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Take Care of Your Sexual, Reproductive Health: Latino Groups Create Handy Resource Guide

The National Coalition for Sexual Health has teamed up with different Latino organizations to create a bilingual guide listing resources and information to ensure reproductive and sexual health.
Image: Planned Parenthood Funding Threatened By GOP Legislation
File photo of a patient visiting a nurse practitioner for a health checkup.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Many Latinas and Latinos are not accessing the resources out there to ensure they get regular checkups related to their sexual and reproductive health. But several leading organizations want Hispanics to know there are services out there — regardless of economic or language issues.

The National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCSH) teamed up with groups like California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). They've issued a call-to-action in hopes of bringing awareness and improving preventative sexual health services in the Latino community.

The NCSH launched a free and easy-to-use bilingual guide and website called "Take Control of Your Sexual Health" and in Spanish "Tome el Control de Su Salud Sexual" to help take down the barriers and open the lines of communication on sexual and reproductive health.

The easy-to-use site includes charts on recommended health screenings and checkups and provides questions that patients can ask healthcare providers.

Most importantly, it offers specific and detailed information on how to access these services with or without insurance, and regardless of immigration status.

“While the Latino community is the fastest growing group in the U.S., we have historically been the largest uninsured population,” said Ena Suseth Valladares, MPH, Director of Research, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

“But, thanks to increased levels of coverage through the ACA, an unprecedented number of Latinos (75 percent) can currently access -- at no cost -- these highly recommended preventive sexual health services.”

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Dr. Jessica Maria Atrio is an obstetrician gynecologist at Montefiore Hospital in New York City and co-director of the Fellowship in Family Planning at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. She tells NBC Latino that Latinas are so careful about their outward appearance but many times neglect to take care of their reproductive health and what's happening inside their bodies.

“Some of my ladies come in and they look spectacular [physically] but I haven’t seen them in years!," said Atrio. "They haven’t had a pap smear or taken their meds."

Nearly one in four Hispanic women (ages 18-65) has not had a pap smear within the past three years. Pap smears are crucial for Latinas as they can detect the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which can lead to cervical cancer and ultimately death if it's not detected early.

“Early detection of cervical cancer is particularly important for Hispanic women, who have the highest rate of cervical cancer among all racial/ethnic groups," said Dr. Ana G. Cepín, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Columbia University. "And, since they are often diagnosed late, their death rate is one-third higher than white women.”

Nearly everyone, regardless of sex, will get at least one type of HPV in their lifetime as it is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). The HPV vaccine can help keep patients safer. It's the first and only vaccine that can protect both women and men against many types of HPV-associated cancers as well as genital warts.

Yet, in 2015, less than half (46 percent) of Hispanic girls and only about a third (35 percent) of Hispanic boys received the recommended vaccine series.

HPV vaccines are available for both pre-teen boys and girls beginning at ages 11 or 12.

“We want to do it early because when you do it at the recommended age you’re more likely to develop the right reaction to the vaccine. We also want you to get it before you become sexually active at all,” Cepín told NBC Latino.

“Talking with your kids about the HPV vaccine presents a great opportunity to talk with them about their sexual health. But, if you’re not ready for that conversation, simply tell them it’s a cancer-prevention vaccine,” said Cepín.

Another important issues is unintended pregnancy. While teen birth rates have gone down among young Latinas, the unintended pregnancy rate among Hispanic women is still higher than women overall.

Studies have found states with better sex education have fewer teen pregnancies, for example. But many schools don't offer comprehensive sexual education and at home, many Latino families are not having these conversations.

“Our culture does in fact influence how we access health information,” said Atrio. Furthermore, she said that being proactive about one's sexual health can be a taboo; "for young Latinas it may not be celebrated.”

The campaign wants Hispanics, especially Latinas, to know that Obamacare has made many safe and effective forms of contraception free of charge.

That's important to know, since 85 percent of women who don’t use contraception will become pregnant within one year. With the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), many women can now choose from a variety of methods free-of- charge, including the IUD and implant, which are over 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

“If you’re not ready to be a mother, it’s important to find a birth control method that’s right for you.”

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The unpredictable political environment surrounding women’s health and healthcare as a whole may have some thinking twice about going to the doctor, but Dr. Atrio wants to make sure patients focus on the present, “The current environment ensures them care, so I want them to utilize it and want their voices to be heard. I don’t want our political environment and political sphere to be the only thing we feel. Right now they can access care and should continue to access care, it’s valuable and making their lives better. “

In order to receive optimal care Dr. Atrio emphasized how imperative it is for women to find a doctor they feel comfortable sharing their most intimate details with, “Women need to be honest about their signs, symptoms, and lifestyles. Some things you find alarming may be a normal part of your pelvic activity. Our bodies are incredibly diverse and variable.”

Dr. Atrio’s final words of wisdom to Latinas about their reproductive health, “Once women are empowered with adequate information I think this is a culture that supports them in making independent decisions that are healthy and safe,” and Dr. Cepín wants women to remember, “Birth control is very safe! Try it!”

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