATRIMONIO ALL’ITALIANA (MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE)

Thurs 5 March 7pm FREE
1964, Vittorio De Sica, Italy (subtitled)

Marriage-Italian-Style

In Naples, in the Second World War, the businessman Domenico Soriano meets the seventeen years old prostitute Filumena Marturano (Sophia Loren) in a brothel during an allied bombing. Flash forward to the post-war years, and the two meet again, sparking a passionate affair that spans two decades.

Guest speaker: Pia Covre, vice-president  of the Committee for Prostitutes Civil Rights, Italy.

NORMAL

Thurs 12 Mar 7pm FREE
2012, Nick Mai, UK.

Nick-Mai

Normal is creative documentary based on original anthropological research on the relationship between migration, the sex industry and sex trafficking. The film brings the real life stories of male, female and transgender migrants working in the sex industry to the screen.

Guest speaker: To be confirmed.

LA BOCCA DEL LUPO (THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF)

Thur 19 Mar 7pm FREE
2009, Pietro Marcello, Italy (subtitled)

Wolf

Multi-award winning Pietro Marcello’s feature documentary unfolds a beautiful love story between Mary and Enzo who have been waiting and wanting each other since they first met behind bars. Set in the Italian port town of Genoa, the film is a tribute to love and to the city.

Guest speaker: Porpora Marcasciano, president of the MIT (Transsexual Identity Movement), and director of Divergenti – Festival Internazionale di Cinema Transessuale, Bologna, Italy

Information via Phoenix & Leicester Red Project

The Leicester Red Project is a six week season that aims to raise awareness around the stereotypical and stigmatizing representations of sex workers.  For more information, please visit their website: http://www.leicesterredproject.co.uk/

 

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