Whether getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV or using contraceptives, taking charge of one’s sexual and reproductive health is imperative for anyone who is sexually active.
Last week, two influential organizations made crucial recommendations in hopes of expanding access to sexual health resources in the United States.
Although condoms are widely available in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an astounding 50,000 people are newly infected with HIV each year in America.
Last Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force called for routine HIV testing for all Americans aged 16 to 65. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover preventive services that are recommended by the task force, meaning HIV testing will be covered as a routine checkup if the recommendation is finalized. For students, this could mean easier access to HIV testing, free of stigma and judgment as testing becomes a routine part of life.
ABC News spoke to Dr. Carlos Del Rio, co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS research in Atlanta. “I don’t have to ask my patients if they eat hamburgers before ordering a cholesterol test. Now I can do a routine HIV test when patients come to clinic,” he said.
In addition to getting tested for STIs and HIV, easy access to contraceptives is another important aspect of sexual health. Last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released new recommendations that birth control be sold over the counter without prescription in order to increase access to birth control pills.
“Access and cost issues are common reasons why women either do not use contraception or have gaps in use,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Alarmingly, the Contraception in America study released in September found that two in five women in the United States do not use any form of protection during sex.
Although providing birth control pills over the counter could increase access to birth control, critics of the recommendations raised concerns, such as affordability. Although the Affordable Care Act requires insurance coverage of birth control prescriptions, the same might not apply to over-the-counter medicines.
“It’s going to replace a prescription barrier with a cost barrier,” Dr. Daniel Grossman told CNN.
In addition, others worry whether women would be informed about possible side effects of using hormonal birth control if women are not required to visit a doctor to receive a prescription first.
“There will also undoubtedly be arguments against the recommendation, whether they stem from fears over encouraging risky behavior, concerns about patient adherence or religious beliefs,” writes CNN reporter Jacque Wilson.
Despite criticism of the recommendations, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health made a statement regarding the positive impact such a decision could have on Latinas.
“Over-the-counter access will greatly reduce the systemic barriers, like poverty, immigration status and language, that currently prevent Latinas from regularly accessing birth control and results [sic] in higher rates of unintended pregnancy,” their press release stated.
These recommendations are significant steps in not only increasing access to services such as HIV testing and birth control, but are also important in raising awareness of how universities, communities and professional organizations can engage Americans to become active advocates of their own sexual and reproductive health.
Printed on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 as: Organizations advocate for sexual health resources