Sex Ed 2.0: Reproductive Health

At this point, as a woman in college, it has probably become abundantly clear that the “sex ed” you received in your youth was glaringly inadequate. Whether it’s sitting through an uncomfortable slideshow in a room half-full of giggling boys or solemnly listening as the doctrine of abstinence is rotely passed to the next generation, the experience rarely leaves people, girls especially, with much more than a vague sense of shame and even more questions. 

We’re here to help remedy that by talking about things that should have never been taboo in the first place. To kick things off, we’re going to cover some common disorders of the female reproductive system affecting college-aged women. 

Endometriosis

What demographic is affected? Mostly women between 25-35, but can affect anyone who has had her first period

How many are affected? 1 in 10 women in the United States suffer from Endometriosis, which doesn’t include the large portion of the population that likely goes undiagnosed

What is it? For those who have Endometriosis, the uterine tissue that usually line the uterus (and later sheds during the menstrual cycle) grows outside of the uterus. Often this will affect the ovaries and fallopian tubes, but it can also affect the bowels, bladder, and (in rare cases) other parts of the body.

What are some common symptoms?

  • Severe pelvic, abdominal, or lower back pain
  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Spotting/bleeding between cycles
  • Sharp, painful menstrual cramps
  • Nausea
  • Chronic fatigue

What are the long-term effects? Endometriosis, if left untreated, can cause infertility.

Treatment options? While there is no cure, it can be treated using pain medication, hormone treatments (like birth control), or surgery.

Go here for more information.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What demographic is affected? PCOS usually develops shortly after puberty begins; however, it can also develop any time into early adulthood. Additionally, because the symptoms are often misattributed to other factors, PCOS often goes undiagnosed.

How many are affected? 1 in 10 women of childbearing age

What is it? While the root cause of PCOS is unknown, the syndrome develops when too many male hormones are produced, causing cysts to grow in the ovaries.

What are some common symptoms?

  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Fatigue, low energy, or trouble sleeping
  • Hirsutism (Excess hair grew) on the chest, stomach, thighs, or face
  • Weight gain
  • Acne-prone, oily, or thickened skin
  • Pelvic pain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Hormonally induced mood changes

What are the long-term effects? PCOS increases one’s risk of obesity, infertility, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. 

Treatment options? Again, while there is no cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be treated. Birth control pills help regulate menstruation, and other medicines (including some diabetes medications) can help address the infertility. Diet and exercise have also proven helpful in controlling both the symptoms and side effects. 

Go here for more information.

HIV/AIDS

What demographic is affected? Minority races/ethnicities, particularly African American women, seem to be more severely affected by HIV/AIDS. 

How many are affected? According to the CDC, in the United States, 19% of the 39,782 new HIV diagnoses were women. That’s about 7,500 women in just one year. 

What is it? The human immunodeficiency virus affects and destroys immune system cells, inhibiting a person’s ability to fight infection. HIV can develop further into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which denotes a severely damaged immune system. 

Most women contract HIV from sexual contact or needle sharing with other infected persons. HIV can be contracted through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. 

What are some common symptoms? 

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Skin rashes and sores
  • Swollen glands
  • Frequent infections
  • Feverishness and night sweats
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Headaches, aches and pain
  • Chronic cough or shortness of breath

What are the long-term effects? Aside from destroying one’s immune system, HIV can affect a woman’s pregnancy. Without proper care, HIV can be spread to a child in utero, during childbirth, or even after childbirth through breastmilk.  HIV can also lead to short-term memory loss, confusion, or even comas. 

Treatment options? There is no cure for HIV; however, there are plenty of ways to prevent it, including practicing safe sex and making sure you and your partner(s) get tested. If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, you can go to your doctor to seek post-exposure prophylaxis and take antiretroviral medicines within 72 hours to prevent infection. 

For those who are infected, there are treatment options available to help slow the virus’ progression and address the symptoms.

Go here for more information. 

Remember, if something FEELS off, you know your body better than anyone, so seek advice from your physician. Also, keep an eye out here for more things that you should have learned in sex-ed, including STIs and contraceptives!