Women’s Week kicks off with safe sex, STD talk

Diana Scholl

Despite all the complaints about a lackluster dating scene, surveys and anecdotal evidence show that Northwestern students do have sex.

So as a jump-start to Women’s Week 2004, Women’s Coalition and Voices for Planned Parenthood held a frank discussion on how women can enjoy sex safely — while minimizing the consequences.

Panelists from Searle Student Health Service and Planned Parenthood discussed contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion on Monday night during a Women’s Health Panel, titled “What’s up down there?”

For most of the session, about a dozen NU students asked the panelists about different types of birth control. Panelists stressed that even if women are on a hormonal birth control such as the pill or NuvaRing they should still use a condom during sex to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

“Using oral contraceptives and condoms together is the best you can do,” said Courtney Berne, a panel member who works in abortion services at Planned Parenthood. “Except to abstain — and that’s no fun.”

Panelists warned that human papilloma virus is a common sexually transmitted disease found on college campuses and that women who are sexually active should get regular pap smears.

Becky Thorne, nurse practitioner at Searle’s Women’s Health department, said that HPV is one of the more common STDs treated at Searle. Longtime sufferers sometimes develop cervical cancer, heightening the risks of the infection.

Women who smoke cigarettes are at an increased risk of HPV, said Libby Oppert, Planned Parenthood Family Planning’s assistant manager.

“If you smoke a cigarette, your cervix smokes 12,” Oppert said.

Thorne said that Searle gives out “lots and lots of birth control prescriptions” and currently has about 10 different kinds of birth control in its offices.

“We try to get the types of birth control that students are on, but if we don’t have the type you want the pharmacist can order it,” Thorne said.

Along with how to get birth control, panelists addressed questions about the backlash against abortion in the Chicago area.

Berne said protests occur every Saturday at the Near North Planned Parenthood, 1200 N. La Salle in Chicago.

“They’re not violent, just extremely annoying,” Berne said.

Still, she added that volunteers escort people into the clinic where doctors provide abortions Tuesdays through Saturdays.

In Illinois, parental notification is not required to have an abortion, Berne said. And should a client change her mind and want to have the baby, Berne said the clinic maintains a relationship with The Cradle adoption agency, 2049 Ridge Ave.

Although abortion is one of the issues being discussed this week, it is only one in an entire week focused on women and their bodies, said Lindsay Shadrick, co-director of Women’s Coalition.

Wednesday is “Love Your Body Day” and information will be passed out about media images of women and masturbation.

Women’s Week coincides with National Young Women’s Day of Action, which is on Thursday. The events will focus on women and their bodies.

Also on Thursday there will be a video and discussion of the 2004 election. Juice, the feminist magazine on campus, will host an event about body image in the media.

“The events this week all relate to women and their bodies and to be more active in taking the power back from those who try to take control of women’s bodies,” Shadrick said.

Reach Diana Scholl at [email protected]

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Women’s Week kicks off with safe sex, STD talk