Celebrate SRH Week with Opt!

Every year, Opt identifies a Sexual Health Champion worthy of recognition for outstanding contributions in sexual health. This year they are thrilled to honour Tru Wilson, Transgender Advocate and one of Vancouver Magazine’s 50 most powerful and influential people. Tru first made headlines when she filed a human rights complaint against her local Catholic school board for not supporting her transition, which resulted in the development of the first known policy in any Catholic school in North America that spoke to supporting a child’s transition in school. With continued love and support from her family, Tru has become a proud and vigorous speaker for Trans rights.

Opt is also excited to announce that international Young Adult science fiction best seller Tash McAdam will be delighting attendees with a reading from their work.

Delicious breakfast, enticing door prizes, and of course, an organization and cause that you are passionate about—what could be better? Buy your tickets today to join Opt on February 16th to celebrate Sexual and Reproductive Health Week 2017!

Event schedule:
7:30 a.m. doors open for networking and breakfast
8:00 a.m. program begins
10:00 a.m. end of program

Early Bird tickets are only available until January 16!

Tickets purchased at the Early Bird ticket rate of $75 are eligible for $25 tax receipts.

Early Half tables (four tickets) are $300 and are eligible for a $100 tax receipt.

Early Bird Full tables (eight tickets) are $600 and are eligible for a $200 tax receipt.

Tickets purchased at the Regular ticket rate of $85 are eligible for $35 tax receipts.

Fabulous sponsors for the 2017 SRH Day Breakfast are:

Womyns’ Ware
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
Lunapads

Interested in becoming a sponsor for Opt’s 2017 SRH Day Breakfast? Contact Ashleigh Turner (aturner@optbc.org) for details.

Location and event accessibility details

Opt is pleased to let you know that they will have ASL interpreters at this year’s SRH Breakfast. If you or one of your guests requires ASL interpretation please let Opt know and they will ensure you are seated at a table with a clear view of the ASL interpreters.

The Marriott hotel ballroom is accessible by elevator as well as by a flight of stairs.

Opt makes an effort to have scent reduced spaces and would ask all attendees to refrain from using perfume or cologne the day of the event.

Click here to purchase your tickets today!

SRH Week 2017 is just around the corner!

This year, Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week (SRH Week) will take place from February 12-18 with the theme: Ready for some pillow talk?

The 2017 campaign will build on last year’s “What’s Your Relationship Status” campaign by asking health care providers and clients/patients to “start the conversation” for the best possible care.

Open communication between health care providers and clients/patients is crucial to sexual and reproductive health.

On February 12th, we’ll be launching a quick reference book for health care providers and a blog series spotlighting health care providers making a real difference. We’ll be on Facebook and Twitter too! Find us @srhweek or download our social media kit (coming soon!).

The new campaign and material will be available on www.srhweek.ca as of February 12. Can’t wait until then? Check out campaign material from last year!
Of course, any campaign needs strong voices to really make a difference. Help promote sexual and reproductive health this SRH Week by displaying the posters, following @SRHweek on Twitter and Facebook, visiting www.srhweek.ca and helping to spread the word!

Want posters? No problem! If you would like to order copies of the poster, click here and fill out the poster order form. We’ll be happy to send you posters at no charge. For campaign graphics, social media tools, PDF copies of the poster and much more keep visiting www.srhweek.ca!

Now let’s start the conversation!

I have always been a bit of a worrier but since I got pregnant (I am in my first trimester), I feel anxiety ridden and depressed. Something happened this past week and I am not sure if I am right to be worried or not but in any case, I can’t stop thinking about it and feel sick to my stomach. I had a cold sore and one morning, after I touched it, I went to the bathroom and touched the toilet paper which I used after. Do you think I could have given myself genital herpes?

co-written by Ankit Dhawan and Ashley Bell

It is entirely reasonable to feel worried and anxious about your health, as deviations from a “normal pregnancy” can be frightening. The fact that you’re already concerned for the welfare of your developing baby suggests that you’re on your way to becoming a great mother.

Pregnancy itself is full of intense changes which affect your mood. Many women feel increased sensitivity, overwhelmed, stressed and anxious throughout gestation.[i] It is normal for many women to experience depression during pregnancy; this is known as prenatal or antenatal depression. Together, both antenatal depression and anxiety can act as precursors to postpartum depression; however, as it happens to be in your case, it is not a predictor if you experience this in the first trimester of pregnancy.[ii][iii] In order to contextualize, according to a study done in 2009, the prevalence of antenatal depression amongst women in Canada is as high as 29.5%.[iv] Therefore, don’t worry too much as your emotions and concerns are entirely valid.

To understand why it’s unlikely that you gave yourself genital herpes, you must first recognize the different strains of the virus and its transmission. Generally speaking, herpes is a generic name for a group of viruses. The one relevant to your question is from a group called “alpha- herpes viruses”, which is further categorized into herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2), and varicella-zoster virus (VZV).[v] HSV-1 primarily affects the mouth region, and is commonly known as oral herpes, whereas HSV-2 primarily affects the genital region, and is commonly known as genital herpes. However, genital herpes can also be caused by HSV-1, but the recurrence rate decreases further over time when compared to genital herpes caused by HSV-2.[vi] Both forms of herpes can remain dormant in your body and can cause recurrent episodes by reactivating the virus and transporting it back to the mucosal or skin surface through peripheral nerves in your body.[vii] Therefore, those infected do not often have the most classic and well-known characteristics including recurring lesions, blisters, and symptomatic viral shedding to the affected areas.[viii]  Although there is no cure for herpes, there are many medications available that can shorten the duration and make outbreaks less painful, including suppressive therapies for pregnant women.[ix],[x] Cold sores will typically go away without treatment within 7-10 days[xi]. However, if you have more concerns, it would be beneficial to discuss management options with your doctor.

Now, here’s the big question – How can herpes be transmitted? As you described, many people fear herpes transmission through toilet paper and toilet seats.[xii] However, research has indicated that HSV can only survive for a short period of time outside the host.[xiii] Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you have given yourself genital herpes, as it is nearly impossible to catch herpes from inanimate objects and non-bodily fluids. In order to acquire HSV, the uninfected individual is required to establish an intimate direct contact with the individual who is producing or shedding the virus.[xiv] For instance, this can occur through skin-to-skin contact during penis-vaginal intercourse in heterosexual males and females, or through saliva in oral sex and kissing. Due to an increase in the practice of oral sex in the past few decades, some studies have noted an increase in the diagnosis of genital herpes caused by HSV-1.[xv]

Some individuals develop cold sores or fever blisters, which are caused by recurring HSV-1 infections.[xvi] These cold sores are very common nowadays and most people do not recall how it was transmitted to them. Likewise, some of us may have experienced chicken pox in our lifetime, which is caused by VZV, and yet there is no “herpes stigma” associated with it. The general public often makes uneducated speculations, which cause those diagnosed with the virus to feel self-conscious and can lead to increased anxiety.[xvii] It is important that people reduce the stigma associated with herpes.

In one study, people described oral herpes as nothing more than an occasional nuisance similar to catching the flu.[xviii] Another set of studies used sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as a keyword on Google search engine; findings revealed that only 9 out of the top 29 websites were accurate in details about STIs acquired through kissing, which includes herpes.[xix] You can learn more about finding accurate information online by clicking here. It is best to consult your healthcare provider when in doubt, which would likely dispel any further anxiety about the presence of the virus.

Overall, it is okay to be worried in such stressful situations. Use support systems that work for you, be it confiding in a family member, going to a support group or a healthcare provider. Today, media plays a big role in what we learn and how we perceive things. It is important to ask questions when in doubt.


 

[i] Öhman, S. G., Grunewald, C., & Waldenström, U. (2003). Women’s worries during pregnancy: Testing the cambridge worry scale on 200 swedish women. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 17(2), 148-152.

[ii] Misri, S., Kendrick, K., Oberlander, T., Norris, S., Tomfohr, L., Zhang, H., & Grunau, R. (2010). Antenatal depression and anxiety affect postpartum parenting stress: A longitudinal, prospective study. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 55(4), 222-8.

[iii] Norhayati, M., Hazlina, N., Asrenee, A., & Emilin, W. (2015). Magnitude and risk factors for postpartum symptoms: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 34-52.

[iv] Bowen, A., Stewart, N., Baetz, M., & Muhajarine, A. (2009). Antenatal depression in socially high-risk women in Canada. Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health, 63(5), 414-416.

[v] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[vi] Engelberg, R., Carrell, D., Krantz, E., Corey, L., & Wald, A. (2003). Natural history of genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 30(2), 174-7

[vii] Gupta, R., Warren, T., & Wald, A. (2007). Genital herpes. The Lancet,370(9605), 2127-37.

[viii] Delaney, S., Gardella, C., Saracino, M., Magaret, A., & Wald, A. (2014). Seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2 among pregnant women, 1989-2010. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, 69(12), 726-728.

[ix] Sarnoff, D. S. (2014). Treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 13(9), 1016-1018.

[x] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2013). Genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/std-mts/sti-its/cgsti-ldcits/section-5-4-eng.php

[xi] Sarnoff, D. S. (2014). Treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 13(9), 1016-1018.

[xii] Posner, T. (2000). The ‘Herpes’ phenomenon: Media myths, meanings, and medicines. Science as Culture, 9(4), 445-467.

[xiii] Pirtle, E., & Beran, G. (1991). Virus survival in the environment. Rev Sci Tech, 10(3), 733-748.

[xiv] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[xv] Scoular, A. (2002). Using the evidence base on genital herpes: Optimising the use of diagnostic tests and information provision. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 78(3), 160-165.

[xvi] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[xvii] Bickford, J., Barton, S., & Mandalia, S. (2007). Chronic genital herpes and disclosure… the influence of stigma. International Journal of STD & AIDS, 18(9), 589-592.

[xviii] Posner, T. (2000). The ‘Herpes’ phenomenon: Media myths, meanings, and medicines. Science as Culture, 9(4), 445-467.

[xix] Yen, Sophia. (2010). “Reputable” but inaccurate: Reproductive health information for adolescents on the web.(FEATURE). Knowledge Quest, 38(3), 62.

I recently met this great guy and we really hit it off. He says he’s in an open relationship. I’ve always been monogamous and feel completely clueless about this. Help!

co-written by Sadie Villeneuve

First things first, the terms open relationship and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) are often used interchangeably[i], as an umbrella term for various models of relationship.  These relationships like monogamy come with pros and cons, jealousy, the need for safe sex practices and cheating.

When finding out that this guy you hit it off with was in an open relationship, the first couple of thoughts that may have passed through your mind were open relationship? What’s that? Nonmogamwhatttt?!

Open relationships or CNMs are often viewed as out of the ordinary[ii] and illegitimate[iii].  Growing up we are presented with images of princes falling in love with princesses who live happily ever after just the two of them. Hetero-monogamous relationships are often pushed as “the norm” in our society.

Unlike monogamy which comes with what could be called default rules, expectations and social norms[iv], CNM relationships have the opportunity to negotiate an agreement where parameters are set to ensure relationships not only flourish[v], but all parties have their needs and desires met as well as feeling safe[vi]. These relationships are grounded on communication, trust and the ability of all partners to be able to convey their needs, concerns or desires openly at any time. CNM relationships can be nonexclusive sexually, emotionally or a combination of both[vii], depending on the model. The three most common models of CNM are:

  • Swinging: Couples who swing engage in extra-dyadic sex in the presence of their partner in a social setting/party. This form of relationship is strictly sexual in nature, not romantic or emotional [viii].
  • Open relationships: Couples are emotionally and romantically exclusive to each other, while allowing for secondary lovers strictly for sexual relationships[ix]. A large degree of autonomy exists within this type of relationship.
  • Polyamorous: Polyamorous relationships are often regarded more positively than swinging or open relationships; as the relationships are more then just sex – they are romantic and emotional in nature as well[x]. Polyamorous couples may have parallel relationships, with many “one and onlys”[xi].

Individuals in these relationships understand and agree they are non-monogamous.

Jealousy can become the big green monster of any relationship. Many would consider it a certainty in CNM relationships, however it is no more prevalent than in monogamous relationships[xii]. Jealousy can be a healthy relationship experience, bringing a couple closer together. This emotion often speaks to uncertainty an individual may be feeling or the inability to express an emotion, rather than the actions of the partner[xiii]. Jealousy management and communication is useful for CNM and monogamous relationships alike [xiv].

A positive CNM relationship facilitates dialogue and communication among partners to maximize mutual gain[xv]; promoting individual growth[xvi], autonomy, confidence and self-expression[xvii]. Individuals who engage in consensual non-monogamy often report improved lives, a high degree of openness, happiness and overall satisfaction[xviii]. CNM relationships allow for individuals to choose partners that can meet specifics such as sexual variety, instead of relying on one partner.

Like any positive relationship, a positive CNM relationship is based on trust, sharing and communication. Individuals partaking in CNM relationships will often spend a lengthy amount of time discussing STI testing, sexual history and health before engaging in any sexual acts fostering safer sex practices[xix]. Condoms are less likely to be used incorrectly as there is a mutual respect for all parties involved[xx].

Cheating whether in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship can be defined in a similar manner: disrespecting or breaking implicit or explicit rules of the relationship structure[xxi]. CNM relationships view the transgression from communication, openness, emotional attachment and connection[xxii], as cheating. While individuals in monogamous relationships tend to focus on sexual infidelity and extra dyadic sex with others as cheating.

So, is it for you? That’s the question of the hour!

In order for a CNM relationship to work, you must be willing to communicate what you are looking for, your desires, any concerns you may have as well as being 100% honest. Ask yourself a few tough questions:

  • What are my expectations of a loving relationship?
  • How much security do I need to feel safe?
  • Do I need to be the “one and only” or can I share?
  • What pushes or provokes my jealousy and insecurity[xxiii]?

Don’t be afraid to “this great guy” to clarify any questions/concerns you may have! CNM is all about communication. Just like any relationship, CNM relationships are not always easy but they can be very rewarding. Spark conversation about what your goals, desires and boundaries are, and perhaps you’ll find yourself moving away from the default assumptions we often have about relationships and love[xxiv].

There are lots of great resources aimed at newcomers such as yourself such as www.morethantwo.com, and “The Ethical Slut” by Easton & Hardy as well as a large number of support groups and social networks avaliable to learn more.

No matter your decision, it’s just that – your decision – do what’s right for you!


 

[i] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[ii] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[iii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[iv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[v] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961, 982,.

[vi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[vii] Conley, T.D., Moors, A.C., Matsick, J.L., Zeigler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13, 1-30.

[viii] Matsick, J.L., Conley, T.D., Zeigler, A., Moors, A.C., Rubin, J.D., (2014). Love and sex: Polyamorours relationships are perceived more favorably than swinging and open relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, Vol. 5, No.4, 339-348.

[ix] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[x] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies:  Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xii] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xiii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xv] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xvi] Moors, A., Chopkin, W., Edelstein, R., Conley, T., (2014). Consensual non-monogamy: Table for more then two, please. The inquisitive Mind. Vol. 6, Issue, 21.

[xvii] Rouse, R,. (2011). What is feels like…. to be polyamorous. Sunday Times, London England: p51.

[xviii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,

[xix] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xx] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xxi] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xxii] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xxiii] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[xxiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

 

I live with a disability. It’s never stopped me from living my life to the fullest – and I have no complaints when it comes to my sex life. I recently started seeing this great girl and we’re totally into each other but when it comes to sex, she gets really nervous about hurting me or doing something wrong. I know my body and tell her constantly that she’s doing fine and what I need from her. What can I do?

co-written by Shaw Chard

Let’s discuss why being sexual with a person with a disability may be novel to your partner and how you both can use this information to grow and learn together.

Time for some background knowledge. Few of us are raised with adequate sexual education, and an oft-excluded factor which contributes to a good (hopefully great!) sex life is communication [1]. At the same time, the dominant discourse of sexuality is not inclusive of people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, and those people are seen as childlike, naïve, and incapable of sexual desire [2]. Sex-ed programs typically don’t include disability or communication in their curricula, and neither do media representations of sexuality. Because it’s never talked about, sexuality among people living with disability is assumed to either be non-existent or fundamentally “different”, which creates a divide between “normal people” and people living with disability [3].

Now, consider how these things may be affecting your partner and your sexual relationship. You’ve made it clear that you enjoy your sex life, that everything between you two in sexual situations is fine, and that you tell her what you need from her. But really, how much of that does she understand? Dominant sexual discourse is so exclusive; nobody talks about pleasure, planning, communication, and alternatives, so it’s no wonder that so many people are lost when it comes to any other idea of what sex can be. Both you and your partner were more than likely taught sexual education through this narrow lens, and although you have been able to find pleasure in tandem with, not despite of, your disability, it may be hard for your partner to get past what she’s learned. Change is not easy, and you can help each other by being as supportive as possible. Try to help her by introducing planning and open communication into your relationship.

When I say open communication, what I mean is that you not only be open with her, but with yourself: you have to be aware of and understand your own desires, as this is crucial to being able to communicate these things to your partner. If you care that she understands what you want, then you need to know what you want beforehand [4]. Even though you say you tell her she’s doing fine, and that you’ve let her know what you need from her, her nervousness could mean that she still doesn’t fully understand. Let your partner know that many people with disabilities, including yourself, don’t see their disabilities as detracting from their sex lives; on the contrary, many feel that their disabilities allow them to get more creative in the bedroom and allow for more open communication in sexual relationships [5]. Further, make sure you are inviting her to explain her wants and needs, and are validating and supportive of them when she opens up. This will facilitate better communication, and you two will likely feel closer, which cycles back to increasing confidence in sharing your desires and your abilities to achieve them in the future [6].

At the same time, you should both make an effort to be understanding of each other’s situations. You both learned that discussing sex is not the norm, but for you two that may simply not work. This is where planning comes into play. Sit down and discuss your respective wants, needs, and how to achieve both in an environment where you can really hear each other. Though the planning may seem like it detracts away from features we associate with good sex like ‘spontaneity’ or ‘immediate, silent understanding’, research has shown that this kind of open communication not only helps in the realm of sexual pleasure, but can also bring more closeness and intimacy into the relationship as a whole [7].

My advice may be starting to sound repetitive; how many times can I say communication? The point of it all is that, in any relationship, partners need to communicate with each other to make sure that everyone involved is getting the most out of their sexual relationship. Sometimes, you just need to be told what to do, and some relationships require more communication than others. There’s no reason that planning and discussion should be an impetus to your sex; on the contrary, it’ll likely make your relationship stronger and the sex better. I’ll dare to assume that most people want to enjoy their sex lives, and the best way to make sure that happens is to talk about your desires, your needs, and the desires and needs of your partner (or partners!). Now go forth, have a discussion with this great girl of yours, and then reap the benefits.


[1] Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The ultimate guide to sex and disability: For all of us who live with disabilities, chronic pain, and illness (1st ed., pp. 1-345). San Francisco, California: Cleis Press

[2] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

[3] Esmail, S., Darry, K., Walter, A., & Knupp, H. (2010). Attitudes and perceptions towards disability and sexuality. Disability and Rehabilitation, 32(14), 1148-1155. doi:10.3109/09638280903419277

[4] Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The ultimate guide to sex and disability: For all of us who live with disabilities, chronic pain, and illness (1st ed., pp. 1-345). San Francisco, California: Cleis Press

[5] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

[6] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

 

 

 

 

We want to hear from you!

We’re starting to prepare for Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week 2017 and we want to hear from you! Click here to take our short survey

I use drugs and here’s what health care looks like for me

My journey started in Calgary where I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C over 10 years ago. I was told that in order to get treatment, I had to abstain from drugs for six months. I tried detox and a treatment centre and “failed” at sobriety and just gave up on my health for some time. Eventually I ended up in Winnipeg and tried to get treatment again, found out that my liver wasn’t in good shape but again was told I needed to have six months sobriety. I moved to another city in Ontario and went to another clinic – more blood work, more rejection.

I then landed in Toronto and caught a ray of hope as far as my health was concerned. I had my own stigma against the health care system but this time I figured what the hell? Let’s see if there is anything they can do here. Not having much faith in the health care system, I thought to myself that this would be another rejection followed by more depression. But in the end I figured it was worth it. I was already at the bottom and could go six more since I was so sick.

I joined a program in a Community Health Centre for people who actively use substances living with Hep C who want to get treatment and care. At first I was stand-offish but then after a few weeks of being in a group with other people like myself I learned to open up. But then disaster struck again. I was told that I had HIV. I was co-infected. It wasn’t bad though ‘cause they were all there for me and kept me on track even though I was heavily using, homeless, a co-infected person.

I was on an HIV cocktail for about a year before they considered putting me on HCV treatment. Thanks to my group and the program and the non-judging care I received from the health care providers I stuck with them for three years and cleared my Hep C!

The group and the whole team of Doctors and Nurses saved my life. I still use actively but I’m housed, I work as a Hep C Support Worker, I public speak at conferences, I’m an advocate for co-infected people and I’m not sick any more. My HIV is undetectable and I’ve gained some dignity in my life.

As a survivor of sexual violence I thought going to the main hospital that deals with sexual assault would be a good place for me to go.

I presented at their urgent care in the most pain I have ever experienced in my life. But not before putting on a nice dress so that they wouldn’t treat me badly. Having had terrible experiences in the past with health care I was reluctant to go to the emergency but a time I had gone in the past to this particular hospital for an abscess was good. So I thought that experience was ok, I’ll get treated ok there again. I was so wrong.

I was crying and writhing with pain in my abdomen. I had been sitting up to sleep for several nights because it was excruciating to lay down. But I couldn’t take it anymore and the pain was so unbearable. When I presented at the ER I was treated kindly by the nurses on staff. I sat writhing and crying in pain. When I was taken in to the room to see the Doctor he didn’t introduce himself he just made me lie down and began examining me internally. I was crying and screaming. It was so painful but I was also really traumatized that he was touching me. After he left I mentioned to the nurse how upsetting that was. She responded that he was an “a**hole” and treated people poorly. I didn’t find comfort in that or the exams that took place after. I had a trans-vaginal ultrasound. I was given no pain and medication and screamed and cried the whole exam. I felt like I was being assaulted. After the results came back the Doctor approached me. At this point my friend’s mother had arrived. I asked her to come as I felt like I was being mistreated. They were sending me home. I had two cysts on my ovaries. One was 7” in diameter and the other 3”.  He prescribed me T3 but then scratched it off in front of me and wrote T1. How could I survive this pain and how can they be sending me home. I went home. The whole time feeling that I wished I had never presented there and that I wished that an abscess hadn’t be in my chart and felt like I was being punished without proper pain management.

After spending another night awake and sitting up to sleep I decided the next day I needed to go back. I dreaded going back to the same hospital and friends intervened calling to make sure this same doctor was not on staff. I returned in the evening after his shift and the staff in the gynaecology department hadn’t received notes about me and didn’t know that I had been in through ER. The treatment I then received was much more respectful. I told them how I was a rape survivor and how traumatized I had felt.

I use drugs to deal with my PTSD, I have been raped multiple times from when I was more street involved and was only recently after years of being in therapy and labelled with PTSD that my family doctor finally talked to me about medication. She was reluctant to prescribe and yet I was scoring what I needed off the street. Since she started prescribing me valium for my panic attacks I have stopped having to score and feel much more in control and not living in so much fear. My drug use is less about medicating and a very recreational experience that feels good for me.

I was admitted in to hospital for 10 days. They removed the cysts. I followed up with an internal complaint about my initial ER visit while I was in the hospital and then with a letter. I never heard back from the hospital.  They did not follow up with me. I’m glad I went back, I think often about how I could have damaged my reproductive organs or what could have happened having cysts that large in my body. I should have never been turned away or mistreated the way I was.

There are a lot more stories just like this. Some are good, some are bad. But the matter of the fact is stigma gets in the way of health care. Have something to add? We want to hear from you in the comments below!  

It Gets Fatter: A Day in the Life – Visiting the Doctor

Rita just moved out of her abusive home and got a place of her own. She has been working two jobs while trying to finish her degree. She has a yeast infection that she hasn’t been able to cure naturally so she needs to see a doctor. She hears about a family physician who is seeking new patients. Before meeting with him, she has to fill out forms that describe her medical history and health care issues. She has been dealing with a lot of trauma from the abuse she experienced, and has been using food as comfort and coping mechanism. She needs access to resources that will help her on the journey to recovery. Rita starts off the appointment by asking the doctor for a prescription for her yeast infection, but instead of listening he challenges the natural ways in which she has tried to heal the infection. He then comments on her body asking if she had always been chubby or just put on some weight recently. He tells her that she must do a full physical exam along with blood and urine work that shows her sugar and cholesterol levels. Rita feels shut down and triggered and is afraid to bring up the abuse that she has been experiencing. On top of this she leaves the doctor’s office feeling low about her weight, and determined never to go back to the same doctor again.

Now here’s Adam’s experience

After gaining about 30 pounds, Adam was seeking a new health care physician. He was nervous the doctor would tell him to lose weight before diagnosing anything or asking him how he feels about his weight. When he got to the office, he noticed there were differently sized chairs for different body types in the waiting room, and upon going into the doctor’s office the nurse gave him a choice of whether or not he wanted to be weighed. This immediately started putting him at ease. When the doctor came he made no remarks about Adam’s weight, and when Adam brought up the fact he had gained weight recently the doctor communicated no feelings whatsoever, positive or negative, and instead asked Adam how he felt about the weight gain and if he wanted to do something about it. Adam stated that he wanted to lose weight but also wanted to be happy at the size he is now, because it might not be possible (due to larger life circumstances) to lose weight right away. The doctor nodded and told him that his health was in his hands, and no one should force anyone to do something with or to their bodies that they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Which experience would you prefer? Have something to share about sizeism and fatphobia? We want to hear from you! Comment below to join the conversation!

Receiving positive care

by Erica McNabb – Youth Health Educator, Teen Talk, Klinic Community Health

Jesse (pseudonym) is 18, gender fluid, androsexual, white Brazilian and volunteers in Teen Talk’s Peer Support program. They (Jesse uses gender neutral pronouns) told me about some of their experiences getting sexual health information and services. Jesse has been accessing their in-school teen clinic since age 14. Prior to visiting the teen clinic, Jesse, like many youth, was stuck with conflicting, often value based information.

Jesse: Before going to my high school, it was near impossible to get information. I relied upon poorly taught sex ed classes, the stigmas around mental health perpetuated by my peers, and my parents’ opinions on being sexually active, sexuality and relationships. In short, the information before was extremely limited and biased.

Teen clinics offer youth like Jesse information and resources in a youth friendly, non-judgemental way, which can be a rewarding experience.

Jesse: When going to my school’s teen clinic, I never felt judged, patronized or degraded for what I was seeking help with. I always felt welcome, that it was a safe place to go to voice my questions. Going to my high school really opened my eyes to a more secular opinion – it wasn’t imbued with the Christian values that do not encourage premarital sex, or partaking in any exploration of sexuality or gender identity outside of the traditional gender roles. It allowed me to find myself in ways previously unmentioned to me.

Not only can youth friendly health services help youth get their individual needs met, they can also inspire youth like Jesse to take health promotion into their own hands.

Jesse: These experiences motivated me to become a Peer Supporter, and after Teen Talk‘s training I was able to pass the message on to my friends. A good friend once needed advice on how to proceed with a relationship. I gave them addresses to local teen clinics in case they wanted to get tested and access to condoms since they were embarrassed to go out and buy some themselves.

Jesse’s story is one example of how accessible, non-judgmental, youth friendly health services can positively impact the lives of youth. No matter what kind of health services exist, it also helps when youth have someone in their peer group who can help them get what they need. Ideally, health care providers can connect youth to opportunities to use their knowledge to help peers have positive health experiences.

Have something to share about accessible, non-judgmental, youth friendly health services? Join the conversation by commenting below!

When massive things are overlooked because of stigma

Story from one of our members

In my early twenties. I got very, very sick; my symptoms progressively worsened. I stopped being able to eat most of the time, I started fainting and had intense abdominal pain all the time, but my doctors attributed these symptoms to my primary diagnosis — the diagnosis that I had that put me under the rubric of disability. Even symptoms that did not match my diagnosis at all were interpreted as being caused by my primary diagnosis. As a result, I spent two years getting increasingly sick. I had cancer, a tumor in my kidney that was not fully or properly investigated. Had I not already been disabled, queer, and poor, I would have been treated very differently and much more thoroughly. This is what medicalization and, specifically, the medical gaze, does to people’s lives.

I went to a doctor once I was diagnosed with cancer (my doctor wasn’t in so I saw someone else in the clinic. They couldn’t find my file. I was told I didn’t have cancer, that “people hear the word tumour and think cancer” and was sent home.

What support for women could look like

One of the best experiences I have had with health care is at a place called the 416 Community Support for Women in Toronto. This is a daytime drop in program for women looking to gain or give support while coping with, poverty, isolation, addiction and/or mental health issues and other difficulties.

There is a nurse on staff and a doctor who comes in once a week. A key element of the positive experience I had there was the integration of services. They serve breakfast and lunch, have a weekly food bank, social/recreational programs and life skills training as well as opportunities to have fun with other women. The atmosphere is full of genuine caring, laughter, and a recognition that women living in poverty can be our own best support. There is a real recognition of our ability to help each other. It is easy to get an appointment and there is no penalty for missing appointments.

The doctor there provides services at several drop-ins and shelters in the downtown East and is non-judgmental and aware of services in the area that assist people to meet their basic needs. He is available to fill out ODSP forms and is keenly aware of the barriers people face, working with them to find, for example, affordable medications and treatment options.

I feel respected when I go there and that my choices are valid. The doctor comes to where people are, physically, and meets them where they are at emotionally and health-wise and is respectful of people’s goals and aware of harm reduction practices, which I feel makes people feel supported and coming back and allows a relationship of trust to be built.

The simple lack of judgement is an amazing resource and one that feels like a luxury in a healthcare setting. I have had other experiences where a doctor, within minutes of meeting me, has labelled me with a personality disorder and basically said there is a year-long wait list for any service that may help. Treatment like this makes people hopeless and reliant on emergency departments when things come to a complete crisis when simply taking the time to build a relationship of trust could pre-empt these crises entirely.

The doctor at the 416 has taken the time over the years to get to know people’s reality, and this is an invaluable resource for the people who live in this community. There are people available to accompany people to specialists’ appointments and transit tokens made available to get them there and back.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? How is your relationship with your doctor or health care provider? Let us know in the comments below!