K.NOW: Purpose: What is yours…?

Maybe the purpose of a flower is to bring color and joy to dreary winter months.

Maybe the purpose of a flower is to bring color and joy to dreary winter months.                           (Photo courtesy of Bob Cook)

Talking to our kids about their sexual health can be tricky or even uncomfortable at times. That’s okay – perfectly normal; especially as we are talking about penises and vaginas, or birth control, or STI’s. But we must talk about that stuff with them, just as we talk to them about our other body systems and how to care for those “parts” as well. Remember, we were the ones who taught them how to wipe their butt. You can’t get much more personal than that!

But talking about sexual health encompasses more than the biology of sex. It also involves emotional, psychological, and decision-making processes as well.

Last week while attending a conference in Baltimore, I had the honor and privilege of listening to Dr. Victor Strecher speak. He is a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Sadly, he suffered the loss of one of his daughters four years ago. He used that grief, along with his expertise, to encourage and support others in their life journey – their purpose.

It was an engaging and inspiring talk encouraging individuals to define their purpose. No, I don’t mean waking up and realizing that you have four loads of laundry to catch up on – though that certainly CAN be a purpose for your day. But more like, what is your AUTHENTIC purpose. According to Dr. Strecher, this purpose gives you a reason to get up in the morning; it gives you energy in your life. I am certain there are many days you wonder just exactly WHAT you are accomplishing sometimes – I’ve been down that road as well. But you do have a purpose. Take some time to contemplate the things in your life that you feel passionate about…that excite you.

And while you are doing your pondering, how about approaching the young people in your life? Dr. Strecher believes that having a purpose can serve as potential protection against ill health and toxic addictions. Because my focus is on sexual health for young people, it’s my thought (totally unscientifically proven, but still…) that if your child feels like they have a reason to get up in the morning and be a part of the world – a reason to look ahead – they are more likely to make well thought-out choices when it comes to their sexual health. After all, they want to make it to adulthood to fulfill their purpose, too.

So I suggest to you, when you both have time, ask your child:

  • Where do you see yourself in 2 years, 4 years, and beyond?
  • At this point in your life, what do you feel is your purpose?
  • What excites you in life? (Girls in bikini’s don’t count.)
  • What steps will you take over the years to fulfill your life’s purpose? (And yes, a purpose may morph – they are still trying to figure “life” out.)

Your child may say something like, “Moooommmmmm. (or Daaaaaaaaddddddd.) I don’t knooooowwwwww.” They may throw in a “Quit buggin’ me!” But deep down they are listening. You can encourage them to write down their thoughts and then arrange a specific time to visit the local coffee shop for a planned conversation with you. If they aren’t caught off guard, they may be more willing to talk.

Another idea is to take a leisurely walk with them. Studies have shown physical activity can encourage bonding and conversation. According to Dr. Jennifer Carter in an article written by Kirsten Weir entitled “The Exercise Effect”, Dr. Carter’s patients tend to relax and share more when they are walking during therapy. (Click on American Psychological Association to read the article.) I bet it will work with your young person, too.

Just make sure you take this time to listen to your child.

Really listen. It’s their time to speak.

Use affirming words like, “I hear you say…” so they know you are paying attention to them. I’m betting they will open up even more. Try not to let your eyeballs bulge out if they say something unexpected or surprising. Be coooooollllll….

In  Child Trends Research Brief Parents Matter: The Role of Parents in Teens’ Decisions About Sex written by Erum Ikramullah, Jennifer Manlove, Carol Cui, and Kristin A. Moore, studies are summarized that show just how important parents are in influencing their kids when it comes to sexual health decisions – even more than peers! They actually listen to adults, but we have to make ourselves available to them.

I’ve talked about this topic before in a previous blog, however instead of the word “purpose” I used the word “goal”. Use the terminology you are comfortable with. But just find time to talk to the adolescent in your life.

This is not a “sex” topic per se, but think about it. This can open lines of communication with the young person in your life that can be helpful when you approach other intriguing topics such as condom use or oral sex.

To find out more about Dr. Strecher and his work on finding one’s purpose, please visit dungbeetle.org. Yes, you heard me. Dung. Beetle. Check it out – there’s a reason he uses that name. There’s even information to help coach you through defining your own purpose.

(I do want to disclaim any relationship or partnership with Dr. Strecher. I just wanted to share something that I found pretty cool and relate it to my own purpose … adolescent sexual health education.)

On that note, I believe my next ‘purpose’ is a chocolate chip cookie….yummmmm.


Womenshealth.gov - National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day March 10,2014

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The Office of Women’s Health is the government agency that supports this essential day to educate women about such significant health issue. Their tagline is “Share Knowledge, Take Action.” I want to share knowledge so that you can take action and talk to the women and girls in your life about HIV/AIDS.

Wait…I bet you thought only men who have sex with men (MSM) get HIV/AIDS, right? Or those who share needles, like drug users? Well, would you believe that even though MSM do have the highest rate of new HIV infections, African-American heterosexual women are the next largest group of individuals with new HIV infection diagnoses. That’s right. Straight women. Did you know people who share needles have one of the lowest numbers of infection?

In fact, studies show that “American women aged 13 or older account or 25% of all HIV diagnoses” according to womenshealth.gov. Twenty-five percent. That is a significant number, especially since there are 1.1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV, with 50,000 new diagnoses each year. That’s a lot of people.

It is estimated that almost 16% do not know they have the virus. Sixteen percent. They may not have any symptoms for years….and during that time this person may be sexually active.

According to the CDC, this is the breakdown of new HIV infections. This data is from 2010. (Hey, it takes a while to figure all these numbers out.)

MSM (White)……………………………………………………11,200

MSM (Black)……………………………………………………10,600

MSM (Hispanic)………………………………………………….6,700

Heterosexual Women (Black)…………………………………..5,300

Heterosexual Men (Black)………………………………………2,700

Heterosexual Women (White)…………………………………..1,300

Heterosexual Women (Hispanic)……………………………….1,200

IV Drug Users (Men, Black)…………………………………….1,100

IV Drug Users (Women, Black)…………………………………..850

Heterosexual Men (Hispanic)……………………………………..780

I know, I know. Numbers are boring. The reason I decided to painstakingly type all this stuff out is because I want you to look at these numbers.

Do you see a disproportionate number of heterosexual women with HIV compared to heterosexual men?

Hum. I wonder why this is? Well, there are certainly many, many reasons for this disparity, but the one I want you to really think about is the honestly factor.  It ties in to prevention. Before a person decides to engage in sexual activity (anal, oral, vaginal), it is always prudent to ask their partner if they have an STI or HIV. Hopefully they will be honest; after all, their sexual history could be more extensive than they might want to admit. So to be on the safe side, I strongly suggest a “field trip” to the nearest testing agency if either person hasn’t been tested within the last year. Why take a chance? Of course, that is true with any STI, not just HIV. If you catch HIV early enough, there are medications that can help AIDS from taking hold down the road. So, please, get tested every year. Some people may need to be tested more often, some less often. Talk to your healthcare provider.

Where does a person go to get tested? I can help!! Follow this link:


Don’t worry – it’s all confidential.

I want to repeat my favorite mantra. Wear A Condom. Besides abstinence, which is the only 100% sure way to stay HIV free, condoms are the only barrier we have that can help decrease a persons chance of becoming infected.

I discussed HIV/AIDS in a previous blog. If you would like more information about the disease itself, please go to my “World Aids Day” blog that was posted on December 1, 2013. If you would like more information on condoms, please refer to my previous blog, dated 2/27/14.

Please go to these other sources for more information. And as always, talk to your healthcare provider for personalized care.

AIDS.gov Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Women’s Health.gov National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

CDC Women and HIV/AIDS


(K)NOW: Condoms..What’s YOUR Pleasure?


Paris has it figured out: Condom vending machines right on the street!!

Condoms. Rubbers. Raincoats. Sheaths. Love Gloves. Prophylactics. Wetsuits. Willie Warmers.

Ah, yes. Condoms. February is National Condom Month, and since there is only one day left in the month, I’d better talk about this topic fast!

Condoms, a barrier method of birth control, are just about the only method we have to prevent STI’s and HIV. They also help prevent pregnancy.

Wait. That is not a true statement….

ABSTINENCE is of course the ONLY way to prevent STI’s, HIV, and pregnancy. Period. However, abstinence isn’t being practiced by most of the adult population, whether one is elderly, middle-aged, LGBT, married, single, heterosexual….you name it.

But, since most people end up having sex, we should talk about how to have safer sex to reduce the risk of STIs/HIV/pregnancy. And that would be….condoms.

There are many different kinds of condoms. For simplicity’s sake, I am going to refer to condoms as “male” and “female”. However, I want to make clear that I appreciate that some individuals with penises identify as “female”, and some people with vaginas identify as “male”. (You DID read my last blog, didn’t you??)

Now, let’s get started.

 Male Condoms

-They protect best against STI’s transmitted via body fluids and not as great against skin-to-skin STI’s (like herpes) because it can’t prevent all skin contact. But it still helps a lot.

-If you use a condom every time and use it correctly every time, then it is 97% effective. Unfortunately, most people don’t use it every time or use it correctly, so it’s 80-90% effective as a general rule. (National Institute of Health (NIH))

-They come in flavors (you know, the oral thing…) and colors, sizes, and textures.

-They are made from different materials. These include:

Latex Rubber: These are the most popular. They help protect against both STI’s/HIV and pregnancy. They are pretty inexpensive – about a buck a piece. However, some people are allergic to latex.

Polyurethane: These protect against both STI’s/HIV and pregnancy. Great for people who are allergic to latex. Not as tight-fitting, so some people like these better.

Sheepskin: Only protects against pregnancy. Because it is made of animal skin, it is porous, therefore those pesky little viruses and bacterium can sneak through the condom. Definitely a great option for a monogamous couple.

There are lots of different brands.

                    Trojan, Durex, and Lifestlyes are three major brands. There are lots of smaller companies as well. If you go to their websites, often there will be coupons available. Also, I have personally noticed some of these brands have donated their condoms to various organizations for free distribution, so kudos to them.

I want to make special mention of certain brands I have only recently become aware of. L. condoms seem really cool because they are manufactured and packaged in a “green” manner, which I love. But what I also appreciate is the idea that the company was started by a woman who wants to empower African women to have control over their sexual health to help prevent HIV. They also donate one condom to Africa for each condom sold. Oh, and get this, they actually have one hour delivery in the Los Angeles and San Francisco communities.

I also happened upon an article called “These 3 Condom Companies Want You To Save The World” by Cari Romm.  She mentions not only the L. condom, which I was already familiar with, but also Sir Richards and Sustain Condoms. They have also begun programs to assist the underserved to help curb very preventable diseases and pregnancy. How awesome is that? (http://www.policymic.com/articles/83255/these-3-condom-companies-want-to-help-you-save-the-world).

 Female Condoms

-This condom is called the female condom, however it’s a bit of a misnomer. Males can wear these as well to protect against STI’s/HIV when having anal sex. Therefore, this condom can be worn in the vagina or anus, by any sex.

-This condom, when used correctly, is 95% effective. However most people don’t use it correctly or use it every time they have sex, so it’s effectiveness goes down to 78-82%, according to the NIH.

-This type of condom is made from nitrile – which is latex-free.

-What I really love about this product is it empowers women to take charge of the condom issue.

-It can be inserted way before sexual intercourse – up to 8 hours – if the person wants.

-The female condom is called the FC2. You can find it online or at Walgreens.


Now, with both the male and female condoms, you gotta use a lubricant. Oil- or petroleum-based lubricant can break down the latex, so it’s best to use water-based lubricant with condoms. Most condoms come pre-lubricated, so that’s good. But a little more lube is a good idea. Why do you need to use lube? It helps prevent breakage of the condom that can be caused by friction. You don’t want even the most minuscule tear – those little viruses and bacterium are pretty sneaky! Also, don’t double-up on them either – that also encourages tears because of the friction between the two condoms. That includes not using both the female and the male condom at the same time.  And the tears will bring tears. (Get it? I’m so clever…) And a little panic. So, use lubricant with the condoms.

    Dam it!

 I would like to mention something called a dental dam. This is a thin piece of latex rubber that is used during oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex  to prevent the transmission of STI’s. If a person is in a pinch, non-microwaveable plastic wrap can work as well – but make sure there are no tears in it.

 Okay. A few more bits of information you should (k)now.

They aren’t expensive. About $1 to $4 a piece, depending on the brand, place of purchase, or material it’s made from. (A WHOLE lot cheaper than antibiotics.)

Before using a condom, check the expiration date. If it’s expired, don’t use it. Get a new one.

Don’t store condoms in really cold or really hot places. Room temp, please.

If a person stores a condom in their wallet, their body heat and frequent movement increases the risk of damage to the package. Rotate it out frequently.

Make sure the package is not deflated. If it is, there is probably a hole in the packaging…and maybe in the condom.

Put the condom on BEFORE your sexy bits touch your partner’s sexy bits. Otherwise, you’ve defeated the purpose.

Use it every time you have sex, and use it correctly. Read the directions and practice.

Don’t double up.

Use lube. Inside and outside the condom.

Finally … get tested! Condoms are terrific protection – but nothing is perfect!

How do you put on a condom?

There are lots of good online sites that can instruct, but I like Planned Parenthood and NakedTruth Idaho. The condom packaging also has instructions. Read it. Practice. (I won’t tell!!!)

Name-dropping. Guilty!!

Okay, I’ve done a LOT of name-dropping today. No, I don’t have any connections to anyone or any company. These just happen to be products and resources I am most familiar with. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other really great products out there – I’m sure there are lots! Heck, even Bill and Melinda Gates are out there encouraging the development of new condoms…they will have a cool product soon, I’m sure. So, no. I’m not encouraging the use of any of these products in particular. I just hope that when the need arises, people will use a condom. Any condom. Well, an intact, fresh condom – with some lube, please.

(K)Now and Go Here:

https://thisisl.com    (L.condom)

https://www.sirrichards.com   (Sir Richard)

http://sustaincondoms.com  (Sustain)

http://www.trojancondoms.com  (Trojan)

http://www.durex.com/pages/default.aspx  (Durex)

http://www.lifestyles.com  (Lifestyles)

http://www.policymic.com/articles/83255/these-3-condom-companies-want-to-help-you-save-the-world  (Great article about three new condom companies)

http://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/docs/CondomFactsheetInBrief.pdf   (CDC)

http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/condom (Planned Parenthood)

http://www.nakedtruth.idaho.gov (nakedtruth Idaho)

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004002.htm (female condoms)

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004001.htm  (male condoms)

http://www.fc2femalecondom.com  (FC2)

(K)NOW, Facebook. You have set a great example!


So the recent “big news” on the social media front this past weekend centered around Facebook. Recognizing that not all individuals identify as heterosexual, there are now options for their users when setting up their Profile.

Options, you ask? How can there be options? Male. Female. What more can there be?

Well, a lot actually.

Apparently, Facebook offers about 50 options. Well, I read that somewhere anyway. So, curious, I checked it out. Wow – there ARE a lot of options! (However I didn’t count them…sorry.)

It did get me thinking…are people familiar with the terminology that many individuals use to identify themselves? Maybe not. Would you like to know? Good! That’s what I like to hear – people who are interested in learning new information to help them become educated, open-minded, people of society.

We have heard the term “LGBT” in the media, but I’m not so sure people know what each of the letters stand for. I believe people know it is a term related to the gay community, but that’s about it. Sometimes you may hear it referred to GLBT, too – it’s all the same. When I studied for my LGBT certification (yes, that exists), it was always referred to as LGBT, so I will continue to do so in my writings.


L” – Lesbian

G” – Gay

B” – Bisexual

T” – Transgender

Sometimes you may see it written as such:


(These are a little less mainstream, but it’s good to be familiar with these, so you appear really hip.)

Q”- Queer

Q”- Questioning

A” – Ally (that’s me!)

A” – Asexual

I” – Intersex

P” – Pansexual

Okay. So, what do these terms mean?

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted romantically and/or physically to other women.

Gay: A person of one sex who is attracted romantically and/or physically to a person of the same sex. Generally the term is used when referring to men who are attracted to men, however this term can be used to include both males and females who are attracted to same-sex individuals..

Bisexual: A person of one sex who is attracted romantically/physically to a person of the same sex OR of another sex.

Transgender: This one can get tricky. A lot of people understandably confuse this with transsexual. Easy to do. Transgender refers to an individual who expresses themselves as the opposite sex from which they were born. This can include cross-dressers, transsexuals, and others.

The term transsexual falls under the umbrella term transgender.

Transsexual is defined as an individual who was born with the outward appearance of one sex, yet inside they feel like the opposite sex (gender identity). The body doesn’t match the psyche. Sometimes these individuals will choose to undergo surgery and/or hormone therapy to change their outward appearance to match how they feel inside. Others may not, but may dress as the person of the opposite sex to express their gender identity. Or they may not do anything. It’s a personal choice.

Often the word transgender is used when the word transsexual would be more appropriate. However, the term transsexual isn’t used as much as it used to be. It is best to ask the individual how they would like to be referred. I know a MTF (male-to-female) individual who uses the term transgender, which I totally get. Keep in mind, these terms refer only to gender identity (do they feel male or female) NOT their sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with who they are attracted to.

Queer: Used by those in the LGBT community to describe themselves as being unique. Can sometimes be interpreted in a derogatory manner, so be considerate when using this term.

Questioning: Refers to a person who is exploring their sexual identity, orientation, or gender identity.

Ally: Someone who supports the LGBT community.

Asexual: Not sexually attracted to any sex.

Intersex: More of a medical thing. A person is born with ambiguous male and female anatomy – external as well as internal. Sometimes it is obvious at birth, other times it isn’t noticed until puberty, and sometimes a person never knows! There are several medical conditions associated with being intersex, including Turner Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome. This has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

Pansexual: Attracted romantically/physically to a person regardless of their orientation, gender, identity, or anatomy. It’s all about the person on the inside.

Phew! That’s a lot to take in. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz on this tomorrow. It’s just sort of nice to have a general idea of what people are talking about. And yes, it is confusing. Especially the transgender/transsexual language.

So, getting back to Facebook. I think it’s pretty cool that they are offering identity alternatives for those who do not identify themselves as either “male” or “female”. It’s all biology! Hormones, genetics, in utero growth….there are lots of reasons people are born the way we are.

If you want more information, here are some great resources:

http://www.glaad.org (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)

http://www.isna.org (Intersex Society of North America)

https://www.gsanetwork.org (Gay Straight Alliance Network)

http://community.pflag.org  (Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald N. Callahan, Ph.D.   (I loved this book!)

(A special thanks to Dr. Sally Conklin from Northern Illinois University for her support and suggestions!)


(K)NOW: Teen Dating Violence

twc (k)now dating violence

twc teen dating violence month

twc teen dating violence

twc teen dating violence hearts

 twc teen dating violence info

Wanna (K)NOW what Ellie says?

TWC %22Interview%22 heading

The following is a written interview that explored the conversation between a young woman who was about to venture off to college and her healthcare provider. Her answers are insightful: what might make conversations between a young person and a healthcare provider more effective?

Q: Tell me about the first time your healthcare provider spoke to you about the topic of sexual health. Who brought it up first – you or your provider? Why was it brought up? How old were you?

A: For several years my doctor had asked me if I was sexually active, but he always asked me while a parent was in the room, and I felt uncomfortable telling the truth. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that a nurse practioner talked to me about my own sexual health in private.

Q: What was the setting of the conversation? Who spoke with you? ? Did you feel comfortable? How long did the conversation last?

A: The nurse and I were both in the exam room, and she asked my mom to leave, so she could ask me some questions. She was very funny, and I felt comfortable answering her questions. The conversation was probably around 5-10 minutes long, but she covered a lot of different topics.

Q: Did you find the advice helpful? Were you already familiar with the information that was shared with you?

A: I found the advice really helpful. I was suprised by how little I knew. The nurse told me information that was new and surprising.

Q: Do you recall the information that was shared with you? Was it relevant to you in particular, or did it feel like a generic conversation? Was there an opportunity to ask questions?

A: Most of the information we discussed I was familiar with, but she also shared some things I had never though about.

For example, she advised me not to share razors with my friends in order to avoid the spread of HIV. All of the information about sex, health, drinking and other topics she covered was very relevant to me at the time. Although she did ask if I had any questions at the end, I didn’t ask any. I wish I would have.

Q: Was it a positive experience? Shaming? Is there anything that would have made the conversation more effective?

A: It was definetly a positive experience. The nurse never made me feel shameful. The thing that made the conversation most effective was the privacy. I could ask or say anything to the nurse, and I knew it would stay in the exam room.

Please encourage the young person in your life to check out our brand new blog on Tumblr geared for adolescents: TeenWorldAnonymous. 

Hey Doc, I Wanna (K)NOW

TWC graphic Hey DOC

One snowy day while working on my project, I was “researching” by leisurely reading the paper. (Okay, so it wasn’t research – we all need a minute to relax, right?) I came across a Chicago Tribune article by Karen Kaplan called “Doctors, teens should talk more about sex, study says” (December 30, 2013).

I thought to myself…..YESSSS! But then I thought…well, duh.

To summarize the article, a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics* addressing the questions: Do doctors talk to adolescents about sex? If so, how much time do they spend talking about sex? Do the teens engage in the conversation? Are there certain personality types/genders/ethnicities of the physician or patient that may or may not encourage conversation? Apparently no one has really looked into this before. Obviously, I think this is a very, very cool study.

 What did they find?

-About 1/3 of the kids who went in for a check-up had no conversation about sexual health with their doctor.

-For the remaining 2/3’s who did have a discussion with the doc, the average time discussing sexual health was about 36 seconds.

-Doctors were more likely to speak to older adolescents about sex than younger patients.

Well, let me offer a personal opinion: I’m not sure I consider (an average of) 36 seconds long enough to really get into the topic sexual health. But that’s just me. So essentially, discussion about sexual health is pretty much nonexistent in many doctor offices.

And that’s a problem. Talking about sexual health with one’s physician or other healthcare provider is imperative, whether an adult or adolescent. This is the opportunity to find out how to protect yourself against unintended pregnancy, STI’s, HIV, birth control methods, vaccinations….you name it. After all, medically-accurate, scientifically-based information IS found in medical clinics.

The study ends with the question – how can professionals change this?? Needless to say, more studies will be done to answer this question. I know I have MY opinion, however, I would like to hear what YOU have to say.

What do you think would encourage healthcare providers to spend more time talking with our adolescents about sexual health? (You can just leave a reply below)

I want to (K)NOW what YOU think.

My next blog entry will be an interview with a young woman about her experience in a doctor’s office. Please visit again and read what she has to say.

*JAMA Pediatr. Published online December 30, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4338


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