Navigate

JOIN SMART YOUTH

If you want to make a difference and help others while learning about sexual health and keeping yourself safe, then you need to join SMART Youth! You can come to any of our events around the city or come to one of our movie nights or Open Mic events. Check out our schedule to learn what we are doing or e-mail sync.nyc@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sex & Justice

SMART Youth and TeenSense had their World AIDS Day event, Sex & Justice on December 8th!



We started off the day with a review of HIV criminalization laws and facts throughout the United States.
This presentation was done by Adrian Guzman of HIV Law and Policy.

The information set the foundation for how the science behind HIV transmission has not been taken into consideration for the policies that have come into place against people living with HIV and AIDS.
(Saliva cannot transmit HIV, but has been used in court cases as "assault with a deadly weapon" if someone living with HIV has spit or bit someone during a scuffle.)

With this beginning information we could become better advocates to provide equal treatment to all people and change policies that are basically from the DARK AGES and not following the scientific advancements and facts.


Next, we moved into our advocacy component.
How can we advocate and what do we advocate about!
We compiled a large list of topics that affect us and the people around us and ways that we can tackle these subjects.


Some juicy questions that emerged were:

1. What happens AFTER disclosing?
2. What happens in a healthy relationship?
3. What makes Sexual Health Education SCARY to the people in power?

The consensus of the group was that whatever approach we took to advocate around a topic had to:

  • Build bridges with people from all walks of life, nations, religions, etc.
  • Remove barriers, stigma, and prejudices around the topic
  • Educate and Empower!
The best approaches so far have been enhancing our publicity via the internet (promoting fun and accurate information to all), and continuing to host events and provide safe spaces for education to happen!

Let's keep up the good work and continue to grow!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tony & Tina go to DC: Tina

I'm aware "Tony & Tina" use to be a make up line... but I believe they are no longer in existence so I'm not too worried about getting sued.
Anyways...



Tony (the boyfriend) and I went to Washington DC on Tuesday, December 4th.
We were attending:
"The United States National Dialogue on the Criminalization of HIV Transmission, Exposure & Non-disclosure: The Role of States & the Federal Government"
A very long title indeed... nothing like the event title's SMART Youth comes up with!
To sum it up this was dialogue amongst around 40ish people ranging from doctors, lawyers, youth, and politicians, around HIV Criminalization Laws and Legislation.



I thought I would have to speak in front of people, like at a podium sort of deal, but that wasn't the case.
When it did finally come to my time to speak, I was in the audience and just answering a question from the moderator.
What I had prepared was so articulate, poetic, moving, and touched on all the topics I wanted to present and cover to the people in the space. I wanted to blow their minds!
But... I got so nervous I barely even remembered the question and basically said,
"Disclosure is hard and scary and I was so nervous when I was going to disclose to my boyfriend now that I wanted the world to swallow me and I was sweating and..."
Yeah... not the route I wanted to take but I guess I touched on enough of how pushing disclosure is easier said than done.
And... averted more attention on me by throwing my boyfriend (who was sitting next to me) under the bus by  mentioning him.
When they directed a new question towards him about his feelings towards my situation, and his take on the topic of criminalization, he was slightly taken aback but he answered amazingly. (Probably since he loves to talk anyways)
But I was proud of him and maybe I can get him to write up a little something on his experience with our trip to DC and this discussion.
I might just send him to speak on my behalf for next time...





Overall, it wasn't what I expected, and I didn't cover everything I wanted to say, but I was there and gave a little insight into my background.
It was also Tony's first time to DC so it was a nice trip to take together. (Cue "AW")
What came out of this though is that the senators that were there admitted to just passing legislation without reviewing it throughly. Now they have to work even hard to change injustices that have been passed within the system.
It was nice to see people from all sides realizing that changes need to happen and they are willing to come together.
The best quote we heard that pretty much sums up the big picture of this topic is:
"We have not created an environment where it is a safe to disclose freely."
Until we have that, then we can push disclosure, but now we have other things to put into action before that step.





Monday, December 3, 2012

World AIDS Day Event: Sex & Justice

SMART Youth and Teen Sense will be hosting a World AIDS Day event titled:
Sex & Justice
We will be discussing topics like safe sex, HIV criminalization, and more!
Come check it out!

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
11:30- 3 PM 
West Side YMCA, George Washington Lounge
5 West 63rd Street (between Central Park West & Broadway)

For more information or to RSVP please contact:
Janet at SMART Youth
212-633-2500 OR
jcarter@smartuniversity.org

It's going to be a great event!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's World AIDS Day!



Our month long blogging campaign (SMART Youth Answers) was designed to bring information to all in honor of World AIDS Day has come to an end. BUT the information does not end here!

We will continue to keep you updated on weekly topics and issues that still should be addressed for youth (or even adults) everywhere! Knowledge is Power!

We would like to leave you with a history of World AIDS Day and how education and spreading the information is always key when working to change the world for the better.

How did it start?
The first World AIDS Day happened on December 1, 1988, and it was approved by the Global Programme on AIDS (now known as UNAIDS.)  Every year, the day has a theme that is chosen to highlight a goal or a group of people who may not receive attention on a regular basis. This year the theme is "Getting to zero: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths."  

Why is it important?
Although there has been a lot of progress in the treatment options and access to prevention methods across the globe, HIV/AIDS continues to be a pandemic. We have not found a cure, we have not created a vaccine, and people are still dying. It is important to bring the world's attention to the issues facing people living with HIV/AIDS even if it is only for 1 day. 

What can I do?
The most important thing you can do is get tested. Knowing your status is a powerful thing, and it is a place to start whether it is to learn more about prevention methods or to find medical care and a supportive community if you are living with HIV/AIDS.  And people are LIVING with HIV/AIDS today. Using condoms (male or female) for EVERY sex act is another way to commit to the theme of Zero new HIV infections.  Finally, get involved!  Learn the truth about HIV/AIDS, stop stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS, donate to a local organization, or join SMART Youth! Each action you take is a powerful step towards achieving the theme of this year's World AIDS Day. If you live in NYC, come join us on Saturday, December 8th for our event in honor of World AIDS Day: Sex & Justice -- Is Your Body a Dangerous Weapon? -- flyer to be posted here tomorrow.

Thanks for reading SMART Youth Answers this month -- let us know if you have any other questions you want us to answer. You can always e-mail us at sync.nyc@gmail.com, and stay tuned!

Friday, November 30, 2012

SMART Youth Answers Daily Blogs Vacation



Well, this was a fun and educational experience!
SMART Youth has never done a campaign that required a WHOLE month of daily blogging on topics that affect youth all around!
We're not done forever though!
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, and that will be a conclusion to our information-spreading campaign.
Then we will continue to keep up the blogs (since we have so many more questions and answers to give!) either on a weekly or monthly basis!
So keep checking back for new posts.
Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

So you don't miss us too much, we'll leave you with our star PSA (Public Service Announcement) about practicing safe sex.

                                                       Don't Forget Your Raincoat!


SMART Youth Answers: Say Hello to My "Little Friend"

What are some things I should know about the penis? 



There's a fun little "diddy" from Monty Python about the penis that includes some of the terms you may encounter that are about the penis.

All information from here on will be from someone with a penis though... so... toodles for now!
Have a good play date! ;)



Whatever you call it, to most men; it’s our very first friend in life, our prized possession: the penis. 

Johnson, Willie, Schlong…there are many names for this part of your body, call it what you may;  As much as we think we know about our little friend, there are quite a few facts that you may not be aware of.

Let’s start off what you may know:  the primary functions of the penis are to urinate and ejaculate, however; a lot of men (and their partners) have questions about their penis they may be too uncomfortable ask.  
And now you don’t have to, below are some interesting tidbits about your member.  












For more interesting facts about the penis, check out this link: Penis Facts
For more information on the anatomy and processes of the penis, check out our previous blog: Basic Anatomy: How Our Parts Fit Together!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: 10 Boobie Questions Answered

Breasts, boobs, boobies, tits, tetas, titties, the girls, knockers, melons--whatever you call them!  They are cause for many questions, concerns--and confidence issues.  Talking about breasts can be uncomfortable.  So we've taken the liberty of offering up answers 10 common concerns young women have about their breasts.

Are my breasts too small/big?

Some people have blue eyes, some people have small noses, some people have large lips, some people have curly hair, some people have blonde hair, some people are short, tall, fat, or thin.  My point is, everyone is unique.  So how can we expect people to look different, yet have the same exact breasts?  Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes.  Some women have small breasts and some women have large breasts.  That's just life.  If you feel bad about your size, just remember, the grass isn't always greener on the other side!

Are there exercises I can do to make my breasts bigger/smaller?

When I was in school I remember girls talking about hitting their breasts to make them get bigger...yeah...not only does that sound painful, it's entirely ineffective.  There is very little you can do to change your breast size that doesn't include surgery, but there are some exercises you can do that may change your size.  Losing weight might decrease the size of your breasts.  Firming exercises may change the shape of your breasts, firm them, and make them look larger.  The change will probably not be that drastic or noticeable though.

My breasts feel lumpy, is it cancer?

Breasts are not supposed to be like jell-o, they're more like...tapioca pudding.  Within the breast are glands and fat that make breasts feel lumpy.

When pregnant and breastfeeding women begin to lactate, their breasts become firm and engorged because their glands fill with milk.  This may become painful and can be relieved by self expression or pumping.

What isn't normal is a hard lump that you may find while performing a Breast Self-Exam, which the National Breast Cancer Foundation suggests you do at least once a month.  Hard lumps may be a sign of cancer and should be discussed with your doctor.  Other concerns may be any new lumps in the breast, particularly painful ones, any thick areas, sticky or bloody discharge from nipples, and changes in your skin.


My breasts are not the same size! 

Believe it or not, this is common!  Human bodies are not perfectly symmetrical, so don't get too anxious if one of your breasts is slightly larger or smaller than the other.  However, there are some women who have very visibly different breasts (such as one breast is an A cup and the other is a C).  To help with this, you can buy bras that fit the larger breast and pad the other side with foam or silicone-gel inserts.

My breasts are kind of weird shaped...

I think it's important to keep in mind that bras and clothing greatly alter what our bodies really look like.  All breasts are not spherical and bouncy; they come in all shapes and all sizes.  If you are really self conscious there are bras that you can buy that change the shape of your bust.  In the nude, however, you're just going to have to learn to love your body for the unique wonder that it is. 
My breasts feel kind of lumpy, should I be worried?

What colour are my nipples supposed to be?

The colour of you areola is dependent on the colour of your skin.  Paler people will have pink toned areolas, people with darker skin tones with have tan to brown areolas.  The colour can become darker during pregnancy, with age, due to hormonal changes, and because of certain medications--including birth control pills.  

I have little bumps around my nipple...is this normal?

The tiny bumps (known as Montgomery glands) on your areola are not only NORMAL, they're necessary.  It was previously believed that these little bumps aided in breastfeeding, recent studies now explain why.  These little bumps give off a smell to help infants locate the breast when breastfeeding.  The more little bumps a woman has on her areola, the sooner she will lactate, and the faster her baby will gain weight! 

What if I have hair around my nipples?

Hair growth around your nipples is usually normal and an indicator of a change in hormone levels.  Teenage girls, pregnant women, and women going through menopause are the most likely to find hairs sprouting up around the nipple area as their hormones can be completely unbalanced. If this bothers you, you can trim or shave the hair.  It's best not to pluck the hairs because this can lead to painful ingrown hairs and even infection.

A more serious cause for hair growth around the nipple area could be do to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome--or PCOS.  When a woman has PCOS her ovaries generate large amounts of hormones, including testosterone.  The increase in testosterone causes nipples to become hairy.  Other symptoms of PCOS include hair loss, depression or mood swings, heavy vaginal bleeding, and irregular periods.  If you're worried you have PCOS, talk to your doctor for a diagnosis.   

What makes breasts sag and how can I avoid it?

Sagging is a natural process that happens to all women, except those with fairly small breasts.  Sagging occurs due to gravity; breasts do not have muscles, they have ligaments and connective tissue.  Over time the pull of gravity wears on these ligaments and tissue and stretches them.  Physical activity, such as sports, and a bra that provides insufficient support can also lead to stretching, and even tearing of the ligaments.  Other reasons for sagging can be due to pregnancy, menopause, and recent weight loss. 

To prevent sagging you should wear supportive sports bras during physical activity.  The general wearing of bras doesn't necessarily help with sagging though, in fact, frequent use of bras can actually be counterproductive.  Not breastfeeding to avoid saggy breasts is not very helpful either, since it is the hormones during pregnancy that cause breasts to sag and not breastfeeding.

Really there is not much you can do to avoid sagging breasts, except for maybe surgery.  However, there are bust firming exercises that you can do that will work out the muscles above and below your breasts to make them appear firmer and less saggy. 

My breasts are so...ITCHY!

The itchiness may be due to several things.  First, if you're an adolescent, it could be that your breasts are growing.  Your skin can also be dry.  In either of these cases, keep your breasts moisturized with lotion or oil.  I'd suggest all-natural cocoa butter, hemp lotion, goat's milk lotion, or oat meal lotion.  The cocoa butter or hemp lotion will prevent stretch marks from appearing if your breasts are growing (wish I had known this when I was developing!)  The goat's milk or oat meal lotion will really help reduce the itching and dryness.  Another possibility is you need a better bra.  Make sure the bra size you are buying isn't too small and that the fabric breathes. 

If the itchiness is combined with redness it could be that you are allergic to the soap or detergent you are using.  Try natural, fragrance free, or sensitive skin soaps and detergents.  Try easing with cortisone cream and see if anything improves.  If the red area turns to rough scaly patches, go see a doctor.  It could be possible that you have a skin yeast infection.


If you have a question that isn't listed here, feel free to respond to this post or post on our facebook page!

You can also check out 007 Breasts for more info on your boobies!



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Coming Out

My feelings of attraction differ from everyone else's around me... How do I let my family and friends know that I am (insert orientation here)?



I had to call in reinforcements with this request. I am a full fledge ally but that doesn't give me any place to provide advice on how to go about tackling the situation of "Coming Out"
SO! With a little help from my friends who have gone through this I have accumulated a few tips that I hope will help you!


*Come out to someone you trust and don't be shocked if they already knew you were gay. Many times people are just waiting for you to tell them.
*Some parents may think it is a phase. Try to explain to them that this is how it will always be and that they can't change you.
*Explain to people that your sexual orientation does NOT define you. You are the same person who simply is attracted to the same sex. Your personality does not change because you are gay.
*Stay confident and true to yourself. Don't try to change yourself because others won't accept you.
*If they are speechless or confused, it is OK. They may need time to take it all in.

Here are some direct quotes from my helper!

"Personally, I would not have done it over dinner and I would not have told both parents at the same time. Maybe there is a parent that he/she is closer to or that they know is more understanding. Having that one parent's support may make it easier to come out to others. Because you never know what their reaction will be, I would say to come out in a private place (your home). Maybe ask the parent if you could talk to them for a sec, don't make it a big deal or it will worry them. Coming out in a public place may be awkward or embarassing especially if someone starts crying, yelling, etc. It may be easier to write your parents a letter and just wait until they are ready to come to you to talk about it. You can do the same with your friends too. Make sure it is someone you trust, write them a letter/text/fb message and see how they respond to it in writing before actually talking to them.

Once you come out to friends, be prepared for the word to spread quick. If you are not ready to be openly gay, don't tell friends that may leak the word. Also, keep in mind that "coming out" is not a one time thing. Every new person you meet is not going to know you are gay and there will eventually be that moment when they find out either from you or other people."

"Sometimes you don't even have to "come out" by saying anything, just show them. Live your life as you see fit."

I hope this helps anyone in the situation. 
It's not easy.
It's not a one time thing.
But with courage and a great support system you can do it!

Good Luck! 
And SMART Youth is always here for you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: It's Time to PULL OUT, Troops!

What is the "Pull Out Method" and how effective is it with preventing pregnancy and/or STI transmission?


Comedian Jo Koy makes the boundaries of getting pregnant to not getting pregnant sound very simple with this method of birth control.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The "Pull Out Method" is when the penis is withdrawn from the vagina before ejaculation.
The strategy behind this method is that if the semen does not enter the vagina then no sperm can enter the vagina and essentially fertilize an egg within the uterus.
This fact is true, BUT because of the next fact, this does not make a fool-proof plan.

*Pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) still has traces of mature sperm.
These guys WANT to fertilize! They are fighters, super swimmers, and one-track minded SURVIVORS!
Only one sperm needs to get enter the vagina in order to begin the journey of conception...
-Along with this, only one sperm is necessary to transmit any Sexually Transmitted Infections or HIV

This method has been used for centuries though...
So it's not a total failure.
4/100 females will become pregnant if method is done correctly.
27/100 will become pregnant if method is done incorrectly.

I presume TIMING is KEY with this method.
For more information on how to make this work for you as a birth control method (after you and your partner get tested and have a back-up plan for if this plan DOES NOT work) check out this link:
Pull Out Method

Have Fun and Stay Safe!
(And clean up your mess... if you know what I mean!)

Monday, November 26, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: What Happens After Sex

I just had sex, now what do I do?
Okay, we already discussed how to dispose of condoms after sex, so now we will cover the talking and the emotions part of the experience. Regardless of your relationship with your sexual partner, there is always a sense of vulnerability after sex. Our bodies are exposed, we are naked, and we just shared a very intimate act with another person. It is completely normal to feel anxious or uncertain about what to do next. But this is one situation with no "right" answer. The most important thing for you to do is to figure out what makes you feel comfortable. If you want to continue that sense of connection, this is a great time to cuddle (after disposing of the condom) or to talk to your partner. It is always a good idea to wash up after sex for hygiene and comfort reasons. Finally, you need to leave the situation feeling like you and your sexual partner are on the same page in terms of what sex means to you.

After sharing something as intimate as sex, the hope is that you feel a sense of security and comfort with the other person. That means you can talk to them about how you are feeling and your emotions for the other person and about if sex changes that relationship. It would be best if that discussion happens before you have sex, but it should definitely happen before you leave. The main reason that sex causes anxiety is that you don't know what it means to the other person. Is it only a physical desire that you are exploring or is it an expression of the emotional connection that is part of a romantic relationship? The only way to know is to talk about it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: ABCs of Breast Exams

What am I supposed to do during a breast self-exam? I'm so young, is it really that important?

As I'm sure you noticed, October was breast cancer awareness month. The pink was everywhere: Even the NFL got involved! But beyond getting donations for a breast cancer walk or wearing a pink ribbon, what does it mean? Well, if you have breasts, it's time for you to get acquainted with them!
Every woman should do a monthly breast exam. Now, this does NOT replace going to see your doctor and your gynecologist, but it is a useful tool in understanding your body. The more you know about your breasts the quicker you will know when something changes. Talk to your family members about breast cancer to learn about your family history, and make sure that you let your doctor know as well. Changes in your breasts can be caused by other medical conditions besides cancer, but it is always important to get everything checked out.

Okay, here's the 4-1-1 on monthly self-exams:

1. The best time to perform the exam is one week after you start your period. It is important to do the exam at the same time every month because monthly hormonal changes can alter the way your breasts feel.

2. Take off your shirt and bra and lie down. It is easiest to examine all of the breast tissue when you are not standing up.

3. Using the pads of the three middle fingers of your left hand-not your fingertips- check your right breast. Move your fingers slowly in small circles starting on the outside of your breast and working your way to the nipple. It is best to use three types of pressure to feel all of your breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue close to the skin. Medium pressure is used to feel a little deeper, and firm pressure is used to feel your tissue close to your breastbone and ribs. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. Use each pressure level to feel your breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
 4. Remember that all breasts are not created equal, and some breasts naturally have lumps or cysts. What is important to learn is what is "normal" for you. This is something to talk about with your doctor when they are performing your yearly breast exam.

Here are a list of changes you might observe that should be checked out by a doctor:

  • Any new lump. It may or may not be painful to touch.
  • Unusual thick areas.
  • Sticky or bloody discharge from your nipples.
  • Any changes in the skin of your breasts or nipples, such as puckering or dimpling.
  • An unusual increase in the size of one breast.
  • One breast unusually lower than the other.
Although the possibility of breast cancer in a young woman is very low, it can happen. It is also a good idea to start the habit of breast exams now so that you will be an expert on your breasts as you grow older. Finally, it is important to mention that men can get breast cancer as well, although it is rare, and men should recognize changes in their breast tissue too! Remember, a self-exam never replaces the need to see your doctor on a yearly basis, and make sure that they perform a clinical breast exam during your visit. Now, go and get to second base with yourself!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: LGBTQQIA--- W,X,Y, and Z

What is up with all these sexual orientations? What do they all mean?

It does seem as if there is a sexual orientation letter soup, but as we gain a better understanding about how we view sexuality-- it's important that we include everyone. First let's start with the definition of sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation describes someone's continual (not just one time) attraction -- it can be a physical, sexual, and/or emotional attraction -- to a group of people.  We'll get into the different groupings of people in our letter soup discussion below. Now the important thing to remember about someone's sexual orientation is that the definition doesn't mention any sexual acts. Let's make this idea into an example. If a guy receives oral sex from another guy BUT he does not have a continual attraction to men, then that 1 sexual act does NOT define his sexual orientation. However, his behavior does mean that he has had sex with another man (your actions don't disappear just because you don't identify as a different sexual orientation.)

 Okay, now let's figure out what LGBTQQIA means:

Lesbian is when women have sexual desire or attraction to women.

Gay is usually ascribed to men who have sexual desire or attraction to men. As we all know, there are several definitions to the word gay, and not all of them are about sexual orientation. However, some women who are attracted to women refer to themselves as gay.

Bisexual is a sexual orientation that describes someone who is attracted to women and men. Remember, sexual orientation is not about your current sexual activities. So, that means a woman can be in a relationship with a man and still identify as a bisexual because she feels an attraction for both men and women.

Transgender is unique in this "alphabet soup" of sexuality because it doesn't really refer to a sexual orientation. However, in our society, we tend to put together all "groups" of people that are "different." So, people who identify as transgender are considered part of the LGBTQQIA community. Transgender people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. Transgender people may have any sexual orientation.

Queer is a political statement, a theory and an identity. Someone who identifies as queer is a person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses society's definitions or expectations assigned to gender altogether. It is often a label that people choose who bend or break their socially assigned gender roles. Queer identity is not a sexual orientation, but it is an identity that allows people to move outside of the boxes for female or male. In the past, queer has been a negative word for people who do not identify as a heterosexual, and some people find it offensive.

Questioning allows for people to say that they are not sure what their sexual orientation is, or if it is only one way. Someone's sexual attraction might change several times over their lives. If they don't want to make an absolute statement about their sexual attraction/orientation, then they will identify as questioning.

Intersexuality is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with "sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered "standard" for either male or female.

Asexual is a person who is not sexually attracted to any gender. This does not mean that they don't have sexual feelings, but those feelings are not connected to another person. Someone identifying as asexual will still engage in sexual acts, but those acts will not include anyone else.


 That is a lot of information, but it doesn't end there. We could talk about pansexuality, polyamory, and two spirits. Sexuality is a complex concept, and the more we learn, the more we realize that we don't know. One of the new ideas that people are finally accepting is that our identities are fluid, and all the acronyms (alphabet soups) still won't cover how we love and desire other people. So, don't worry if you don't know what letter or box you fit in. Maybe you don't need to check a box. Maybe we should all focus a little more in making sure we are happy and in choosing partners who love us as opposed to figuring out what category we fit in. Our hope is that everyone can have this and we will learn to accept each other regardless of the gender or sex of the people we love.

  

Friday, November 23, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Handsome Girl, Pretty Boy

What is the difference between someone's sex and gender?

It might seem like this is a silly question since you don't know if the answer makes a difference in our lives. But you will be surprised the number of times in your life that it will matter. I'm sure you're thinking, aren't my sex and my gender the same thing? If I'm a female, then I'm a girl, right? That's not always the case...let's start by defining these two words.

Someone's SEX refers to the biological definition of some as male or female. This can refer to someone's reproductive organs or to their genetic makeup -- males (XY) or females (XX).

Someone's GENDER refers to the societal construct created to describe one's identity as feminine or masculine.  This might sound a little confusing, so let's start with an example: When a little boy plays with a doll or wears a tiara, what happens?  Most of the time, adults take away the doll or the tiara and tell the little boy that those things are "girls' toys" and give him a truck or a helmet.

Now that you know the definitions of SEX and GENDER, what does that mean to you?? Well, it's helpful to understand how we are viewed by other people and why people (your parents, teachers, people in your neighborhood) have certain expectations of how you should behave. Since these expectations are created by a society, they will change depending on where you live. So what it means to be "masculine" or "feminine" isn't always the same.

You might not always feel like you want to act the way that your community (parents, teachers, friends, etc.) tells you to act. That's because our gender identity can be on a continuum and everyone isn't exactly the same. Check out the picture below to see what the continuum could look like.
Now the interesting part of this discussion so far is that we are not talking about sexual acts at all. Instead, sex and gender are referring to someone's identity -- or the way that you understand yourself and how other people view you. Your identity has many different parts to it, and your gender identity is one of them. The way that you show this to other people is called your gender expression.  So, a boy can wear a dress and that doesn't have anything to do with any sexual acts.

One of the great things about understanding your identity and gender expression is that you can make the choice about who you are and how you want to interact with other people. It's okay to express yourself in ways that are different from what is expected from you because of your "gender". And there are places available that will provide you with the safe space for you to be "yourself".  SMART Youth is one of them!

Check in tomorrow to learn more about identity, and there will be a post about the different types of sexual expression and a definition of sexual orientation


Thursday, November 22, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: There's a Protection for That

What are the different ways of having sex and how can I protect myself for all of them?




Here's a disclaimer for this one:
This is not a SEX guide. It's a PROTECTION guide!
There have been plenty of times where I've heard,
"You can't get anything/pregnant in THAT position."
I'll give you the info and you can really decide that for yourself.


Fingering: The insertion of a finger (or multiple) into the vagina or anus AND/OR stimulation of clitoris (for females)
Now, the risk of transmission of a Sexually Transmitted Infection is almost non-existent with this one. But possible.
For example, if you touch your own genitalia and you have herpes, then touch your partners genitalia... well... since herpes can be spread through SKIN-to-SKIN contact, you just put your partner at risk for contracting herpes. This can go for any Sexually Transmitted Infection that can be spread from SKIN-to- SKIN contact.
Pregnancy is, again, unlikely. Unless, again, if the male happens to have his semen on his hands before inserting his fingers into the females vagina.
What could be a problem is if the one fingering inserts their finger into the anus and then into the vagina. This spreads bacteria and can cause a yeast infection (or other vaginal infection). Just... don't do that...

Mode of Protection:
-Finger cots (like little condoms for your individual fingers)
-latex/non-latex disposable gloves
I know it seems like a mood killer, but you can work with it!
Just put on KISS's song "Calling Dr. Love" and that should spark a little sexiness while snapping on a latex glove. (Because doctors wear gloves... and... their song is all about sex... in case that wasn't clear)



Oral Sex: Insertion of the penis into the mouth OR licking of the clitoris and/or insertion of tongue into the vagina.
You cannot get pregnant through oral sex. Swallowing semen just leads to your stomach acids digesting... semen.
(I know someone is going to give me an extreme case, and here it is: If someone has unprotected oral sex with a man and he ejaculates into the mouth, then the person who preformed the oral sex goes onto preforming oral sex on a female without rinsing... well then... yes... semen can get into the vagina! But come on... let's NOT test this out!)
You can, however, contract a nice list of Sexually Transmitted Infections (HPV, Herpes, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis...) and transmission of HIV is also possible through unprotected oral sex.
Your gums can have microscopic cuts that can let these infections into your body and bloodstream.
Also, some of these infections can be contracted through SKIN-to-SKIN contact. Lips on a penis, lips on a vagina--- definitely SKIN-to-SKIN.

Mode of Protection:
-Dental Dams (a thin latex sheet that lays across the vagina)
-Flavored Condoms
Dental dams can be harder to find than flavored condoms, and may be a bit more expensive. There is a way around this! Flavored condoms can BECOME dental dams!
Check out this site for the HOW TO: Flavored Condom to Dental Dam
OR watch this video


Anilingus: Oral contact to the anus.
I had to give this one it's own section just because anything with the anus brings up a different category of infections along with Sexually Transmitted and HIV.
There is no pregnancy here. No chance. (unless you refer back to my "extreme" situation from before and then add onto it that semen slides down from the anus into the vagina... but, again, seriously?)
However, parasites, bacteria, and viruses can be transmitted through unprotected anilingus.
These include (but are not limited to):
Hepatitis (A,B,C), HPV, chlamydia, intestinal parasites, and herpes.
Also, going from the anus to the vagina can spread bacteria into the vagina or urethra, leading to a yeast infection, E. Coli, a urinary tract infection, or some other health problem. JUST DON'T DO THAT!

Mode of Protection:
-Dental Dams (a thin latex sheet that lays across the anus)

Anal Sex: Insertion of penis or sex toy into the anus.
We have recently posted a blog ALL about Anal Sex ( In Da Butt )
So I won't go into crazy details, I'll sum up the article.
You can't get pregnant. (Unless we revert back to my "extreme" situation again.)
Anal Sex is a high risk sexual practice, especially if unprotected.
The anus has thin tissues and no natural form of lubrication which increases chances of tearing and blood, which then increases risk of transmission of any Sexually Transmitted Infection AND HIV.
Again, moving from the anus to the vagina = BAD! and SAD/VERY ANGRY female.

Mode of Protection:
-Condom (Male OR Female- if the inner ring is removed)
AND LOTS OF LUBE!

Vaginal Sex: Insertion of penis or sex toy into vagina.
Here is where most of those kama-sutra positions come into play...
Pregnancy is a YES for this one!
Unprotected vaginal sex is what your parents did to create you.
Yep, I said it. Now you can have that image in your head for a moment or two.
HIV transmission is a risk as well. (Male to Female through semen, and even a small chance with Female to Male through the vaginal discharge)
Any Sexually Transmitted Infection you can think of, can be transmitted through vaginal sex. (and more)

Mode of Protection:
-Condoms (Male or Female)
-Birth Control (check out our previous blog about different Birth Control Methods: Sex without the Baby, Please )

Alright, so I think these are all the major forms of fore-play, intercourse, etc.
Unless... people are sticking things in belly-buttons and ears now...
My training has not covered THAT yet... so... you will have to fend for yourselves on that one.
Good Luck!
Have Fun, Stay Safe, and take this education and do with it what YOU feel is right!
Just know it's always there for you.
Now you can go to Urban Outfitters and buy the latest Sex Position of the Day calendar and stock up on condoms and lube at Duane Reade.
The New Year is almost here... ;)

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Proper Condom Disposal


I just had sex. What do I do with the condom?

So...before we get down to business, congratulations for practicing safe sex.

Now, let's talk about the four easy steps involved in properly disposing a used condom. Before we get to that, let's take a brief moment for comic relief.  
Here's a short clip from the movie Blue Crush that kinda breaks it all done. Make sure you follow our steps or face the wrath of cleaning staff, plumbers or even worse... your mom!


Lucky you, you and your partner just had sex, and getting rid of the condom may not be your top priority while you are enjoying the afterglow. But there a couple of steps you should keep in mind that make disposing of a condom quick and easy.


You should dispose of a used condom immediately after ejaculation or if a man loses his erection

 Here are the steps:

1)    Make sure to hold the top of the condom and withdraw the flaccid penis carefully to avoid any fluids coming out of the condom
2)    Once you have removed the condom, tie off the base of the condom, wrap it in a tissue and put it in the trash.
3)    Despite the temptation, DO NOT FLUSH THE CONDOM DOWN THE TOILET. I know that it seems like the fastest way to get rid of the condom, but it will just cause your toilet to clog up, which will result in the plumber having to come and fish out the condom.

4) It is very important to dispose of a condom once you ejaculate. If the condom tears, semen can spill out, and that kinda eliminates the point of a condom. There is a small possibility of pregnancy or transmitting a sexually transmitted disease as a result so take care of the condom before you spoon! And remember to wash your hands and penis off, to remove any semen that could still be left behind.

Following these steps are part of properly using a condom and are essential to keeping yourself and your partner safe! SMART Youth and plumbers everywhere thank you...





Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Tainted Blood!

Why can some people give blood and other people can't? Who is "banned" from giving blood, and why?

Donating blood is one of the easiest and greatest ways that you can make a difference in someone's life. It can make the difference between someone living or dying after being in an accident or during a medical procedure. We are constantly being asked to donate blood due to the shortage. However, there are entire groups of people who aren't allowed be blood donors. There are lots of reasons for those policies, but some of them don't make as much sense as others.  Let's break it down...
Age & Health

There are some basic biological requirements that are necessary in order for your body to handle giving a pint of blood. Doctors have created a basic criteria that people need to weigh at least 110 pounds, be healthy, and be 17 years or older (some states allow 16 years old to donate with your parent's permission). In order for your body to replenish the blood loss, you must wait 56 days before you can donate again.  If you pass these criteria there are some health issues that could be a problem on the day that you go to donate blood such as anemia, low/high blood pressure or cold/flu symptoms.

People living with diseases that are transmitted through blood, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C cannot donate blood. Everyone is asked a set of questions about behaviors that could put you at risk for HIV/AIDS, and you will not be able to donate if they think you are at risk for HIV/AIDS. Donated blood is tested for HIV/AIDS as a secondary precaution.

Travel Restrictions

You can be denied from giving blood for other reasons besides your health. If you have traveled outside of the country to places where malaria is found, you must wait 1 year before you can donate blood.  You must wait 3 years if you lived in one of these areas.  Here's a link to a map of where malaria can be found:  http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/map/

In some parts of the world, there is something called Mad Cow Disease, an infectious fatal brain disease - scientists believe that Mad Cow Disease is the same thing as variant Creutzfield-Jacob Disease (vCJD) with the possibility of transmission through blood, and so people cannot donate blood who have traveled/lived in a country during a time when there was vCJD.  Here is a link to the specific restrictions due to vCJD country restrictions: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-alphabetical-listing#arc5

Finally, people who were born in or lived in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger and Nigeria since 1977 cannot donate blood due to possible exposure of a specific strain of HIV/AIDS.

Population Groups

If you are a man who has sex with other men, then you can never donate blood.  This rejection of an entire group of people comes from the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, because of the possible risk of HIV/AIDS.  There is no scientific or epidemiological reason for this ban, and many advocates have worked diligently for years to overturn it.  However, there remains a skewed perception that a man who has sex with men is automatically at a higher risk level than other sexually active individuals.  If you have read our blog on anal sex, you know that this sex act is an equal opportunity activity.

So, there it is.  A breakdown of the restriction around blood donation.  Some of it is for very specific physical reasons like anemia or low blood pressure.  But because there are a few very serious disease that can be transmitted by blood there are lots of slightly odd or even outright homophobic restrictions in place.  It is important to make sure that we make decisions from proven scientific research instead of fear and stigma, and we hope that some of these restrictions can be changed soon.



Monday, November 19, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Advice for our Parents!

How do I talk about sex with my preteen/teenager?



Today we're going to mix it up and talk about what parent's can do to communicate with their teens about sex.  We're sending you to a SMART Youth Alumna's website. She is an artist and creator of handmade crafts, but her amazing site is also filled with lots of great blogs on different topics. This posting deals with how parents can talk with their teens about sex. It's a great post to share with your parents, and maybe even start a conversation that is really difficult to have.

Check it out! http://followthestray.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Talk-About-Sex-with-a-Preteen 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: In Da Butt

Anal sex boggles my mind... Please explain this sexual act!


My, oh my. I feel like I should be flagged for just putting that photo, but let's get to the BOTTOM of this anal stuff. ;)

What is Anal Sex?
Anal sex is the insertion of a penis into the anus. Some acts of anal sex may include object insertion, fingering, anilingus (licking the anus), or pegging (female with a strap-on penis inserting into an anus).

So... this is pleasurable? 
Like with any sexual position this all depends on the person. There is an anatomy to anal sex though that can make it pleasurable to people.
There are nerve endings in the anus and rectum region that could lead to an enjoyable experience during anal sex, for both males and females.
The opening and closing of the anus is controlled by sphincter muscles. These muscles have a sensitive membrane with many nerve endings and can be a source for either pleasure or pain.

Males:
For the male being penetrated, the insertion of the penis (or other object) can cause pleasure by rubbing against the prostate gland through the anal wall.
For some men prostate stimulation causes a greater orgasm than penile stimulation alone. The prostate is like the male G-Spot.

For the male penetrating, the anal walls are tighter than vaginal walls, which can cause extra stimulation to the penis.


Females: 
So... females don't really have any special glands near their anus. With extra stimulation to other erogenous zones (clitoris, g-spot, vagina) anal sex could be pleasurable to a female.

What are the risks?

Anal sex is considered a high risk sexual practice. This is because the anal and rectal tissues are very delicate and have no natural lubrication. This leads to an increase risk of tearing and bleeding which increases Sexually Transmitted Infection and HIV transmission.

There is also an increase of vaginal or yeast infections if the penis or other object being inserted into the anus enters the vagina right after. Anal mucous or remnants of fecal matter is not meant to be in the vagina!
DO NOT MAKE A FEMALE ANGRY! Either stay in the anus, or change condoms and move onto the vagina.

HPV can cause cervical cancer within females uterus', but HPV in the anus can cause anal cancer, no matter the sex of the person.

Physical damage can manifest as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or rectal prolapse (a wall in the anus collapses). Adequate lubrication can reduce this damage.
Loss of bowel control isn't always correlated to anal sex. The more likely reason can be the repeated injury or insertion of large objects into the anus.

How do I protect myself?

Simply, Condoms and Lube. Lots and lots and lots of lubrication.
Your usual condoms can be used for anal sex.
Since it is a high risk practice you want to make sure you are more vigilant and cautious when engaging in safer anal sex.


Well, if this is a sexual act you plan on experimenting with, you can now engage safely!
The only tips I can truly find is to:
-Relax
-and USE LUBE!

ARRR Matey! There was great BOOTY in this blog!
 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Tat Me Up

I want to get a tattoo. How can I make sure I am safe from any infections? 

 Whether it's a sleeve or a butterfly on an ankle, it seems like everyone has a tattoo these days, but there are some important tips to know before you step into a tattoo parlor. First thing is to choose the image that you want to have on your body for the rest of your life, it's time to learn how to stay safe when getting a tattoo. Remember that you must be 18 years old in order to get a tattoo.

1. Check out your tattoo artist. Make sure that they are licensed and you should be able to ask any questions that you have about the tattoo process, their sterilization system, and seeing their previous work.

2. Keep things clean. Although tattoo parlors have a reputation of being slightly dingy and rundown, but you should choose an artist that works in a clean, well lit space.  They should use needles, tubes and inks from unused, sealed packages. There should be an autoclave for sterilizing any non disposable equipment. If the place doesn't meet these requirements, go someplace else. Finally, make sure and that the artist either washes their hands or wears gloves. Gloves, sterilized needles and new ink is essential to make sure that you are not exposed to possible transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C, and tetanus.

3. Be kind to your skin. It's important to realize that some inks can cause skin irritation or even an allergic reaction. These problems can happen even years after you get the tattoo. You may have problems with bumps called granulomas or raised areas of scar tissue (keloids). Please talk to your doctor if you have sensitive skin before getting a tattoo.

4. Infection! Follow the directions for caring for a new tattoo. The healing period is normally two weeks long. If your tattoo is still red or burning after the healing period go see a doctor because it could be infected.

Tattoos are a way to express yourself, but it is permanent! So, take the time to really think about what you want to put on your body. Take care of yourself, and follow our tips to make sure that the only problems from getting a tattoo is when you break-up with the person who's name is now on your butt!

Friday, November 16, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: The Biology of Sex

What is supposed to happen during sex? Going off of movies and television, it seems perfect every time...

As the lights dim, music swells in the background and two beautiful bodies, half in shadows, merge together in acrobatic but sexy positions with the camera panning to the window looking out at the stars when our two beautiful people reach their climax -- then it fades to black... HA!!!

I know movies aren't real, but there is something really fake about a sex scene on film.  I think the thing that bugs me the most is that no one seems to sweat during sex, or if they do, it's some sort of glistening sheen that makes them look sexy instead of the truth -- like they just spent 30 minutes (hopefully) doing aerobic exercise.  Life is never as pretty as the movies or TV, and sex is no exception.  No one is paid to do your hair and make-up, and you don't get touch-ups after every take.  But that's okay because everyone is in the same boat.

So, let's start at the beginning and speak the truth about what happens during sex...
1. FOREPLAY! - Every sexual act should have a beginning -- whether it's with your partner or someone you met at the club that night.  Anticipation is one of the best parts of any sexual act.  Now, everyone has something that turns them on, a kiss on the neck or whispering sweet nothings in your ear.  The down side can be that someone tries to re-enact a scene from a movie that doesn't work so well in real life.  Food, especially anything dairy, is an example of this oft repeated mistake.  It tends to be messy and doesn't taste great when licked off a sweaty body -- plus it can cause problems if it gets into your nooks and crannies!  If you really want to try it, use sheets you don't care about and please shower afterwards.

2.Sounds happen - some can be sexy and some can be funny, but sex creates its own soundtrack.  Don't stress about any strange or unusual sounds that emerge when sex happens.  If you and your partner already have a level of intimacy or trust, you can even laugh about it.  But if your sexual partner makes any negative comments about bodily noises, I would find a better sexual partner!

3. The Big O! In the movies, everyone seems to orgasm in perfect harmony and with a lot of sound and fury.  In reality, it is very rare for partners to climax at the same time, and so both of you should work to make sure that everyone leaves happy even if someone has to continue to work to please the other person when they might be happy to roll over and go to sleep.  Also, it's important to realize that you don't have to sound like you're on a roller coaster in order to show that you made it to orgasm.  Some people might yell, some shudder and others might make a face.  However, there is no wrong way to have pleasure.  Just make sure that you have sound proofing in your bedroom if you know you're a screamer!

The main point is that sex involves two people raising their heart rates and bodily fluids are involved (of course they will be contained in the condom that you are using) so don't expect sex to be pretty.  It should be fun, and good exercise, but just understand that it won't be as seen on TV.  Give yourself, and your partner, a break, and enjoy it for the sweaty, noisy (and condom wearing) act that it is.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: Explosion in 3...2...1

I am so stressed out! What are the affects of stress on my body and how can I keep calm?

Everyone is under a whole lot of stress these days.  Dealing with school, family, friends, boyfriends, Hurricanes for goodness sake!  Life is not easy, and some days are much worse than others.  Added to the external stress (stuff that happens around or to us), we also have additional stress that we put on ourselves (internal stress).  Some of the internal stress comes from doubting ourselves or thinking that we are not able to handle everything around us.  And -- as the icing on the cake -- puberty and the hormonal changes that happen during adolescence only crank up these feelings, so what is normally annoying (like your mom telling you to do the dishes or make your bed) feels like it's the end of the world and all you want to do is EXPLODE!!!

Okay, first thing you need to know is that it is completely normal.  We've all been there.  Adults just black it out of our memories because it sucked so much.  Stress is our bodies response to what it understands as a difficult situation.  Sometimes, stress can be a good thing.  It keeps us awake if we're driving late at night, and it can even improve your vision!  That's because your body reacts to stress by releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.  The problem comes when we are feeling stressed out all the time and our body is always drowning in the adrenaline and cortisone.  Not good for your body and not good for the way you feel!  Check out the chart below for some common symptoms of stress.

Common effects of stress ...
... On your body ... On your mood ... On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

But don't lose hope because there are ways to make it better.  Here are a few suggestions about what to do when you are feeling stressed out!

When you are feeling frustrated and want to take it out on someone else (family, friends or romantic partner), you could...
--> Take a walk -- sounds simple, but leaving a situation before it gets ugly is one of the best ways to make sure that you don't have to deal with more stress because you hurt someone else
--> BREATHE -- I know you've heard it before, but deep breaths actually have a physical impact on your body.  It helps calm the systems that are telling your brain to release the extra hormones.
--> Talk about it -- You would be surprised how much a situation can improve if you simply say that you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.  Since everyone has felt that way before, they can relate and maybe even give you a break.  But if they don't know why you are slamming doors or not answering them all they see is your annoying behaviors.

When you feel stressed ALL the time, you can...
--> Exercise!  I know everyone says this, but there are so many good things that come from physical activity.  Here's the technical reason -- when you raise your heart rate due to aerobic exercise (running around) your body releases different chemicals into your bloodstream that leads to you feeling good, worn out and like you did something meaningful (which you did!)
--> Sleep -- it is so important to get 8 hours every single night.  Sleep is the time when your body takes a break.  Stress will only increase if you don't allow your body to tune out and replenish itself.
--> Do something FUN -- Now that doesn't mean that you have a legitimate excuse for why you went to the movies instead of doing your homework, but it is important to realize that sometimes we need to give ourselves a break.  Adults do it all the time with their brunches, mani/pedis, yoga and massages, and you can too.  Think about something that always makes you smile -- baking cookies, the swings at the park, game night with friends -- now make it happen!  You will be surprised how much more relaxed you feel afterwards.
--> Break it down --Try and write down the things that you have to do or are on your mind.  Then circle the top 3, now star the number 1 priority.  Good!  Now, figure out the first 3 steps that you need to do to complete it.  You've just made something that felt overwhelming into 3 steps that you can actually do!  Congratulations, that is the most important step to learn when it comes to managing stress at school, at work, and with family!

It's easy to deal with feeling stressed by eating, watching TV all day, smoking or even doing drugs.  The problem with those choices is that all of those options don't fix what is making you stressed AND their side effects actually add to the stress on your body.  So what feels good for 10 minutes will eventually make you feel much worse, and can make you physically sick!  All of a sudden that walk sounds pretty good right now, doesn't it!  And as always, if the feelings don't go away after exercising, sleeping well, having fun and breaking down your "to do" items, then it might be time to talk to your parents about seeing a doctor.  There might be other physical or mental stuff going on.

Okay, now you know what stress is, what the possible symptoms of stress look like, and a list to help you deal.  As a reward for all your time and attention, here is one last tip for dealing with stress -- look at cute pictures of baby animals!!  They are just too cute! And here's a freebie for the road...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SMART Youth Answers: OMG - HA, HB, & HCV!

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis literally means inflammation of ('itis') the liver ('hepa'). It's caused by viral infections, excessive use of alcohol, illegal drug use, or by a person's own immune response.

Before we talk more about Hepatitis, we're first going to take a quick look at the liver.
  • The liver, which sits below the lungs (in between both lungs is the heart) and to the right of the stomach, is the largest organ in the human body (the largest organ of the human body is the skin). It's a meaty, reddish brown, rubbery feeling organ that weighs about 3 pounds when fully developed. The liver's main job is to filter blood, but it also does more than 400 other functions everyday.
Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

The symptoms of hepatitis include:
  • jaundice, which causes a yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • headache  
However, some people do no experience any symptom at all, or several years after they contracted the virus.  The hepatitis virus comes in 5 types: A-E, with the most common types being A, B, and C.  It's important to state that Hepatitis C is the leading cause of viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis A is usually passed from one person to another through fecal contaminated food or water in places where the water supply is not sanitized. People who get hepatitis A generally get better and have no further complications. While infected some people can feel very ill from flu-like symptoms. 

Hepatitis B  is passed from one person to another when the blood or sexual fluids of an HBV infected person gets into another persons blood stream through openings in the skin (punctures, cuts, sores) or through the mucosal membranes (nose, genitals). Hepatitis B can live outside of the body for several days. It can become a chronic or lifelong infection and increase the risk for serious liver damage and liver cancer. Infants infected during childbirth are at the highest risk for developing chronic infection.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is passed from one person to another when the blood of an HCV infected person gets into another person’s blood stream through openings in the skin (punctures, tears, cuts, sores) or through a blood transfusion (but not in the United States since all blood is tested for Hepatitis C). Hepatitis C can live outside of the body for several days. Hepatitis C can become a chronic or lifelong infection and increases the risk for serious liver damage and liver cancer. 

Hepatitis D is spread through contact with infected blood, and is contracted concurrently with Hepatitis B or develops in people who already have Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis E is spread through food or water contaminated by feces from an infected person, but is uncommon in the US.

How can I protect myself?

The good news is that there are vaccines available for Hepatitis A & B, and the Hepatitis B vaccine may offset the spread of Hepatitis D. In the United States, it is often required for you to have these vaccines before you enter high school or college, and it requires several shots over a period of 6 months.  Your doctor will talk with you about any questions you have about the vaccine.

Regardless of vaccination, it is a good practice to avoid drinking tap water when travelling internationally -- it's not just viral hepatitis that you could get!!

Since Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread through blood and sexual contact, the best way to protect yourself is to use universal precautions.  Always use gloves when you are in contact with any blood, always use condoms, DON'T share needles (for drug use or tattoos!), and DON'T share person hygiene items (like toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers)!

What do I do if I think I have hepatitis?

The first thing you should do is get tested.  Go to your doctor or find a free testing site.  There are treatment options available, and you should talk with your doctor about what is best for you.  Get informed about the options and protect your liver -- don't drink, exercise, eat well-balanced nutritious meals and stay positive!


**It is important to know that viral hepatitis may result from other sources not mentioned. These are called non-A-E hepatitis, the cause of which is still generally unknown.