Category Archives: Women’s Health

What Kind of Healthcare Do Women Need?

Please note that this article deals almost exclusively with the healthcare needs of biological (cis) females, and does not address the needs of trans women, trans men, or intersex people. It also does not address the differences in healthcare and medical treatment across the racial spectrum. While these are vital topics very worthy of discussion, they are excluded here simply because there is only so much I can cover in a single, one-topic, 700-word blog. I intend to address the needs of all of my spinsterly readers over time; this is simply the first of many articles on the broad topic of women’s health.

What kind of healthcare do women need?

There are two major obstacles women face when obtaining healthcare. The first is accessibility, in terms of both geographic availability and affordability. The second, which I’ll be focusing on today, is a lack of knowledge about women’s healthcare needs.

What Is Women’s Health?

When you think of the term “women’s health,” you probably think of reproductive health, mammograms, and the yearly OB/GYN visit. If you have an insurance plan, it probably covers one yearly gynecological exam for women, in which pelvic exam, manual breast tumor check, and pap smear are done. If you are a middle-aged women, a mammogram every three years is generally included as well. If you have children, some portion of those expenses will be covered, and possibly even fertility treatments. And that’s pretty much the beginning, middle, and end of women’s healthcare as most people know it.

From this, a woman might get the idea that her health only differs from the standard of a man’s health in the fact that she has a uterus and breasts. She would be mistaken, but it’s no wonder we think this way. For decades the medical profession considered women’s healthcare needs to be identical to men’s, save for a few additional female-only issues (menstruation, childbirth, and – for a while – hysteria) . Thanks to a recent shift in thinking (and some 1990s legislation), we’re finally learning that the biological differences between men and women affect much more than we previously imagined. Sadly, old beliefs don’t die easy, and many women grow up believing that when it comes to medicine and healthcare what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.

What's the difference between men's and women's healthcare?

Why is This Harmful?

In day-to-day life, these medical assumptions mean that women are often misdiagnosed, and that doctors and healthcare professionals often ignore female-specific symptoms of common conditions. For example, heart attacks typically manifest differently in men and women, as do a list of other conditions, including anxiety. Additionally, health education is lacking in these areas, meaning girls and women are taught only what applies to the ‘standard,’ which is men’s health. The end result of this poor education (in doctors and lay people) is that women are often not receiving the same quality in care, and usually don’t know how to ask for the care they need.

What do women need?

Now that we’ve covered what women’s health is not, what do we as women need from our healthcare?

The most essential answer is that we need healthcare providers and health plans that considers how our physical and mental well-being are affected by our biological makeup, including our sex. And we can obtain that by:

  • becoming educated

Pick up a subscription to a women’s health magazine. Buy a book dedicated to women’s whole health (including – but not exclusively – reproductive health). Learn about all of the things you weren’t told in your high school health and biology classes.

  • finding a good woman’s health doctor

Your knowledge will only take you so far by yourself. You also need to find is a doctor that listens to you, takes your biology and life situation into account, and believes you – no matter what their gender happens to be.

  • taking a firm stance when it comes to your health

It’s been shown that women’s pain is seen as less severe than men’s, so it’s up to you as the patient to stand up for yourself, rather than allowing a doctor’s dismissal to make you second guess yourself. If switching or searching for doctors isn’t a possibility, it is imperative for everyone, especially women and minorities, to be their own advocates.

Educate yourself on women's healthcare.

The time to learn about what you need and to find a physician who can provide it isn’t 11pm on a weekend when you’re feeling unwell – it’s right now. If you’re an adult, no one can be more responsible for your health than you yourself. Don’t depend on a medical system that’s woefully behind the times. Be your own advocate starting this very moment.

The next articles will look into how to find a good doctor or women’s healthcare center, whatever your income level or state of insurance/non-insurance may be, as well as how to support women’s health.

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Can you be Pro-Life and Anti-Contraception?

This is a question that keeps coming up time and time again as we continue to wade through the waters of women’s health. Now the obvious answer is “Yes, someone can believe in whatever ideas they want to, regardless of how well they line up or how severely they contradict one another.” But the underlying question is whether or not it’s ethical to seek to end legal abortion while simultaneously trying to prevent access to contraception.

Definitions

A contraceptive is a device (such as an IUD or the birth control pill) used to prevent conception. Note that conception is the fertilization of an egg and occurs before pregnancy.

The Issue

The basis for this issue stems from religious doctrine and its interpretation. A large number of Christians are opposed to abortions because they believe that the human fetus (sometimes even a fertilized human egg) must be seen with the same rights and personhood as a post-birth child. The Catholic church also formally denounces abortion for the same reason. Additionally, the Catholic church is – perhaps famously – against the use of contraceptives among its members, as it believes sex and reproduction should never be uncoupled. Many other protestant churches and church groups are also against the free or low-cost distribution of contraceptives, believing that it will encourage non-married people to have extra-marital sex, which is accepted as a sin throughout Christianity and other religions.

Things start to get muddy, however, when one considers that the same freedom of religion that allows these and all other groups to practice their religions and engage in or abstain from whatever practices they choose also allows others to do the same. Under U.S. civil law, it is legal to use contraception and to engage in consensual sex with any consenting adult. It should also be noted that abortion is also legal in all 50 United States.

Some sobering facts:

Many pro-life politicians and other advocates strongly believe that illegalizing abortion is the best way to prevent it, despite undeniable evidence that –  throughout world history as well as in the relatively recent history of this country – abortions will continue whether it is legal or not. Illegal abortions will simply be far more dangerous to the woman.

This brings many who are both pro-life and anti-contraception to a difficult place. If the overwhelming number of abortions occur from unwanted pregnancies, finding a way to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies would be a sure way to reduce the number of abortions. The good news is that there is a way. And unlike banning abortions, this solution has never yet been tried on a large scale, so there’s significant hope that it might actually work.

The solution is making contraceptives easily accessible to everyone. Those who have religious conflicts of interest will find that they must decide which they, their religion, and their God finds worse: murder (as many pro-life people believe abortion to be) or allowing others to have sex in ways that they themselves are not permitted. You’d think the answer would be obvious, and yet for decades religious groups have actively fought against the disbursement of free, low-cost, and sometimes even full-cost contraceptives.

It’s time to stock the shelves with affordable, easily-available birth control.

So can you be pro-life and anti-contraception? Certainly, but not without engaging in outright hypocrisy, and not without actively creating a need for the very procedure you’re so opposed to.

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Why Taking Contraceptives Does Not Make You A Slut

No, for the very last time, you are not paying me to have sex.

Most of you probably remember several years ago when Rush Limbaugh declared that Sandra Fluke was a ‘slut’ who wanted taxpayers to pay her to have sex. Fluke was making the case for contraceptives to be covered by healthcare, which would seem like a no-brainer when one considers the enormous cost of raising a child, which can be subsidized by taxpayers through programs like WIC, Medicaid, and other welfare programs for children of low-income families. But the obvious cost-savings of subsidizing contraceptives over children isn’t the point of this article. The point is that the idea – which somehow persists – that women receiving low-cost or free contraceptives are being paid to have sex goes so far past a logical fallacy that it’s about to come back around the other side and pass it by again.

But if you’ve got some friends, co-workers, or family members who like to talk about how responsible XX chromosome owners are using their tax dollars to fund their sinful escapades, simply reply with one of these 4, easily-digestible points.

1. If women on birth control are prostitutes, so are mothers receiving government aid. Every mother has had sex (though not always consensually). So how is it that a woman who takes contraceptives to prevent pregnancy is being paid for sex, while a mother on government assistance isn’t?

2. Women on birth control aren’t always having sex. Anyone who’s pregnant must have had sex, but due to the nature of hormone based contraceptives and devices such as IUDs, women use contraceptives whether they’re having sex or not. Some women use birth control for reasons completely unrelated to sex.

3. No one is being paid. I’ll repeat that: no one is being paid. Being able to obtain low-cost or free birth control is not the same as being paid. If you think it is, trying paying Mr. Limbaugh with pill packs and see if he accepts them as currency.

4. Even if they were being paid, it wouldn’t be for having sex. I want to stress this: the women using contraceptives aren’t being paid (though the pharmaceutical companies providing them are… does that make them sluts?). However, even if we were to imagine that receiving subsidized contraceptives was somehow the equivalent of receiving money, women would be receiving that money to either a) not get pregnant if/when they have sex anyway or b) treat a hormonal imbalance or other disease or disorder.

So next time your outspoken uncle tries to talk about how women are making a living off of subsidized birth control, you can kindly let him know why he’s been misinformed.

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The Problem with Birth Control

Two studies have come to light in the past year that have made a splash in women’s health.

The first resulted in data that simply showed that depression was higher in women and teen girls taking oral contraceptives than the general population, and suggested a causal link. This caused a stir because oral contraceptives have been having this effect on women since literally the very first trials on the pill, yet was not confirmed by scientists until over 50 years later. Even more upsetting is that no new technology or novel approach was used to draw this conclusion; all of the evidence has been there all along.

Understandably, this can feel both vindicating and upsetting to women who have suffered these side effects. Often doctors neglect to inform patients of potential side effects such as these, and even when it becomes clear the medication is having an adverse effect, many times pharmacists and other healthcare professionals either deny that they exist or insist that they’ll go away. The fortunate patients are able to switch to a different type of pill or find another form of contraception that meets their needs. The rest simply endure, either believing it’s all in their heads, or accepting that the side effects are better than having an unwanted pregnancy.

Now, at last the medical community acknowledges what many women have know for decades. Yet who wouldn’t feel some resentment that it too so long to finally study and admit it?

On the heels of this study comes information from a clinical trial of a birth control injection for men. It should come as no surprise to doctors, researchers, or women who have taken the pill, but many men in the test group experienced the typical side effects, including changes in mood and loss of libido. What did come as a shock to some was the fact that 20 (of a group of 320) participants stated that these side effects were unbearable, concerns for the participants’ safety were raised, and the trial was halted.

Now, if a number of participants refuse to continue, it’s not uncommon for a clinical trial to be suspended. Nor is it a bad thing that researchers took these side effects seriously enough to stop the trial to ensure the safety of the subjects. However, what’s leading to outrage in some is the fact that it appears that when men experience exact same things women have been complaining about for 50 years, researchers may be either indefinitely suspending research and production or possibly even going back to the drawing board.

Let’s be clear – no one, male or female – should have to suffer through these side effects, particularly if they can be avoided. Most women feeling upset about this development aren’t calling for men to suffer. The problem is that this is yet another (and disturbingly modern) example of women’s health being ignored or dismissed while men’s health is not.

It gets even more damning when we examine the history of the development of the pill and see that at the time an injection or pill contraceptive was considered for men, but the idea was scrapped due – in part – to the assumption that men wouldn’t tolerate the side effects, but women (who have always been legally and socially held responsible for the children that often result from sex) would accept them.

We should take note that the original birth control pill, Enovid, contained up to ten times the amount of hormones needed to prevent ovulation, leading to more frequent and more severe side effects. Since then, the pill has been greatly improved by cutting down the dosage. Even so, as our first study shows, many women still experience side effects that can dramatically reduce their quality of life.

So, why are women angry about all this? Because many of us feel that this is just one more example of a problem not being considered a problem until it’s something men have to deal with. This is the result of a patriarchal (note, not “male-dominated” but “patriarchal”) medical establishment within a patriarchal society that dismisses the suffering of women but actively addresses the suffering of men.

What does this mean for the future? There are three possible outcomes of the suspension of the clinical trial for men’s contraceptive injections. The first is that the trial will resume and men will be told that they must deal with these symptoms and potential dangers just as women have (I don’t think that’s very likely). The second is that the trial will never be renewed and this method of contraception will be abandoned. This will clearly lead to anger and resentment as women will still be faced with the often physically unpleasant task of being responsible for contraception. And the third and possibly most inflammatory outcome is that the drug may be re-designed to minimize the side effects in the male injection. Imagine how women who have endure depression and the loss of sex drive for years will feel if it turns out there was a fix for this all along, but no one looked into until men began to suffer as well.

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