PEACE.

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PEACE

Our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones in the recent tragedy in the Ukraine. Their grief  is unimaginable.

My heart is especially heavy after learning of the untimely silencing of the voices and minds of over 100 of the brightest researchers, advocates, healthcare professionals, and activists within the HIV/AIDS community. Not only is this a personal loss for the loved ones of these selfless individuals, but the scientific and public health communities lost unrealized, innovative ideas regarding HIV/AIDS.  The legacy of these dedicated professionals will be reflected through individuals who benefit from their research and advocacy.

As compassionate humans, we can all use this experience as an example of how intolerance for others can lead to tragic consequences. We need to recognize that no matter our sexual orientation, our religion, our ethnicity, our skin color, or the borders that surround our homeland, we are all citizens of the world with a desire to live and love within our own cultures. It is the uniqueness of each of us that make this world a fascinating place to live.

In honor of these compassionate individuals who dedicated their lives to those impacted by the physical, mental/emotional, and social effects of HIV/AIDS, maybe – just maybe – we can find it within ourselves to step back and see people for the unique beings they are, and not define a person by their sexual orientation or medical diagnosis, just as these professionals did.

“If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”
Dalai Lama

PEACE to the friends and families of all the passengers of flight MH17. Every one of those individuals contributed to the world in their own unique way.

 

It’s okay to DECIDE.

Before we talk about decision-making, let me give you the world’s shortest neurology lesson:

Oh, wait. Wrong one.

Look at this one.

Prefrontal Cortex and the Amygdala.                            Drawing courtesy NIMH.NIH.gov

Okay. Here’s what you gotta k.now.

  • The part of the brain that is involved in self-control, reasoning, and decision-making, the pre-frontal cortex, does not fully develop until about the mid-20′s. This is the part that says, “This is a really dumb idea. Don’t do it.”
  • The amygdala within the limbic system (in the middle of your brain) is responsible for emotions. It develops before the prefrontal cortex does. This is the part that says “I’m really angry.”

When you add it up….

           The underdeveloped prefrontal cortex   plus   the developed amygdala

equals…

lots of strong emotions and not always a lot of self-control

leading to

not making great decisions all the time.

This does not mean adolescents ALWAYS make bad decisions. Of course not! It merely means they are still physiologically developing and could use a little help learning how to make decisions and control emotions.

Another thought…through childhood and adolescence, the pathways in the brain that develop and stick around are the ones they use. If they don’t use them, they sort of disappear. Therefore, encourage your kids to read – or read to them. Encourage sports, museum visits, board games, and creative learning opportunities so those pathways in the brain stick around, not the couch-potato pathways. 

Want to know more? Listen to Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore as she gives an interesting TedTalk about adolescent brain development.

Okay, now that we are all brain experts, let’s talk about decision-making.

There are formulas we use to teach students in health education classes that show how to make good decisions. It seems odd that formulas would be written about this, much less that a person even needs to be taught how to make good decisions, but it is not a skill that a person has at birth. As the brain develops cognitively, it begins to make connections about decisions and the outcomes that follow. There are other biological processes involved as well, but that’s not the point of this particular writing, so just trust me on that one.

The model frequently used in schools and healthcare facilities is the DECIDE model. This model is used with some variations. Essentially, these are the steps:

D: Define the problem
E: Explore the alternatives
C: Consider the consequences
I: Identify your values
D: Decide and take action
E: Evaluate the results and make changes

We often go through these steps without even realizing it. Consider a decision you have made lately. How did you come up with your final decision? I’m betting you went through most of these steps without even realizing it.

For our adolescents, however….

Because this is a learned skill, practicing will help get their thought processes wired up. It’s easy to start with simple decisions such as nutritional choices, but then eventually move on to heavier issues such as where to attend college, which friends to spend time with, and their sexual health. They can analyze their thoughts about initiating a sexual relationship, using condoms, remaining abstinent, etc. by utilizing the DECIDE model.

Encourage the young person in your life to think through different scenarios before they find themselves in certain situations. This will help them with rehearsing refusal skills as well.

How can you do this?

  • Simply write the DECIDE acronym on a piece of paper.
  • Talk about what each letter – or step – represents.
  • Present them with a scenario.
  • Have them write each step out and ponder actions and consequences.

If your household is like a humming train station and finding time to sit and write stuff out probably won’t happen, just have a conversation in the car. Talk through the different steps, then give your adolescent some different scenarios you can think through together. When they are faced with similar situations in ‘real life’, they will have a mental tool in which to refer.

Need some ideas for topics?

  • You have a big test in the morning. However your favorite band is playing tonight and you were able to obtain free tickets.
  • You are riding in a car with friends, when all of a sudden one of them lights up a joint.
  • Your boyfriend/girlfriend wants to have sex. However, you don’t feel you are ready yet. But if you don’t, they say they will leave you.
  • You and your significant other are sexually active. Your partner does not want to use condoms, even though condoms are the best way to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy, STIs, and HIV (other than abstinence).
  • Or just use some decisions they are dealing with right now. I’m betting there are several.

Here are the steps again, but with a little more detail:

D: Define: Have them define (or identify) the problem.

E: Explore: Talk about the different options available. Focus on the better choices.

C: Consider: What are the pros and cons – the consequences –  of each option?

I: Identify: Talk about your values – what is important to you? Do you value education? Do you value your friendships? Do you value your sports or clubs? Do you value your health? How will your decision affect your value system?

D: Decide: What is the decision? Act on it.

E: Evaluate: How’d it go? After your decision has played out, evaluate the results. If you don’t like the outcome, go back and explore your options and their consequences, and try again!

Remind the young person in your life that we all make dumb decisions and mistakes. This is how we grow as people and how we learn to deal with life.  We just want them to have the mental tools to figure out how to make the best decisions they can by thinking things through a little bit.

 

Values…What’s your Perspective??

From my perspective, spending time with friends "unplugged" and engaged with nature is a personal value.

From my perspective, spending time with friends while “unplugged” and engaged with nature is a personal value.

Wow. Lots of controversy lately about insurance coverage and the responsibility of one’s employer. It got me to thinking….about values, actually. How it’s important to have them, share them, act on them. But it’s also important to respect the values of others as well. Let me explain….

Comprehensive sex education includes discussion about individual values as it relates to decision-making and relationships. (See? Sex ed isn’t just about penises and vaginas!) Making prudent decisions is guided by one’s values.

Let’s take a minute to ponder…..what IS a value, and what are yours?

I define it as an idea, belief, and/or consciousness that allows a person to live their authentic life. It is something that a person holds near and dear to them; a belief that cannot be taken away, though it may certainly morph over time.

I’ll share some of my values to give you an idea of different kinds of values. They are not necessarily in any order:

  • love of family,
  • belief in maintaining a healthy lifestyle (does an occasional glass of wine count?),
  • lasting friendships,
  • respecting others’ opinions while holding onto my own ideals,
  • taking time to enjoy the simple and not-so-simple pleasures in life,
  • education, and
  • quality medical care.

So, what are some of yours? Take a minute to think about it and write them down.

Time’s Up!

I bet your list looks a lot like mine!

There are decision-making formulas we teach students in health education classes. Within the formula there is an opportunity to recognize and evaluate one’s own values in order to make sound decisions. As an educator, I may have different values than my students and their families, so it is up to each family to talk about their own POSITIVE values: cultural, religious, personal, whatever…. Schools can teach skills, but parents and caregivers are indispensable when it comes to continuing the dialogue at home.

We all view the world from different vantage points – ‘perspectives’.

We all have different values – and that’s okay. After all, we come from different ethnic, religious, cultural, geographical backgrounds. In my opinion, the important consideration is to respect others’ values and the perspective that goes along with it. “Perspective” is probably one of my favorite words…(besides “summer”!) Sharing a similar perspective with others about a value builds community and offers reassurance that our thinking isn’t totally wacky. However understanding and accepting that people have different perspectives makes for a more harmonious world …. as well as some interesting friendly debates!

Therefore, one’s own values should be cherished, but not forced upon others. If a person chooses to use birth control, or not, that is a personal choice that likely is affected by their religious, cultural, or family value system coupled with their perspective on how their values should be lived. For example, employers who do not believe in contraception have every right not to use contraception as a personal choice based on their values. However, should their employees be unable to obtain contraception of their choice merely because the corporation who employs them feels an obligation to instill their values upon their devoted employees? We all want to be respected and valued for who we are and not be marginalized or penalized for honoring our own values.

So parents, teachers, caregivers, healthcare providers…whomever you are…teaching positive values to those young people you care for is incredibly important. But one value that is also imperative to teach – as well as model – is the ability to respect others’ perspective’s and appreciate people for the unique and intriguing people they invariably are.

 

K.NOW: Puberty…a time of perfecting the eyeball roll.

I was, once again, perusing the vast wasteland of time known as Facebook, when I happened upon this hysterical ad:

First Moon Party

Okay. I know. Pretty funny, huh? I bet you’ve even seen it already.

(If you are intrigued about this company, please click on this link for more information:                                                                                   Hello Flo)

I know this is about starting the menstrual cycle, but what really gets to me in the ad is the little princess’s snarky attitude. Like you, I certainly was NEVER like that to MY mother, however I am betting you, as a parent, have witnessed something similar to this with your children.

What happens to our precious, loving, adorable, little children? Where do they go when they hit about 11 or 12 years old? Will they ever return to us as they were just a few short months/years ago?

I can tell you from experience….yes. Yes they will. But having a grasp at what is causing their eyeballs roll uncontrollably – and what you can do to keep your sanity…oh, i mean be there for your child…can help these fascinating adolescent years become a memorable experience…and I mean that in the best sense.

When our wee ones grow into young children, they pretty much think we are amazing. Whatever we say is true and real. (“Yes, Honey, Mommy DOES have naturally blond hair.”) And they actually want to do stuff with us. (“Dad, can we go see a movie today?”)

But in early childhood, before we can even see the stirrings of puberty, underneath that sweet exterior, something sinister is happening….hormones are revving up. The pituitary gland, the gland that pretty much bosses all the other glands around, starts sending meaningful signals to a few key reproductive glands.

The first gland to be hit by these signals is the adrenal gland. This guy starts sending out hormones which begin the process of change. A few years later the real fun begins when the pituitary tells the testes and ovaries to do their thing….release testosterone and estrogen, respectively….initiating P-U-B-E-R-T-Y.**

How do we know when these changes are going to occur? We don’t really, but we can make a pretty educated guess.

Briefly, genetics are a significant factor – how old were you when you started puberty?    The environment factors in as well. Stress level, access to adequate health care, nutrition, and family environment can all impact the onset of puberty, especially when considering the start of a young girl’s menstrual cycle.**

Those are just the basics……….for now.

But what the heck is going on inside their heads?

Well, it’s really not as bad as you think…………There are a lot of studies that can be found about the psychological processes within the brains of adolescents. Apparently a lot of researchers have raised adolescent children and wanted answers as well.

So, here is a little information you may find helpful.

Snarkiness, I mean puberty, may begin in girls at about age 9 or as late as 15. In boys it typically begins between 12-16. These changes start to effect their self-esteem. They wonder if they are developing too early – or too late. They start comparing themselves to other kids, especially the girls.** This is demonstrated in the ad when she brags to all her “blood sisters” that she is finally in the “cherry slush club.” She doesn’t want to be different. She wants to go through this rite of passage with her BFF’s.

As their bodies are changing and hormones are dancing around, their school environment and social circles begin to evolve, too. Moving from grade school to middle school, where they are introduced to a new gathering of pubescent humans, they need to reestablish themselves in a comfortable group of friends – which takes time.** It’s pretty stressful – even for an adult. That would make anyone cranky.

Just check out this Gyno-Wanna-Be in the following Hello Flo ad. Notice how she deals with trying to fit in with new camp friends:

Camp Gyno 

Gotta love it!

And another thing….

How many have heard their kids say, “You don’t understand!”?
Yup. I thought so. All of you.
Early adolescents pretty much center their thinking around themselves.**

  • They feel as if no one has ever “felt like this” before. (“You don’t know what it feels like to be in loooveeeee like this, Mom!”)
  • They assume that everyone is looking at them, like when they trip over a twig or have a bad hair day.
  • They also believe “it won’t happen to me.” ** (This one scares me the most: “I won’t get pregnant.”)

The good news is, they will grow out of it eventually.

Another interesting find is these delightful adult-wanna-be’s tend to be most crabby around adults, not so much around their peers. (No kidding, right?) The structure and expectations adults set on them kind of stresses them out a bit. And the reason their moods fluctuate so often? Because between school and activities, they flip-flop between adults (who sometimes annoy them) and peers (who usually delight them) so much more frequently.**

Yes, as our kids start going through these life-altering changes, they do tend to become moody, less lovey-dovey, hide in their room more often, argue a bit more….and want to hang with their friends rather than you.** (What? You’re going to the movies WITH me? You’re ruining my life!”)

That’s okay. You know why? They are starting to form their own identity and are learning how to navigate some independence…and that’s a wonderful thing. But we’ll talk about that another time.

In the meantime, what can you do?    Well, as I’ve said before, just be there.

  • Give them some room to grow as a person.
  • Discuss and set reasonable boundaries and expectations with them. Have them be part of the conversation – it will communicate to them that their thoughts and opinions are valued and respected.** (Be sure to follow through on the agreed upon discipline if they choose to break the rules.)
  • Be interested in their lives. They may blow you off, but trust me – it matters to them that you care enough to ask and to show up at their activities.
  • Try to spend some alone time with them. It builds a foundation of closeness and trust for future conversations.

In the ad, I love how the mom wraps her arm around her squiggling daughter to demonstrate that she loves her and cares for her. I also love how she taught her daughter valuable lessons about being respectful, telling the truth, and how to have a sense of humor..despite the look of horror and annoyance on her daughter’s face.

Just as important, take care of yourself!

We all need a little time to decompress. So, call a friend and grab a glass of wine or beer, a piece of chocolate, a freshly baked cupcake, whatever it is that helps calm your soul. (Oh, wait, I’m a health teacher. Call a friend and go for a walk while eating a banana.) Not only does it do you good mentally, but you will model healthy ways to cope with daily stress.

A final reassuring thought:

Interestingly, a worldwide study was done about adolescents and their relationship with their parents. From Bangladesh to the USA it was found, overwhelmingly, our kids actually love us and know we love them. They also respect our values and advice.**

So, you see? It’s really not that bad. Just a little bumpy here and there. I’ve been through it three times, and have survived the roller-coaster myself. Trust me, those sweet little innocent angels are no longer, but rather have been replaced with some pretty remarkable and kind young adults that enjoy spending time with me – and I with them!

Until next time…….

Just so you know…..

*Videos were produced by a company called Hello Flo. TWC is not endorsed by them (nor any other product or company mentioned in any blog.) Videos were used with permission. Their videos are really cool and the information they have about menstruation is pretty great, too. It’s just another resource for you to access.

This textbook is a great resource:

**Kail, Robert V., and John C. Cavanaugh. “Chapter 8-9.” Human Development: A Life-span View. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007. N. pag. Print.

And a special thank you to Dr. Carolyn Mills – A true and genuine Gyno!!

 

 

Happy Dad’s Day! Studies show you actually DO matter!!! Now you have proof!

Photo courtesy Mankind Project: found on Facebook

Photo courtesy Mankind Project: found on Facebook

 

Dads. On Father’s Day the focus is on that guy who is traditionally seen as someone who works diligently all day to earn a living for his beloved family. However, we all know that what is known as “the traditional family” is morphing into a variety of perfectly acceptable variations: single-parent, two moms, two dads, step-parents, grandparents, guardians….you name it. It’s all good! However, for the purpose of this writing, I am going to use the word “dad” meaning any man that is a consistent and visible presence in a child’s world. It could be a birth dad, step dad, grand dad, uncle, family friend….you know who you are. But because “dad” is only three letters long, I will use that term for the purpose of simplicity. That’s just how I roll….

So men, you think the women in your lives want you to communicate more??? Well, I have to tell you, now researchers want you to be more communicative, too – but with your kids. Yup. It’s time to man-up and communicate.

It matters. Just ask Tim. He is quite certain he ruined his son. And possibly he did – you may agree after you read this:

How I ruined my son..

“My son used to hang out with me when I was in the shower.
I did not realize how observant he was…. 

One day (maybe after a colder shower.. LOL) he said, “Daddy put your big penis on.”

Looking back I should have had a discussion with him. He was about 3 or 4 yrs old.”

Or maybe his son ruined him? I’m not sure. But what a great teachable moment! In the shower, talking about penis size. Hey – you take those moments when you get them!

Or possibly your child will teach you something, as the same dad reminisced about this moment with his daughter:

How I ruined my daughter…..

“I was in the basement sorting laundry. My younger daughter was helping me.. she was probably about 12 or so..
I came across what I thought was  “thong underwear”.
I asked with alarm and concern “Whose the heck are these?” She said that they were hers.
I was shocked. I was expecting to be told that they belonged to her older sister.
When she said that they belonged to her I got really concerned and actually frightened.. it probably showed in the tone and level of my voice…

My next question was “Where did you get these?” which she answered “Mom”….
“Mom?” I responded … She followed with “What’s the big deal Dad?”  Her embarrassment was increasing as my anger was increasing.
I then said “Do you know what this is?” and she with a high level of embarrassment said “yes a training bra”
Ouch….
To her credit she continued to help me sort laundry after that…”

Even though this dad received a brutal lesson in becoming competent in adolescent undergarments (maybe a field trip to Victoria’s Secret should be on his agenda next??), the lessons his daughter received were even more valuable.

  • He broke gender stereotypes by doing “women’s work”.
  • His daughter learned the value (and human connection) of working with others.
  • She learned that her dad did NOT want her wearing dental-floss, I mean, thong, underwear at a young age.
  • Finally, she learned that maybe next time she will volunteer to clean toilets instead….

Many family values were shared in that moment. Awesome, if you ask me.

                      Ah, yes. Communication….

Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a professor at NYU Silver School of Social Work, along with some peers from the CDC, analyzed several studies regarding the relationship between a “paternal” figure (dad, stepdad, granddad, uncle, etc.) and the adolescent in their life and how it impacted the young person’s sexual  decision-making. In this enlightening report, published in Pediatrics*, they found a few consistent implications as they analyzed these studies.

The bottom line is, dads (or father figures) who connect with, who communicate with, and who have a genuine attachment to their kids can positively influence the young person in their life when it comes to sexual decision-making. Having conversations about expectations when it comes to sex isn’t always easy. Yet, it has been found that the child will be more likely to delay the first time they have sex, will be more likely to use a condom, and less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

 

Here’s a great example from Dave P. who wrote in:

‘I have a stepdaughter, age 16, who has started dabbling in “experimentation” with members of the opposite sex, mainly what my generation would call “playing kissy face” with boys.  One such incident occurred last summer, when, after GPS-ing her phone, I discovered her in a parked car in a not-so-nearby park with a boy that was about 3 years older.  This jarred my memory about my own “good times” when I was a teen.  But then I realized that life and sexual encounters today aren’t quite like they used to be.  Kids are having sex at much younger ages these days and may not be as aware of the need for protection.  The general mentality of today’s teens seems to demonstrate a feeling of “immortality” and that nothing is going to happen to them.  When my wife and I sat down with “Angie,” and discussed boys, their not-so-hidden agendas, and the need for protection, she was quite put off, stating she was well aware of all this.  I advised her she shouldn’t use sex to get someone’s attention (which this clearly was), and that it should be something that’s shared between two people that have strong feelings for each other.  They don’t think about reputation or the harm it could potentially do to their bodies.  As I explained we are looking out for her own well-being, she understood and seems to have taken this advice to heart (or so I think!).  As a step-father, discussing things like this with her, as well as my stepson (15 yrs), it has allowed me to feel closer to them and create a stronger overall bond within the family.”

See! Open communication works! Not only did these parents use this opportunity to teach about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, they used the opportunity to share their values. Having a value system in place helps build self-efficacy which in turn inspires young people to delay having sex for the first time.

Then again, maybe there are times when putting up a barrier (ie: locked door) would be more useful, as Bob H. recollects:

“My son walked in on my wife and I in the midst of wild romance…he closed the door and exclaimed “ I don’t believe I just saw what I just saw”…

We explained that Mommy doesn’t normally wear handcuffs or a blindfold…

Honestly…I just sat him down and explained when a door is closed he needs to always knock. What Mom and I were doing was sharing something that a man and a woman both need and enjoy. He was ok with everything, he did say he preferred if we would lock the door because he wasn’t going to remember to knock and he still couldn’t believe we still did that stuff…that was 10-12 years ago…LOL Hysterical…we all three still laugh.”

 

Having a sense of humor about sexuality is a great ice-breaker. It can reassure the child that it’s okay to talk about this stuff with dad (or mom) and that adults actually “get it”. They will see you as a safe person to talk with – and isn’t that what you want?

Using time with your child to communicate personal values has proven beneficial. However, educating one’s son or daughter can also be beneficial when having one of these heart-to-heart conversations about sex. Here’s what one dad had to say:

“When my son reached middle school age my wife decided that it was time for me to have a discussion with him about sex.  While we had private discussions, one memorable exchange came during a talk that included my son’s close friend and his father. My wife thought it might be helpful to have a two Dad –two son discussion, and that it might be more comfortable for all.  Rather than lecturing, I decided it might be interesting to try to discover what the boys already knew. So I asked open ended questions. What did they know about reproduction? What did they know about conception?  And so on….We were caught off guard a bit because we got pretty candid answers. And it was clear that they already had some good information about puberty, reproduction, and even some aspects of birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. However, nothing could have prepared us for the response when the discussion turned to more specifics about sexual contact.  

Q:           What do you know about oral sex?

A:           (Without hesitation both boys said nearly in unison) Oh that’s when you do it over the phone!

My advice to parents- assume nothing- ask- you will be amazed by the answers you get.”

Ahhh…never assume your kids already know this stuff. Great advice, Dad. And I especially love the technique to assess what the kids already knew first. Kudos!

One final thought from Tim S., a father of four.

“I never really talked with my dad much at all.. I was blessed to have a wife that was wise enough and comfortable enough to talk with the kids about sex at a very early age explaining to them “how things work”. It was not a “Big Talk” but just conversations that came up during the day, etc…  I was part of that conversation .. I did attempt to make the distinction of   the difference between  sexual feelings  and Love. As a young person I was pretty confused not understanding the difference, or knowing there was a difference.”

The difference between love and sex. What a wonderful conversation that could be with your child, especially as they are beginning to experience all those confusing feelings that come with puberty and hormonal influx. Thanks, Tim.

I think you get the idea. These dads set about to address only one topic, or merely wanted to fold laundry, yet ended up encompassing a variety of pertinent sex topics.  As you confidently (well, just fake it) embark on a series of sexual health conversations, you may find yourself discussing topics that were not on your agenda.  Just like these dads, little did they realize what they were actually teaching their children….

  • Anatomy (Penis shrinkage – hey! It’s a fact of life!)
  • Mechanics of sex (Well, we can call it physiology if that makes you nervous.)
  • Appropriate expressions of love
  • Sex is private (i.e.: Please don’t sext!)
  • Relationships: Love vs Sex
  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy relationships
  • Sexual terminology
  • Undergarments. Well, okay – maybe that is something that isn’t necessarily pressing.

One other interesting finding from the study. It seems that young people with super strict parents or super lenient parents tend to engage in sex earlier than those with parents who were more middle-of-the-road. I bet that little tidbit has your wheels spinning now, doesn’t it?

And as you make time for the young person in your life, turn off your phone and put it away. Give them 100% attention. This not only tells the child that you care deeply for them, but that what you are about to discuss is very important. They will not only listen, but they will HEAR you. And we all want our kids to hear our voices in their head as they enter the throes of ecstasy with their (current) love-of-their-life, right? That oughta kill the mood.

Want to K.NOW? Here are links to some cool articles about this. One of which I referenced in this article. (See the asterisk? That’s the one.)  Pretty interesting stuff….

Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health Study Finds That Fathers Matter When It Comes to Their Teenager’s Sexual Behavior

A Qualitative Analysis of Father–Son Relationships among HIV-Positive Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men    (This one is good, too. It talks about how young black men who have sex with men (MSM) will decrease risky behavior (that might cause them to become HIV-infected) if they have honest communication and connection with their dads.

I’d love to hear other stories about communicating with your child! Please share with me!

No need to go crazy: Just K.NOW about Syphilis

 

(Photo Courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Photo Courtesy of Pixomar/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

When I think of syphilis, I think to myself…oh, that’s a thing of the past! No one gets that STI anymore.

Then I also think….wasn’t there a composer-guy who died from it? A European guy a couple centuries ago?
…..Well, my historical knowledge was right-on. (Okay – so my details are a little sketchy.)

However, let me fill you in on this sneaky STI.

Here are some fast facts…

  • For you scientists out there, it’s caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
  • About 55,000 people report having syphilis each year.
  • Currently, the highest rates are found in men 20-29 years old.
  • In 2012, 75% of all first and second stage syphilis has been reported in MSM (men who have sex with men).
  • Typically found in racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Excluding the MSM population, black males have the highest rate of primary and secondary syphilis. (Different types of syphilis are described below.)
  • Congenital syphilis (syphilis passed on to a newborn at birth) has risen in the past two years from 162 to 322 cases. These numbers were higher among black and hispanic infants.
  • Because it is a bacterial infection, it can be treated, especially during the first and second stages of the disease.
  • Symptoms look like a lot of other diseases and tend to go away on their own, therefore people may not get tested. However, the bacteria continue to lurk in the body.

There are four stages of syphilis with distinct signs and symptoms in each stage.

Primary Stage: The first stage.

  • It takes about 21 days to 3 months to show the first symptoms.
  • One or more chancres, or sores, will develop. Typically they are seen in the rectum, on the vagina, anus, or penis.
  • They can also be found on the lips and mouth.
  • The chancres don’t hurt, and only last about 3-6 weeks before they just disappear.
  • Chancres may not be easy to see.
  • However, these sores cause the spread of the disease during sexual activity.

Symptoms may be gone…..but not forgotten……

because if it’s not treated by simple antibiotics, it moves on to ….

Secondary Stage: The second stage.

  • A red or brownish rash may appear on the palms of the hands or skin…or it may not even be visible. Other rashes may appear as well, but might look very similar to other illnesses.
  • The person may also have symptoms a lot like the flu: fever, muscle aches, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue, for example.
  • A person may also find sores showing up on their mucous membranes such as the mouth, vagina, or anus.
  • These symptoms will disappear after a while.

However, the disease is still lurking….

Symptoms may be gone….but not forgotten……

because if it’s not treated with simple antibiotics, it moves on to….

The Latent Stage: The Third Stage

  • The person is infected and doesn’t know it – or believes they are no longer ill – because there are no obvious signs or symptoms – it’s latent – just sort of hanging around, quietly doing damage.
  • Depending on when a person was infected, they may have “early” or “late” latent syphilis.

Symptoms may be gone…..but not forgotten…..

because if it’s not treated with simple antibiotics, it moves on to…..

The Late Stages

  • Can appear as long as two decades after being infected in about 15% of untreated individuals.
  • Damage occurs to internal organs, such as the brain, eyes, liver, heart, etc.
  • With that damage, the individual may experience numbness, blindness, paralysis, and/or…

dementia.

death.

Need I say more?

Hey Ladies….

Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, and again after delivery. Babies born to to women with untreated syphilis may have one of many different and very serious health problems. To learn more, click here:

Syphilis and Pregnancy: CDC

Is it preventable?

Why yes, yes it is!

As with any STI, follow these recommendations to eliminate or decrease your odds of getting syphilis.

  • Abstinence. That will eliminate the risk.
  • Monogamous relationship – both of you. But you have to get tested first…!
  • PROPER and CONSISTENT use of latex condoms and/or dental dams. (Remember, birth control pills are to decrease your risk of pregnancy – they do nothing to prevent STI’s.)
  • If your partner has tested positive for syphilis, then you should be tested as well.
  • Even if you’ve been treated for it once before, you can still get it again.
  • Testing is simple: a blood test or a fluid sample from the chancre.

Oh, and that composer guy? Franz Shubert.He died from Mercury poisoning which was used as treatment back in the day. Don’t modern-day antibiotics sound a LOT easier?

If you want to know more, you can explore my resource more thoroughly:  Syphilis: The CDC.

BE SAFE. BE TESTED. BE TREATED.

“But my teacher SAID it is true, so it must be, right??”

 

What our students ought to know...

What our students ought to k.now….

If any of you enjoy a little mental zombie time by scrolling through Facebook, chances are you came across a recent Upworthy post written by Matt Orr via The Huffington Post. Their source of information was the Guttmacher Institute, which is an amazing resource for all kinds of sexual health information. They do lots of research regarding reproductive and sexual health, as well inspect policies to make sure everything is on the up and up. They just want to make sure everyone has their facts straight to ensure reproductive rights for everyone. Needless to say, I think they are a pretty neat organization.

Anyway.

The Upworthy post is entitled Get Ready To Be Horrified At What Schools Are Telling Kids About Sex. It is a visual representation (i.e. colorful pictures!) that allows readers to understand what each states requires of their schools when it comes to sexual health education. Seeing the information clearly stated in the infographic maps really grabbed me. (What can I say? I like pictures!) You can check it out here…. Upworthy: Get Ready to be Horrified.

But, let me take a minute to make a great visual summary very long and wordy….

 Here’s what you gotta k.now.

  • 28 of our states do NOT require sex education.
  • 17 of our states do NOT require HIV education.

This merely means it is not required – it does not mean schools CAN’T teach it. In fact, some states – like Illinois – don’t require it…. however if schools in that state DO teach it, it better be medically-accurate! You can check out one of my previous blogs about this. It’s the Law. But I ask, if they aren’t learning about sexual health (including relationships, anatomy and physiology, decision-making, STI’s, etc) and HIV in the classroom with a knowledgeable instructor, where oh where do you think they ARE learning it?

Moving on…..

  • 19 of our states do not require educators to teach about contraception, only abstinence is required.

Okay. Please know that any solid, medically-accurate sexual health curriculum ALWAYS discusses and encourages abstinence. It IS the only way to prevent STI’s, HIV, and pregnancy. No-brainer. But considering that the average age of first sex is 17 (Guttmacher), it seems discussion about safer sex practices would be wise. That or parenting classes. But to ignore the statistic that almost half our teens are sexually active by the time they are out of high school (CDC) seems irresponsible. (Okay, that is my opinion – not scientific fact.)

Finally, and most disturbing, are these tidbits:

  • 3 of our states tell educators they MUST INCLUDE NEGATIVE INFORMATION on same-sex relationships.

Really? I’ve always been taught if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It just seems like this encourages an atmosphere of bullying. (Disclaimer: I didn’t research that, just makes sense.)

  • 35 of our states do NOT require educators to teach medically-accurate sexual health information.

Yes, you did read that correctly. There is a chance you may be sending your child to school to learn stuff that is not true. Not medically-accurate. Not researched. Now keep it mind this doesn’t mean they purposely teach stuff that is wrong, like babies come from the stork. Rather this means they don’t necessarily use curricula that has gone through an evaluation process or use medically-accurate resources. For example, they may have heard that “condoms don’t work” and might base a lesson on that, without actually discussing that they DO work when used properly. Please know…. the state may not require medically-accurate sexual health information to be taught, but individual school districts may very well require it anyway. (Kudos to them….)

I truly believe educators have the best interest of the students at heart. However, as parents, caregivers, educators, and medical professionals, being advocates for our children regarding what they are taught is not only prudent, but it could save the children from unnecessary sexual health issues down the road. Check with your children and find out what they are being taught. The more kids know, the more likely they will be inclined to make healthy, sound decisions.
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