We try so hard to avoid this conversation with our friends, partners, and EVEN our doctors. Talking about your last great fuck is easy! Talking about STIs? That’s where most people get cold feet. Who could blame tangled-up kissers, when the sex education system has failed us all, with scare tactics, sexual shame, and the whole ‘don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant and die!’ Yeah, sorry for having a uterus.
The truth is the conversation is never had until a ‘situation’ occurs down below, in a last-minute resort people rush to a local Planned Parenthood or trusted Urologist/Ob-gyn and dread the upcoming questionnaire about “how horny have you been? And how much trouble has it gotten you into?” So how do we make it easier, within our everyday lives?
Let’s be honest, with years of conditioning our adolescence with fear and derogatory slurs come with A LOT of stigmas. A LOT. So, we have a problem, there’s a lack of knowledge amongst an entire society that LOVES sex! As we’ve aged and engaged in this glorious physical activity, our education has mainly kept stagnant. Yet most Americans (including the judgmental ones) will come across an STI at some point in life and quite possibly never even know or find out way too late.
The idea of having a lot of sex partners can link someone to think they’re “dirty” which isn’t the case. STIs don’t make you dirty and having a lot of partners doesn’t mean you automatically have an STI. You could have one partner and end up with an infection! Or 100 and never end up with an infection! It’s important to always use condoms and dental dams on new partners, getting comfortable with protected sex should be on your to-do list. This really opens up the door to communicating safer sex tactics. When you and your partner(s) are aware of each other’s status, you can make the conscious decision of when or if you will continue without a condom.
KNOW YOUR STD’S
Just because you’re not experiencing symptoms doesn’t mean you should avoid the tests. It’s best to get tested in between every new partner or every 3-6 months. I know it can seem scary, but going to the doctor for any reason is. That’s why I encourage teaming up with a trusted friend to get tested together!
If you come back with a positive result DON’T PANIC! I know it’s easier to panic. Okay let out a scream, get it off your chest. Now breathe, because you can recover from most STI’s or treat incurable ones. It’s best to know early on so that way you can immediately get it taken care of.
This way you can prevent spreading and avoid unexplained health complications down the line. So, let’s familiarize ourselves with some common STIs:
- Gonorrhea– Is a bacterial infection that affects the urethra, rectum, and throat. It may even affect the cervix which can lead to infertility if left untreated. This can be passed through oral sex as well. If you are experiencing symptoms such as discolored discharge, burning or pain in urination, or persistent sore throat, don’t hesitate to schedule a test for Gonorrhea. Usually, this test is done during a typical ob-gyn/urologist visit. Remember not everyone experiences symptoms but can still be a carrier.
- Chlamydia– Extremely common bacterial infection. This is considered a silent disease and when left untreated can cause infertility. Most people don’t develop symptoms, but you may experience genital pain or discolored discharge. Usually, this test is done during a typical ob-gyn/urologist visit. Remember not everyone experiences symptoms but can still be a carrier.
- Trichomoniasis– Common sexually transmitted disease, caused by the protozoan parasite. Hearing parasite sounds intimidating but don’t let it scare you, this STI is treatable. Symptoms are not common but if you experience itching, discomfort in urination, or discolored discharge it is always best to check with your doctor.
- Syphilis– This is not as common as other STI’s. Syphilis comes in four stages — primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Within the first two stages this condition is curable, so it’s VERY important to keep this on your check up list. Once it gets into the tertiary phase, it is likely uncurable. This disease can lead to dementia or paralysis. The common indicator of syphilis is syphilis sores (These are not herpes sores).
- HSV1/HSV2– HSV1 are oral herpes (commonly known as cold sores) while HSV2 are genital herpes. Although herpes is a life-long condition it’s important to keep in mind that this is simply a skin condition, think of it as psoriasis or eczema. Did you know, herpes is in the same family as chicken pox? Yet the psychological damages of this tends to be a lot more detrimental than the medical diagnosis. Herpes is a manageable condition and it doesn’t have to affect your love/sex life and it definitely does not define you. If you are diagnosed, a productive conversation with your (next/current) partner is a must. You can prevent the transfer with condoms and dental dams, and by avoiding sex during an outbreak. Communication is ultimately the best way to eliminate the stigmas surrounding herpes. Below I’ve linked articles that can help you through the conversation.
- HPV – human papillomavirus is the most common STI. This condition usually goes away on its own and is typically harmless. But if the condition lingers it can lead to genital warts or lead to cancer. The best way to prevent this would be by getting the vaccination against HPV. If you didn’t get the vaccine younger, you can play catch up before the age of 27. There is no current test for HPV but it’s important to have a pap smear performed for cervical cancer screening. If spotted early, cervical cancer is treatable before it develops. Genital warts can go away on their own or grow-in size. You can also treat warts by freezing them off or with medication.
- HIV – Human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS and weakens the immune systems ability to fight infection. You may experience flu-like symptoms. This is sexually transmitted and can also be obtained through infected needles. With proper medical attention this can be controlled with antiretroviral therapy, or ART. Keeping an undetectable viral load can prevent the transmission of HIV to an HIV-negative person. You can prevent contracting HIV with PrEP. or PEP and contraceptives. If you are diagnosed a productive conversation with your (next/current) partner is a legal must. Communication is ultimately the best way to eliminate the stigmas surrounding HIV. Below I’ve linked articles that can help you through the conversation.
So now that we have a clearer understanding of these STI’s, we know that they are treatable, which should remind you that they are not the end all to a happy and healthy sex life!
When tested positive, take all the time you need to mentally accept and work through healthy coping mechanisms. This is a great opportunity to talk to your doctors, therapists, or free clinics on how to move forward and engage in safer sex. Sex should be whatever it means for you and always consensual, and that includes informing your partners of any STIs.
Withholding information you are aware of that might detour someone’s decision because it puts their health at risk is a non-consensual act. Allowing a conversation where your partner is given room to ask questions and process helps eliminates these stigmas.
When having an informative and honest conversation your partner typically won’t mind finding ways to move forward. If your partner responds judgmentally, this is a reaction of fear and engrained stigma. Don’t take it personally.
For most sex educators we make it a mission to ensure removing stigmas and informing on how to prevent and lower chances of transferring and obtaining. While scientists are constantly working on cures. You are not alone or to blame and your STI(s) will never define you!