Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Vote Against Prop 1?

Among the many arguments for a medical school in Austin, the most compelling is the expansion of access to care for uninsured people. In Texas, according to State Health Facts, 24% of all people are uninsured. Texas has among the narrowest Medicaid eligibility in the nation, leaving a full quarter of our population without the ability to access simple preventive services like flu shots and wound care. That means far too many people come to emergency rooms for care that is either totally preventable or could be cheaply provided by a primary healthcare provider, if only the person had one.

But another population of Texans is uninsured at even higher rates--women.  Seventeen percent of non-elderly women nationwide are uninsured but, in Texas, 26% of women have no health insurance, an issue not addressed anywhere in Prop 1's slick mailers or on its website.

The issue of women's health in Texas is not some Summer's Eve commercial--Medicaid funded births represent a huge proportion of state healthcare costs, and Texas is in court again for trying to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which decreases Medicaid funded births by providing contraceptives to women in need. If the state succeeds in excluding the #1 provider of family planning services to poor women, 45,000 women will be left with NO healthcare provider and potentially increasing the costs to the state by billions of dollars.

Austin's medical school can't solve a statewide problem but Prop 1, as written, won't even solve the problem locally. Prop 1's website claims that it would fund clinics where uninsured people in Travis County--many of whom are women of childbearing age--could get care. But Prop 1 would also fund, in part, a teaching hospital to be run by Seton, the Catholic operator of Brackenridge/University Medical Center, Austin's safety net hospital. The consultants Austin paid to tell us that the place is on its last legs decreed, in April, that the building has got to go and Seton has committed $250 million to build a new facility that it will operate.

Even though it is a publicly-funded, safety net hospital, because Brackenridge is operated by Seton, it does not provide family planning services of any kind, emergency contraception to rape victims, or tubal ligation to women who have delivered babies and prefer not to have more. Women seeking these services must go to the "hospital within the hospital," otherwise known as the 5th floor, and see different doctors. For tubal ligation, this increases both risks to the patient and costs. There is no reason to believe these services would be provided in the new facility and, indeed, Prop 1's website does not mention women's health or family planning at all.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has endorsed Prop 1, but they haven't explained why. Even if Planned Parenthood would somehow benefit from Prop 1 (though it is not clear from the proposition that they would) no Planned Parenthood clinic operates an emergency room to see rape victims or performs tubal ligations. Twenty seven percent of American women choose tubal sterilization at some point, and to refuse women this option when they have chosen to have no more children is not acceptable for a hospital paid for with public funds.

I fully support the right of Seton and its parent company, Ascension Health, to operate their hospital according to their values, which prohibit the practice of women's healthcare as actually needed by women patients. But I do not support Austin taxpayers and Austin residents paying to operate a religious hospital, literally under direction from the Vatican, that refuses to provide the care actually needed by uninsured Texans.

Austin's residents need access to health care. But Travis County's health needs include care for women, full stop. Kirk Watson, the patron of this proposal, is a veteran advocate of women's health in Texas but Prop 1 just doesn't deliver. I'm voting no.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to Have Sex in College, Part 1
Trust Me on This: Condoms

No, really.
It's the most wonderful time of the year: back to school! College students have been on campus for a few weeks now and, for most, orientation with all its helpful advice is a distant memory. Most students immediately forget about the location of campus buildings; how to call the police in an emergency; what a blue book is; and where on campus to get free condoms.

Let's face it: college is different, especially if you're going for the first time. In addition to the other new things to try in college, like veganism and reading Ayn Rand novels, people will be trying new things like getting drunk. A lot. People will be getting hammered at parties, in dorms, on campus, at football games, kind of everywhere.

They will also be having sex. You might get kicked out of your dorm room so some hammered people can have sex, a rite of passage for everyone living in dorms that is in no way addressed by the OMG BACK TO COLLEGE!!! display at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  

I want people in college to have more of what they want and less of what they don't want. So consider this occasional series a guide to solving those problems they didn't mention at orientation, your parents didn't tell you about, and you're just not going to ask your perky RA.

The first thing I want to cover in this series is condoms. If you either have a penis or would like one in your immediate vicinity at some point during college, you need to have some. "But Julie," you might be thinking, "I've never had sex and I'm waiting for the right person." Great! You'll be well prepared and your friends who are having sex will totally raid your stash.

Condoms might seem like a weird, awkward thing to buy and that awkwardness might be harder to overcome if you're not having sex in the first place but, believe me, when it's 2:30 in the morning and you decide you want to have sex, you are not going to want to get up and go knock on your RA's door, dig through your roommate's stuff, or walk out to 7-11 to get some.  Research backs me up here: a study of college men's condom use errors showed that the #2 reason college men fail to use condoms consistently and correctly is that they wanted to use a condom but didn't have one available.
What a great guy!

Trust me on this: buy some condoms and put them no further than one arm's length away from where you imagine you'd like to have sex. That means bedside table, under the mattress, or on the floor are vastly better locations than the medicine cabinet or under the sink. Unless you plan on having sex in the bathroom, of course.

Another reason people don't use condoms is because using condoms can be intimidating. Not that putting a condom on is hard--it isn't--but because saying "Do you have a condom?" or "Should I get a condom?" is a way of saying, "I'm ready to fuck!" Some people are worried that having condoms will make their partners think they're slutty or don't trust them, but some people also apparently don't think it's cool to wear seatbelts.

Women, in particular, are taught that they should never explicitly express that kind of desire and so may be too afraid to insist on condom use even when they really want to use condoms. Guys, similarly, might be nervous about stopping the action based on fears that they'll lose their erection if they have to walk to the bathroom to get the condoms stashed there (see why it's better to have them under the bed?).

In fact, the number 1 condom use error among college men is the failure to discuss condom use with a partner before sex. This suggests that people are too scared to just fucking say that they want to fuck already.

Trust me on this: saying that you want to have sex will result in one of two positive outcomes. Either your partner will totally want to have sex too and you'll have sex; or your partner will tell you that they don't want to have sex and you won't accidentally have nonconsensual sex with them! Winning!

By not asking, you're gambling that the person you'd like to have sex with isn't totally intimidated by you, afraid you'll think they're slutty, too drunk to say no, or otherwise unable to meaningfully consent. And there is only one word to describe people who willingly have sex without consent: rapists.

Assuming that you have condoms and are capable of forming the words "Hey, you wanna get a condom?" with your mouth, you're ready to learn how to put a condom on.

People who have received sex education that actually covered how to use condoms, a terrifyingly small and decreasing proportion of our population, often get an insanely long series of instructions. But there are really only three steps to condom use after you have condoms in your possession and have gotten consent from your partner.
  1. put the condom on the dick in question. 
  2. have sex. 
  3. repeat as necessary
Of course, condom use is something people routinely fuck up, but once you learn how to do it correctly it's like putting in a tampon--not exactly rocket science.


Trust me on this: Having a bad experience with one type of condom doesn't mean "condoms don't work" for you, and that isn't an acceptable excuse for not using one. Every penis is different, and condoms should not feel uncomfortable or painful. They should be snug, but not so tight that they cut off your circulation and interfere with erection. If this happens, you can try a bigger condom like the Magnum or Kyng. Keep trying different kinds until you find one that works.

If you need help picking out what type of condom to use, I highly recommend Condomania, which lets you search for condoms based on different characteristics like size, length, and features like textures and special lubes. You can also check out our reviews of different condoms here.

To review: Buy some condoms. Put them where you sleep. And good luck!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Not A Choice; It is a Gallbladder


What If Every Medical Procedure Were Politicized? - watch more funny videos

Stop what you're doing. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not try to get a perfectly legal abortion. Watch this video! 

This is literally what women in Texas have to endure when trying to get an abortion--a totally legal medical procedure that women are really, by state and federal law, allowed to choose to have.

Have a uterus? Pissed off? Don't have a uterus but can't fucking believe that people without uteruses pass bullshit laws like this when there are some fucking big problems facing our state and nation that are in fact totally unrelated to women's ability to be pregnant or not pregnant? 

You can tangibly help a woman who needs an abortion in Texas by Lilith Fund. Plus it will really, really piss of Rick Perry and Todd Akin if you do. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Trojan Gives Away Vibrators in NYC But Won't Sell Them in Texas

Mmm...New York Cart Vibrators are the Tastiest
Big news yesterday about Trojan Vibrations' giant vibrator-cum-hot dog cart giveaway in New York: the company generously decided to give away 10,000 vibrators (hello, don't they know there are 149,219 more single women than men in New York?). The bonanza was shut down briefly but opened again later in the day and the toys were successfully distributed.

Some herald the public giveaway as an indicator of the growing acceptance of women's sexuality and maybe it is; but in Texas, Trojan's toys are still not for sale despite the sex toy ban having been struck down in 2008. The boner-killing message below came up when I put an item in my shopping cart on TrojanVibrations.com:
I reviewed the Triphoria almost a year ago and the device wasn't for sale in Texas then (I got mine courtesy of Babeland); what's the holdup? Perhaps we should all write to our state legislators and suggest that Texas women are just trying to comply with the forced transvaginal ultrasound law and maybe that'll do the trick?

In non-cart related news, Trojan's VP of Marketing had this to say in a press release about the event:
Research from The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University found that 53 percent of women and 45 percent men have used a vibrator in their lifetime, indicating that vibrators have officially entered the mainstream," said Bruce Weiss, Vice President of Marketing, Trojan™ Sexual Health. "We're always looking for ways to advance this effort by fostering an open dialogue about sexual health and creating unique moments that get people 'buzzing' about sex and pleasure."
PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1kqRe)
 The study to which he refers was part of a series of articles published in 2009 by The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and paid for by Pure Romance, the Cincinnati-based pyramid scheme sex toy party company, and Church and Dwight, Trojan's manufacturer. In this summer of concern among those outside of academe about sources of funding for scholarly pursuit, it's worth noting that funds for research--even fun research like the frequency with which American women use vibrators and how good in-home sex toy party consultants are at doing sex education--comes from somewhere.  

In the case of corporate sponsorship of transparently PR-driven research, my question is whether the funding of such projects is tax deductible, since the "contribution" is to a not-for-profit educational institution. Considering that both the Pure Romance and Trojan studies have been used by the companies to expand business, that sounds like a shady way to write off PR expenditures, which are not tax deductible.
 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Magic Mike" and the Heterosexual Closet

No Adam Rodriguez?
You bet your ass I went to see "Magic Mike" last week and I'll be damned if it isn't the best male-sex-object movie since "Boogie Nights." But I had an interesting experience at "Magic Mike." I went to see it at the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek, which is in the suburbs. Going up there is what my mom calls a "cultural experience." The theater was 99% female (I don't remember seeing any men, but don't want to leave anyone out) and the women were dressed up. Like tube tops, tight jeans, heels, makeup. On a Tuesday night. I had come from the gym in stretch pants, a sports bra and a wrap sweater. Oops.

I was stunned to discover that Adam Rodriguez, the super hot star of "CSI:Miami," was in the movie, because he wasn't named or pictured in any of the publicity materials. This man has the best jawline in television and plays the sensitive foil to Callie's strong lady firearms expert. But that's neither here nor there.

The movie is good. Not a little bit good; it's a lot good. The story is interesting, the acting excellent, the dancing inspired, and the story reminds us of the ugly human price associated with our collective dirty pleasures.

But at the end of the movie the friend who had organized the group outing walked up and down the aisle saying, "The acting was terrible, the plot was worse, but the eye candy was great." And I thought, wow, that's weird; I thought this was a really great movie. Am I wrong?

I'm not wrong; the movie has been declared good by critics far more qualified to judge the value of films than I. But "Boogie Nights" got a similar treatment, I remember, when I saw it: women I knew were reluctant to describe it as a good movie because it was so overtly sexy, even though the sexiness is balanced with ickiness. Seeing Mark Wahlberg's fake giant penis at the end (spoiler alert) is really the lowlight of an otherwise awesome movie about how our porn sausage gets made.

The movies had more in common than just eye candy--Don Cheadle's character in "Boogie Nights" wants to get out of the porn business and open a speaker store but can't get a loan from the bank that doesn't approve of his time served on the dirty screen, which of course foreshadows one of the main themes of Mike's struggle to get out of the dance biz.

The quality of the movie, though, isn't really what I'm after here. I was surprised that my friend described the movie so immediately and dismissively; but I'd seen similar comments from many other women on Facebook and heard from friends who had seen it that made clear that the only value the movie had was its eye candy, it wasn't like they thought it was good or anything. Ladies, can we not have a movie that is both sexy and good?

A concept I've batted around for a while is something I call the Heterosexual Closet. We are very familiar with how the heterosexual closet works for men: Madonna/Whore. Good girl/bad girl. Lady in the street/freak in the bed. But what does the heterosexual closet look like for women?

Sexual economics holds that, in the heterosexual "marketplace," female sex is a resource that is exchanged with men for access to material and/or social resources. The lower the "price" at which a woman "sells" sex, the more difficult it is for her to "sell high" (i.e., get a commitment) later. I use the theory to teach my students about patriarchy and the effects of slut shaming.

The theory has its flaws (though I really encourage anyone who rejects it based on popular conceptions to read the actual theory itself, and my feminist analysis thereof) and one of the many nuances left out of the is that women do in fact desire sex for sex itself; they just are really good at figuring out ways to either sublimate that desire completely (viz: sexual dysfunction) or to exercise it in ways that don't affect their standard "price."

This is demonstrated by spring break sex, female sex tourism, and the relationship between Mike and Joanna in the film. A similar finding came out of Premarital Sex in America: that unemployed men with less than a high school education had more sex partners than men who were employed and college graduates. The author couldn't understand why any woman would have sex with a man who had no "resources" to exchange for sex; to me, it was obvious that women were choosing to have sex with these men because their own value was totally unaffected by these men's low status.

"Magic Mike" addresses this issue of "respectability" and class as it applies to men, something that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in our culture. A friend of mine has a game he calls "Stripper or Supreme Court Justice?" in which we laugh at women's names and figure out where they are likely to fit in as adults. There is no such game for men. This closetedness is also shown by women's immediate distancing from the movie itself, which sounds almost like they hooked up with a dumb hot jock at a party: "I was drunk, he was hot, I would never introduce him to my friends or family so it doesn't matter that he's a stripper/waiter/bartender/personal trainer."

Though it sucks, women do really have to police their reputations; in a patriarchal system making sure they distance themselves from people, ideas, clothing, and behavior that indicate a "low price" is critical to maintaining respectability. For those women who don't just bury their sexual desire one of the most efficient ways to do this is to pursue sex with men who are inherently low-stakes: people much younger or older than you; exes; long distance hook ups; guys you meet on vacation who you'll never see again; men whose work keeps them out of your own social class and whose word no one would ever believe over yours.  Mike had absolutely no idea that Joanna even had a boyfriend, much less was engaged. She didn't want to tell him about her graduate work in psychology because she assumed he'd never show up in her social milieu. 

The way men experience being a low-stakes sex partner isn't something I can speak to, because I'm not a man. But if it's anything like being a female low-stakes sex partner, it can be both really hot and kind of crushing to realize you're the one who doesn't matter. "Magic Mike" shows us a little bit of how that plays out in the lives of men who are at the bottom of the class ladder and how they can be used for sex figuratively--as erotic dancers--and literally, as sex partners you keep secret. That is the definition of being closeted, and it hurts everyone.

Go see this movie, seriously.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

1Flesh: 1Fail


Are you not satisfied with the wildly inappropriate level of interference by the Catholic Bishops in this year's debate over insurance coverage of birth control? Do you wish there were a slick marketing campaign and social media presence which could spread lies about modern contraceptive methods so that those women who won't have coverage anyway won't feel bad about experiencing structural inequality at the hands of a Church that claims to care for women?

You are in fucking luck! 1flesh.org, a project of Marc Barnes, an eighteen year old blogger for Patheos and a group of other "college-age kids," is focused on making not using birth control seem hip. With a library of cool graphics that contain total lies about contraception, the site proposes a "better way" than birth control that they call a "revolution against contraception in marriage" [because you're waiting until marriage to need contraception, obvs]: the Creighton Model.



The Creighton Model was developed by a Catholic physician at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, which terrifyingly, really exists. The method is described as not a contraceptive method, because contraception is not okay for Catholics. It is a method of "true family planning." The Creighton website differentiates between "periodic abstinence," which those other natural family planning methods rely on, and "selective intercourse," which means that couples "actively choose" to have sex. Um...it's probably better if you read it for yourself. Using Creighton, a couple is:
selecting, in a responsible way, the very best time to have intercourse. Perhaps even more importantly, they are mutually selecting that time. Thus, spontaneous intercourse involves the submission to emotional impulses while selective intercourse submits itself to choices evaluated and implemented through the incorporation of the intellect, the will and the values that the couple shares.

All italics in the original. The Pope Paul VI Institute also designed something called NaPro Technology, which seems to be a "medicine" based on...not doing anything about women's health problems that are usually treated using hormones. Curiously, 1Flesh also promotes NaPro Technology even though it's not really related to "bringing sexy back" to Catholic marriages.



Whether or not natural family planning is effective or a valid choice isn't relevant--for the record, I'm in favor of people having non-hormonal choices and I've written positively about CycleBeads on this blog for years. I wish more people who had bad experiences using hormonal methods--because I talk to women like this all the time--had other choices that physicians understood. But trying to trick people into thinking that birth control causes breast cancer, kills fish, that condoms ruin sex, and that semen cures depression and infertility (!) is fucked up.

Reading scholarly articles: ur doin it rong. 

Claiming that the pill causes cancer and that sex should be saved for marriage isn't new for Catholic anti-abortion groups, obviously, but this site is conspicuously lacking any mention of abortion. One of the graphics says, "We are the 37%," referring to a 2010 study that found that 64% of married women didn't have an orgasm at their last sexual encounter. For one, learn math. For two, sdfkasd;lfkhads;lkj!



The difference between Creighton, Billings, and Sympto-Thermal as taught by the Catholic church in mandatory pre-marital classes and, say, CycleBeads, is that those methods prohibit the use of other forms of contraception during fertile times and don't acknowledge that humans are pretty bad at not having sex when they are fertile. We didn't get to 6 billion people for nothing. CycleBeads explicitly makes clear that, if you want to have sex during fertile days, another form of contraception must be used in order to prevent pregnancy.  It may seem like a small point and like it would be super obvious, but if I've learned anything doing sex education in Texas it's that I can't take for granted that women who have been taught from birth that sex is bad and knowing about sex is worse actually understand things like the menstrual cycle. They don't.

Look, I get it. Bedsider makes birth control seem so *cool* and you guys wanted to have your own website. You don't want to feel excluded just because you're waiting til marriage for sex. You want to be considered "rebellious." But guess what: no one cares that you're waiting for marriage. Wait all you want! Use whatever natural family planning method you like. I'm sure my grandmother, who goes to mass every day and had eleven children, would be happy to tell you which one worked for her. But to claim that condoms ruin sex and that birth control causes cancer--well, now you're in my house.

---------------------------------

Conspiracy Theory Corner: I just heard about NaPro Technology a few weeks ago from a nurse friend who had a patient that was seeing a doctor who "uses" NaPro here in Austin. I had never heard of it, nor had I heard of the Creighton Method. For someone who isn't Catholic I think I'm pretty well versed in natural family planning methods so I am surprised that all of a sudden this slick web campaign has emerged to promote a method that no one teaches outside of pre-marital classes at Catholic churches.

I can't find any indication on the 1flesh website that they are funded by the church or the Pope Paul VI Institute, but I believe that they are. The website design is credited to a Matt Sich who works for a company called Petros Media, which bills itself as "Rock Solid Communication for the 3rd Millenium Evangelization" and whose portfolio is all church-based apps and other projects. Their Facebook page has this status update: "Our latest project is almost out. Married couples wanting to start a family could get a lot of use out of it." A Creighton Method iPhone app, perhaps? Will keep you posted.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cure Your Hysteria With Our Summer Sex Toy Guide!

Your Great Great Grandmother Could Have Had A Vibrator Like This
So I saw "Hysteria" last night. Obviously, because I love vibrators. But this isn't the first (or the best) movie I've seen about Victorian-era "uterine massage"--to that, I commend you "The Road to Wellville," my favorite book of all time and definitely the best movie about veganism and enemas.

The movie is worth seeing, and probably delightful for those not so drowning-in-vibrator-knowledge as I. At the end of the movie, I thought of how lucky we all are that these days, we don't have to rely on a physician that doesn't believe in germs to masturbate us to orgasm.

If you want to see what ye olde vibrators looked like, Babeland has an online museum you can check out hereThis one looks perilously close to the one in the movie.

But what is out there these days? My annual trip to Babeland is planned for late July and this is a compilation of what I'll be eager to get my hands on when I reach my mothership in New York.

I present: The How to Have Sex in Texas Summer Sex Toy Guide 

Lelo's Smart Wand

First up is The Smart Wand from Lelo, at left. I'm not a big wand gal, but this is damn awesome. One of the biggest complaints about the Hitachi Magic Wand is that the handle is straight, which can make it difficult to hold for long periods of time. It's also one of the few toys that actually plugs into the wall.

The Smart Wand has a nicely curved handle and, as we've come to expect from Lelo, is waterproof and rechargeable. $129. Daaaamn. I can think of a couple of extra uses for that handle, too....

The Obsession Bullet



Next we have the Obsession Bullet Vibe. If you don't have a bullet vibe, stop reading this blog and go buy one right now. Seriously. The incredibly cheap (but worth every penny) Silver Bullet is a total must-have but the Obsession Bullet Vibe incorporates memory so you don't have to bother finding that just right vibration setting; it remembers for you. Obviously a super convenient feature for the gal on the go :) It's also waterproof which is a big improvement over the Silver Bullet. $28. At right.


In keeping with the women's liberation theme of "Hysteria" I love the Liberator Pulse! Probably pretty awkward if you live with roommates, but totally freaking incredible. If you're an on-top person, this should be on your Chrismukkah list. You provide the dildo and whatever rocking motion suits your fancy. I recommend something with a flared base, like the Adam. At left, $84.


Lelo's Earl


The anal toy of the millennium goes to Lelo, for the Earl. Available in 18k gold or sterling silver, my Nana would definitely approve. It comes with matching cufflinks, so if you're looking for a guy who's into prostate play, look for the Lelo links at your next formal playparty.  If you're a sugar-somebody with a kept man, show him you love him with this beauty. Or, you know, get it for a blogger you love. $590 for silver and $990 for gold.


It's hard to imagine what revolutionary advances could be made in lube, but Babeland has us covered. As an unabashed lover of all things cowboy (other than the actual Cowboys, that is--Redskins 4eva) I'm thrilled that Texas-based Sliquid has me covered with a new line of Dude Lubes. Looking good is the Ride Rub Stroke Oil, an oil and silicone-based lube that I'm willing to bet lasts forevvvvver. Since it contains oil, it can't be used with condoms, but if you and your partner(s) are tested and confirmed STI-free and/or sharing, this looks like a killer lube. They have an oil-free version called Ride Dude Lube. Yes, please. Both are glycerin, paraben and gluten free and vegan. $14.

Those are my picks for 2012. It's gonna be a long, hot summer y'all. We should be together!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Texas Has an Escort Review Website In It!
(Lord Have Mercy On Our Souls)

Being the land of cost conscious Thirty Thousand Dollar Millionaires, North Texas is of course home to an international website called Eccie featuring reviews by and for "Hobbyists" which allows individual escorts to "introduce" themselves and be rated by clients looking to get their money's worth. But at least one discerning Hobbyist in Texas, as yet unnamed, suspects that Eccie is really run by pimps and isn't putting forth honest information about the escorts available. And he's getting sued, reports the Dallas Observer

In this era of constant Yelping and Angie's Listing it's not surprising people would be interested in knowing where they can get the most bang for their buck in their hobbies. Especially if their hobby is The Hobby, or the practice of hiring escorts. The blogger going up against Eccie claims that pimps are the ones writing the ads and reviews and not the women themselves, which, while hard to verify, certainly echoes my experience working at the Washington City Paper in the pre-Craigslist days when pimps would come in on Mondays to place classified ads. I would say about 1 in 20 ads placed in "Adult Services" was placed by an independently operating woman.

So let's explore Eccie, shall we? Though the website claims to be "worldwide" and has listings in a variety of US cities and other nations, Texas is listed first and has the most cities. Austin's forum has sections called "Independent Provider Reviews," "Agency Reviews," "Spa/Studio/MP [massage parlor] Reviews," and "Strip Club Reviews."

Having just been in Thailand, where, as an American tourist you're constantly told about the easy availability of sex for pay, I am shocked, just *shocked* to learn that American men with money have the ability to purchase sex in our own country and yet are outsourcing these valuable jobs! And they have the audacity to write reviews about it!

While the standard reviews do include a little bit of detail about what happened (Spa/MP reviews include a lot of "HJ", ie., handjobs), to get the juicy details you have to read the "Rest of the Story," the boner-inducing content available only to paid subscribers. But you're not supposed to say "blowjob" because, of course you can't get a blowjob in a strip club, so the site's guidelines suggest posters say things like:
BBBJ was excellent, she performed French without a translator, her French skills were excellent and didn’t need a translator; those are several ways to say the same thing and there are more varieties. Trip to Mediterranean area = greek. 
It had never occurred to me that one could get a blow job (or more) in a strip club in the US until one of my students who had worked in several told me that it happened all the time. I assumed that strip clubs would have been so scrutinized by authorities as places where sex work could happen so easily that it would be courting trouble to allow it to happen. But of course you can get a blow job in a strip club--I've just never been to the VIP (and I don't have a dick).

When I was in Thailand it seemed so obvious where sex work was happening (though I didn't go looking for it) but I stepped back from that assumption and thought what foreign tourists would think of American sexual culture. I didn't see any Thai people touching in public in the three cities I visited--Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Hua Hin--the only couples that touched were white people or white men with Asian women (many of the women who engage in sex work in Thailand are reportedly not Thai, but smuggled in from war torn regions of Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos). And yes, the ping pong show is a real thing and I was aggressively solicited to see it--but I'm glad I didn't, because it's widely known to be a total scam.

I have no idea what escort services are available, though I'm sure there are tons, but the "girl bars" that line the seedier tourist areas of all three places I visited are just assumed to have women available for sex work--it's mentioned in the travel guides. But there was nothing like what goes on on 6th Street in Austin and any other generic party district of any given American city, where drunk people fuck-dance, make out, and more in public, on dance floors, and just hook up. For free.

I talked to my mom while we were there about the blinders we must have as Americans about the sex work going on in our own culture. I strongly believe that sexual behavior at the population level does not change significantly between time and place, so I don't believe that sex work is more common in one place rather than another. There is no culture on the planet where relations between men and women and rich and poor render sex work unnecessary and anyone who thinks that sex work isn't happening where they live is delusional. But we don't see it in our own backyard.

When I was in public health school and in my years as a sex educator since I have met so many people who have been interested in human trafficking happening in other places, the plight of women "forced" into prostitution in lands like Thailand, which I guess we assume are somehow more in need of our help than women in our own land. But to look at a site like Eccie, where a completely illegal activity is named and located all day, every day, I think we need to examine the log in our own eye as we criticize the speck in the eye of other nations that we perceive as having a problem with sex work, particularly considering Western men are often the problem.  Austin has 6,434 "provider ads" on Eccie; Thailand has none.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nothing Makes a Man Think "I Need These New Trojan Charged Orgasmic Pleasure Condoms" Like Just for Men 'Stache Dye

Camera Phone + Walgreens lighting = blurry picture

Loyal readers of How to Have Sex in Texas know that I regularly check out the condom section at various and sundry retailers when I'm out shopping on a Sunday night. It was on such a trip that I discovered the hilariously repackaged "Armor" spermicide condoms I wrote about earlier this spring and the "vertical package" Hey Look I Have a Huge Dick! Trojans that sneakily reduced the number of condoms in the box while raising the price. Condoms have always been sold 12 to a box but the economy is bad, you guys! They had to pay for all that extra condom wrapping foil somehow.

Usually, the condoms have just been retooled with some "luxury" lubricant,  burning or cooling or burning and cooling substance, or whatever other recycled gimmick (see: nonoxynol-9) our pals over at Church & Dwight have slapped on the box that doesn't have any effect on the condom's actual efficacy, as such a change would require FDA review.  So last night when I went to Walgreens looking for calcium pills and rubbing alcohol (whatever, it was Sunday) I was surprised to see a new bro in the condom frat house: Trojan Charged: Orgasmic Pleasure, coming in at a whopping $14.99 per box.* $1.49 per condom? Really, Trojan? Oh, I get it--the lubricant is "intensified."

Look, I don't know if Charged is just a repackaging of the warming condoms, which aren't individually listed on the hella-flashy Trojan website anymore. There are what appear to be new ribs on the tip of the condom, where they're totally unnecessary, since the nerve endings inside the vagina aren't fine-tuned enough to notice that kind of microdetail. The ribs claim to be "deep" but the quality of Trojan's ribs has never been in question--they are one of the few condoms with ribs you can actually feel at the base of the vagina, which is the most sensitive part.

The jury is out on whether warming lubricant actually does anything other than cause a mild warmth that is totally distinct from the terrifying burning/cooling sensation of the Fire & Ice line of products. I stand by my review of the Bareskin but otherwise don't pay attention to Trojan's gimmicks. Every dick is different and you should find a condom that works for you, even if it doesn't come in a Hey Look I Have a Huge Dick wrapper or isn't slathered with a nasty climax control/warming/cooling/warming & cooling/tingling/spermicidal lubricant.
"Guys who buy hair dye are trying to get laid, so let's put the condoms next to the 'stache kit!" --Brilliant Walgreens Manager
On a totally different note, Walgreens has inexplicably put the condoms next to the Just for Men hair dye section while keeping the lube, paternity tests, Intelligender (!) "gender prediction" kits, and spermicides in the tampon aisle. I actually had to ask the lady restocking the pantyhose at 9 on a Sunday night if they didn't carry condoms anymore. 99.99999% of the rest of the condom shoppers on the planet are not going to ask where the condoms are--they're going to assume that they've been relocated to the "Slut Supplies" aisle to teach you a lesson and sheepishly leave without their latex. 

Memo to Walgreens--keep your sexytime products all in one place. Yes, condoms go on people with penises, many of whom identify as male, and might at some point consider buying Just For Men hair dye. But seriously, put all the sex stuff in the same place. Condoms are the one item in the drugstore that no one wants to have to ask about so don't go changing the game like that. And while you're listening, no one knows what "family planning" means anymore--just put "condoms" or "contraceptives" on the sign above the aisle. Or, you know, "Slut Supplies."


*protip: you can get them for $8.99 at drugstore.com 

Rise In Luxury Sex Toys

Sex toys have come quite a long way over the years, to the point that you can now go out and buy just about anything you could possibly think of that might help you or your partner in bed. Once upon a time the selection was relatively basic, but now, at stores like Adam &Eve, you can find a massive variety complete with everything from basic, plain dildos to more advanced electronic toys, and everything in between. For those who frequently browse the selections, it might be clear that there has also been a specific rise in various types of more “luxurious” sex toys over the years. There are various examples to support this pattern.

To begin with, the electronic toys mentioned above have become more and more popular. Of course, “electronic” is a broad term that can also apply to a very simple vibrator. However, the more advanced toys make use of various vibrating or moving parts, and creative shapes designed for maximum pleasure. For example, consider rabbit vibrators for women and vibrating strokers for men. These sorts of toys are considered by many to be more advanced versions of simpler options, and can certainly fall under the heading of luxury sex toys. Generally they cost a bit more than their simpler counterparts, but all you need to do is glance at a few reviews to see that most people think the extra cost well worth it.

Additionally, with the rise in popularity of sex toy variety and the increased demand for luxury options, different materials have become more popular. For those who truly wish to splurge on toys for the sake of appearance and luxury feel, there are actually gold and crystal toys available – in fact, some even have precious stones inlaid on them! If this is a bit much for you, but you are still interested in some nicer materials, you can also look into options such as glass vibrators, which are nice looking, classy, and even easier to clean!

Ultimately, it is clear that you have almost endless options when it comes to selecting sex toys for yourself. Not only are there various types of toys, but there are even differences within those types, such as material, electronic capability, price, effectiveness, etc. However, if you are interested in something that seems a bit classier or a bit more high quality to you, some of the options listed above might be well worth considering. Before long you might have a collection of toys that is both effective and admirable.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Breaking: Eventbrite: "We will issue refunds"

Got confirmation from Eventbrite that those who request refunds for this event will in fact get them. The company was mum about total sales for the event, making it impossible to determine the scale of the fraud perpetrated in Austin on Saturday. If you attended Saturday's show, you can contact Eventbrite here. My own refund hasn't been processed yet but when it is, I'll post here.

Hi Julie-

I can't give you any sales information about ticket purchases for this event--we don't share that level of detail for any individual organizer or event.
What I can tell you is that yes, we have refunded purchases for events that were marketed fraudulently. And we will be issuing refunds to ticket-buyers for this event who contact our support team.

Thanks,
Vanessa

Eventbrite: "We are looking into this one."

Received the following email from Eventbrite's Press Team within 10 minutes of hitting "send": 
Hi Julie-

Thanks for reaching out about this event.

Eventbrite is a self-service software platform that event organizers use to ticket their events. What that means is that we don't have a role in the planning of events that are posted on Eventbrite, but we do have a dedicated team that investigates the validity of events that may be fraudulent.

We take this kind of feedback very seriously. And when we determine that an event is fraudulent, we do take appropriate action, which can include issuing refunds.


We are looking into this one, but unfortunately I don't have any further details yet.

Thanks for checking in with us,
Vanessa
Will keep updating as this develops.

Once again, with feeling, are Eventbrite's Terms of Service for Organizers:
In addition, events must be accurately and truthfully described when Organizer submits event information to the Site. If EVENTBRITE determines, in its sole discretion, that Organizer misrepresented an event or otherwise does not comply with this TOS, EVENTBRITE will have the right to cancel the relevant event (and all other events listed on the Site) and issue a refund to all Buyers.
And once again, with feeling, is the video featuring the party's promoter claiming that the event was a "hosted show," a term that did not appear in the original Eventbrite listing or in any of the press publicizing this event.  See image and video below.




Videos of R. Kelly's Hearbreaking Megafail in Austin

Two videos have popped up on Youtube of R. Kelly's "Hosted Show" on Saturday, including his abortive effort at singing to the crowd and the as-yet-unidentified MC trying to explain to a drunk, tired, booing crowd what a "hosted show" is and why they shouldn't be pissed. Perhaps someone should have explained to him that a "hosted show" is not what he advertised on the Eventbrite listing and he just admitted in public that he violated the terms of service. This one from the stripper platform where I was standing. This was the totality of his "performance" on Saturday.

Lost in Translation: Why Did Dell Invite a Danish Speaker to Tell Women in Tech to "Shut Up Bitch"?

Despite living in Austin and knowing several people who work for Dell I really don't know much about the culture of the company. Things seems fine, honestly, way up there in Round Rock. They financed a kickass minor league baseball stadium and that's primarily what I care about.

So color me shocked when a friend in an another tech company forwarded me this bitchy, ball-busting blog post from a Danish lady-writer: "Dress Code: Blue Tie and Male."

Apparently at some conference in Denmark for Dell's European team and other tech folks, Michael Dell made some perfectly saline remarks about cloud computing and Twitter and whatever and was upstaged by Mads Christensen, a man who, at Dell's [the company's] own choosing, "moderated" the event and made some, er, jokes. Hilarious jokes like:  
“The IT business is one of the last frontiers that manages to keep women out. The quota of women to men in your business is sound and healthy. What are you [women] actually doing here?” 
LOLOLOL. What we ladeez in the workforce absolutely need is to be thanked for inventing the rolling pin and to be told to "shut up, bitch" when we have dumb ideas. I don't know if this has any relation to the Dell team or environment here in Austin but wow...a transcontinental PR nightmare at a time when here at home we are having long overdue conversations about whether or not women belong in the workplace. Dell has a shiny webpage about "Women Powering Business" so what gives?

Read more here and here. This event looks to have not received any coverage in the US, though the conference was in April in Copenhagen. Any US Dell people care to weigh in?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury Like An R. Kelly Fan Scorned

Girl, please, let me tell you that I had a key in my ignition last night. On Friday while I was at work my friend D emailed me a truly earth-shattering announcement from Thrillist: R. Kelly was playing a show. An "Intimate Night w/R. Kelly" held at, wait for it, the Mansion, a former strip club that sometimes holds rave/hip hop parties outside of town.
The event poster

Now, I know Kelly. The man has never played a show in Austin for whatever reason--demographics of the city not right compared to Houston and Dallas; not enough interest in large-venue shows; too many hipster white kids who would totally attend. But I thought, what could be MORE Kellz-style than a private show in a strip club to show his Austin fans some love?

So I checked around. Friends at the Statesman, which published an announcement about the show, and on the Austin Music Commission confirmed that the event was a go. I bought a ticket. Just a $30 ticket; the lowest level. I convinced some friends to go with me. And here is the story of the night I touched R. Kelly.

When we arrived at Mansion, the $20 parking in the lot at the club was already full. People were dressed "classy and chic," as the event description mandated. The heels were high. The hemlines were short. The rhinestones were blingin'. People looked good. I bought a dress for the occasion and painted my lips. My companion wore a sequin mini and a copper leather bomber jacket. This was our one and only chance to see R. Kelly for chrissakes--we had to make sure he knew we meant it.

At 10:30 when we walked out onto the floor of the club, the VIP areas upstairs were full; the music was good; and a ton of well dressed black and white people packed the floor. The excitement was palpable. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and everyone there couldn't believe their luck. The $500 VIP level--table for 4 and a bottle of Ciroq--was sold out.

DJs Inverse, Bobby West and eventually Kurupt played decreasingly good music to try to keep the crowd interested. A promoter wearing gold aviators yelled about showing some love for R. Kelly. But by 12:30, my feet hurt and the black women of a certain age in the front were clearly about to get pissed.

The smoke machines went on; the music ground to a halt. Eventually R. Kelly did come onstage. He wore a red leather vest, black Ray Bans, and held a mostly-smoked cigar. Neither hand contained a microphone. He reached into the crowd; I was in the front and I touched his hand. Twice. It was surprisingly not sticky. The DJs kept playing music and we all started to look around, wondering how much longer we would have to wait.

He went backstage; I found a nearly-empty stripper platform to stand on and I could see he was in the VIP section, getting love. The promoter yelled to cut the music; Kells sang a few bars of "Ignition" and the crowd went wild. His voice was beautiful--exactly what we'd waited for. But then he stopped, handed the mic back.

The promoter invited "all the beautiful women" to come to the VIP; Kelly had not come all the way here, after all, to hang out by himself in this club. Many women pushed to the VIP; a lot of others were leaving. Kelly grabbed the mic again and the crowd got tense--was this it? But he said, "I want some ladies up here! All the beautiful ladies--it don't matter what you look like. As long as you got a beautiful heart and some love for R. Kelly, come up here to the VIP. Especially the drunk ones."

My friends and I, defeated, decided to bail.

The Eventbrite terms of service , section 7.2, explicitly prohibit the fraudulent marketing of events:
In addition, events must be accurately and truthfully described when Organizer submits event information to the Site. If EVENTBRITE determines, in its sole discretion, that Organizer misrepresented an event or otherwise does not comply with this TOS, EVENTBRITE will have the right to cancel the relevant event (and all other events listed on the Site) and issue a refund to all Buyers.

"Ignition", sort of
As soon as I got home, I emailed them a complaint and demanded my money back. As of this morning, I received an email from their customer service saying they had forwarded the matter to the event organizer. I'll report back here what happens. But if you too were snookered by R. Kelly and Exit Black Productions, you can contact Eventbrite and demand a refund.

Kelly, I love you, but you've got one less friend in this area code.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review: Make Me Over by Bedroom Kandi

I was pretty excited to receive the Make Me Over by Bedroom Kandi from OhMiBod. I love the idea of a large, round external vibrator and especially the strap on the back that you can slip your fingers through for easy holding. The Make Me Over comes in a large black compact with a mirror and does sort of look like a giant powder case.

Unfortunately, the toy didn't meet my expectations. The thing is pretty, don't get me wrong. Magenta is definitely my color and I love the shiny black case. But the body-side surface of the Make Me Over, while matte enough to provide good friction, is full of little diamonds that get dirty.

The metal charging element is right in the center of the body-side, which made me concerned about it getting wet and shorting out. The instructions included in the box say "splash proof" but not whether you can actually run the thing under water to get it clean. Somehow, metal charging elements don't actually seem "splash proof" to me. For an $89 toy, I want ease of cleaning.

The toy is also not convex enough--the surface is mostly flat and while the material and texture provide good overall stimulation it can't be pinpointed. Honestly, I think this toy is best for spot back and neck massages and, if I felt more confident that you could use it with massage oil, it would be a great tool for massaging a partner.

Details:
Make Me Over by Bedroom Kandi for OhMiBod
Price: $89
Recommended for: those who want non-specific external stimulation or something that can be used for massage.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to Write About Snooki's Pregnancy Without Sounding Like a Mean Girl



My jaw dropped yesterday when I read this post from Pregnant Pause, the blog of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Snooki is pregnant. The NC's blogger has an opinion about it:
Though [Snooki] went on record just a few weeks ago denying that she has a bun in the oven (or that she knows what an oven is, probably)...I could waste your time with pages of passionate prose detailing why Snooki is not ready for a baby (and should probably refrain from procreating in the future, as well...If you know who Snooki is, you know she shouldn't be having children. Not yet, at least, but--let's be honest--probably not ever. Snooki and I are the same age. I know I'm not ready for a baby and I have a pristine driving record, keep my privates private, and, I'm proud to say, am house broken. With her hard partying ways, inappropriate behavior and complete lack of common sense, Snooki is the epitome of fantastic reality television. Ready for motherhood, though? Absolutely not.
The extent to which "reality" television personalities are "really" like their on-screen personas is unclear, but even if Snooki is as hard-partying, gel-and-tanning as she appears on MTV, as a sexual health education professional I cannot imagine ever writing such nasty personal attacks about a celebrity's choice to become pregnant and certainly not in my role at the institution for which I work.

Snooki is 24 years old. Maybe, like many men and women, she's decided that she's enjoyed her youth to the max and is ready to have kids. Maybe she got pregnant by accident. Who cares? The Washington Post's Celebritology columnist, Jen Chaney, wrote a cheeky but nice article about Snooki's pregnancy that demonstrated her ability to poke fun at the artifice of Jersey Shore and the new wrinkles that a baby might add without sounding like a Mean Girl:
The upcoming Snooki/JWoww spin-off now has a plotline to rally around: “Can two Jersey-ite binge drinkers, one of whom is pregnant, share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” Snooki can write another book: “What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Can’t Go to Karma Anymore.”
And so on. I don't watch Jersey Shore--there is no condom for the eye, after all--but I know a mean girl when I read one. Even if the goal is to make young women think seriously about preventing pregnancy, smearing and demonizing an individual woman's choices is not an acceptable way for a leading national pregnancy prevention organization to communicate.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spermbrocide: With New "Armor" Condoms, Trojan Rebrands N-9 for the Millennial Generation

So tonight I went to the grocery store and, as I always do, stopped by the condom section to see what's tricks. Tonight the college kids who must think I'm a total slut (because looking at condoms means you're DTF, obvs) got a show because I saw a new Trojan product and loudly said, 'WHAAATT?' as I picked up the new Armor condoms off the shelf.

After the incredible success of the Bareskin which is literally the first Trojan condom we've reviewed positively ever here on How to Have Sex in Texas (nee This Is Go-To Girl), Trojan has come out with a rebranding of condoms lubricated with Nonoxynol-9 under the label "Armor."

Known to every breathing sex educator on the planet, the use of Nonoyxnol-9 has been explicitly discouraged by the CDC since 2002. In 2007 the FDA released a final rule requiring extensive "SRSLY THESE PRODUCTS DO NOT PROTECT AGAINST STDS" labeling for over-the-counter products containing N-9, which includes spermicide inserts, gels, foams, and suppositories.

In a 2005 report the Guttmacher Institute specifically called out Trojan in a report on the controversy relating to N-9 in condoms, and the company stood by its decision to continue to make them even though the World Health Organization and the CDC had concluded that "condoms lubricated with a small amount of N-9 are no more effective in preventing pregnancy than are lubricated condoms without N-9."*

But leave it to the marketing geniuses at Church & Dwight to figure out how to make a product that irritates genital skin, smells like bleach, is no more effective at preventing pregnancy and increases the risk of STIs totally bro-tastic.

Magnum, Trojan's larger size condom, has never been available with a spermicide lubricant so I guess this is a win for the "HEY LOOK I HAVE A HUGE DICK!" guys out there.

For the record: condoms lubricated with spermicide are not more effective at preventing pregnancy than condoms without. So the "armor" you're putting on your penis is actually that paper bag thick Trojan condom itself, not the spermicide--that's just a smelly, noxious chemical bonus. If you like the idea of smelling chemicals with your condoms, why not try the Fire & Ice?

Look, dude, I get it: you really, really do not want to get that girl pregnant. I feel you, I really do, and I'm pumped that you want to use condoms at all. But seriously bro, do yourself a favor and skip the spermbrocide.


*Boonstra, Heather. "Condoms, Contraceptives and Nonoxynol-9: Complex Issues Obscured by Ideology." The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy. May 2005.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fun With Math: Perry's Abortion Policy


Politifact Texas is reporting that the always semi-truthful Rick Perry is trumpeting to other half-sentient Republicans that legislation he signed last year, which contained a variety of mechanisms to defund/fuck Planned Parenthood, has "closed 12 abortion clinics."

What really happened is that, since the clinics that actually provide abortion weren't eligible for state or federal funding anyway, none of the abortion-providing clinics Planned Parenthood operates were closed. The shuttered clinics were those providing state-subsidized family planning services, STI treatment, and cancer screenings. You know, stuff that could actually reduce the number of abortions.

Ever flexible with the truth, Perry staffer Josh Havens said that while yes, it is a so-called factual statement that the closed clinics did not provide abortions, he would "make the argument that a Planned Parenthood clinic is an abortion clinic."

That's like arguing that a regular dentist's office is also by category definitely also oral surgeon regardless of what services are actually provided by the dentist but whatevs.

Reducing access to birth control and passing restrictive, nonsense laws like the mandatory ultrasound bill do not somehow miraculously make women decide that the best thing to do with their sex partner is to stay home and work on joint needlepoint projects and abstain from sex because, you know, Jesus. People have sex, sometimes they get pregnant, and some of those people want to have abortions.

The simple math formula works like this:

Sex + Birth Control = Not Pregnant (like 90-98% of the time)

Sex - Birth Control = Pregnant (like 85% of the time, over the course of 1 year)

Unplanned Pregnancy x Likelihood of abortion = 40% chance of abortion

Population(Sex - Birth Control) = Lots of Unplanned Pregnancies

Lots of Unplanned Pregnancies x Likelihood of abortion = Huge Increase in Abortions!

Way to go, Perry! Your signing of that dumb-shit bill will increase the number of abortions.

Gentle readers, why not make a small donation to the Lilith Fund, which helps Central Texas women directly affected by Perry's craptastic policies get abortions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Birth Control Price Check

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Just over two years ago I wrote a post about the increase in price for contraceptives following the implementation of the healthcare reform law which, at the time, was still not final. A high school classmate of mine (Hi, M!) alerted me to a segment on Rachel Maddow last night discussing the availability and cost of contraceptives based on Republican vs. Democratic proposals, and I thought it was time to do another set of price checks.

In the segment, Rachel claims that if a Democrat is president, your birth control will be covered by your insurance or, if you don't have insurance, you can go to a subsidized clinic and get your contraceptives for cheap or free. If a Republican were president, she says, your insurance may not cover it, there won't be any subsidized clinics, and you may have to pay out of pocket. What Rachel doesn't mention is that individual states, like Texas, can still do exactly what our state did and go after Planned Parenthood locally. Our wildly successful Women's Health Program has been defunded, which will leave thousands of poor women without access to health services or birth control.

The perverse way that prescription drugs are priced is the opposite of many healthcare services, which are often priced lower for those patients paying cash ("self-pay") and higher for those using insurance, with the assumption being that the amount of money the healthcare provider ultimately receives is the same for both patients. However, with rx drugs, the list price is what you pay if you don't have an insurance company negotiating with the manufacturer to reduce costs for a large patient pool. The large patient pool of uninsured women have no leverage, and the prices they will pay have gone up staggeringly just since 2009.

Below are the out of pocket prices women are paying now for contraceptives, with the 2009 price in parenthesis and the % increase:

Yasmin: $85.99 ($76.99) -- 12%
Ocella (Yasmin generic): $71.99 ($59.34) -- 21%
Yaz: $92.99 ($85.60) -- 9%
Nuvaring: $86.99 ($77.35) -- 12%
Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo: $94.99 ($67.99) -- 40%
Tri-Lo Sprintec (OTCLo generic): No longer available ($55.99)
Plan B One-Step: $47.99 ($47.99)

The price of every method, other than Plan B One-Step, has gone up significantly. Perhaps this explains the buzz I've been hearing about Depo-Provera, the 3-month progestin only shot, which seemed to have gone out of popular use after 2000. One syringe costs just $100.78 on drugstore.com, by far the cheapest of the hormonal methods.

The Planned Parenthood clinics in Austin are still offering free birth control under the WHP, trying to use up the rest of their funds. There are income limits, but click here to see if you qualify. Better get it now before it's gone.

Previously on How to Have Sex in Texas: the $2.99 birth control app, iCycleBeads.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: iCycleBeads App


One doesn't grow up in a household with a women's health self-help educator, a woman who moonlighted as a Gynecological Teaching Associate, and not have an underlying acceptance of so-called "natural family planning."

I became used to seeing speculums around the house and I vividly remember large spiral-bound notebooks describing the Sympto-Thermal Method, which seems like an incredibly complicated way to avoid using the pill. But in the 80s, IUDs were off the market in the US because of the Dalkon Shield, and some women, distinct from those who learned about natural family planning for religious reasons, were looking for other options.

The Sympto-Thermal Method, which relied on both basal body temperature measurements and an examination of cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle, is labor-intensive, complicated, and unpopular.

Fast forward to 2007. The Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University (a Catholic school) won a contract from the USAID to teach people in certain target countries how to use fertility awareness methods methodically and correctly as a way to help women avoid pregnancy when an absence of national infrastructure makes the consistent use of condoms or other methods difficult.

Though the beads have been around for several years (I first wrote about them in 2009), Time published an article last fall that ginned up criticism from American feminist bloggers because of the IRH's association with Georgetown and the Catholic Church's anti-contraception stance.

Claims that the method is ineffective because of IRH's alleged ideological stance are not borne out by the data. Research published in 2001 in Contraception, the most authoritative journal on the subject, confirmed that the method, when used consistently and correctly, is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. The method is also in use by PSI, UNFPA and other partners which are definitely not influenced by Catholic restrictions on family planning.

The reaction from many outside the granola/natural parenting arena has been resoundingly negative, but I wanted to find out how it actually works from a user perspective, leaving aside the debate about whether a Catholic institution can be trusted to advocate effective birth control.

Cycle Beads are not actually sold by Georgetown, but a private company called Cycle Technologies that holds the license from the University. In response to the popularity of the method among Western users, Cycle Technologies released an iPhone app, iCycleBeads,in February 2011, a Spanish version in March, and an Android version in July.

So how does it work? The Beads are a strand of 32 beads that represent the days of the menstrual cycle, color-coded to indicate the risk of pregnancy on a given day. On the brown days, sex is low-risk; on the white-bead days, it's higher risk. Users are instructed to use condoms, withdrawal, or abstain from vaginal sex on the white bead days to prevent pregnancy. The app sends you notifications when you're in the no sex or backup method days so you don't have to keep track of it yourself.

Not everyone can use Cycle Beads--you have to have regular menstrual cycles that are between 26 and 32 days in order to use the method, but the cycles can vary in length as long as they're in that timeframe.

I downloaded the app on my iPad so I could review it, but I have an IUD so I haven't relied on it for pregnancy prevention and instead examined the actual user experience. But my friend Carol, a 30 year old married friend of mine who always refers to me as her "hippie" friend, asked me about the app last year when she decided she was ready to go off the pill.

I asked Carol to tell me about her experience, negotiating the use of this method with her husband, and whether they had had any "slip-ups," the main concern with using a method that depends on your ability not to have them.

Carol's experience, she said, has been good. For nearly a year of use, she and her husband have had maybe 4 slip-ups (they use condoms instead of not having sex on the white bead days) where they have used withdrawal instead. She hasn't had any pregnancy scares.

Her husband was onboard. "Jesse had used condoms all the time with his college girlfriend who wasn't on the pill, so he was used to it. He's always been really good about that stuff."

The only hiccup came last summer when she had a visit with a healthcare provider who had never heard of the standard days method and scared her back into using the pill. She rapidly gained five pounds and after two months, went back to the app.

After moving and changing jobs and health insurance, Carol's plans to get pregnant have been pushed back and she plans to continue using the app until she and her husband are ready to start trying for a baby in a few years.

My only technical complaint with the app is that while it sends you notifications telling you when the fertile period begins and ends, it doesn't tell you when you're likely to get your period. As someone who also uses Monthly Info for period tracking (Carol does,too), I wish that the two things could be combined. The app is obviously tracking your menstrual cycle and it seems that it could be jiggered to predict when I need to buy that box of tampons I've been putting off. It would also be nice if the beads could somehow lay over Google calendar or another calendar program so you wouldn't have to look in two places to find out what day you're on.

Regardless of ideological objections to a method developed by a Catholic university, Cycle Beads are cheap, effective, and easy to use, characteristics largely absent from the modern contraceptive landscape. And no, the Beads don't protect against STIs, but neither does any other method--except condoms.

Highly recommended for those in monogamous relationships with known STI risk who can, with their partner, commit to using a back-up method or abstaining from vaginal sex for 11 days a month.

Cost: $2.99 in the iTunes Store or Android Market, plus the cost of back-up method, if applicable.
Free online screening tool can help you figure out if you're a candidate for the method and teach you how to use it correctly.