Menstrual Health is Sex Equity

By Brooke Davidoff

For about half the population, periods are not optional: they are unavoidable and they are expensive. Not everyone has the financial stability to afford menstrual products monthly. Period cycles and spotting can, at times, be completely unpredictable. Adolescent and adult menstruating people both in school and at work should not be held back from everyday functions by their periods or the related financial strain.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 this year, Congresswoman Grace Meng from Queens, New York, introduced a plan to end period poverty—sparking a movement to reach gender equity goals including:

– everyone being able to access and afford the menstrual products of their choice
– ending period stigma
everyone having basic information about menstruation (not just those who menstruate)

Difficulties in accessing menstrual products are a direct result of patriarchal oppression—this is a gender equity issue. “Two-thirds of low-income women surveyed in one 2019 study say they did not have the resources to buy hygiene products at some point in the last year, and one-fifth of those surveyed say they have difficulty accessing those products on a monthly basis. One in five girls have reported missing school because of a lack of menstrual products.”

Although, it would probably be more accurate to call this a sex equity issue. Menstrual products are a necessity for most people assigned female at birth. Ignoring this necessity is inequitable. A lifetime of menstrual products is expensive, irregular periods can cause bleeding more than once a month or when it is unexpected, and the fear of bleeding through your clothes can cause a burden of stress and anxiety.

But, there is good news! On October 12 of this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom passed The Menstrual Equity for All Act in California. The bill will go into effect next school year and it stipulates that free menstrual products must be made available in the bathrooms of all public schools serving students in grades six through twelve, all community colleges, and all California State University System schools.

Furthermore, while no similar legislation has passed in Missouri, The University of Missouri Kansas City also supplies free menstrual products in multiple locations! The Women’s Center (105 Haag Hall) has a collection of options. The Health Science Library on Hospital Hill also has supplies available, and even The Kangaroo Pantry offers free menstrual products–check their website for available hours and locations!

My Experience with Menstrual Cups

By Brianna Green

I started my morning by boiling my menstrual products. You might be wondering, “Brianna, why would you do that? Most menstrual products are made from cotton (or whatever).” You would be correct, products like tampons and pads are made from “a combination of absorbent fibers, both natural and synthetic, including cotton and rayon.” Boiling those would probably lead to a gross, soggy mess.  

However, I use menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are an eco-friendly alternative to one-use products such as tampons and pads. The menstrual cups I use are made from silicone—I paid $25 for four cups that should each last roughly 3-5 years. I boil my cups before and after every cycle to sanitize them. While menstruating, I clean them by running them under steaming hot water for one minute with odor-free soap. (HealthLine has some great cleaning tips for beginners and those on the road.) Unlike tampons and pads, I can keep my cups in for 12 hours a day without needing to switch them out every time I use the bathroom.  

Now you might be wondering, “Brianna, these menstrual cups sound really cool, but what’s the catch?” In all honestly, that’s a great question to ask. Menstrual cups can be pretty pricy up front. I bought cheap cups, but name-brand cups like the DivaCup can cost up to $32 for one cup. Not only that, but they’re a little messier to clean up. When you take one out that’s covered in blood, you have to carry it to the stink to wash it off instead of immediately tossing it in the trash. Similarly, if you’re like me, you set the bloody cup down on a surface (for me it’s my bathtub) while putting in a clean cup. Having to clean up a bloody cup and surface might sound unappealing to some.

The last downside I can think of is the learning curve. Putting in and taking out a cup is not as easy as a tampon. Since the top of the cup is wide, you have to fold it to insert it. This diagram shows the easiest way to fold a cup. Once the cup has been inserted, you have to make sure that it unfolds completely so it doesn’t leak. I’m almost a year into using period cups and I still have days where I end up leaking. Similarly, taking out the cup can be painful if you don’t partially fold the cup up first.

Despite these downsides, I really enjoy using my menstrual cups. For me, I enjoy that they’re eco-friendly, reusable, will last for years, that they’re cheaper than other products over time, and that I don’t have to worry about them for a whole 12 hours. If this this product sounds like something you’d want to try, I would highly suggest it! Maybe start by buying one cup to see how you like it, and, if you do, slowly make the transition from there.  

However, not everyone has access to period cups or common menstrual products like tampons and pads. If you’re a person who menstruates and you need access to these common products, remember that you can get FREE pads and tampons at the Women’s Center at 105 Haag Hall OR at the Hospital Hill Library. Happy menstruating!   

 

Safer Sex Practices: Protection and Testing

By Brianna Green 

In my last blog I talked about the importance of getting tested and practicing safe sex. But what is safe sex? And what does it mean to be sexually responsible? In this blog I’m going to explore these questions and suggest when to get tested for specific STIs and where on campus and in the Kansas City area you can get tested and treated.  

So, what is safe sex? Well, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, safe sex might not even be a real thing because all forms of sexual interaction have some kind of risk associated with it. However, there are guidelines on how to practice safer sex. 

Their list includes 10 items, but here are a few of them: 

  • “Think twice before beginning sexual relations with a new partner. First, discuss past partners, history of STIs, and drug use. 
  • For oral sex, help protect your mouth by having your partner use a condom [or dental dam]. 
  • Be aware of your [and your partner’s] body. Look for signs of a sore, blister, rash, or discharge. 
  • Have regular Pap tests, pelvic exams, and periodic tests for STIs.” 

So, if you know about these safer sex guidelines, does that automatically mean you’re sexually responsible? Not necessarily. Being sexually responsible means knowing safer sex practices and actually practicing them. Choma adds that, “Responsible sexual behavior also means that you know more about sex such as:treating your sexual partners equally, making sure your sexual encounters are consensual, and knowing how to use protection properly.” 

In a nutshell—using protection and getting tested is crucial to sexual health.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, STIs don’t show up immediately after a sexual encounter. So, to get accurate test results back, you should wait some time before getting tested. I made this handy timeframe graphic using information from Medical News Today: 

 

Finally, here is a list of some places you can go to get tested:

  •  Student Health & Wellness 
    • STI Testing  
      • Gonorrhea & Chlamydia ($27)
      • Rapid HIV (Free/yearly)
      • Serum Syphilis Testing ($12)
    • Immunizations  
      • 18 different kinds (prices vary) 
    • Appointment for Information  
  • Kansas City Health Department  
    • FREE STI Testing and Treatment 
    • Appointments need to be scheduled! 
      • 816-516-6379
      • Mon–Fri, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. 
      • 2400 Troost Avenue, Suit 2000 
  • KC Care Health Center (LGBTQ+ Friendly) 
    • STI Testing
    • Medication Therapy (PreP/PEP)
    • Safe Sex Kits   
    • For appointments or questions 

STIs and What You Need to Know

By Brianna Green

Picture this: you’re eighteen, you just moved to college, and you didn’t have much sex education in high school because you live in America. As the first semester starts and progresses, you start talking to a really cute classmate. At the end of the semester, you celebrate passing your shared class by having a fun, unprotected night together. However, shortly after this night, winter break starts and you both go back to your hometowns. While you’re home you notice that you’re urinating more frequently and it’s painful. At the same time, you experience urethral discharge that you’ve never had before. You tell your parents, and they take you to the doctor…  

The doctor tells you that you have an STI. Gonorrhea, to be specific.  

You ask, “What’s an STI? How can I have one if I’ve only had sex one time, with one person?”

Unfortunately for the student, STIs do not care about how many times or people you’ve had sex with. The student’s confusion makes sense though, because, according to the Guttmacher Institutenot every state mandates sex education: 39 states and DC do, but only 18 states require the information to be medically accurate. When less than half the states mandate medically accurate sex education, my fictional student may be remarkably relatable to some actual college students throughout the United States.  

So, what are STIs? “STI” stands for a sexually transmitted infection: infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual activity. According to the World Health Organization, STIs range from curable infections such as “the clap” (gonorrhea) to permanent diseases such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  

Office on Women’s Health indicates that STIs are (typically) transmitted through sexual contact involving the mouth, genitals, and/or anus; they can pass through bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. If someone is not wearing protection, such as a condom or dental dam, they are more likely to become infected. Not only that, the more unprotected partners you have, the higher the risk of becoming infected. However, as mentioned earlier, STIs do not care about how many times or people you’ve had sex with. Similar to pregnancy, you can still catch an STI (or get pregnant) even if it’s your first time.  

Although, if you get an STI, it’s not the end of the world. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 Americans have an STI and almost half of the infections are from individuals between the ages of 15 to 24Summit Health says that gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are curable STIs with assistance from a doctor’s visit. One of the best ways to protect yourself is by getting frequently tested for STIs. Multiple sources have stated that some STIs can be asymptomatic and you can be infected without having any symptoms. PrioritySTD suggests how often to get tested; for example, if you’re single and causally dating, every few months is ideal, and even if you’re in a relationship, you should get tested yearly, since some STIs can take months or years to show up.   

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about how to practice safe sex, when to get tested for specific STIs and where on campus and in the Kansas City area you can get tested and treated. Until then, don’t forget to practice safe sex and get tested!