Skip Navigation

Alumni Dispatches

Allison Korman

MHS ’05

Taking Women’s Health Out of the Box

allison kormanThe majority of my job entails creating educational programs to address women’s reproductive health issues. In developing these programs, I often encounter singular statistics that seem to be repeated any time a particular topic comes up: 43% of women experience sexual dysfunction , almost half (49%) of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended , and almost 12% of reproductive-age women (7.3 million) have received infertility services.

These statistics are used often because they are powerful and they can help illustrate the scope of a public health problem. But they are also frequently used in isolation, almost in a vacuum. These free-standing statistics make it seem as if those of us working in women’s health could separate a woman’s dissatisfaction with her sex drive from the abuse she is experiencing in her relationship, or an unintended pregnancy from the broader context of a life so hectic that a woman cannot fill her contraceptive prescription on time every month.

Perhaps because sex is messy (literally and figuratively) and uncomfortable to discuss, those of us working in women’s health often separate it into discrete subjects that we can place in tidier boxes: contraception in one place, STIs in another, and sexual (dys)function in an especially well-contained box with a sturdy lid. At a recent meeting of sexual health experts, the providers lamented the discomfort they and their patients experience when inquiring about sexual health; given its significant role in physical and mental health, why couldn’t they ask patients about their sexuality, they wondered, just like they would about any other health issue?

I recently attended a moving talk by a second trimester abortion provider, who bravely laid out some of the frank and uncomfortable but profoundly important issues of her job. I was particularly struck when she said that because of its sensitive nature, she can’t speak to most people about anything involving her work, although she is both proud to do it and emphasized the need for trained abortion providers. Perhaps abortion providers and the many women who have experienced an abortion find the subject so messy that it is easier to box it up and leave it sealed.

Despite our best efforts to compartmentalize health into discrete areas, the emerging science on the effects of environmental contaminants reinforces how interconnected all the parts of our health are: we have known for some time that exposure to certain substances can have reproductive-related effects, like heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury, etc.) increasing the risk of infertility or fetal loss.  Recent science suggests these connections are ubiquitous: new studies show that prenatal exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen used to strengthen plastics and found in the lining of cans, may affect behavior in young children, particularly girls,  and there is an increased incidence of fertility treatments among women working in the plastics industry.

What we eat and breathe, where we live, the jobs we do—these affect not only our health but also the health of future generations. The relationship between environmental exposures and reproductive health is such a hot-button topic that it’s the subject of a new program I work on, providing people with important information so they can make informed health decisions.

As I learn more through my work about environmental impacts on our health, I can’t think of a better illustration of how holistic women’s health actually is. Women’s lives incorporate myriad elements that can affect their sexual and reproductive health. I believe we can improve the health of the public by treating patients holistically, recognizing that various aspects of our health don’t exist in a vacuum—or a box.

Allison Tombros Korman is the Associate Director of Education at the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) in Washington, D.C. She manages a variety of educational programs on women’s reproductive health and leads her department’s evaluation program.

  • Ratings
  • Comments
This forum is closed

Read about our policy on comments to magazine articles.

design element
Everyone has a story. We listen. Give. Click to learn more.

Talk to Us

Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories:

Talk to Us

Amazed? Enthralled? Disappointed? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts on articles and your ideas for new stories: