Facing challenges and taking control: popular UCSF Women's Health Conference covers more than just m

By Leslie Harris

The seventh annual Women’s Health 2000 conference at UC San Francisco looks
beyond health to include a range of topics important to women.  UCSF experts
and guest speakers at the event will discuss how to develop negotiation skills,
overcome gender expectations, assess unhealthy risk behaviors and get the most
out of sex

Women’s Health 2000 will take place from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Saturday, March
18, at UCSF, 513 Parnassus Ave.

“Women’s Health 2000 has evolved into an informative, fun, inspiring day for
women of all ages and interests,” says program chair Nancy Milliken, MD,
director of the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. 

Thirty sessions will address issues that affect today’s women, such as
balancing stress, choosing herbal remedies and managing managed care, as well
as highlight traditional health topics, such as breast and ovarian cancer,
incontinence, heart disease, lesbian health, depression and menopause. 

Each year, the all-day program draws more than 500 participants from the Bay
Area.  The $50 registration fee includes participation in seminars, continental
breakfast, lunch, snacks and live entertainment.  Members of the public
interested in registering should call (415) 399-1379 or e-mail [email protected]

## Following are descriptions of featured topics:

Learning to Negotiate: Why It’s Important for Women
Today’s woman is more autonomous than her mother was, leaving her with more
opportunities, decisions and demands.  In order to truly achieve a balance, a
woman must negotiate for herself in all aspects of her life. 

However, many women are unskilled in the art of negotiation, which is a major
reason why women often come in second, both at home and in the workplace,
according to Renee Binder, MD, UCSF professor of psychiatry.

“Women are constantly faced with new challenges and opportunities,” Binder
says.  “Flexibility is required as families meld and the workplace evolves. 
Part of negotiation is setting priorities and developing a variety of options
for the accomplishment of mutual goals.”

Binder heads the UCSF program on Psychiatry and the Law and has been studying
women’s mental health issues for over 20 years. Throughout the years, she has
consulted to women staff, students, and faculty members about techniques of

“Women learn early to be polite so that others will like us. Most of us do not
want to be seen as too aggressive,” Binder says.  “We may also be intimidated
by power displays and unwittingly give off messages of being tentative and
unsure of ourselves.”

This perception may prevent women from being seriously considered as candidates
for leadership positions.  At home, women may compromise their careers or take
on extra responsibility because they do not assert their independent needs.

Some women are uncomfortable with anger and may mute their own voices by
staying silent or crying instead. To increase the likelihood of achieving a
desired outcome, Binder recommends that women prepare negotiation strategies
such as: planning ahead, anticipating and solving potential resistances, and taking the
appropriate amount of time to negotiate.

“By practicing negotiation skills, women can build their own confidence, and it
will show,” Binder says.

Women Who Broke All the Rules and Succeeded
The lives of women have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Today, women
are astronauts, governors, police chiefs, corporate executives, athletes,
three-star generals and presidential candidates - careers previously considered
off limits to women.

“Many women today are living adult lives they never dreamed of as children,”
says Susan Evans, EdD, professor of education at the University of San
Francisco (USF) and guest speaker during UCSF Women’s Health 2000.

“For the last three decades, women have been waking up every morning and
changing the world - constructing their own lives in the best way possible,
taking advantage of opportunities, and learning from their mistakes,” she says.
“In our lifetime, female adulthood has been reinvented.”

Evans and her associate Joan Avis, PhD, psychologist and USF professor of
education, celebrate the 18 million women born between 1945 and 1955 who they
say gave new meaning to adult female roles and expectations. In a recently
published book, The Women Who Broke All the Rules: How the Choices of a
Generation Changed Our Lives (Sourcebooks, 1999), Evans and Avis feature the
remarkable stories of 100 women who chose their own paths in life, with no role
models to follow, and ended up changing the rules.

For the UCSF conference, and in recognition of Women’s History Month (March),
Evans and Avis will discuss their research based on the lives of ordinary women
over the last 30 years who made decisions for themselves and paved the way for
future generations of women.

“These women weren’t thrill seekers, nor were they looking to forge new paths;
they just wanted to live their lives in their own way,” says Avis. “To do so,
they made choices that the women before them had not made.”

The co-authors contend that these women are all around us - our mothers,
grandmothers, aunts, sisters and friends - women who jumpstarted their personal
and professional growth, triumphed over adversity, and made changes to improve
their lives.

When Avis and Evans are not teaching, they are providing workshops,
consultation, and lectures on women’s issues, motivation, empowerment, and
balancing love and work.

Navigating Your Child Through a Safe Adolescence
For teens, healthy risk taking is a positive way of discovering and
consolidating identity and sense of self.  For example, participating in a
sports activity challenges a teen’s physical ability while also helping her to
understand her limitations. 

Unfortunately, adolescents also participate in unhealthy risk-taking behaviors
that can negatively impact their development. 

“Parents of today’s teenagers need to learn how to assess the type of risk
their children are taking,” says psychoanalyst Lynn Ponton, MD, UCSF professor
of child and adolescent psychiatry.  “By taking an active part of their teens’
self-discovery, parents have the potential to become a positive influence on
their children’s development.”

Often, parents complain of not knowing enough about their teens’ habits and
lives to know when their children are taking unhealthy risks, such as doing
drugs, drinking alcohol or having early or unprotected sex.  Ponton recommends
that parents look for red flags in behavior, like moodiness, problems at
school, or participating in illegal activities (see related sidebar).

In many cases, there will be clusters of unhealthy behaviors.  A teen who
smokes, for example, is likely to also drink and drive. A teen who has an
eating disorder may also mutilate herself and shoplift.  There may be subtle
clues as well, such as a change in the pattern of friends, hidden bruises,
dents in the car and alcohol on the breath.

Among teenage girls, unhealthy sexual risk taking is particularly damaging
because it can lead to pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease or unfulfilled
education and development.  Ponton profiles 20 teenagers in an upcoming new
book, The Sexual Lives of Teenagers (Dutton Penguin, August 2000), which takes
a closer look at why some teens fall into a pattern of negative behavior
leading to dangerous outcomes.

No matter what the negative behavior is, Ponton says it’s crucial that parents
maintain an ongoing, open dialogue with their teen about their feelings and

“Parents should try to be non-judgmental as much as possible, and bring up the
subject in a safe, everyday setting, such as in the car or in front of the TV,”
she says.  “Most important, parents do not have to refer to their own specific
experiences as a teen. Rather, they should focus on what they learned and how
healthy behaviors helped them become who they are.”

Getting the Most Out of Your Sex Life
More than 40 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 59 years old report
that they have a “sexual problem” of some kind.  This can include a change in
sexual interest or drive, a feeling that sex just seems like “one more chore at
the end of the day,” or a perception that sex doesn’t “feel” the same anymore.

Despite the prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women, women’s health research
is at least 25 years behind men’s.  However, the landscape of research on women’
s sexual health is changing, and physicians are learning more and more about
the effect of hormones on sex drive.

“Sexual health is as important to women as it is to men,” says Louann
Brizendine, MD, UCSF associate clinical professor.  “Women want to feel sexual
and when suddenly they don’t anymore, they and their partners are very upset. 
The cause could be hormonal, clinical depression or relationship problems; all
of which have treatment available.”
Brizendine is the director of the UCSF Hormone and Mood Assessment Clinic in
the Department of Psychiatry.  The clinic is at the forefront of advances in
the research and treatment of depression, anxiety and mood disorders associated
with hormonal changes in women. 

The hormones estrogen and testosterone both contribute to healthy sex in
women.  The sex drive is controlled by testosterone and the lubrication of
female sexual organs is controlled by estrogen.
The good news is that doctors now have tools available to help women who
experience sexual dysfunction.  Screening tests are available to measure
testosterone and estrogen levels, and, based on the results, doctors can
recommend a course of treatment, including hormone supplements, pharmaceuticals
and creams.

“Women who feel they have sexual dysfunction or a mood problem now have ways to
control their moods and enhance their libido,” Brizendine says.  “They no
longer have to accept dysfunction as a part of their lives.”

Women’s Health 2000 is sponsored by the UCSF Center of Excellence (COE) in
Women’s Health, the Mount Zion Health Fund and the Obstetrics and Gynecology
Research and Education Foundation. The COE was one of six vanguard national
centers designated, in 1996, by the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.  The COE is developing partnerships with
individuals and organizations to enhance research, clinical care, education and
leadership activities geared toward improving the health and well-being of
women and girls across diverse communities.