On Monday, February 23rd, H*yas for Choice invited four guest panelists from Georgetown’s Health education Services, Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth to answer our most pressing questions about sexual and reproductive health, and the resources available to students. Below is a recap of the expert’s answers to the questions we brought to the table.
Q: What is sexual health?
A: Sexual health is anything related to relationships, body parts that are gender specific, gynecological health, mental health and reproductive health. Sexual health is broader than we think, for sex and sexuality encompass more than the penis and vagina (i.e. sex after menopause, sex after kids, etc.). Sexual health resources are anything that helps you achieve sexual fulfillment safely, a fundamental human right.
Q: What are the resources provided by your organizations?
A: Planned Parenthood serves both men and women, providing reproductive health services such as STI testing and treatment, breast exams, birth control, abortion services, walk-ins for UTIs or yeast infections, any problems relating to breast or genitals.
Georgetown’s Student Health Center run by MedStar conducts STI screenings and general check-ins for any concerns. According to Day, they are used to the college-aged population and are non-judgmental. In terms of how STI tests and birth control prescriptions appear on one’s insurance bill, it varies depending on one’s insurance. Whether or not a doctor will prescribe birth control solely for contraception depends on the doctor, but because the Student Health Center is run by the religiously-affiliated university hospital, a prescription is not guaranteed. With that said, birth control can be prescribed for reasons other than contraception, such as irregular or heavy periods.
Day offers counseling one-on-one and is available to discuss various options regarding reproductive health with students.
Q: What effects did the Hobby Lobby ruling have on access to reproductive rights?
A: The Hobby Lobby ruling has granted loosely-held corporations of five people or less to not follow through on the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate on the basis of their religious freedom. Many employees no longer have coverage for birth control, IUDs, and the morning-after pill. IUDs which are considered to be both a cost-effective and reliable birth control option are more difficult to access for employees through the Hobby Lobby ruling. In conclusion, many people are affected negatively through the ruling that a corporation’s religious rights trump a woman’s rights to comprehensive reproductive health.
In addition to these barriers, the Hobby Lobby has broader implications for the LGBTQ community. Now, anti-LGBTQ groups are using the religious freedom and liberty clause to expand the rights of loosely-held corporations. For example, an Arizona bill has attempted to grant businesses the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Q: What role do NGOs play in promoting reproductive health?
A: NGOs should promote sexual health resources and comprehensive sex education. In addition, they should promote policies that provide access to resources for adolescents. They play the role of the watch-dog by pushing policy makers to do the right thing. As the young people are the most effective advocates, NGOs should also provide youth with training to talk and advocate on behalf of their reproductive rights.
Q: What tests should we be getting on a regular basis?
A: You should be regularly tested for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis if you’re sexually active. When getting tested, be specific about what you want to be tested for. There is always the possibility that providers will make assumptions based on your race, sexual orientations, etc so it is in your best interest to be clear about what you want.
At Georgetown, the first and second most diagnosed STIs are genital warts and Chlamydia. It’s important to be tested because many STIs are not symptomatic. It’s important to know your body—if there’s a noted change in your body (i.e. discharge), it is something that should be checked out.
Q: Why should you not lie to your doctor about your sexual history?
A: Health professionals are looking out for your best interest and if you’re not honest with them, they cannot help you as much. It’s unlikely that you will surprise them with anything you say—they’ve heard everything. If you’re not comfortable with them, you should find another provider. If you feel discriminated against, you should find another provider. There are many affordable options in the DC area such as the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Planned Parenthood. Whitman-Walker is a great resource for all individuals and especially queer youth. They offer free counseling, free group conversations, treatments regarding the intersections of drug use and sexual health. It is important to remember that if you don’t like your doctor, you can leave—it is your right to have a provider that respects you and your confidentiality.
Q: How do reproductive health politics differ state by state?
A: Since 2010, there has been more anti-choice legislation state by state than we’ve ever experienced. In Virginia, the biggest barrier is parent consent laws which restrict minors from confidentially obtaining an abortion. The mandatory ultrasound law also forces individuals to undergo a mandatory ultrasound before the abortion. You must also do counseling and wait 24 hours before you have an abortion. Finally, public funding cannot go towards abortions with exceptions in life-threatening cases or instances of rape or incest. DC laws are less restrictive, but also restrict the use of public funding. And then there are states, such as Tennessee, that are passing laws which gives the state a right to not guarantee access to abortion at all.
Q: What about unprotected sex on the pill?
A: The bottom line is that using two forms of birth control is more effective. If you are going to have unprotected sex on the pill, you should consider the number of partners the two of you have had and how well you trust your partner. Just because you are asymptomatic does not mean you are healthy—HIV takes up to three months to show up in a healthy person’s body. You should always protect yourself against pregnancy and STIs.
Q: Will Student Health refer you to an abortion clinic?
A: It depends on the provider. The law requires that health providers provide the best information available. However, because the university is a Catholic institution, some providers will not compromise their beliefs.
Q: Are health records confidential?
A: Student Health and other providers do not share records with parents if you’re 18 and over.
Q: How invasive is an STI test?
A: It depends on the test and can range from peeing in a cup, drawing blood or taking a swab from your cervix.
Yijin Yang (COL 2017) is a member of H*yas for Choice.