The HPV vaccine for men- is this a thing?

Yes, it is. You may have heard of the HPV or Gardasil vaccine for young women to prevent cervical cancer, but young men should get it too!

4 men studying and drinking coffee

The HPV vaccine is a series of 3 injections over a 6-month period. Ideally it should be given before a person ever has sex, but it is recommended for men from age 11 through 21 years regardless of sexual activity, and through age 26 years for men who have sex with men and men who are immunocompromised (including those who are HIV positive).

Why should men get vaccinated? Vaccination helps to:

  • Prevent genital warts
  • Prevent penile, throat, and anal cancers caused by HPV
  • Prevent spread of HPV to future partners

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).  The virus is spread through anal, vaginal, or oral sex, and can even be spread through close skin contact during sexual activity. A person doesn’t have to have signs and symptoms to spread the virus.

All sexually active people are at risk for HPV.

Almost all sexually active people get infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Most people will clear the infection without more serious issues.  However, if an infection does not go away on its own, symptoms may develop months or even years later.

If HPV does not go away on its own, it can cause genital warts and some types of cancer.

Warning symptoms: new or unusual warts, growths, lumps, or sores on the penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or throat.

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps around the penis or anus. They may be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. The warts may stay the same or grow in size or number. They can come back even after treatment but warts caused by HPV do not lead to cancer.

HPV infection is not cancer, but it can change the body in ways that lead to cancer. Cervical cancer can occur in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both women and men. Cancer at the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharyngeal cancer), is also a concern for both men and women.  All of these cancers can be caused by HPV infections that do not go away.

three pie charts show types of HPV for men and women 

Figure: Average Number of New HPV-Associated Cancers Overall, and by Sex, in the United States from 2005-2009

HPV-related cancers are not common in men, but certain men are more susceptible:

  • Men with weak immune systems (including those with HIV) who get infected with HPV are more likely to have complications
  • Men who receive anal sex are more likely to get anal HPV and develop anal cancer

There is no approved test for HPV in men at this time, and there is no specific treatment. Genital warts can be treated by healthcare providers and HPV-related cancers are more treatable when diagnosed and treated early.

The HPV vaccine lowers the risk of getting HPV and HPV-related diseases.

 Using condoms for every sexual encounter lowers the chance of getting all STIs, including HPV.

 If nothing else, consider protecting your future sexual partner(s) from HPV by getting vaccinated!

The HPV vaccine is available at Campus Health Services.

For more information on HPV visit

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Sexual Health!! Read All About It!

There is a lot of information out there about sex, sexual health and pleasure. But how do you know which resources to trust? Wonder no more! Below is a list of resources that contain excellent, reputable information:

Go Ask Alice!

Go Ask Alice! is a great health resource that is maintained by health educators at Columbia University. The website is set up in a Q & A format and it covers a variety of health topics including emotional health, sexual health and relationships.

Sex Etc.

Sex Etc. is a great website hosted by Rutgers University. All the staff writers for the website are students so it is sex education for students, by students! The website is fun and interactive and once a week, the site hosts chats with a health educator so you can ask questions and get an accurate answers immediately.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has been providing accurate sexual health information for a long time and they are still one of the best resources on the web. Their website has information on just about any sexual health topic you can think of including body image, gender and emergency contraception.

Scarleteen: Sex Education for the Real World

This website offers a lot of information about sexual health, but they also have a blog and “sexpert” advice. The website has also started building a database to connect young people to services like counselors and clinics. Check it out!

How to have a better hookup?

After last semester’s “Orgasm? Yes Please!” performance, we received feedback that you wanted to learn more about communicating about sex during hookups.  In our program, we showed couples in committed relationships working out how to have safer & better sex.  Y’all let us know that you want to see how that works in less committed relationships, too.
What are the difficult conversations with hookups? What do you wish you could express? How could you picture your hookups being safer and sexier? Your questions will help us bring you a fresh, updated OYP in Fall 2013!
Let us know what you think on this anonymous survey.
Stay tuned to the Healthy Heels Blog for information on the upcoming Orgasm? Yes, Please performance! Put it on your calendar: Friday October 25, 2013 7-9pm.

Breast (Cancer?) Awareness

While we have sadly become accustomed to marketing and advertisements using sex to sell us our clothes, cars, beauty products, alcohol, and the 27 workout DVDs they tell us we need after drinking all that alcohol and to fit into those clothes, using sex to advertise and fundraise for a deadly disease strikes me as more than a bit odd. Facebook “campaigns” using sexual innuendos in statuses, Save the Tatas, the controversial “Save the Boobs” commercial, and I Love Boobies bracelets* beg the question: are they raising awareness of the women who struggle with breast cancer and promoting breast cancer prevention, or are they simply raising awareness of breasts?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love breasts, and I certainly feel a tie between my own personal set and my femininity and sexuality. But I also love and care about the women who face breast cancer with grace and courage. Why isn’t there a breast cancer awareness campaign with the tagline, “I ❤ my mom” or my sister, aunt, friend, wife, girlfriend, partner, daughter, etc.? I am not arguing that breasts or the female body should be censored or not used in awareness campaigns for breast cancer, but is it too much to ask that they be shown attached to a whole female? I for one have never seen a campaign for prostate cancer awareness using a picture of a male where his prostate is the focus and his face is cut out as though he isn’t even a full person. This is the case despite the fact that the prostate is a sexual organ and breast and prostate cancer are diagnosed at about the same rate per year (National Cancer Institute)*. Do we really want breast cancer awareness to look this similar to sexualized merchandise advertising that objectifies women?

To be honest, I think it’s pretty obvious why there aren’t any equivalent “I heart scrotums” bracelets and campaigns. It feels like these “I heart boobies” campaigns are specifically meant to draw heterosexual male-identified folks into the fight against breast cancer. What does it say about these campaigns’ perceptions of men if they think the only effective way to get men’s attention about breast cancer is to sexualize it so much so that the focus is on breasts as a sexual object and not the woman to whom those breasts are a part? These campaigns seem to say, “Hey (het) men! You should care about breast cancer because it could affect your sex life!” I’d like to believe (and do) that men are far more intelligent and human than a puppy whose head quickly turns, drooling, at the mention of sex and who is otherwise generally uninterested.

I hope that this October throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we can find some ways to raise awareness of breast cancer, promote early detection and screening, garner support for both research and for people fighting breast cancer, and get male-identified folks involved in conversations and contributions without resorting to the tired old themes of over-sexualizing and objectifying female bodies in the media.

Here’s a breast self-exam sheet you can print off and hang in your bedroom or bathroom (if it’s laminated)!  The Women’s Health Clinic at UNC’s Campus Health also offers breast examinations as a part of their Well Woman’s Examination.

If you’re interested in learning more about the objectification and over-sexualization of women’s bodies in the media, and how these issues tie in to violence against women, check out the films Killing Us Softly (4) and Miss Representation and the student-facilitated media literacy workshop, “The Naked Truth: How the Media Shapes Us” which will be offered on October 30th from 6:00-7:30 in the Genome Science Building, room G010,  sponsored and hosted by the Carolina Women’s Center as a part of Relationship Violence Awareness Month.

*Taken from

Lingering questions from “Orgasm? Yes Please!”

Your Questions from “Orgasm? Yes, Please!” 

We had a great time hosting “Orgasm? Yes Please!” a couple of Fridays ago to a rowdy audience of over 300 UNC students! Big thanks for The Daily Tarheel for sending some love our way, to our co-sponsors Project Dinah, UNC Panhellenic Council, and to our collaborators on stage, Interactive Theater Carolina.

During the presentation, the audience texted in their anonymous questions. We didn’t have time to answer everything at the event, so we’re here today to  address some of your questions that we missed. Some of them we’ve blogged about before!

You asked, “G-spot, fact or fiction?”

Recent research has shown that “even though the majority of women believe that the G-spot exists, even if they don’t have one, we’ve all been fooled.  Sort of.” Read more!

You asked, “Is having sex while on your period really an option? How is that sanitary?”  

It’s entirely a matter of taste, and “if you are worried about the aesthetics of it, you can always throw down a towel first and then go for it!” Read more!

You asked, “Are Trojans the most effective condom? 

All condoms whose labels indicate they are for sexual use (aka, not “novelty items”) are required to pass the same tests for efficacy as they are “regarded by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as Class II medical devices, a designation that includes pregnancy tests and powered wheelchairs.  Products in this category have to meet special labeling requirements and performance standards.”  Read more!

You asked, “Are STI tests on campus free?”

The Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS)  office offers a free blood HIV test! Otherwise, the price depends on your insurance. Campus Health website has information on pricing without insurance! Read more!

Free Oraquick rapid test will be available on World AIDS Day, being celebrated 11/30/12 on the UNC Campus. Free testing will be available on a walk-in basis from 11am-5pm in the UNC Student Union.

You asked, “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or one horse size duck?”

You know, I’m going to have to think about that one.

Stay tuned for more! We’ll be answering other questions from “Orgasm? Yes Please!” in upcoming blog posts.

“Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?”

Last semester, I overhead some students talking about how Tori Spelling got pregnant one month after giving birth even though she was breastfeeding. I’ve never really understood breastfeeding-as-contraception, so I did some research about LAM, aka Lactational Amenorrhea Method.

My hope is to provide an overview of LAM to folks who are unfamiliar with this method and blew it off as just another sexual health acronym (IUD, NFP, PID, HIV, HPV, HSV, etc). If you are interested in using this method, please consult your health care provider for more detailed guidance. Check out my last blog entry Are you pregnant or parenting at UNC? for more info on resources available UNC.

What is Lactational Amenorrhea Method? Lactational Amenorrhea Method is a contraception method where a woman relies on exclusive breastfeeding to change her body’s hormonal balance to prevent pregnancy. This method can work up to the first six months of the infant’s life, which is also the duration for which the WHO and American Academy of Pediatricians recommends exclusive breastfeeding.

How does LAM work? Time to get your Anatomy & Physiology extra credit! Continue reading

Skipping Your Period for Summer Time Fun

It’s summer time! That means vacations, swimming and perhaps, periods coming at inconvenient times. Have no fear! It is possible to skip or reschedule periods!

Before we get started, if this is something you are interested in, I encourage you to talk to your clinician or healthcare provider before you skip your period. Your health care provider is most familiar with you and the medications you are taking.

That being said, there are things everyone should know about the process of scheduling/skipping your period.  If you are already on the birth control pill and been taking it for a few cycles, then you should be able to skip your period.  Also note, this blog post is focused solely on using combined oral contraceptives, which is a type of birth control pill, to reschedule periods. This type of pill uses a combination of hormones (estrogen and progestin) in order to prevent pregnancy.

Many packages of birth control pills contain 21 hormone pills (also known as active pills) followed by 7 pills, which contain no hormones (also known as placebo or spacer pills). This means a person taking birth control pills usually takes 21 days of hormone pills followed by 7 days of no hormone pills. The period usually happens during the 7 days of no hormone pills. Many of the newer pill formulations have more active pills and fewer no hormone pills, for example 24 active pills and 4 placebos. Continue reading

Are you pregnant or parenting at UNC?

What an impressive juggling act! Hats off to you. You’re doing important work!

Let me tell you about a few of the resources available for you locally:

UNC Student Parent Association
UNC Parenting Resource Guide is a great way to get oriented about services available to you through UNC and in the community at large.
List of lactation spaces on UNC Campus
La Leche League of Chapel Hill is a group where experienced mothers support women who are figuring breastfeeding out.

Personally, I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding until I trained as a doula (a doula stays with a laboring woman, not as part of the healthcare team, but as an attendant who provides emotional, physical & informational support). I was blown away when I learned about the emotional, nutritional, and health benefits for women & children that come through breastfeeding.
• The physical contact helps women and babies bond.
• The baby receives IgA antibodies through the mother’s breast milk that provide a natural passive immunity while the baby’s own immune system gets up & running.
• Babies instinctively drink the right quantity of breast milk, so they reduce their risk of over-nourishment.
• When babies latch on to the nipple, breast milk goes right down their throats without lingering in the mouth so the risk of dental cavities is reduced.
• Breastfeeding helps women lose weight after pregnancy and reduces risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Even if you aren’t thinking about having kids right now, it’s valuable for everyone to understand breastfeeding and benefits in order to be more supportive of nursing women. Breastfeeding can be challenging; many women have a difficult time with various parts of breastfeeding including latching, production, emotions, balance, and more. In other words, nursing women need all the support they can get!

FYI, in North Carolina it’s legal for a woman to breastfeeding in any public or private location without being in violation of indecent exposure laws. On top of that legal foundation, I hope we can have a culture on campus where all nursing Tarheels feel comfortable and respected breastfeeding their children.

Stay tuned for more! My next project is to examine a birth control method I’ve never understood: LAM, aka Lactational Amenorrhea Method, aka breastfeeding-as-contraception.

HPV and Men

Did you know that the CDC recommends that men get vaccinated against HPV (human papilloma virus)? It’s true! The CDC now recommends the HPV vaccine Gardasil for both men and women ages 9-26 years old.

Man, HPV is confusing. So true! My fellow Sexual Wellness Specialist (formerly CHECS) Diana has written a great blog entry about HPV. I want to reiterate that there are over 100 strains of HPV that are transmitted through skin/skin contact in the genital region. Some strains of HPV don’t do anything. Some cause genital warts. Some cause cancers. Gardasil vaccinates against four common strains: HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers) and HPV-6 & HPV-11 (which cause 90% of genital warts).

You probably noticed that Gardasil does not vaccinate against all strains of HPV. This means that Gardasil reduces risk of infection but cannot entirely prevent it. It’s still important to take other risk reduction steps, like using condoms and dental dams.

Also note that there is another HPV vaccine available for women, but not men, called Cervarix. It only vaccinates against HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers).

I thought HPV was a women’s health issue. Continue reading

Condom effectiveness: What’s brand name got to do with it?

Condoms are one of the most commonly used contraceptive/STD prevention products used worldwide. The United Nations Population Fund estimated that over 10 billion condoms were used in 2005.  Here on campus, Campus Health Services provides thousands of condoms to students each year.

As a sexual health counselor, I have noticed that many people’s preferences for certain condom brands are based (almost entirely) on their perception of that condom brand’s effectiveness. We offer a variety of condom brands for free to students through Campus Health Services. Occasionally, when people check out the condoms we have available, they’ll ask: “are those safe to use?”, and “don’t those break more than [other condom brand]?”.

So, do some condoms in fact perform better than others in terms of STD/pregnancy prevention?

The answer is no, not really. Condoms are regarded by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “Class II medical devices”, a designation that includes pregnancy tests and powered wheelchairs.  Products in this category have to meet special labeling requirements and performance standards. For condoms, the FDA standards include systematic “water leak” tests to ensure that no fluid can leak out of the condoms. To meet standards, all condoms must have at least 996 out of 1,000 condoms, on average, pass this test. This means that FDA-approved condoms must be at least 99.6% effective in laboratory tests to be available to consumers.

In a 2004 publication, Walsh and colleagues used condom use data from trials of three bands of condoms, including Trojan, LifeStyles and Ramses – all of which are FDA-approved condom brands. Out of 3,677 condom-protected sex acts analyzed in the study, the authors found that 55 condom acts failed, either due to breaking (16 condoms broke; break rate = 0.04%) or slipping (39 condoms slipped; slip rate = 1%). The likelihood of condoms breaking during sex was not statistically associated with condom brand.

FDA-approved condoms are all quite effective at preventing pregnancy and STD, and performance is probably not related to brand type. You might be wondering if the condoms you’re using are FDA-approved. With the exception of novelty condoms (which are pretty uncommon), just about all of the condoms you’ll come across in the United States are approved by the FDA.  All the condoms we provide through Campus Health Services are FDA-approved, and same goes for places like Planned Parenthood and local STD/HIV clinics. If you’d like to be certain, you can check the condom packet to look for wording about STD and pregnancy prevention. If it’s on the packet, those condoms meet federal regulations for quality and safety.

Check out the following pictures to see how we’ve looked for this language on some condoms we provide at Campus Health Services:

If you can’t find language about STD/HIV prevention on condom packaging, then it’s not FDA approved.
If you can’t find language about STD/HIV prevention on condom packaging, then it’s not FDA approved for STD/HIV and pregnancy prevention.

All of this said, although condoms must be at least 99.6% effective in safety trials, testing conditions do not necessarily mean 99.6% real-life effectiveness for any condom brand. But here’s the good news:  there’s a lot you can do to increase the effectiveness of condoms. One of the biggest challenges to condom effectiveness is correct use.  Some of the most common errors with condom use are: using the wrong lubricant (water-based, NOT oil-based, lubricants should be used with condoms); incorrect storage (ie, storing a condom in a hot place, like a glove compartment, or in a place with lots of friction, like a wallet or pocket); and not checking the expiration date.