Living with Gender Dysphoria: Tips for Transgender People’s Friends, Allies, and Partners

A quick note: This blog post uses some terms that might be unfamiliar. We’ve used links to define them in parentheses.

What is dysphoria?

Many, but not all, transgender people  experience dysphoria. Here is a formal definition of dysphoria from the UK’s National Health Service: “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It is not a mental illness.” In that definition, treatment commonly refers to transition that can change the body, such as hormones and surgery, which are supervised by a medical professional. Because everyone experiences dysphoria differently, medical transition may not be right for some trans people, and it’s important that all trans people take transition at their own pace. This comic discusses how one trans person found the right pace for their transition. Gender dysphoria is not something that is necessarily “fixed” or “cured” by medical interventions. Additionally, medical interventions for dysphoria are not considered necessary by many health insurance providers. So, due to their high costs, these options are financially out-of-reach for many trans people who need them.

L1200363
“Clothing Dolls,” by Mi Mitrika. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Some trans people don’t experience dysphoria at all, and for some trans people, dysphoria is more about the discrepancy between their identities and other’s perceptions.  Here is one trans person’s account of what dysphoria is like: “Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel e this.like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. (Click here for the definition of cisgender.) Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt.”   Dysphoria can create disparate health and wellness outcomes, and therefore personal and academic outcomes for those who experience it. 

How do trans people cope with dysphoria?

Although dysphoria can be challenging and painful, there are many ways trans people have learned to cope. Some trans people with dysphoria seek medical treatment to make their bodies match their identities, some seek mental health services to help cope with dysphoria, and some use coping skills they’ve learned. One recent study found that transmen’s mental health was improved by chest-binding, which helps transmen’s chests appear flatter and more masculine. Here are 25 ways that the author of the quote above copes. For a lot of trans folks, one of the most valuable tools to cope with challenges like dysphoria is friendship. In one survey of MTF trans youth, ninety-eight percent of respondents stated that friends were “somewhat” or a “great deal” helpful for emotional support. (Here is the definition of MTF.)

…Support from people like you!

You’ve probably heard a lot about trans people’s struggles with mental health. What we don’t talk about enough is that support from family, friends, and partners can greatly reduce the risk of trans people’s poor health outcomes. For example, among trans people, “social support has been linked with lower levels of both depression and anxiety and fewer suicidal behaviors.” It’s also been positively associated with self-esteem and quality of life. That’s because social rejection is the cause of a lot of trans people’s poor health outcomes in the first place.  Creating a campus atmosphere of understanding, inclusion and acceptance can go a long way in supporting our trans peers.

So how do you support a trans person dealing with dysphoria?

anole-2Because dysphoria is about the discrepancy between someone’s sense of self and their body or other people’s perception of their gender, the best way to support your transgender friend or partner through dysphoria is by (1) seeing their gender the same way they do, and (2) communicating that (as well as your communicating overall care for them, of course!)

Sometimes, cisgender people have to challenge their own assumptions, thoughts, and unconscious beliefs about bodies and identities. For example, we are all socially conditioned to associate certain physical characteristics with maleness and/or femaleness, and these associations are deeply ingrained. However, being supportive to a trans person (particularly one you are intimate with) means actively working to undo those associations. Instead affirm that your friend or partner truly IS the gender they identify as regardless of their voice, mannerisms, or body shape.

That core belief, and your willingness to challenge the thoughts you have that are in conflict with it, is the foundation of supporting any trans person in your life through dysphoria.

Tips to communicate respect for trans folks and help alleviate dysphoria:

  • Use the name and pronoun the trans person prefers.
  • Don’t disclose someone’s trans identity to others without their consent.
  • Respect trans people’s decisions about if, when, and how to transition.
  • When you’re with others who know the trans person’s identity, correct them if they get names and pronouns wrong.
  • If you’re dating someone, ask what words they want to use to talk about their bodies (for example, chest vs. breasts).
  • Use compliments and descriptors that reflect your friend’s or partner’s gender identity. For example, if your partner identifies as a masculine person, they might prefer to be called  “handsome” rather than “pretty.” Luckily, “fabulous” and “smart” are gender-neutral.  
  • When you are struggling to see your friend or partner the way they want to be seen, it can be best to process this with a cisgender ally rather than the trans person. But be sure to do this in a way that respects the trans person’s privacy. For example, check in with them first about who to process with.
  • If dating a trans person (or anyone really,) practice consent consistently and carefully. Consent is important in all relationships, but it’s especially important in trans relationships because, as we’ve discussed here, trans people’s relationships with their bodies can be complicated.

More resources

Here’s more information on how to support trans folks.

For more content on healthy relationships in the LGBTQ community, check out this online course offered here at UNC.

If you are transgender and are struggling with dysphoria, social support, or anything else, contact the LGBT Center here on-campus or Trans Lifeline.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Conversation Starts with Listening

All too often, we tend to mistake hearing for listening.

Hearing is a physiological process by which sound waves are processed and passed along from our ears to our brains. Listening is a more complicated psychological process by which we comprehend, create meaning, and apply understanding. (2) Listening engages empathy and connection. This process asks us to be introspective and to challenge ourselves. Listening looks like putting your phone away during a conversation. Listening means you are not formulating a rebuttal or counterpoint while the other is talking, rather you are thinking deeply about what they are saying and taking time to process the information.

Listen
“Listen” by Ky. Flikr Creative Commons.

As a community we need to deepen our commitment to whole-heartedly listening to each other. Through conversation, we seek to elicit action, foster change, and create impact. But when having conversations it’s also important that we take special note to truly listen, especially to those directly affected by the issue we are discussing.

Now is a good time for introspection, for challenging conversations, and for action. Let’s use this opportunity to listen to each other and engage in constructive dialogue. Join the conversation and let your voice be heard.

RVAM 2020 Calendar of Events RVAM calendar 2020

Originally posted October 20, 2015 by Will McInerney.

Will McInerney has worked with the campus wide initiative to increase men’s involvement in gender equity efforts and violence prevention since its inception. He partners with students, faculty, and staff to promote positive, inclusive, and non-violent masculinities.

Will is also a writer, performer, and consultant specializing in Middle East and North Africa-based conflict zones. His work has been featured on National Public Radio, Al Jazeera, American Public Media, and recently at the International Storytelling Center. Will earned his Bachelor of Arts in Peace, War, and Defense from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Trich or Treat!

Nope – that’s not a typo. Trich–or trichomoniasis–is the most common curable STI in the country, and 8 million people in the U.S. will be infected each year. But, according to recent research from the American Sexual Health Association, only 1 in 5 women have ever heard of it. Our very own Needs Assessment for Sexual Health, conducted annually by Student Wellness, reflected that as well – in 2015, only about 1 in 3 UNC students had heard of this STI. So, what’s the deal?

7070_1151267044902470_8892073206618450531_nWhat is trich?

Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, is an STI caused by a single celled parasite called a trichomona. It passes from person to person through unprotected sexual activity. Most of the time, the disease is spread from a penis to a vagina (and vice versa) or from vagina to vagina through fingering and oral sex. It’s really rare for the parasite to infect other areas of the body – like the hands, mouth, or anus.

How do I know if I have it?

Here’s the real kicker – about 70% of people infected won’t have any symptoms, and on top of that, female bodied people are more likely to experience symptoms than male bodied people. When symptoms do occur for female bodied people, they can look like anything from vaginal discharge with a strong odor, itching and swelling around the vulva and vagina, and frequent, painful urination. For male bodied people, symptoms are less severe – usually, they will experience discharge from the urethra and painful urination. Symptoms can take anywhere from 3 – 28 days to occur, so it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in your reproductive health if you are having unprotected sex!

How do I get tested and treated?

Campus Health Services can help you get tested for trich if you’ve had unprotected sex or are experiencing any symptoms. Testing can be done through a simple vaginal swab and pelvic exam for female bodied people or a urethral swab for male bodied people. The provider will then look under a microscope for signs of the parasite and will usually be able to give you results that very same day. In the case that you do have trich, treatment is really simple! It usually takes only one dose of prescription antibiotics to cure a case of trich. However, you should always make sure that your partner gets tested and treated as well – it is possible to get re-infected through unprotected sex! 

Consent FAQ

These days, we talk a lot about sexual consent. If you’re not quite sure what it’s all about, this post can help you find the words to communicate consent. The following are some frequently asked questions about consent.

2481790869_a780b03535_o
“Love.” by SummerRain812. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

1) What if I am not sure what I want or I feel conflicted?

When your partner asks you about what you want, you may realize you don’t know. You also may find that one part of you is thinking “heck no!” and another is more like, “let’s go!” For example, sometimes your body is sexually aroused but your mind has some misgivings, or you like the idea of having sex, but just aren’t fully present in-the-moment.  It can be confusing to you and your sexual partner if you’re feeling conflicted.

Tips:

  • In the moment, stop and take space to identify what you’re feeling.
  • Reflect what might be coming up for you. Sexual activities outside your comfort zone can make you feel vulnerable in a way that’s positive and exciting or scary and threatening. How can you tell the difference between these two forms of vulnerability? What feelings, thoughts, and body sensations are associated with each of these experiences?
  • Outside the heat of the moment, talk with your partner about what you were feeling and the need to stop. A respectful partner should appreciate your honesty and your needs.

2) What if my partner’s words don’t match their actions or I’m getting mixed messages?

Sometimes you may be perceive your partner’s communications as confusing. For example…

  1. Your partner says yes, but their tone of voice and/or body language don’t reflect an enthusiastic yes.
  2. Your partner says no, but then they go along with sexual acts that you initiate. They may seem to be enjoying these things when they are happening.
  3. Your partner says they don’t want certain things to happen, but then initiate those things.
  4. When you ask your partner what they want, they say they don’t know.

In example B, you need to take your partner at their word. Initiating sexual activity after your partner clearly states no is sexual assault. There are many reasons someone might seem “into it” that do not indicate consent. Physical arousal and response are involuntary and not necessarily linked to consent or desire. Someone also may go along with a situation because they are afraid of the person violating their boundaries and trying to appease that person in order to stay safe.

In examples A, C, and D, there are a number of reasons you may feel confused by your partner’s communication. Remember, they aren’t trying to confuse you or “lead you on.” Instead:

-Your partner may be internally conflicted and unsure of what they want. (See number 1, above.)

-Your partner may feel pressure to go along with things they aren’t fully comfortable with.

Tips:

  • When you feel confused, it is your responsibility to stop and check in with your partner about where they are and what they’re feeling. For example, “Hey, let’s stop for a minute. You said you just wanted to make out, but now you’re taking off clothes, so I feel confused. I want to make sure we’re both comfortable with where this is going.”
  • In non-sexual situations, talk more about communication. Make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable setting boundaries with you, and ask how you can help create an environment where they kind of communication is possible. If your partner is not personally sure of what they want, ask them what kind of space and support they need from you to figure this out.
  • Consistently affirm your respect for your partner and their needs, desires, and boundaries.

3) What do I do when my partner says no?

  • Respect their no. Let them know you’re glad they felt comfortable telling you how they felt. Appreciate the honesty and safety you’ve fostered with your partner.
  • Do something else! You might want to get out of bed or whatever romantic or sexually charged situation you’re in, or your partner may let you know what they DO want to do.

4) What if no is hard for me to hear?

Hearing no may be hard for a number of reasons. It’s different for every person, and you may want to identify why, and exactly what you’re feeling, like sadness, resentment, hurt, etc. In the moment, you still have to respect your partner’s “no,” though you can say something like “Hey. I appreciate you being honest with me, and I respect that. Thanks! I’m also having some hard feelings about this I’m going to sort out on my own. I can get back to you about them when I’ve thought them through more.”

Here are some more tips about handling no and dealing with hard feelings around that. If you’d like to learn more about healthy communication, see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationships Online Curriculum. If someone has violated your consent or that of a friend, see safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

In My Words: Getting an IUD at UNC Chapel Hill

by Abby Kaufmann, guest blogger and UNC student

After 3 years at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have become very familiar with the general clinic at Campus Health Services but I had never really utilized their Women’s Health Services until this October when I got an intrauterine device (IUD). I am currently interning in a position where 10 hours of my week involves researching articles about reproductive justice issues, many of which are about birth control access and affordability. At the time I began the internship, however, I was not on birth control. The risk I was taking really started to nag at me, making anything intimate seem extra nerve-wracking and less enjoyable until I finally decided to do something about it.

A few weeks prior to making the decision to get an IUD, I had to go to campus health multiple times for a cold that just wouldn’t go away. Each time I was there, I couldn’t help but appreciate the free condoms throughout the building and the pamphlets on safe sex that included tips for queer people. But what really caught my attention were the charts on birth control in every exam room I visited, like this one:

I saw that with condoms, my go-to method of birth-control at the time, there was still anywhere between a 2%-18% chance of getting pregnant (depending upon whether or not they are used correctly).  I had tried things like the pill and the NuvaRing in the past but I was always forgetting when to take the pill or when to replace the ring which I knew made them less effective. I decided that an IUD would be the best way to go; not only are IUDs more effective than birth-control pills and the NuvaRing, they last for years.

The first time I heard about an IUD was in a magazine article in 2012. Even then, I recognized the benefits and expressed interest in getting one to my gynecologist in Cary at the time. She didn’t think it was a good idea and successfully scared me into changing my mind. She told me that, since I had never given birth, it would be painful and that this pain was too much for most of her younger clients so she often had to remove their IUDs. She said that the NuvaRing would be my best option since it would be easier to remember and that it was just as effective as an IUD (I now know that both of these statements were false). I expected a similar reaction at Campus Health but was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of resources about IUDs and to feel supported by both the nurses and the doctors.

I thought I would be able to just show up, have the procedure, and then go about my business for the next 3 years but this was not the case. When you make an appointment to get an IUD at Campus Health Services, you are required to have a brief consultation first so that you can discuss the various types of IUDs and what to expect during the procedure. After that, I also had to make an appointment for a well woman exam so they could check for STDs, do a pap smear, perform a breast exam, and assess my health in general. While it was a little annoying to have to come back so many times, I realized that it was all because Campus Health actually cared about my overall wellbeing. It also provided a good opportunity to get to know the doctor before the procedure.

Usually, CHS prefers to do the procedure when you are menstruating so that they can rule out any chance of pregnancy (even though they do a pregnancy test anyways) because of the life-threatening risks associated with getting an IUD while pregnant. Because of this, some students may have to wait longer than they would like to before they can get their IUD but in the end, it’s really for their own good.

To say that I was impressed with UNC Campus Health Women’s Services would be an understatement. They made sure I felt comfortable about the procedure not only during the procedure itself but before and after it as well. Never once did I feel judged or discouraged from making my decision.

I would encourage my peers to utilize UNC Campus Health’s birth control resources If you attend a different university, don’t be afraid to contact campus health on your campus to see what services they provide. Also, be sure to check out Bedsider for ways to bring birth control to your campus and to compare methods side-by-side.

I’m thankful for birth control. And I’m thankful that Campus Health Services at UNC understands that, as college students, we already have so many things to worry about and that getting pregnant doesn’t have to be one. #ThxBirthControl

Abby originally posted this content during her internship and agreed to let us re-post here with slight modifications as a guest blog. View the original blog post here. 

In my words: Getting an IUD at UNC Chapel Hill

by Abby Kaufmann, guest blogger and UNC student

After 3 years at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have become very familiar with the general clinic at Campus Health Services but I had never really utilized their Women’s Health Services until this October when I got an intrauterine device (IUD). I am currently interning in a position where 10 hours of my week involves researching articles about reproductive justice issues, many of which are about birth control access and affordability. At the time I began the internship, however, I was not on birth control. The risk I was taking really started to nag at me, making anything intimate seem extra nerve-wracking and less enjoyable until I finally decided to do something about it.

A few weeks prior to making the decision to get an IUD, I had to go to campus health multiple times for a cold that just wouldn’t go away. Each time I was there, I couldn’t help but appreciate the free condoms throughout the building and the pamphlets on safe sex that included tips for queer people. But what really caught my attention were the charts on birth control in every exam room I visited, like this one:

I saw that with condoms, my go-to method of birth-control at the time, there was still anywhere between a 2%-18% chance of getting pregnant (depending upon whether or not they are used correctly).  I had tried things like the pill and the NuvaRing in the past but I was always forgetting when to take the pill or when to replace the ring which I knew made them less effective. I decided that an IUD would be the best way to go; not only are IUDs more effective than birth-control pills and the NuvaRing, they last for years.

The first time I heard about an IUD was in a magazine article in 2012. Even then, I recognized the benefits and expressed interest in getting one to my gynecologist in Cary at the time. She didn’t think it was a good idea and successfully scared me into changing my mind. She told me that, since I had never given birth, it would be painful and that this pain was too much for most of her younger clients so she often had to remove their IUDs. She said that the NuvaRing would be my best option since it would be easier to remember and that it was just as effective as an IUD (I now know that both of these statements were false). I expected a similar reaction at Campus Health but was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of resources about IUDs and to feel supported by both the nurses and the doctors.

I thought I would be able to just show up, have the procedure, and then go about my business for the next 3 years but this was not the case. When you make an appointment to get an IUD at Campus Health Services, you are required to have a brief consultation first so that you can discuss the various types of IUDs and what to expect during the procedure. After that, I also had to make an appointment for a well woman exam so they could check for STDs, do a pap smear, perform a breast exam, and assess my health in general. While it was a little annoying to have to come back so many times, I realized that it was all because Campus Health actually cared about my overall wellbeing. It also provided a good opportunity to get to know the doctor before the procedure.

Usually, CHS prefers to do the procedure when you are menstruating so that they can rule out any chance of pregnancy (even though they do a pregnancy test anyways) because of the life-threatening risks associated with getting an IUD while pregnant. Because of this, some students may have to wait longer than they would like to before they can get their IUD but in the end, it’s really for their own good.

To say that I was impressed with UNC Campus Health Women’s Services would be an understatement. They made sure I felt comfortable about the procedure not only during the procedure itself but before and after it as well. Never once did I feel judged or discouraged from making my decision.

I would encourage my peers to utilize UNC Campus Health’s birth control resources If you attend a different university, don’t be afraid to contact campus health on your campus to see what services they provide. Also, be sure to check out Bedsider for ways to bring birth control to your campus and to compare methods side-by-side.

I’m thankful for birth control. And I’m thankful that Campus Health Services at UNC understands that, as college students, we already have so many things to worry about and that getting pregnant doesn’t have to be one. #ThxBirthControl

 

Abby originally posted this content during her internship and agreed to let us re-post here with slight modifications as a guest blog. View the original blog post here.

To Post or Not to Post?: Social Media Literacy

This blog post was originally published on March 23, 2015.

(By: Chris Smith, social-media1_ME Flickr: Creative Commons)
(By: Chris Smith, social-media1_ME Flickr: Creative Commons)

Scrolling down social media timelines has become an everyday ritual for most. From photos on Pinterest to posts from friends on Facebook, using social media has become a common way to share our ideas and viewpoints on various topics of interest. However, along with reading life updates from your long distance buddies online, often comes unintended emotional reactions to posts that you see online. Ever find yourself engaging in making body comparisons to a friend or celebrity’s selfie on Instagram, or become so agitated from a Twitter comment that you engage in a back-and-forth only to find yourself even more upset than you were before you read it? These reactions can come with using social media platforms. People are entitled to their opinions and use their social media pages to express them, often– if unintentionally– offending others. Let’s be honest, when’s the last time you seriously critically considered how people would react to your posts? However, it is important to remember that your posts could affect others negatively or positively without your knowledge or intention.

Before the rise of social media, most of us were primarily consumers of commercial and entertainment media, being constantly bombarded by powerful images in magazines, television, and marketing ads. In these cases, media literacy has been successfully used to address and prevent the negative impact that media can have on body image and general sense of self. Becoming media literate is cultivating an ability to critically analyze media and understand how it affects how we think, feel, and behave.

Now we are no longer mere consumers of media — we are also frequent producers of media through social media platforms. With this in mind, it is important to uphold this same critical eye to our own social media platforms and be mindful of how they could be affecting us and others.

Here are a few questions to keep in mind when critically analyzing how social media posts impact us:

  • What is the underlying message of the post?
  • Do I like/agree with the post?
  • How is it affecting me emotionally?

Here are a few questions to keep in mind when critically analyzing how our personal social media posts impact others:

  •  What point am I trying to get across with this post?
  • Does my post acknowledge my perspective without putting others down?

Critically analyzing social media posts doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to un-friend or un-follow users because you don’t agree with their messages. Media literacy is aimed at developing your critical thinking skills and empowering you to view media outlets on your own terms. Becoming a critical consumer of social media allows you to effectively foster your social wellness while protecting your emotional wellness.

If you’re interested in learning more about media literacy, be sure to check out Student Wellness’s upcoming workshop, Critical Consumption: Media Literacy and Body Image on Wednesday, March 25th from 4-5:30pm, Room 3411, Union.

The Health Benefits of Altruism

This blog post was originally published on October 7, 2014.

It takes on many forms: paying it forward, peer-to-peer support, volunteering, being there for a friend or partner. Altruism, the concern for well-being of others, is a powerful part of overall wellness. Doing things for other people can help build relationships and bring meaning to life. And, if that’s not awesome enough, altruistic actions can also have health benefits! Though the spirit of altruism is helping others, it has been shown that altruistic actions have an impact both on others and the person doing altruistic things.

Here are some of the health and wellness benefits of altruism:

  • Increases satisfaction and self-esteem

On a psychological level, doing things for other people through service and volunteering has been shown to be associated with greater positive feelings, well-being, and overall satisfaction. In a study by Sawyer and colleagues, most students surveyed who volunteered for a peer education program found it a valuable activity, and nearly half of those surveyed reported increased self-esteem as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Deepens knowledge

Studies of peer education – or programs where a group is taught how to offer education and support to those in similar situations (ex: college students who are trained to provide health education to other students) – show a wide array of benefits to both the educators themselves, and the persons they are educating. In one study, peer educators were found to have increased their own health and wellness knowledge, with 43% adopting healthier behaviors themselves. Interestingly, the same study also found that some (20%) students participating in peer education programs also changed their career direction as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Enhances cultural acuity

By being of service to others and advocating for their needs, activities like peer support and volunteerism can help build awareness and perspective. In the study by Sawyer et al, 20% of those participating in peer education programs were more open to students’ behaviors and opinions. Altruistic activities can challenge one to think about issues that another person or group is facing, and increase empathy as a result –important components of cultural wellness.

 

  • Acts as a powerful motivator for individual and population-level behavior change

Mind experiment: pick a health behavior –anything from vaccination, to screening, or smoking cessation. Now think about the following questions: do you want to do this behavior for yourself? How about committing to the health behavior for the benefit of others (partners, family, friends, community members)?

For many behaviors, the desire to perform or commit to a given behavior can be based on a mix of personal versus interpersonal motivations. In a personal example, I recently thought about hand-washing in my house. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely appreciate the importance of hand washing! But, when I thought about it, the desire to wash my hands to keep my partner healthy was as much, or possibly more, of a motivator for me than me washing my hands for my own health’s sake. In yet another example, with behaviors like getting the flu shot each year, it can often be very powerful to consider the benefits both for oneself (i.e., you are less likely to get the flu), and to others (i.e., it reduces flu transmission to the population).  All in all, altruistic reasons for adopting healthy behaviors can be extremely powerful – sometimes more so than the reasons you have for adopting change just to help yourself.

 

Getting involved

 Interested in getting involved in service and volunteering programs on the UNC campus? There are some fantastic service opportunities through the Carolina Center for Public Service, one of Student Wellness’ peer groups, or Student Wellness’ interpersonal violence prevention trainings. Be sure to check out our recent Healthy Heels blog post on being a more conscious volunteer.

It’s important to note that the health benefits of altruistic actions are not limited to formal service and volunteering opportunities. Every day, smaller actions that consider other people’s needs and feelings or help others can also have a powerful impact for oneself and for campus culture.

Healing after a Loved One Experiences IPV

It can be overwhelming when people close to us experience interpersonal violence (sexual assault, abusive relationships, stalking, or harassment).  In our efforts to support them, we may not take the time to consider how we are responding to their experience of violence.  Being close to someone who has experienced IPV, sometimes referred to as being a secondary survivor, brings its own emotions and requires its own particular healing process.  Through my own friendships and volunteer work at OCRCC, I know many people who have experienced violence.  Being able to talk about how we react to our loved ones being hurt is important!  Honoring and giving space to these emotions can help to ensure that our relationships with our loved ones who have experienced IPV remain healthy and that we are both supported as we heal together.  Folks close to individuals who have experienced IPV may feel:

Continue reading

Learning about sexual health issues with Tarheels abroad!

Usually, we write about reproductive health issues that directly impact the Tarheel community on the Healthy Heels blog. Today, I want to explore a sexual health topic that’s generally not be part of life here, but might be something you address someday, like my friend Kathryn Stein (UNC School of Public Health, HBHE ’14). She’s spending 3 months at the Bwaila Maternity Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi doing documentary work with women who have obstetric fistulas.

Summer’s here, and so many UNC students are doing inspiring work!

Plus, I figure all you New York Times nerds probably read Nicolas Kristof’s moving Mother’s Day article about the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in the capital of Ethiopia. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about the sexual health issues at hand.

An obstetric fistula is a hole in the vaginal wall that often results from obstructed labor. These have been a problem across time and culture; evidence of obstetric fistulas dates back as far as 2050 BC, in a mummified Egyptian noblewoman from the Mentuhotep dynasty! In the 19th century, surgeons explored various strategies for repair; finally in the 1940’s Dr. Latzko developed a resection technique with 95% success rate. Conditions and care improved throughout the 20th century until obstetric fistulas ceased to be part of the typical Western female experience.

What happens when you can’t access that basic $350 surgery. What if you can’t afford it? What if you live too far away from trained providers? Untreated fistulas can lead to ulcerations, kidney disease, nerve damage in the legs, and death. The most common side effect is urinary and fecal incontinence. Some women avoid food and water to avoid leaking, resulting in malnutrition, dehydration, and kidney stones. Although incontinence may not seem that bad, the social and psychological consequences can be profound.

Incontinence can completely change your life. If you leak urine or feces, your husband might leave you and your family might kick you out. Maybe you live on the outskirts of town; maybe you live in a hospital. How do you support yourself? What happens to your children? What happens to your self-esteem, dignity, and hope? Freedom from Fistula Foundation is working to empower and help women, including those at the Bwaila Maternity Hospital, where Kathryn’s doing interviews, taking photos, and teaching media skills give them a voice with which to tell their stories to an international audience.

I’m going to discuss why fistulas happen, and I’ll warn you, this gets graphic and upsetting. Continue reading