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Women Talk about Sex and Health

Carla Peay | 9/30/2009, 6:47 p.m.

Women and their sexual and reproductive health is a topic of concern because of pending health care reform legislation, and the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases, particularly among Black women. At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation€s Legislative Session, at the Washington Convention Center Sept. 23 through 26, hundreds of panel discussions were held on a variety of topics, including one on Women€s Reproductive Health, hosted by Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D- Dist. 4).

The panel included four members: Pastor Tony Lee, founder of the Community of Hope Episcopal Church in Temple Hills, Md.; India Hay, a freshman at Howard University who is active in Planned Parenthood and other community organizations; Dr. Donald Shell, Health Officer for Prince George€s County; and Dr. Vanessa Cullins, Vice President for Medical Affairs for Planned Parenthood.

€We have a theological imperative to make sure our people live healthy lives,€ said Lee, who offers HIV testing at his church. His parish also has community outreach teams and holds domestic violence forums.

€It€s more about in-reach than outreach. We preach abstinence, but we also preach protection,€ Lee said. Lee cautioned people of the dangers of living €compartmental lives,€ by denying the activities they plan to engage in, and not protecting themselves from risky sexual behavior.

Hay, 17, added that the behavior among youth often results in risky behavior as well.

€A lot of people my age think about their future plans, but not about their health,€ Hay said. €People my age need to know it€s cool to do positive things.€

Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) place the number of HIV/AIDS cases at three percent in the District, making the disease at beyond epidemic proportions. One percent is considered to be an epidemic. The numbers in Prince George€s County are also on the rise. One idea, being supported by the CDC, is that HIV testing be done without specific consent, as part of any other battery of tests done on patients who receive blood work during routine physicals.

€The reality is that clinics that treat sexually transmitted diseases are full,€ Shell said. €There is so much demand for treatment. People start calling at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning, because they are worried about the risky behavior they engaged in on Saturday night,€ he said.

Shell said that protection has become an afterthought, and asked the audience to think about why it has to be this way.

€Some of the reasons that women fail to protect themselves are fear, abuse, rejection, loneliness and lack of self-esteem,€ said Shell, who also described medical studies which analyzed the male brain.

€Women need to understand how men think. The male brain does not trigger an emotional reaction from sexual stimulation,€ he said.

Dr. Cullins turned the discussion toward women€s reproductive challenges, and the policy issues that must be addressed in any upcoming health care legislation.

€Sexual and reproductive health must be included in health care reform, and we have to have enough providers to give adequate care. We have to tear down the barriers to people being able to receive quality care,€ Cullins said.

Cullins and Shell, both medical doctors, stressed the need for preventative care, and that patients should be able to see their doctors not just for treatment when they are sick. Both said that any health care reform package should include this provision.

The session concluded with a question and answer period that touched on the topics of excessive sexual images in advertising, the Black church€s role in sex education, and how to educate children.

€Some of the issues we are addressing in Congress are how to make investments in long term and preventative care,€ Edwards said as she closed the session. €It€s not about politics. It€s about people and lives, and whether we, as women, are living or dying.€