This Week in Sex: Chlamydia-Cancer Link, HIV Rates in Africa, and Disney Does Same-Sex Parenting


This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Why Chlamydia May Increase Risk of Cervical, Ovarian Cancers

A new study may explain why there’s a link between chlamydia and an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) in this country, with approximately 2.8 million people becoming infected annually. Chlamydia, which is a bacterial infection, can be treated with antibiotics but since it often has no symptoms, many people may not realize they have it. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and lead to scarring in the fallopian tubes or uterus. Such scarring is a common cause of infertility.

Research published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between chlamydia and cervical cancer, but the authors were unable to explain why such a risk existed. This new research may provide that explanation.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin infected certain human cells growing in petri dishes with chlamydia and then compared them to healthy cells. Those with chlamydia were more likely to have DNA damage than the uninfected cells. Though cells can sometimes repair such damage on their own, these were unable to do so. In addition, the DNA damage to these cells had seemed to “override” a mechanism cells often use to destroy themselves before they turn cancerous. Instead, these damaged cells continued to divide. According to the author, this means they could eventually become cancerous.

The research was published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. More research needs to be conducted in people to confirm and better understand these finding.

Seven African Countries Cut HIV Rates in Children in Half

A progress report released this week by UNAIDS found that seven countries in Africa—Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia—have cut rates of HIV in children by 50 percent or more since 2009. Overall, in 21 priority countries in Africa, rates of new infections in children dropped 36 percent between 2009 and 2012, meaning there were 130,000 fewer new infections last year.

The decline is mainly due to increased use of antiretroviral drug therapy in pregnant women, which can prevent mother-to-child transmission. About 75 percent of pregnant women in the 21 priority countries have access to such drug therapy. Widespread use of this prevention method is clearly having a positive impact. In fact, two of the countries (Botswana and South Africa) have dropped their mother-to-child transmission rates to 5 percent or less.

Still, there is a great deal of work to be done in Africa as the rates of childhood HIV have actually increased in some parts of the continent. Nigeria, for example, had 60,000 new infections in children in 2012. The report notes that access to antiretroviral medication for children who do become infected with HIV is “unacceptably low.”

Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, said in a press release, “The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that with focused efforts every child can be born free from HIV. But progress has stalled in some countries with high numbers of new HIV infections. We need to find out why and remove the bottlenecks which are preventing scale-up.”

Disney Show to Feature Character With Two Moms

Since I have used my RH Reality Check platform on many occasions to complain about Disney’s princess obsession and other bad messages it feeds to girls, I figure I should laud the company when it gets something right.

Last week, the Disney Channel announced that one of its shows for tweens, Good Luck Charlie, would feature a new character: a pre-schooler with two moms. According to TV Guide, a secondary plot-line in an episode scheduled to air next year involves a play date gone awry when one of the young girl’s mothers has fun with mom Amy Duncan but the other gets stuck listening to Charlie’s father’s boring stories. Far from being “a very special episode” focused on the “issue” of gay parenting, this family set-up is apparently treated in an off-handed manner. A spokesperson for Disney told TV Guide, “This particular storyline was developed under the consultancy of child development experts and community advisors. Like all Disney Channel programming, it was developed to be relevant to kids and families around the world and to reflect themes of diversity and inclusiveness.”

Good Luck Charlie is a favorite in my household. Not only is it one of the only Disney shows that my husband and I can stand to watch with our six-year-old—it earned that distinction because it is genuinely funny. I’m looking forward to watching this episode but was bummed to find out that next season will be the show’s last.

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Follow Martha Kempner on twitter: @MarthaKempner