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Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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The Environment Science Now + Beyond

Climate change is a feminist issue, and here’s why

In the past year, we’ve seen wildfires devastate Australia and parts of the United States. We’re seeing cities and islands disappear under rising sea levels, torrential rains flood large parts of Europe, and entire regions drowning in smog. With temperatures soaring to new levels, increasing numbers of natural disasters ripping communities apart, and rising sea levels displacing populations, it is unthinkable to deny that climate change is threatening us all. Despite repeated warnings from scientists and experts, there are very few practical solutions being implemented to combat it and secure life on this planet for all. As governments continue to ignore or water down climate justice treaties and enact policies that cause environmental destruction, few stop to think about how climate change and gender interact with each other.

Climate change impacts those who are the most marginalized–and in most communities, they’re women. Women are more likely than men to be impoverished and they face high risk during climate change-related disasters. In fact, women constitute 80% of those displaced by climate change. Women and children are actually 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. With migration expected to increase due to climate change (increased sea levels, inhospitable temperatures, and a loss of arable land), women are be the most vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and other harm. This is already noticeable in current migration patterns, where 50% of migrants are women and girls, facing gender-based violence.

LGBTQIA+ individuals, who already face disproportionate violence and disenfranchisement, are also at risk due to climate change, particularly with shelter and health. Even without climate concerns, many are forced to leave their homes and communities from fear or insecurity about their safety. But in climate emergencies, when housing is destroyed or limited, the need for support increases manifold. LGBTQIA+ individuals who would be displaced in the process of extreme weather conditions would find their marginalization increasing, as might violence toward them and a lack of advisory services.

Climate change has also been a result of extractivist, colonial activities by many global North countries. The drive for increased profits has long been at the expense of communities who find themselves in an unequal power dynamic with corporations and governments. In those communities, where gender dynamics are already skewed and where resource exploitation drives down the quality of life, women face additional or exaggerated burdens. Women, commonly positioned as primary caretakers, find themselves struggling to support their communities and families when the water goes bad, the crops don’t grow, and people fall ill. For this reason, many women human rights defenders are actively agitating for solutions to climate change that involve the dismantling of economic structures that prioritize extractive industries over environmental protection.

Despite all of this, women and LGBTQIA+ communities rarely find themselves afforded a space at the negotiating table to be a part of climate justice solutions. In the European Union, for example, only one-fifth of ministers who handle issues relating to the environment, transport, climate change, and energy are women. This is in line with historical trends, where women have not been included in key decision-making bodies. Many climate justice agreements do not address gender equality, women’s rights, or minority rights. The enhancement of present policies and the building of future ones to effectively reflect gendered realities is vital if marginalized communities are to be served well by climate justice solutions.

A feminist approach to climate justice can lead the way for concrete change. Here are some steps we can take for that:

  • Gendered perspectives must be included at every step of the decision-making process, including disaster mapping and mitigation solutions.
  • Feminist activists, women human rights defenders, LGBTQ+ activists, and other key leaders representing marginalized communities must be included in the research, review, and policy crafting processes. Their inputs can be based on lived and directly observed experiences, which in turn would increase the efficacy of policy solutions.
  •  Ensure that climate justice solutions do not pit one marginalized community against another. Intersectionality–the consideration of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, and other factors–must be the foundation of any effective climate justice framework.

As we all struggle to survive in a world where the greed of corporations is hindering the quality of our lives and contributing to climate injustices, let us band together to turn back the clock!

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Health Science Now + Beyond

How scientific journalism caused, and healed, my hypochondria

TW: Discussion of mental health, cancer, illness.

Do I have cancer? Cancer symptoms? How do you know if you have cancer? As a sophomore in high school, I would Google questions like this day after day. I remember the anxiety rushing through my head, only worsened by the WebMD articles informing me that, yes, I did indeed have cancer. It took me a year to realize that I was wrong, but it was a long and stressful year.

At this point in my life, I wasn’t particularly educated on health or my body. I had taken health class in school, but we learned very little about our own bodies, and even when we did, it was vague and uninformative. In all five years of health class, we only learned about cancer once. My teacher told me that the primary signs were uneven lumps, unusual discharge, and wounds that won’t heal. At this point, I was convinced I had cancer.

Or so I thought I did. Totally ignorant about the functioning of my own body, I mistook my normal, healthy vaginal discharge for a clean sign of cancer. Once I took into account an odd (but benign) birthmark, a stubborn tonsil infection, and a few small cuts and bruises that wouldn’t go away, and I was certain that I had late-stage cancer. My stress over my apparent illness led to heart palpitations and migraines, which I took as signs that the cancer was spreading.

It probably sounds ridiculous. I agree that it does. It was only later, when I found out about hypochondriasis, that I understood what was happening to me.

To those who don’t know, hypochondriasis is a psychological disorder in which one develops chronic hypochondria. A person with hypochondriasis will assume that they are ill with a serious disease when they are not, and mistake any small ailment for a sign of a larger problem. Many people have experienced hypochondria, but for those of us with hypochondriasis, the anxiety is constant, chronic, and life-altering.

Anything can bring on a bout of hypochondria. For me, it was news articles about strange new diseases that could threaten one’s life or clickbait articles about sure signs of cancer. I’d find some way to match my own symptoms to the ones described, and subsequently spiral. It wasn’t an easy time.

However, I am proud to say that I eventually pulled through. Finally talking to my family about my symptoms helped me understand that my illnesses were normal and not life-threatening. When I eventually faced a serious illness earlier this year, my hypochondria all but disappeared. Once I understood what a serious illness felt like, nothing else could compare.

My hypochondria was a result of my health curriculum, “educational” health websites such as WebMD and “scientific” clickbait. However, science and medicine journalism also helped heal me. Whenever I’d have heartburn or a migraine, I’d calm myself down by reading about the actual mundane causes of these issues. I eventually came to realize that my “symptoms” were not at all symptoms of heart disease or cancer, but very common minor ailments.

Most of my health issues were stress-related, and once I realized this, I finally began to heal. I haven’t had a serious migraine or heart palpitations in a year now. I can thank my scientific research for this, but I can also thank my own strength. Understanding genuine medicine was a catalyst for me, but working on my mental health was just as important.

I still struggle with hypochondriasis, but I find myself improving every day. Mental illnesses don’t disappear overnight, but I’m learning to work through them and learn from them. In the midst of the pandemic, my lived experience is actually quite a blessing. Many of my friends and family members are now struggling with hypochondria themselves, and I’m able to help them work through their anxiety. It’s never easy, but I’ve found myself not only starting to heal, but also help heal others.

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Health Care Health Wellness

This is how I finally won the battle against PCOS – and it only took 5 steps

PCOS fucking sucks.

When I was diagnosed with Polycystic-Ovarian Syndrome, I believed that my life was over. I thought I would gain weight exponentially, have acne for the rest of my life, and never be able to have kids. I felt trapped by an illness hellbent on ruining whatever happiness I had, and of course, that resulted in the depression and anxiety that I am still battling with today.

One in 10 women of child-bearing age will be diagnosed with PCOS, making it a fast-growing illness for millennial women. With the pressures of becoming an adult and taking responsibility for our lives in a time wrought with unrest, having to deal with the difficult symptoms of PCOS can be stressful and result in multiple mental health issues.

And any PCOS patient who has visited their GP knows that doctors simply don’t know what to do with us.

Having consulted with the internet, other women with PCOS and my own personal experimentation, I’ve found a few tips that have helped me immensely in my fight against PCOS. Though all of these methods are natural, as it is my choice to try beat PCOS without medication and gynecology, there are other biomedical options out there for people with different choices.

The point is that PCOS is not a life-sentence; we can beat it together.

1. I downed spearmint and chamomile tea like cheap tequila

[Image desciption: A gif of a cartoon drinking tea.] Via
Spearmint and chamomile tea is a must for me, and I drink it religiously three times a day at every meal. Spearmint contains natural anti-androgen properties, therefore minimizing the effects of hormones like testosterone on our bodies; effectively fixing hormone imbalances. This means that women who struggle with symptoms like hirsutism (excessive hair growth), can manage it with a few cups of tea every day. Chamomile also helps to reduce anxiety and stress; mental health issues that are very common for women with PCOS.

I’ve seen a marked reduction in my facial hair, and my stress levels have subsided dramatically with the regular use of this delectable herbal remedy.

2. I got myself to the gym against my own will

[Image description: A gif of Mr Potato Head trying to lift a weight bar and falling.]
Five days a week. It sounds excessive, but a little goes a long way. I’ve learnt to love going to the gym by noting the positive effects it has on both my mind and body. It’s a natural stress-reliever and immediately lifts my mood and energy levels.

Exercise is also important for counteracting weight gain, a common symptom for people with PCOS. The combination of PCOS and weight gain can result in diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and uterine cancer. With just a 20 minutes, or if you have time, an hour of exercise every day for five days a week, you can drastically reduce your chances of these fatal health issues.

Going to the gym can be a difficult journey, but incorporating it into your regimen is imperative. I like to look at it like brushing your teeth; you wouldn’t go a day without it.

3. I swiped left on any processed sugar like a predictably bad hookup

[Image description: A gif of a man pouring salt all over himself and falling back in his chair.]
I know, I know, I dream in cake and ice cream too and don’t even get me started on the classic croissant and cappuccino duo.

But the reality is that people with PCOS are insulin resistant, therefore making diseases like diabetes a very real prospect in our lives. By canceling out processed sugars, we can drop our blood sugar levels dramatically, therefore decreasing weight gain, acne, anxiety and depression and so much more.

My father, the health food nut that he is, managed to go off his diabetes medication by giving up processed sugar. For someone who is turning 62 this year, it is truly remarkable, and a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to kick bad habits.

So substitute beer for water, and ice cream for green juices, and I promise you, the results will be worth more than a midnight snack.

4. I said goodbye to carbohydrates and therefore my bread addiction

[Image description: A gif of Oprah saying “i love bread”.]
Pizza, pasta, roti, and rice. You name it, I want it.

But sadly carbs can work against your insulin resistance just as much as sugar does. But this doesn’t mean you have to give up on all kinds of carbs. The same way we work with kicking sugar through substitutions, you can eat black rice, quinoa, buckwheat, couscous and so many other yummy things that are actually good for people with PCOS.

It might be difficult at first, but becoming innovative with your recipes will help you to see that although late-night pizza is a feel-good phenomenon, black rice, chickpea curry and decadent, colorful salads are better for your long-term health.

5. I unashamedly journaled Bridget Jones Diary-style

[Image description: A gif of Cher from Clueless pondering something.]
When I acted out because of my depression and anxiety, people made me feel even worse by telling me that it was just because I was hormonal. Take it from me, telling someone with PCOS that they’re hormonal is the worst thing you can do.

So I started dealing with my feelings head on by journalling them in a diary. It doesn’t need to be consistent but simply taking 10 minutes to write down how I am feeling and what triggered it has been a literal lifesaver.

Many people like doctors, family and friends might expect you to deal with your depression and anxiety quietly because of your hormonal imbalances. They nullify your feelings by claiming that they aren’t real.

But no one knows you better than yourself. So buy a beautifully-bound journal, or just grab a piece of paper, and start working through your thoughts with yourself.

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USA The World

The Trump Administration continues to threaten women’s access to birth control

The Supreme Court had us fooled. Just a few weeks after SCOTUS struck down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana with a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld the Trump administration’s mandate that employers can refuse to let workers use birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) due to religious or moral objections. Only 2 justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonya Sotomayor dissented. “between 70,500 and 126,400 women would immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services,” Ginsburg stated in her note of dissent, using a governmental estimate. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration – a government agency under the U.S Department of Health and Human Services – ruled that birth control is essential preventative care and that contraceptives would be free and covered under employer’s health insurance without any extra copays in 2012. Exceptions were explicitly made for places of worship, but not for religious controlled schools, hospitals, charities, and any other groups or businesses controlled by religious groups. However, both the Obama and the Trump administrations began to include a wider range of exemptions after pushback from religious groups. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010

In the 2014 case landmark case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court justices voted that for-profit organizations were exempt from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), although the RFRA was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS in 1997 at the state level. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010. The inconsistencies in legislation have allowed for the Trump administration to further their attacks on women’s healthcare. The RFRA has already been dubbed unconstitutional for states, so why does the federal government and the Supreme Court continue to allow the RFRA as an excuse to revoke women’s right to healthcare?

In 2017, Trump drafted new rules under an Executive Order that for-profit groups were officially exempt. The State of Pennsylvania, including several other states with their individual contraceptive mandates, challenged the government under the Equal Protection Clause. Despite, this, SCOTUS upheld Trump’s attack on contraceptives in the recent case Little Sisters of the Poor Saint Peters and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Catholic organization that provides homes for low-income elderly individuals. The nuns who run the organization are against contraception and abortion. Regardless of their religious rights, organizations and businesses should not have a say in what medication their employees are taking. It’s simply not their business. Now that SCOTUS has furthered these dubious exemptions, it will be easier for conservative businesses to regulate their female employees’ access to birth control under “moral” reasons. By revoking access to birth control, bosses are directly harming the lives of women. Contraceptives directly save female lives.

Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking.

Birth control pills have a wide variety of different usages besides preventing pregnancies. Many women are prescribed birth control to regulate their menstrual cycles. Nearly 30% of women on birth control pills take them to make their periods less painful. Combination/multi-hormone pills also can prevent uterine and ovarian cancer. It can help reduce the effects of menstrual migraines, control endometriosis, and regulate PMS and PMDD, a severe form of PMS, symptoms. By upholding Trump’s mandate, many women will no longer have access to the medication that keeps them alive, especially poor women and women of color who cannot afford to pay for birth control out of pocket.

Just recently, SCOTUS also ruled that employers can’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers based on religious beliefs. Employers shouldn’t be able to decide the fate of women’s health and lives either.  Birth control shouldn’t be politicized. It’s necessary, preventative healthcare. The companies that are refusing to use company health insurance for contraceptives are silent on Viagra prescriptions. I’m sorry, but if your penis can’t get up, it’s probably “God’s will.” Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking. 

Donald Trump and his administration have been attacking women’s health and the ACA the moment he stepped foot in the White House. He’s not an advocate for religious groups, he’s a tyrant who uses the guise of religious freedom to directly attack poor women of color. With Justice Ginsberg’s seat on the line, women’s health holds a terrifying future if Trump is re-elected. The government should not be pandering to the qualms of religious and conservative run businesses. Women’s healthcare is not a political tool, it’s a human right, and should be treated as such.

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Editor's Picks Science Now + Beyond

What really happens to the body on birth control pills?

About 60% of women in the United States take birth control pills, and yet we barely know anything about their side effects.

We should celebrate the freedom that contraception gives women, but it is shocking that the side effects of a medication that so many women worldwide taking are so poorly understood. In fact, despite women complaining about the pill’s side effects for decades, there is little-to-no research and testing of the short and long term impacts of this medication.

When I started taking the pill, I was given (as many of my friends) a mile-long list of the side effects that I might or might not notice and that could be related to the hormones I was going to be taking. The doctor also said that, even if I noticed side effects, those might disappear with time.

Birth control pills have side effects. We all know that, and we have accepted them as a minor evil for the sake of preventing pregnancy. However, with the appearance of alternative and arguably more effective contraceptive methods, the side effects of the pill should no longer be ignored.

The list is long and the most common side effects are generally tolerable, such as increased breast tenderness, nausea, an increased risk of blot clots. Marra Ackerman, MD, the director of NYU Langone Health’s reproductive psychiatry program, said that the concerns regarding the birth control pill are “real concerns based on evidence.” However, “the evidence isn’t consistent and can’t help guide us in a neatly organized way to make changes.”

In 2004, Stephen Robinson analyzed the data from seven studies conducted in the early 2000s and concluded that women that were taking oral contraceptives suffered increased rates of depression, anxiety, fatigue, neurotic symptoms, divorce, tranquilizer use, sexual dysfunction, compulsion, anger, and negative menstrual conditions. However, the side effects were too varied and the types of birth control pills too different to reach definitive conclusions.

A 2007 Swedish study led by Lindén Hirschberg found that oral contraceptives reduce the general wellbeing of women. They took 340 healthy women aged 18-35 for a double-blind study, in which they gave them placebo pills or contraceptive pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel (found in most birth control pills) over a 3-month period. Those women who had been taking birth control pills reported that their quality of life had decreased significantly since they started taking them. They generally complained about a worsening of their moods, self-control, and energy levels.

A more recent study of more than 1 million Danish women found a statistical correlation between the use of oral birth control and depression diagnosis, particularly in teenagers. However, other doctors have pointed out that the actual increase in new diagnoses and new antidepressant prescriptions among women taking birth control was very small.

However, another 2016 review of all studies on hormonal contraception use and mood over the past 30 years, concluded that most women on the pill do not experience mood changes or if any, that the pill actually improves their mood. Nonetheless, the different studies in which the review is based on have very different ways of measuring mood changes and look at different types of birth control pills. For this reason, its conclusions are not definitive.

Moreover, the research connecting oral contraceptive pills to cancer is contradictory. Some studies have linked the long-term use of the pill to a 7% increase in the risk of breast cancer, as well as an increased risk of cervical cancer. However, other research has proven that oral birth control decreases the risk of other different cancers, such as endometrial cancer (by 30%) and ovarian cancer (30-50%).

Other research suggests that birth control pills might decrease women’s sex drive. Alyssa Dweck, an OB/GYN from New York has stressed: “There is some subset of women who have diminished libido and increased pain with sex. We have seen that discontinuing birth control will get rid of the problem. It’s a genuine concern.”

All of this data serves as just more proof of the already well-documented gender gap that exists in research. Many more scientific studies are done on cis men and their reproductive health specifically because it is considered less complex and therefore cheaper to study than women. Several trials of different types of male birth control have been rejected because of their side effects, despite them being very similar to those of the female birth control pill. Women’s hormonal cycles are not only a complication in their daily lives but also a barrier to research that could improve their situation.

Women’s reproductive rights are fundamental, but included in those is the right to knowledge on how birth control affects their bodies, and this can only be obtained through research.

Self-Care Lookbook

I ditched my bra during the pandemic. Here’s why I’m not going back

I haven’t worn a bra in over two months. When self-isolation orders hit during the pandemic, I was one of the many women lucky enough to be able to ditch it. After all, in the comfort of our homes, studying or working remotely, there’s no reason to keep going to ‘boob jail’. Is there?

I pondered that question when my breast tenderness went into hyperdrive during PMS time. That never happened during my pre-COVID-19 bra-wearing time. Had I done something wrong? Can going braless damage the health and appearance of our breasts?

In my quest to find answers, I turned to science.

Here’s the lowdown on what experts say:

No, it won’t make them saggy.

Woman taking off her bra under her shirt
[Image description: Woman taking off her bra under her shirt.] Via Giphy
Well, they will. But due to age and gravity. Not from a lack of bra.

Dan Mills, MD, vice president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, told Health that Cooper’s ligament, the connective tissue in our breasts, is to blame.

More specifically, it’s due to collagen and elastin. The protein fibers that keep our skin tight and firm. Like all tissues in our bodies, they deteriorate as we age.

What else determines the overall look of our breasts as we get older? The fat to glandular tissue ratio. Fat distribution is unique in each woman, but it tends to increase with age for all of us. Bad news is more fatty tissue means saggy boobs.

All in all, most experts agree that wearing a bra doesn’t slow down the process. In fact, according to French scientist, Jean-Denis Ruillon, it may weaken the muscles that support our breasts. Making them sag earlier.

Appearance is not everything, however.

What about health?

Golden Girls shaking their breasts
[Image description: Golden Girls shaking their breasts.] Via Giphy
Let’s be real. Breasts can get heavy. Depending on their size, they can weigh anywhere from 500g to 2kg or more.

While a sedentary lifestyle (hello quarantine!) doesn’t put as much stress on them, simply walking around can create discomfort in some women.

Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Portsmouth, told HuffPost that investing in a well-fitted bra may be a necessary step if you have breast pain.

If that’s your situation, make sure you get a properly sized bra and adjust the straps. An ill-fitted one can be just as harsh on your body as not wearing any.

In my case, PMS soreness eventually went away, and I’ve never felt freer in my bralessness.

As we all set to go back to work soon, I’m not sure if it’ll stick. Whether I’m ready to face the stigma of ‘freeing the nipple’ or not, remains unknown.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. And it’s valid, whatever it is.

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Woman asking "do I own a real bra?"
[Image description: Woman asking “do I own a real bra”?] Via Giphy
It’s possible to have a bra that feels like you’re not wearing one.

Here are 3 of my favorite brands that offer comfy bras with no underwire.

Moon and Jules

Black woman wearing an orange wireless bra
[Image description: Black woman wearing an orange wireless bra.] Via MoonandJules on Instagram
Moons and Jules is a Copenhagen based company who believes lingerie should adjust to your body. Not the other way around. Their bras accentuate your natural curves while promising comfort all day long.

The brand’s embrace of diversity in its model choice and design of undergarments is also noteworthy.


Black woman wearing jeans, a black bra, and a vest over her shoulder
[Image description: Black woman wearing jeans, a black bra, and a vest over her shoulder.] Via Knix on Instagram
Designed to make you feel comfortable in your own skin, these bras offer wire-free support to women of all sizes.

Their underwear is seamless, chafe-free, and functional.


Black woman wearing light pink bra and matching panties
[Image description: Black woman wearing light pink bra and matching panties.] Via Trueandco on Instagram
Trueandco is all about the community. They took into consideration the voices of women to design bras that we can really live in.

They’re soft, cute, super supportive, and most of all comfortable!

Health Care Reproductive Rights Coronavirus Love Policy Inequality

Menstruation in the times of a global pandemic

The global healthcare crisis has brought the world to a near standstill. The pandemic has taken over our life. Nowadays our routine consists of waking up, eating, working from home, going off to sleep, and repeating the cycle. But do you know what the pandemic has no control over? Menstruation. That’s right, menstruation will never hit the pause button, come what may. But menstruation is still associated with stigma, even though it affects a fourth of the global population. This would make it as much a reality for cisgender women as for transgender men, non binary and gender queer people. But even though it is the reality, it is different for everyone since no two people or periods are the same.

To give credit where credit’s due, in the recent few years, there has been noteworthy progress in creating awareness for issues surrounding menstruation across the world. The 2018 Bollywood film Pad Man which told the real-life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, created a much needed social conversation that aimed to shatter the illusion that menstruation is a taboo topic. Arunachalam inspired the social media trend #PadManchallenge which he started by tagging the movie’s star Akshay Kumar. He had to hold a pad, click a picture and in turn, tag others to take up the challenge. In a country like India, where pads are still seen as an embarrassing product, this was monumental. The following year, in 2019, the documentary short film directed by Rayka Zehtabchi, Period. End of Sentence, about a group of women in rural India fighting against the stigma surrounding menstruation with such tender hope and optimism, won the Oscar for the best documentary film.

Last year, the UK government announced that sanitary products would be made available free of cost at all secondary schools. England’s Department of Education added menstrual health education for girls and boys in primary schools in the guidelines for sex and health education. India and Canada abolished the tax on menstrual products, while the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that would make tampons and pads free for all.

But with the focus shifting to the pandemic, the silence and ignorance surrounding the topic of menstruation has seemed to resurface. On the one hand, social distancing means maintaining a distance between people and on the other, it has managed to further the distance between people and the topic of menstruation.

Tampons and Pads: Necessity or Luxury

During trying times like these, it is easy for people to give precedence to medicines, food, and other essentials. But the question is – when exactly will sanitary products become one of the essentials? When can people buy them without feeling a sense of shame and discomfort?

To be honest, even I had forgotten to buy sanitary pads, but I still had a packet left. I was one of the lucky ones, but what about the others who forgot to buy them or did not have proper access to safe and affordable options before countries went into lockdown? They would have no option but to resort to using materials like rags and cotton which do more harm than good. Being cooped up at home already affects people mentally, we shouldn’t really be letting it affect us physically too.

So, what can we do?

With the entire world shining the spotlight on the pandemic, maybe we can use this time to bring some focus to the topic of menstruation. Globally, the steps that have been taken to contain the situation is commendable. Essential services are being made readily available – from produce to commodities. However, while there are people helping around in community kitchens and donating money, there should be more initiatives to distribute menstrual products to the homeless and the poor. It’s bad enough that most third world countries like Kenya, India, and Bangladesh still have limited access to sanitary napkins, the current pandemic has made access even more sparse.

According to a study published in the Lancet Journal of Public Health, only around 30% of people who used sanitary products knew about menstrual cups. And in countries where products are available, access to products is still a struggle for people who identify as male or non-gender binary. Even now, most menstrual products are targeted at females where transpeople are ignored. and by doing this, we are excluding an entire section of menstruators.

Moreover, there are people who rely on getting free tampons at work or in schools, and with countries announcing lockdowns and curfews, they are taking the brunt of the global pandemic. Even the struggles of the homeless have doubled, having to look for shelter as well as clean toilets. During this time, most shelters are focused on providing meals and clothing whereas menstrual hygiene has yet again taken a back seat.

Maybe if we had conversations about menstruating the way we do about eating, people would consider pads just as important as food. This is why it has become necessary to stop beating around the bush and addressing the situation at hand.

Health Care Love Life Stories Wellness

A Youtube channel empowered me to love my vagina and tackle my ingrown hairs

If you’re anything like me you can spend hours upon hours on the internet…watching pimple popping videos.

I can’t even begin to explain the pure satisfaction I get from watching blackhead after blackhead carefully removed from someone’s nose, back or armpit. For me, it’s another kind of visual ASMR, and I’ll never get over getting how amazing it is to see someone’s skin cleared in real-time.

So there I was watching pimple popping videos with my boyfriend; a woman was removing what we thought were blackheads from some mysterious surface of the skin (the camera was very zoomed-in). Suddenly, the camera jostles and moves out of focus, flashing the screen with…lips? Vaginal lips!

We were both shocked, to say the least, and a little embarrassed, but I was also extremely…intrigued. I just couldn’t fathom that someone was out there putting vaginal extractions on the internet. Turns out the facilitator of this video was a black woman named Jada Kennedy. She works out of St. Louis, Missouri at a waxing facility called Waxpert Lofts and she’s the brave soul who happily uploads videos of her extracting blackheads and ingrown hairs from vaginas. I was honestly bewildered but completely fascinated by her work. I just had to know more. 

I found her Youtube channel and started watching all her old videos; they were phenomenal. This woman is funny, kind, and so completely honest. She maintains the anonymity of her clients and does voiceovers talking about the wildest topics ranging from how to properly cleanse yourself (she’s seen way too much poop while waxing people) to hilarious waxing stories like someone’s first time getting a wax or people who have literally kicked her in the face. She even tells stories of her own embarrassment like being woken up by her own fart during a massage. Her videos were making something that I found so completely embarrassing, so much fun.

I’ve had ingrown hairs since I was about 13 when I made the horrible decision to start shaving. Like many women, I felt the shame from society for having a “hairy vagina” and recklessly went about fixing that immediately, completely unaware of the risks.  Now after over a decade of shaving, Jada Kennedy is finally teaching me how to properly take care of my body and love it too.

She constantly speaks about ingrown hairs and how they should be normalized. She talks about how so many of us deal with them, no matter our hair type, but because it’s such a taboo everyone suffers in silence. Our bodies are shamed in so many ways, and it’s time we reclaim every aspect of it from our weight, our age, our skin, AND our private areas. Her words ring so true to my ears because I remember the first ingrown hair I ever got, I cried because I thought it was herpes. I mean it was an extremely painful bump on my vagina, what was I supposed to think. It’s not like people are out here giving comprehensive sex education.

I was so scared to ask my parents to get me tested because I knew they would think I was having sex and slut-shame me. I felt like a nasty modern virgin Mary. I had never had sex but instead of a baby Jesus, I had an STD. I had no one to turn to so, my mental health spiraled until I finally found something on the internet about ingrown hairs.

There’s literally no reason I should’ve gone through that.

Jada Kennedy’s channel is ensuring that other people don’t have to go through what I went through. She’s making sure that people feel empowered in their bodies and have the best tips for taking care of them. She teaches you how to understand different pores and how your hair may grow to cause ingrown hairs. Some people can simply just exfoliate more if their hair grows along the skin or they can start getting waxed more regularly which destroys the follicle and lessens ingrown hairs over time. Her clients recommend and trust her so much that some of them are fine showing their faces. I 100% recommend the video of her guy friend getting waxed for the first time, completely hilarious.

My pimple-popping obsession literally led me to a gold mine and allowed me to get rid of the needless shame I’ve carried with me for years. She’s improved my skin, my mental health, and my sex life. No longer am I afraid to let a boy go down on me because he may think I have an STD. I’m confident in my body and just the normal things that happen to it. I recommend you watch her channel because if you can’t be free of ingrown hairs, you can at least free yourself of the shame.

Editor's Picks Health Care Love Life Stories Advice Wellness Interviews

My doctor blamed me for not getting help for my period – but I didn’t know I was sick

“Oh, but it’s just period pain, it can’t be that bad.”

If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard that sentence, I would be a rich woman. Unfortunately, that is not the case, I currently have $3 dollars to my name, and yes, it is that bad. 

Why is there this strange universal assumption that because so many people experience terrible period pain, it must somehow not be “that bad”?

The conversation in regards to menstruation isn’t just surrounding women – it involves those that are nonbinary, intersex, genderqueer and trans*. And the idea that, because so many go through it, it is normal and therefore doesn’t warrant concern is just ridiculous. 

Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible.

Period pain is something I am far too familiar with. It has punctuated my life since I was 16 years old. And mind you, these were not easy-going commas, they were hard, painful full stops (that sometimes lasted up to 12 miserable days).

Let me paint a picture for you: I walk into the office, looking particularly terrible. My hair is a mess, I’m extra pale, with some decent rings under my eyes – there’s no doubt that I am unwell.

Naturally, I am asked by colleagues, “What’s wrong Erin, you look terrible?” 

When I respond, “Oh, I just have really bad cramps today,” I’ve gotten used to just getting a shrug and an “oh shame, man” (and a look of horror, if that friend happens to be a man).

That’s it. No one tells me to see a doctor, to go home or asked If I should be at work today, and I carry on, business as usual. 

There are two things very wrong with this picture:

The first being the blatant disregard of my discomfort; even though I can look sick, my pain suddenly becomes irrelevant the moment it becomes “period pain.” As if I am no longer sick but, rather, weak.

The second problem is the fact that I had already internalized all of this by saying “I just have cramps,” as if to say, “it’s not that bad, don’t worry about me.” 

This picture is most definitely not unique to me. This is the reality of the millions of people who had the good fortune to be born with a uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

And let’s face it, if I had told my coworkers that I had the flu, the response would have been very different.

I’ve been living with endometriosis for the last eight years but I was only diagnosed in the last six months. And that’s only because I am privileged enough to be able to afford exorbitant gynecologist fees.

When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal.

Not to mention the fact that all four of my previous gynos told me that I was fine. It took all of a few seconds to confirm that the pain I have been living with was, in fact, real and not ‘normal’ at all.

“Why didn’t you see a gyno sooner?” I was asked.  

When you’ve lived with something for long enough, it starts to feel normal. “Pain is to be expected,” how often have you heard that?

When was I supposed to make the jump from “this is normal” to “is this normal?”

How was I supposed to know what the symptoms of endometriosis are when all I was taught in sex-ed was how to put a condom on a banana and what an STD looks like?

A man can walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for Viagra on a single self-report.

On the other hand, it takes a woman approximately 9.28 years of suffering to be diagnosed with endometriosis.

There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain. The first male contraceptive was taken off the market within three months because it caused weight gain.

I wish we lived in a world that encouraged people to attend to their bodies’ pain signals instead of teaching us to be endurance champions.

I wish we lived in a world that considered a woman’s pain abnormal, instead of telling us that pain is “to be expected.”

There is almost five times more research done on erectile dysfunction than on female physical pain.

The reality is that these aren’t the lessons we learn growing up as people with periods. At the end of the day, period pain is considered so ‘ordinary’ that it is overlooked and ignored.  The writing’s on the wall: we are taught constantly to ignore the signals – signals that we are later blamed for not recognizing in the first place.

There’s something really, really wrong with that.

Tech Now + Beyond

A vibrator is at the heart of technology’s top scandal

A vibrator was named as an Innovation Awards Honoree in the Consumer Electronics Show’s (CES) Robotics and Drone product category. And without a doubt, it has been an extremely controversial awarding. Within the past few months, that title was awarded, removed, and returned. 

Lora Haddock is the CEO and Founder of Oregon-based Lora DiCarlo, a gender and sex inclusive pleasure company. Haddock herself has over a decade of experience in the health care industry and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. As a self-described “anatomy geek,” Haddock is “fascinated with the psychological, physiological, and anatomical aspects of the female orgasm.”

As such, she created the Osé Robotic Massager, which is the only product designed to create a hands-free blended orgasm for women. That means it stimulates both the g-spot, and the clitoris at exactly the right times, which the company jokes would take either “a talented partner, or Osé.” This product uses advanced micro-robotics to mimic the sensations of the human mouth, tongue, and fingers which is why this product was dubbed by customers as “the holy grail of orgasms.”

The sheer amount of technology that goes into creating a product like Osé is incredible. Her team consists of a majority of women, LGBTQ+ members, and a few “wonderful men.” That in and of itself makes an impact in the majority male space. Lora DiCarlo designed Osé in partnership with Oregon State University, the top 4 Robotics Lab in America. It is the subject of 8 patents pending for robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats. Clearly, Osé is a credible product.

Before a product can be nominated at CES, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) vets the companies and products. Lora DiCarlo passed this vetting process. Then, a panel of independent expert judges in robotics score the products across a wide range of technology categories. What they found was a high level of innovative technology in Osé, going much further beyond just sex tech uses.

So, Lora DiCarlo received a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone Product category.

But shortly after, CTA stripped Lora DiCarlo of the award. According to the CTA, “entries deemed by the CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with the CTA’s image will be disqualified.” The also banned Lora DiCarlo from exhibiting in any future shows.

Haddock has the same questions I’m sure a lot of you have: if the product didn’t fit the ‘moral’ standards, how did they get past the CTA vetting process? And how did the product continue on to get extraordinarily high marks from the expert judges?

As Haddock notes on the Lora DiCarlo website, in 2018, a sex doll for men launched at the same conference. That in addition to a virtual reality pornography company, which allows people to watch porn in public, exhibits at CES every year. How is it, then, that her toy, in particular, is offensive? If you ask Haddock, and myself, it is due to the systematic gender bias in the tech industry. CES and the CTA are just reinforcing everything everyone already knows about tech: it’s anti-women.

Further, Gary Shapiro, the CTA president, and CEO, and Karen Chupka, the Executive VP, sent a letter about the product. They said Osé, in their eyes, never should have been considered.  Haddock finds this offensive (as she should.)

The CTA has a long, terrible history with double standards and gender bias. Haddock’s open letter to the CTA on the Lora DiCarlo website sparked conversation about how sexism in the tech industry manifests in CES. In 2018, the show booked exclusively male keynote speakers, for the second year in a row. It is normal for companies to hire models, often called “booth babes” to attract the majority-male audience. It seems strange then, that the CTA finds a product designed for the vagina-equivalent immoral. Quite frankly, Lora DiCarlo deserves an apology.

In a phone interview with the New York Times, Jean Foster (CTA senior vice president for marketing and communications) said that CTA realizes mistakes were made. “We realized we didn’t handle it well,” she said. She further said that she and other officials recognized they had unevenly applied rules applying to sex tech companies, and are revisiting a number of practices around gender and inclusion.

According to Haddock, that’s all the goal ever was. The CTA returned the award to the Lora DiCarlo company, but it remains unclear if the company will be allowed back at the next CES conference.

Haddock says that this whole scandal is a result of the systematic gender bias in the tech industry today. On the Lora DiCarlo website, Haddock writes, “Everything we do at Lora DiCarlo is rooted in sex-positivity and inclusion.” When the Osé was submitted, it was truly the first of its kind. In a historically male-dominated space, this changes everything.

Gender bias stifles innovation in all STEM industries. But Haddock is fighting that system in tech. And it’s our job to support her.

Health Care Love Science Wellness

This is what happens when your doctor doesn’t take your period seriously

Recently, Indian social activist Shehla Rashid wrote a very personal note on Twitter, where she disclosed that she had been having suicidal thoughts over the last two weeks.

She described that her suicidal tendencies grew so much that one night she began searching for ways online to end her life. The following morning, she had her period. Perplexed, Shehla ran a google search “PMS+suicide” and discovered the medical condition called ‘premenstrual dysphoric disorder’ (PMDD).

PMDD is a severe form of physical and emotional stress that occurs before one’s period. It can cause extreme bouts of anxiety, severe depression, or sometimes anger and rage. Medically speaking, this condition is caused due to a heightened sensitivity to one’s reproductive hormones causing changes to brain chemicals that control the general mood and behavior.

However, PMDD is often diagnosed as pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), making those who have it suffer through extreme emotions in the weeks before their period. PMDD begins nearly 10 days before menstruation, during which someone can feel completely engulfed by extreme stress, and lapses the day period begins.

Most of us undergo PMS, which involves symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, headache, insomnia, anxiety and often unexplainable thoughts of sadness, and devise our own ways to handle it. While some prefer hot water bags and painkillers, for some a hot cup of green tea along or dark chocolate works.

Whatever the preference, PMS is a well-known and well-discussed condition.

PMDD, on the other hand, largely goes undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed as PMS. According to studies, nearly 5% of people who menstruate have PMDD, with the number being 3 million in the US and almost 10 million in India.

Owing to its worrying psychological symptoms, PMDD in 2013, was termed as a depressive disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mood Disorders, released by the American Psychiatric Association.

So why is PMDD so unheard of?

The primary cause is that those who aren’t cis men – so cis women, trans people, and nonbinary people – are seldom taken seriously in a medical context. Consider the stereotype that people are always moody and irrational when they’re menstruating. The extent of normalizing emotional stress is such that we often ignore the serious indications of underlying medical conditions for years. PMDD is one such example. Gynecologists and medical practitioners alike will often misdiagnose PMDD as PMS, further making the treatment difficult.

So what can be done to understand and manage PMDD?

The most important way is the correct diagnosis. 

If you struggle with severe symptoms before your period, please consult a general practitioner or your gynecologist. They might suggest a blood test to determine your hormone levels. This would be beneficial in prescribing the right medication to manage hormonal imbalance.

The International Association For Premenstrual Disorders, has a PMDD Self-Screening Quiz that can be taken 1-2 weeks prior to one’s period. Using this test can enable you to distill your thoughts and have greater awareness around your own sexual health.

If diagnosed with PMDD, developing healthier habits can go a long way in improving one’s mental and physical health. These include: regular exercise, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and incorporating healthy dietary supplements.

However, the most important manner to build more awareness around PMDD is to listen to menstruating people when they express concerns around reproductive health and respect what they feel. It is hard enough for people to be open about their sexual health and its issues, but it becomes harder when their concerns are brushed aside as mood swings.

A larger platform needs to be built in a manner that families, communities and professional spaces can understand PMDD and help those with the condition.

PMDD will only stop being misdiagnosed as PMS when that two-way communication is built.