Sexting– A bigger deal than you think

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You’ve probably read the phrase “send nudes? ;)” before; maybe it’s something that has been sent to you, you sent it, or you read it somewhere on the internet. It’s just one phrase that’s used to proposition a sext: the sharing of sexually explicit language, images, or videos of oneself through the internet or electronic devices, such as smartphones.

Sexting is more common than it’s ever been before—especially among young people—but its normalization has cause for concern.

What’s the harm? More serious than you might think.

Emotional Pain

There are several situations where sexting can cause emotional pain. A recent study by JAMA Pediatrics noted that males and females were equally as likely to be involved in sexting. However, females report feeling more pressure to sext, and also worry they will be judged harshly for sexting (i.e. “slut-shaming”). It is wrong to pressure or coerce someone into sending a sext, but that’s not the only emotional threat.

If and when a photo or message is shared with someone other than who the sender intended it for, it can lead to feelings of distrust, shame, embarrassment, or regret, which can lead to mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression. Think your photos won’t be shared? One of the most upsetting statistics to come out of the study mentioned above is that one in nine teenagers report forwarding sexts without consent. That statistic alone is cause for worry that intimate images will end up in someone else’s hands, or made public. In this case, the sender’s trust and emotional well-being has been violated, but there can also be legal implications.

Legal Consequence

The bottom line here is this: when sexting involves a minor, it is illegal. No exceptions. It’s illegal between a 50 year old and a 14 year old who are strangers. It’s illegal between a 17 year old and a 16 year old who are in a relationship. Any sexually explicit photos or videos involving minors are considered child pornography—whether or not they are taken or sent consensually. Promotion, possession, distribution, or production of child pornography is a serious crime and prosecutable offense. That means asking for, owning, sending, or taking sexually explicit images of anyone under the age of 18. The consequence depends on the degree of the crime, but can include hefty fines, jail time, and being registered as a sex offender for life.

Another legal consequence to sexting is the distribution of what is commonly called “revenge porn.” This is not specific to minors. In Missouri, as of June 2018, it is a felony offense to share, or threaten to share, private sexual images of a person with the intent to harass, threaten or coerce that person. To share nude photos or sexually explicit images of any other person without their consent is punishable by up to four years in prison, or one year in jail. The court also can impose a fine up to $10,000 or twice the amount of financial gain to the offender.

Safety Risk

Traffickers and predators have found that sexting becomes a tool to their advantage to threaten their victims—sometimes called “sextortion.” Predators use the explicit material sent to them to coerce people to comply with their demands by using scare tactics.

It isn’t just teens at risk, either. Predators look for anyone in a vulnerable situation—whether because of their age, economic status, life circumstance, or level of self-confidence. In one case, the victim was a married mother of four. After moving to a new place, hitting a rough patch in her marriage, and struggling to find friends, she turned to the internet to seek interaction—though she frequently warned her children of the danger of talking to people on the web that you don’t know.

She began connecting with a man on Twitter who seemed to share her interests. They struck up a friendship over the course of time, and unbeknownst to her, he “groomed” her to be his victim by telling her everything she was wanting to hear: validation that she was pretty, smart, funny, and deserved the attention she wasn’t getting at home. When he had built her trust, he asked her for nude pictures—and she complied. Not long after, he began to manipulate her, threatening to post the pictures publicly if she didn’t comply with his demands. He eventually hacked into her account, posting not only the pictures she had sent him, but images he had also photoshopped to look like her. While the photos were eventually removed, it was too late to prevent humiliation and extortion of the victim.

Now what? What if I have sent or received a sext before?

With all of this in mind, how do you keep yourself safe? The best way is to just not sext. If you are on the receiving end, delete the picture immediately and inform the sender that you don’t want to engage in sexting. If you are contemplating sending a sext, ask yourself: is sending this picture worth the risk? Am I willing to put my future—or someone else’s—in jeopardy by sending (or asking for, or sharing) a photo? If you already have sent a sext, and you regret it, ask the person who received it to delete it (and watch them do it). If your image has been shared without your consent, tell a safe adult and contact law enforcement. Even though you may regret sending a sext, if you are the victim of sextortion it is important to remember that it is not your fault.

The best choice you can make is one that is grounded in facts and knowledge. Don’t stop here—get educated on the laws in your state and the risks at hand. If you’re in a relationship and have questions about your sexual health, contact us today!

Sources are available upon request.

It Takes a Village

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What if I don’t have a good support system?

An unplanned pregnancy can bring a rollercoaster of feelings—fear, excitement, uncertainty, happiness, worry, and everything in between. It also brings a new set of needs—financial, physical, medical, emotional, relational, and even spiritual. Having a good support system in place to help you navigate these feelings and needs is important to having the healthiest journey possible through pregnancy, birth, and life after birth.

There’s an old African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child”… in other words, it takes a whole community of people to meet all of the needs of any one person—parent or child. Some people already have a supportive partner, family, friends, and community to help them on this journey. Others, however, may feel alone or uncertain of how to get the help that they need; they may be wondering who is in their “village.” In the event of an unplanned pregnancy, you may be faced with negative outside pressure, misunderstanding, judgment, or rejection by people around you. Here are some helpful things to consider if you don’t have a good support system in place:

  • Recognize unhealthy influences. If there are people in your life who put you down, physically or emotionally harm you, threaten you, manipulate you, or are pressuring you to make a decision that you don’t want to make, those are all signs of harmful, unhealthy influences. The best thing that you can do is distance yourself from these unhealthy influences as much as possible, and in turn, find healthy influences to support you. You cannot control what others do or say, but you can take responsibility to make the best decisions for yourself and for your baby.
  • Believe that there ARE people who will support you.

Feeling alone or afraid can be overwhelming. You may feel hopeless or defeated by the prospect of a pregnancy without a good support system. However, there is ALWAYS hope and there ARE people who want to support you. Sometimes, you just have to know where to look. Cutting out unhealthy influences is only half the battle—replacing them with healthy ones is the second step. This might seem easier said than done, but a great place to start is by making a list of support resources:

  • Your physician team; this could include an OB/GYN, midwife, doula, or community-based health clinics (such as Choices Medical).
  • Classes or support groups are great ways to meet new friends and people who are in similar situations. These could be parenting classes, lamaze classes, breastfeeding support, or single-parent support groups.
  • Churches often provide a community of spiritual support, as well as being a place to connect to other families and receive help.
  • Finding a counselor or therapist can be helpful in sorting through mental and emotional struggles. While these are not always free services, health insurance sometimes covers the cost, and there are also often community counselors that use sliding-scale or low income payment plans.
  • Lean on family members or friends who have your best interest at heart and can be compassionate and reliable.
  • There are even support groups and message boards online that can provide encouragement and shared experience with those going through similar things.
  • The best way to find help is to ask for it.

The bottom line is that help is available, you simply need to have the courage to ask. If you need help connecting with resources like the ones listed above, Choices Medical now has an in-office case manager that can help you. Pick up that phone, send that text, write that email, make that appointment, and don’t be afraid to reach out to support resources when you have needs. You and your baby are worth it!

Sources available upon request.

Playing Catch

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How does someone get an STI? And how do I know if I need tested?

Playing catch with a baseball is a fun, harmless pastime—playing “catch” with STIs is a different ballgame. Whether you’ve heard them called Sexually Transmitted Infections or Diseases, you know they don’t sound like a walk in the park. STIs are a serious business, but they also don’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s what you need to know about how they are contracted and when you might need testing or treatment:

Most STIs are contracted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. Some STIs, however, can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact (such as mutual masturbation, “dry sex,” or prolonged kissing), or spread to babies during childbirth or potentially pregnancy. Still others can be spread through non-sexual contact including reusing or sharing syringes (or even tattoo needles!) with an infected person.

Many people think that if their partner has an STI, they will see it. That is a huge misconception, however, because many STIs don’t show symptoms right away or at all. Even if there are no outward symptoms or immediate physical discomfort, many STIs have long-term consequences if they go untested and untreated. They can lead to more diseases, infertility, birth defects, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, cancer, and in rare cases even death. No matter what kind of STI a person is exposed to, early testing and treatment is key.

If you are wondering if you need tested, here is a quick list of pointers:

  • Anytime you have a new sexual partner, you should get tested.
  • If your partner has had any new sexual partners, you should get tested.
  • Anytime you have sex with a person who has a known infection (even if you used condoms), you should get tested.
  • Anytime you experience unusual symptoms after a sexual encounter (genital pain, warts, bleeding, pain while urinating, abnormal discharge, etc.), you should get tested.
  • If you test positive for an STI and get treatment, you may need to schedule another appointment three months after your initial appointment to get re-tested.

Remember: the only ways to be 100% safe against STI’s are to not engage in any sexual activity that puts you at risk for STI’s (refer to second paragraph of this article), or to only have sex in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship with someone who is uninfected.

STIs are certainly a risk that comes with being sexually active, but there are ways to keep yourself safer:

  • Latex condoms can be effective at preventing some STIs if used correctly and consistently. However, the typical use failure rate is 18%.
  • Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B.
  • Get tested, treated, and re-tested responsibly (see above).
  • Ask your partner about their sexual history, and ask them to get tested if they have had previous partners.

If you have any questions about your sexual health or want to schedule an appointment give us a call today!

Sources for this article are available upon request.

Choose Knowledge: Is an abortion right for you?

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If I’m considering an abortion, what do I need to know?

Suspicion of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy can flood your mind with surprise, panic, frustration, and a whole lot of questions. The first decision that can and should always be made is knowledge. Know your options, know your risks, know your needs, know your resources. Luckily, our staff at Choices Medical can help you make the choice to know.

While we do not perform or refer for abortions, there are several resources we can offer—for free— as you make a choice about your pregnancy.

  • Medical grade pregnancy testing and ultrasounds. Even if you’ve already taken an at-home pregnancy test, our medical grade hCG urine pregnancy test can confirm your pregnancy so that you know for sure. As soon as your pregnancy is confirmed, we offer a limited OB ultrasound which can determine if your pregnancy is viable and in the right place. This provides you with vital information on your pregnancy’s development, which is necessary to have when reviewing the abortion options available to you.
  • STI testing and treatment. You might be thinking “I’m here about a pregnancy…why would I need to think about STIs?” Well, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, having gonorrhea, chlamydia, or bacterial vaginosis can increase a woman’s chance of having an infection after an abortion procedure. This is important because more than one million pregnant women are annually diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection. At our clinics, gonorrhea and chlamydia testing can be performed on the same urine sample that you provide for your pregnancy test. Bacterial vaginosis testing is also available. If you test positive for one of these infections, treatment is available at no cost to you. Testing and treatment appointments are also available for your sexual partner.
  • Options and abortion information. There are several things that have to be taken into account when considering abortion—a pregnancy’s viability, length of development, cost of procedure, type of procedure, previous health conditions, and other medical stipulations. When you come into our clinic for a pregnancy test, we can give you information and education about abortion, as well as what your other options are.

If your heart is racing or your mind is anxious with the possibility of a pregnancy, slow down, take a deep breath, and know that you are not alone. Your health and safety are important to us, and choosing to know your options is a great first step to take. Make an appointment today!

Sources for this article are available upon request.

What is Sexual Consent? Understanding Yes & No

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Consent is an absolutely vital part of any kind of sexual behavior, regardless of gender, orientation, or status of relationship. Understanding and respecting consent is necessary to being healthy, safe, and even legal.

Luckily, consent isn’t difficult to understand. It means to agree, give permission, or say “yes” to sexual activity with another person. Consent must be voluntary and mutual between partners.

Sounds easy, right? So why does consent still get violated or misunderstood? Sometimes, it is out of malicious intention to harm another person. Often, however, it is a problem of “assumption.”

Consent should NOT be assumed by:

  • Body language, Appearance, or Non-Verbal Communication: One should never assume by the way a person dresses, smiles, looks or acts, that they want to have sex with you.
  • Dating Relationships or Previous Sexual Activity: Simply because two people are dating or have had sex in the past does not mean that they are consenting to have sex with you. Also, consent to engage in one sexual activity at one time is not consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage in the same sexual activity on a later occasion.
  • Marriage: Even in marriage, a person should not assume they have consent for sexual activity. Marital rape is as serious as any other sexual assault.
  • Silence, Passivity, Lack of Resistance, or Immobility: A person’s silence should not be considered consent. A person who does not respond to attempts to engage in sexual activity, even if they do not verbally say no or resist physically, is not clearly agreeing to sexual activity. The absence of a “no” does not equal “yes.”
  • Incapacitation: Alcohol consumption or use of other drugs can cause a person to be incapable of giving consent. Alcohol is often used as a weapon to target individuals and is used by perpetrators to excuse their own actions.

There are a couple of other key things to know when it comes to consent. One important factor to keep in mind is that there are serious legal ramifications for engaging in sexual activity with anyone under age, whether it is mutually consensual or not. Know the law, keep the law, or reap the consequences. And secondly, remember: consent can be withdrawn at any time. No means no, and each person has the right to change their mind even after sexual activity has begun.

Let’s talk about what positive consent DOES look like in the moment:

  • Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this okay?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
  • Using obvious physical cues (head nods, two thumbs up, etc.) to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level.

Consistent, open communication about consent is key to keeping yourself safe. If you or someone that you know has not had their consent respected, we want to help. Please visit our clinic or give us a call today.

Like anything with relationships, the best thing to do if you’re not sure is to just ask. You got this!

Sources for this article are available upon request.

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