Category Archives: Uncategorized

Raising Confident Parents—why parenting classes are great!

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If you are pregnant, you have probably already realized that there is a lot to learn about caring for a new baby. At Choices Medical, we offer free classes to help raise healthy, confident parents so that YOU can raise healthy, confident kids.

Why would a parenting class be a good choice for you? Here’s a few reasons:

It’s practical. On a purely useful note, these classes arm you with vital information about how to care for a very small, delicate human being. You learn about the physical development of your child, their needs at different stages—even things like how to properly change a diaper! Not only do you learn about your child, but you also spend time learning about yourself, your needs as a parent, and how parenting affects your relationship with your partner. This includes things like conflict resolution, financial principles (babies are expensive!), time management, and much more. This provides you with the hands-on, know-how info you need to parent with confidence.

It’s personal. There are tons of books, articles, and other resources you can read or watch to help you learn about parenting (and we can recommend some to you!). But one of the great things about taking a parenting class is that you get to do it with other people who are in similar situations. You can ask questions to real medical professionals, get advice from seasoned parents, and get help for your unique needs in your unique circumstance. This provides you with the resources and tips you need personally to parent with confidence.

It’s supportive. Luckily, you aren’t the first person to become a parent…and you won’t be the last. Taking a parenting class can get you connected to other new (or new-again) parents who can relate to the journey you are on. It is a great place to make friends, and a safe space to share struggles. We recognize that some people didn’t have healthy parents themselves when they grew up, and perhaps that makes the prospect of BEING a parent seem much harder or scarier. That’s why we’re here to help. We believe that with the right support, the right resources, and a healthy dose of determination, you can be a healthy, confident parent no matter what you’ve come from. We are here to support you, your baby, and anyone else helping raise your baby (partner, family member, etc).

Whether you are feeling excitement, fear, happiness, worry, stress, or anything else, taking a parenting class can give you a place to express those feelings and answer your questions. At Choices Medical, we don’t just care about you having a healthy pregnancy—we also care about you being a healthy parent. That’s why our classes are free to anyone in the community. If you are interested, give us a call at 417-624-8030. We’d love to talk with you!

Resources available upon request.

Sexual Health and Substance Abuse

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You’ve probably heard the motto “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” While the phrase might be meant to express freedom and a good time, the actual use of sex + drugs can pose some serious danger. Whether the substance itself is legal (such as nicotine or alcohol) or illegal (such as various illicit drugs), the abuse of such substances can lead to negative effects on your sexual health.

There are always inherent risks associated with illicit drug abuse, and unfortunately there are also serious risks involved with sex. This is true of either thing on its own, but it is significantly worsened when the two are combined. Addiction and alcoholism are often breeding grounds for dangerous sexual behavior. According to the CDC, studies show that sexual risk behaviors increase in people who use alcohol, and are highest among those who use marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs (such as sedatives, opioids, and stimulants), and other illicit drugs. Here are some of the risks:

Increased Chance of STIs

The nature of substances such as drugs and alcohol is to alter the state of mind of the user. In an altered state of mind, inhibitions and good decision-making abilities are often lowered, which leads to an increased likelihood of participating in risky sexual behaviors (such as not using a condom, having multiple partners, or engaging in high-risk sexual activity) which all contribute to the spread of STIs.

Lowered inhibitions, desperation, unsanitary conditions and more can lead to an environment where drug users are significantly more prone to contract an STI than people who do not use drugs. Because many STIs are incurable, even one occasion of mixing sex and drugs or sex and alcohol can lead to a lifetime of medical complications.

Increased Chance of Unplanned Pregnancy

Similar to the increased chance of STIs, drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to an increased chance of an unplanned pregnancy. This is particularly true if lowered inhibitions cause laxity in the use of proper birth control methods.

In addition to an increased chance of unplanned pregnancy, if a woman continues to engage in substance abuse of any kind after she becomes pregnant, that will pose serious health risks to her unborn child. This includes, but is not limited to: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), premature birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, behavioral dysfunction, cognitive impairment, and infant addiction at birth.

Increased Chance of Sexual Violence

Unfortunately, sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, income level, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and education level. However (according to the CDC) certain risk factors can make a person more likely to become a victim; consuming alcohol and drug use are among those factors.

Perpetrators of sexual violence often look for victims who are vulnerable in some way. This can include victimizing people who are already addicted to substances and may be dependent and desperate, or have their good judgement and self-protection impaired. However, it can also include forcing a victim to use a substance against their will, lowering their ability to defend themselves or find help, and assaulting them.

Regardless of the situation, if you are a victim, you need to know that it is not your fault. There is never, ever an excuse to commit sexual violence against another person, and it is never, ever the victim’s fault.

If you are struggling with substance abuse and are concerned for your sexual health, or if you have been a victim of sexual violence, here are some immediate references for help below. You can also always come visit us at Choices Medical, and we will help you get the care that you need.

National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline:  1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Drug Helpline: 1-888-633-3239

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Resources available upon request.

Love Shouldn’t Bruise

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When two people love, respect, and trust one another, relationships can be a wonderful, fulfilling, beneficial thing. However, when any of these key components are missing, relationships can teeter into unhealthy grounds. Because romantic relationships are so personal and intimate, they have the power to either be wonderfully good or woefully bad.

There are many reasons why someone may find themselves in an abusive relationship. Sometimes, someone has never had an example of a healthy relationship, and they descend into abusive patterns and cycles they witnessed growing up. Other times people are forced into abusive relationships that they never wanted. Still other times people start in a good relationship that progressively becomes worse. Abusive relationships often don’t have blatant warning signs right off the bat—it is a progression that may develop over weeks, months, or even years. 

One of the tough things about abusive relationships is that unless you know what signs to look for, it’s not always clear to the abused—or even the abuser—that the relationship is unhealthy. Unfortunately, it is common for someone who is being abused to believe that it’s their own fault and that they somehow “deserve” the abuse. It’s important to know that you’re never to blame for the way an abusive person treats you. And there is never an excuse to abuse another person; physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse are all wrong on every level.

If you see any of these signs in your own (or someone else’s) relationship, it may be abusive, or heading that direction. An abusive partner may:

  • Tell you that you can never do anything right
  • Show extreme jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keep you or discourage you from seeing friends or family members
  • Insult, demean or shame you with put-downs
  • Control every penny spent in the household
  • Control or take your money, or refuse to give you money for necessary expenses
  • Look at you or act in ways that scare you
  • Control who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Prevent you from making your own decisions
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to harm or take away your children
  • Prevent you from working or attending school
  • Destroy your property or threaten to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressure you to use drugs or alcohol
  • (For more information, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline

Remember, abuse is not always physical. Love should not bruise your body—but it also shouldn’t bruise your heart, mind, confidence, or self-worth. If you are experiencing abuse in a relationship, reach out to us at Choices Medical. There are many other community resources we can connect you with to get you the help you need. There ARE people who care, and there IS hope.

Resource available upon request.

A Father’s Choice

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While most of our blogs are geared towards both genders, or expecting mothers, this one is specifically for men whose partners are pregnant.

There is no feeling like the one you get when you hear your partner say “I’m pregnant.” Undeniably, this changes things! Whether this pregnancy was planned or unexpected, your world has just taken a new turn.

Those two little words may bring a flurry of emotions and thoughts to your mind. Will I be able to provide financially? How will we tell people? Am I even ready to be a dad? Questions like this—and many others—are normal. It’s normal to be excited, worried, anxious, happy, and doubtful; no two people experience this news exactly the same.

Pregnancy is uniquely different for men than it is for women (for obvious reasons), yet each partner is equally responsible, because each partner’s involvement helped create the situation. It may be confusing or even frustrating for the father to understand that legally the woman has the right to choose whether she will carry the baby to term or seek an abortion without needing his consent. However, that doesn’t mean fathers don’t have choices. In fact, their involvement is crucial.

The significance of fatherhood is something that is well documented. Statistics show that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity. However, statistics also show that over of 1/4th of US children live in a home without their father. When a child is raised in a father-absent home, they are:

  • 4x more likely to live in poverty.
  • 7x more likely to become a teen parent.
  • Twice as likely to drop out of high school.
  • More likely to commit a crime, go to prison, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have behavioral issues.

If you had a supportive father and a great relationship with him, you know the positive impact that can make. If you had an absent or abusive father, you know the damage that can leave.

You have to ask yourself—what kind of choices am I going to make as a father? And alongside of that, what kind of choices am I going to make as a partner?

  • Will you choose to be an active participant in this pregnancy?
  • Will you choose to pressure your partner into an abortion?
  • Will you choose to “opt out,” and say that it’s up to her, when that really just abandons her to make a big decision all on her own?
  • Will you choose to educate yourself on the options so that you can help your partner process the decisions ahead?
  • Will you choose to keep your opinion to yourself, or will you choose to express your feelings about the situation in an honest and healthy way?
  • Will you choose to try to face this on your own or will you accept the help that is available to you and your partner, and encourage her to get the medical care that she needs?

These are questions that need not only to be asked, but to be answered. Only YOU can choose what kind of father and partner you will be, but you don’t have to face these things alone. Here at Choices Medical, we can offer medical services and support to your pregnant partner, but we can also offer them to YOU.

Choices is a safe place to think and talk through what the future holds for you and your partner (with one of our trained male advocates), and be educated on what your options are while empowering you to make a healthy choice. We care about you, and we want to support and celebrate your fatherhood!

Resource available upon request.

The Great Imitator—Syphilis rates on the rise

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Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that Christopher Columbus brought syphilis to America, or the true fact the Al Capone contracted it early on in his gangster career and went crazy from it during his years in Alcatraz. You may believe there is little cause for concern about this disease in your own life—after all, isn’t it pretty rare?

Well, it used to be. Unfortunately, rates of syphilis have rapidly and drastically increased in the last 20 years—even more so in the last two years. From 2001-2017, national syphilis rates rose by over 450%. From 2016-2018, at Choices Medical alone, the number of clients we treated for syphilis increased by 1067%. Here’s what you need to know:

How is syphilis passed?

Syphilis is passed through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. A pregnant woman can also pass syphilis to her unborn child in the womb.

What are the symptoms?

Unfortunately, syphilis can be a sneaky infection—its nickname is “The Great Imitator” because it mimics symptoms of other sicknesses or ailments. That’s why getting tested and treated right away is so important! It comes in various stages that get progressively more serious as the infection incubates.

Stage One: Chancres appear at the site of infection, often on the genitals or mouth. These are flat, open, painless sores that usually go away on their own within a few weeks. However, since they don’t hurt and are sometimes in locations that are hard to see (inside of the vagina, rectum, or foreskin of a penis), many people don’t recognize this first symptom at all.

Stage Two: This can look like various things. For some, it may manifest as a rash covering parts of the body, including the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Some people also experience hair loss, muscle aches, a fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may come and go over the course of a few weeks or even up to a year.

Stage Three: If someone infected with syphilis has not gotten tested and treated at this point, the infection may lay dormant for up to several years. This means that no symptoms would show, but the infection is still living in the body. As it continues to live, however, it can progress into “tertiary syphilis,” causing brain and nerve damage, blindness, heart disease, blood, liver, bone, and joint damage, and even death. About 15-30% of people infected with syphilis who don’t get treated will experience these complications.

Who is at risk?

According to the CDC, men who have sex with men account for the majority of syphilis cases. However, in the last five years, rates have increased among both men and women, and the syphilis rate among women has more than doubled. Infected women who are or become pregnant are at risk for passing the infection to their baby, called “congenital syphilis.” Up to 40% of infants infected with syphilis are stillborn.

How do I stay safe?

The only 100% effective way to protect yourself against any kind of STI is to abstain from all types of sex. However, if you are sexually active, especially with more than one partner, it is important to get tested regularly so that if you are positive for an infection, you can be treated as soon as possible. Because syphilis is a bacterial infection, if it’s caught early on it can be easily cured, sometimes requiring only a single injection of antibiotics. The longer a person waits to receive treatment, however, the harder it is to cure, and will not necessarily alleviate any damage that the infection has already done.

Though there are many STIs that sexually active people need to be aware of, this one has especially been on the rise and has deadly consequences if not treated soon enough. Don’t be fooled by “The Great Imitator”… come in in and get tested at Choices Medical!

Resource available upon request.

Bump Ahead

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Whether your pregnancy was planned or a total surprise to you, the fact of the matter is—there’s a baby bump ahead! And along with it, a lot of changes to your life.

You may need time to adjust to the new reality of the baby growing inside of you. That’s normal! Take the time that you need. After that, however, there are others in your life that will want and need to be informed of this change. Here is a list of those who you may want to notify so that they can begin supporting you in this new journey:

Partner: The majority of the time (whether this was planned or not) it will be important to notify your partner that you are pregnant. You can’t get yourself pregnant—as they say, “it takes two to tango.” The person with whom you created this baby, whether intentionally or not, has a right to know that their DNA is making up half of a new person.

However, we recognize that there are times when informing the father of the baby may be dangerous or detrimental to you or your baby’s health and safety. If that is the case, please reach out to us at Choices Medical, and we can help you find resources to give you and your baby the best protection and care possible.

Family and Close Friends: Most people want to include their family and close friends in on this big news. Because many people’s families and friends act as their support system, telling them of the upcoming changes can help them know how to help you. However, there is nothing that requires you to tell your family or friends— if telling certain people in those groups would put you or your baby’s well-being at risk, then you may want to keep your news confidential.

Physician: One of the most important (and essential) people you need to inform of your pregnancy is a doctor. Your body will be changing a great deal during the next 36-40 weeks, and you will need to find an OB-GYN (or a nurse-midwife, if you prefer), to help guide you and your baby through a healthy pregnancy.

Employer: For many women, it is safe for them to continue working as usual up until or close to their due date. However, with the possibility of medical restrictions, and the knowledge that appropriate maternity leave will be needed after giving birth, your employer will need to be informed so they may prepare accordingly. Most expecting mothers experience some levels of fatigue, morning sickness, shortness of breath, and frequent urination, and many experience more challenging symptoms as pregnancy continues. These may affect your ability or desire to work as well. You and your baby’s health are of the utmost importance, so jobs that require a lot of physical labor or long hours standing may need to be lessened as your pregnancy progresses.

The Public: Many people also choose to make their news public information. Some people enjoy using social media to announce their pregnancy because it allows others to celebrate and congratulate them. Some prefer to keep it more private, not sharing any public information until the evidence of their changing body becomes too obvious to hide.

How do I share this news?

There is no right or wrong way to inform others of your pregnancy. If this was a planned pregnancy or a welcomed surprise, then there are many creative and fun ways to share the news. It may be a very joyful and momentous occasion to share with loved ones. Click here to read some examples of imaginative ways to announce the addition!

If this was an unexpected surprise leaving you feeling anxious or overwhelmed, telling others can be more difficult. This can be especially hard if you don’t have a good support system in place. If that is the situation, we want to help! At Choices Medical we can offer you a medical-grade pregnancy test (just to be sure, if you can’t believe it!), and if you test positive, we can also offer a limited OB ultrasound. Having comprehensive, confidential, and compassionate medical care is a great place to start if this is coming as a shock or worry to you. We can also provide options counseling as you think through how to proceed and what your next steps are.

In addition to services for you, we can also offer services for the father of your baby or whoever else is planning to support you during your pregnancy. In fact, we encourage you to bring them along!

For the changes you are facing, and the “bump ahead,” know that you are not alone!

Resource available upon request.

Emergency Contraception 101

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Sometimes you find yourself in an “oopsie” moment. Your birth control method fails (the condom breaks, you forget to take your birth control pills, etc.), or you have sex with no protection at all. While in the moment it might seem like no big deal, the hours afterwards can bring that feeling of worry to your gut. What if I get pregnant? This was not the plan!

To find answers about pregnancy, options, or other risks (aka, if a condom has broken or you used no protection, your risk of STIs is increased as well), one of the best things to do is start out by contacting a medical professional—such as Choices Medical.

If you find yourself in that situation, you’re not alone. Many people have found themselves in similar positions, which led to the invention of emergency contraception (EC). You may have also heard it called Plan B or the morning-after pill. While many people are aware that emergency contraception exists, there are a lot of questions about how it works. Here are some common ones!*

What exactly does emergency contraception do?

Emergency contraception pills work mostly by releasing a short, strong burst of hormones into the body that prevent or delay ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). If no egg is released, it can’t be fertilized, therefore preventing the possibility of a pregnancy. Less commonly, emergency contraception may prevent fertilization of the egg by the sperm if ovulation has already happened. There is debate in the medical community about whether EC may also prevent implantation (attaching to the uterus, where a baby grows) of a fertilized egg.

Is emergency contraception the same as the abortion pill? 

No. RU-486, also known as the “abortion pill” ends an already-existing pregnancy. Emergency contraception is meant to prevent a pregnancy, the abortion pill is meant to terminate and physically expel a confirmed pregnancy.

Will I experience any side effects from using emergency contraception?

While it is highly unlikely for you to have any long-term side effects from using emergency contraception, you may have some side effects in the days or weeks after taking it. For example, since the pill works to delay ovulation, it may affect the timing of your next period or cause irregular bleeding in the week or month following taking EC pills. Some of the other short-term side effects of EC pills can include the following: headache, nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness, abdominal pain, dizziness, or fatigue.

How often can I use emergency contraception?

There is no evidence that taking emergency contraception will have any effect on future fertility or other long-term effects on your health. However, this is NOT intended to be a regular form of birth control—hence, why it’s called emergency contraception. There are a few reasons for this. For one, it is less effective than using regular forms of birth control (correctly and consistently) to prevent pregnancy. For two, while EC won’t have lasting harmful effects on your body, taking it multiple times (especially within the span of a few weeks or months) can turn your hormones upside-down, causing you temporary unpleasant side effects such as irregular bleeding and feeling emotionally unraveled.

Why is EC controversial?

Emergency contraception has a controversial history due to some of the ethical questions it raises. There are a few issues that legislators, healthcare providers, law enforcement, and consumers debate. One question that has been raised is whether easier availability of emergency contraception might lull people into being more careless about using birth control during intercourse, especially the use of male latex condoms. If condom usage is reduced, the transmission of STI’s is increased—which is already a public health crisis in the U.S.

Another ethical concern of EC is its use in the human trafficking industry as a tool of oppression. With nearly unlimited access to emergency contraception pills, sex traffickers (or abusive, manipulative partners) don’t need to visit a clinic to obtain them; they can simply purchase them in the local pharmacy or grocery store… which means no appointment required for the victim, no medical follow-up, and no chance for a medical professional to question the woman for her safety, her health, or her well-being. This intersects one of few chances victims may have to disclose trafficking or abuse in a safe environment away from the perpetrator.

Lastly, there is debate about whether emergency contraception can work to prevent an already-fertilized egg from implanting (and therefore growing) in the uterus. For those who define pregnancy as beginning at conception (rather than implantation), this can present a moral dilemma in the use of EC pills. While there is no scientific or medical proof that EC pills do work in this way, there is also no hard proof that they don’t—leaving a gray area for people to wrestle with.

Keep in mind that (via the Centers for Disease Control) the only 100% effective way to protect against an unplanned pregnancy is to not have sex. If you are experiencing a sexual health crisis, know that Choices Medial is here to help! Make an appointment today for free pregnancy testing, STI testing and treatment, or to speak with one of our medical professionals.

*Choices Medical does not provide or refer for emergency contraception.

Sources available upon request.

Sexual Health Myth-Busting

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Rumor has nothing on knowledge. How many of these myths have you heard?

MYTH: Condoms are, like, 99.9% effective at preventing a pregnancy.

BUSTED: …nope. When used consistently and correctly, male latex condoms can provide SOME protection against pregnancy and STIs, especially HIV. According to the CDC, with typical use, condoms have an 18% failure rate— making them (at best) 82% effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms are a helpful measure to prevent unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STIs. However, they are also imperfect.

MYTH: Oral sex isn’t really “sex.” It only counts if there is intercourse.

BUSTED: The Centers for Disease Control defines oral sex as sex. Why? Because even though you can’t get pregnant from oral sex, you CAN give or receive an STI from it. Interestingly, more dentists and doctors are seeing sexually transmitted infections in the mouth and throat. Any kind of behavior that puts you at risk for an STI is considered “sexual activity,” so oral sex definitely counts.

MYTH: I can’t get pregnant on my period…right?

BUSTED: Actually, it is possible to get pregnant while on your period. Here’s how: sperm can live inside of you for up to five days. That means if you have sex while on your period, then ovulate early in your cycle, sperm and egg could meet, resulting in a pregnancy. Keep in mind that it is very unlikely to happen if you have a regular 28-32 day cycle with an average 3-7 day period…but the bottom line is that it is absolutely possible.

MYTH: If my partner has an STI, I would see it.

BUSTED: There is a key word when it comes to many STIs: asymptomatic. That term simply means “without symptoms.” It can be a dangerous thing, because if someone has no symptoms (i.e. they can’t feel or see anything abnormal), they usually assume nothing is wrong. However, many of the most common (and the most harmful) STIs are asymptomatic—or at least start that way. However, just because someone doesn’t see or feel immediate symptoms doesn’t mean that infection isn’t already wreaking havoc on their body, creating permanent scarring, or being spread to someone else. That’s why knowing when and where to get tested is KEY. See this post for more information about how we can help.

MYTH: Only people who sleep around a lot get STIs.

BUSTED: STIs don’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if it is your first-time sexual experience of any kind, or the millionth time. It doesn’t matter if you are 12 or 84. It doesn’t matter if you are on your period or if you are pregnant. It doesn’t matter your gender or sexual orientation. It only takes ONE sexual encounter with ONE infected person to open up the possibility of an STI.

There are, however, certain factors that make you MORE susceptible to STIs, such as having multiple partners, using drugs and alcohol, being under the age of 25, or engaging in other risky sexual behaviors.

MYTH: When a female has vaginal intercourse for the first time, her “cherry” pops.

BUSTED: This myth is as old as time—that when a female has vaginal sex for the first time it is a momentous occasion of pain, and likely bleeding, from her “cherry” being popped. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “cherry” in the female reproductive system, and there is no “popping” of it either. So…where did this myth come from? And what is reality? This myth refers to the experience of a woman tearing or stretching a small flap of skin called the hymen upon first sexual intercourse.

The hymen is a piece of tissue that lines the vaginal opening. It has an opening that can be of any size – it can be thin or thick. Babies and young girls usually have much thicker hymens, but over time and throughout puberty that flap thins and stretches open naturally, as well as with things like strenuous exercise or tampon use. Usually, by the time a female has vaginal intercourse for the first time, the hymenal tissue’s elasticity and widened hole allows for stretching when the male enters, avoiding any actual tearing. It may cause some initial discomfort, but rarely is a prolonged issue and definitely is not a “cherry pop.” In cases of a thicker hymenal membrane, a woman should see her doctor about having the excess tissue surgically removed.

Rumors and myths about sexual health float around quite a bit. The best thing you can arm yourself with is the FACTS, and Choices Medical is a great place to find them! Not only do we have a team of trained professionals to meet your medical needs and answer your sexual health questions, but we genuinely care for you as an individual. And that’s a fact. Give us a call today!

Sources for this article are available upon request.

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.

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