Dr. Sophia Yen, a Distinguished Shero

Dr. Sophia Yen is the founder of the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women, as well as PandiaHealth.com. In addition, she is a Clinical Associate Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and has been elected by her colleagues to be on the executive committee of the adolescent health branch for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is a proud mother of two, and hopes to be the first Surgeon General to say “masturbation” without being asked to resign. Here at Her Campus, we are honored to have had the chance to sit down and speak with her about her most recent projects.

Can you explain the goal of the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women?

The goal of the Silver Ribbon Campaign is to unify the reproductive rights movement under one symbol because I have seen all these different reproductive rights groups who share a common goal remain divided from one another. I wanted to bring them together.

We had over 80 groups come together for reproductive rights, which is really what the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women is all about. Those of us who share a common goal need to be seen, and we need to work together. Why have three different marketing departments when we can just have one pushing the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women? 

What’s been the biggest challenge in creating the campaign?

I think not inventing it here [UCD] was the defect. I brought it to all of these powerful and great organizations but because it was not originally thought of by them, nobody ran with it even though it is inherently a good idea.

Also, I am only one person. So the more people we can get involved, the better. We do have several organizations we have worked with in the past, but it really is hard to herd 80+ organizations. However, I think they have learned that there are regular meetings for the campaign, but then again there is the “big girls versus the little girls”, so the power players versus all the more-community-based groups (which are subordinated).

Another project you’re working on is Pandia Health, could you tell us a bit about that and what it does?

One of the top three reasons women miss their birth control is because they do not have it on hand. It’s not because they don’t want to take it, it’s because it wasn’t there! My friend and I came up with this idea [to ship birth control to women] that could easily solve that problem. We can just keep shipping the birth control to you until you tell us to stop. What’s even better now is that we have added on the ability to write the prescription if you need it.

I’ve coined a phrase: “pill anxiety”, That is the last week of pills in which you start freaking out to get a refill. The beautiful thing about Pandia Health is that we are women-founded, and we are founded by a pharmacist and a physician who have both personally used the product, who have both personally suffered “pill anxiety”, so we feel your pain. We know the customer, and we have a saying “Not only are we founders, but we are members.” We are here and we are with you. 

How’d you get started with all of this? What initiated your interest in women’s health specifically?

It is part of being a woman, but it is also self-interest. I was a young woman, I was sexually active, and I knew I was going to medical school. I knew that if the condom broke, or if my pills ran out, I would need to be able to make the choice for myself. It really galled me that somebody else could mandate what’s happening inside of my uterus, and force me to grow something for nine months and give birth to it.

It’s about equality. It’s about freedom of religion. If a woman can’t determine what happens to her body, then she’s just like a cow to gestate something… she’s a lesser human. She’s at the mercy of rapists, and at the mercy of birth control being ineffective. I pray for the day that we won’t have any abortions, ever. But that would be when there are no more sexual assaults and when birth control is perfect.

Why do you think there is a stigma against women’s reproductive rights?

I think the problem is that we sell “Sex, sex, sex.” That’s all we see in media now. Yet, we don’t show the other side of all of that. When was the last time you saw on a TV show someone stop and reach for a condom? When was the last time in any TV show you saw somebody say “oh, I have to get a pap smear!” or “I have to get checked for HIV,” or somebody even get HIV, other than Philadelphia? In general, these topics aren’t shown or discussed in your typical sit-coms.

There’s this one show called East Los High, which is impregnated with all of these sex-ed pearls. There’s sexting and emergency contraception. There’s two young people who face unplanned pregnancy; one terminates and the other continues, showing all the consequences of both scenarios. It makes me wish more of mainstream included all of those little details to counterbalance the “sex, sex, sex.” I want it to be shown more to display the consequences and even get through to the audience that this is all a part of normal life. It’s normal to stop and take a birth control pill, or that it’s a part of the sexual process to stop and put on a condom, and that it’s even sexier with a condom. Sex is better with birth control; a woman is going to be less inhibited if she is not concerned with getting pregnant. 

When did you realize women did not have support for reproductive health?

There have been several points where it gets reinforced over and over. Every time the Supreme Court rules the wrong way on abortion restrictions, or allowing states to force physicians to lie to patients about side effects that they have made up about abortion.

I think the first time that I realized it was when I was 15 or 16 in high school and realizing that, again, women are second class citizens if they cant decide what happens to their bodies.

But really as a physician, I find it annoying that these politicians who have not gone to medical school, who don’t understand medicine, are trying to interject their unfounded opinion. If something were to be bad and dangerous, one would hope that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology would do something. The fact that the AMA and ACOG have all reaffirmed that abortion is a perfectly safe procedure, it really upsets me that government representatives are playing politics with women’s lives and women’s health.

What would you consider to be some vital information about sexual health that many women are unaware of?

My current passion is educating people about the four options for emergency contraception. Most people are only aware of two of them. According to surveys, only 30% of the physicians are aware of the other two, which are actually more effective.

The number one emergency contraceptive is the copper IUD, in which 10% of women presented to an emergency room would utilize, if it were available. Therefore, we need to train more ER doctors to do that. We need to train them that it is an option, but we also need to train primary care providers, as well. Few internal medicine doctors know how to place in an IUD. If 30% of high school seniors could utilize an IUD, then maybe this is something doctors should learn.

The second one is prescription only. Ella, (this works by preventing ovulation for five full days following unprotected sex), which is more effective than the over-the-counter emergency contraception. It is available as a prescription, and under the Affordable Care Act it is free. Ella is most effective on days three to five after unprotexted sex, and it is also more effective in heavier women.

Another thing many don’t know is that HPV is the number one sexually transmitted infection, and that there is no commercially available test for it in men. So I tell my patients to just assume everyone has an STI.

Although there is an HPV vaccine that I suggest for everyone to get because it covers 90% of cervical cancer and 90% of general warts, it still only covers nine out of the 160 strains. This is why you need to use a condom if you’re going to have sex.

With all of this said, if someone comes to you and says all of their STD tests came out negative, be aware that it is only negative for what they tested. Often times, we only test for gonorrhea and chlamydia. We don’t usually screen for everything, there must be a cause because we try to save money and be cost effective. So if there is a cause, we will then test for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis A, B and C. Keep in mind that if there was no blood drawn, then syphilis, HIV and hepatitis A, B, and C were not tested. If they did a cheek swab, then maybe they tested for HIV. But HIV only reflects what happened six weeks ago. So unless you have been with this sexual partner 24/7 for the past six weeks, they could have picked up HIV if they went out and played with somebody else.

Also, you should buy your emergency contraceptives ahead of time. I want them to be treated like fire extinguishers by everyone. If you’re in a heterosexual relationship and your “oopsie” happens at 3 AM, I want the medicine in the woman’s mouth by 3:10.

For women, I want them to know that periods are optional. I ask my patients if they think they can perform better academically if they’re on their period or off of it. There’s an epiphany that this incessant menstruation is absolutely unnecessary and increases our risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer. If you’re not going to have a baby any time soon, there's no need to build that endometrium and shed it every single month. Instead, do your reserach and find a birth control method that allows you to have your period fewer times per year.