Posted on Aug 14, 2019, 3 p.m.
It appears as if we are once again living in an era of sex positivity, that is until we get positive results, which is unfortunate because STIs are on the rise. That “it won’t happen to me” attitude, and perceived shame of seeking medical advice has to be put in check.
Social media is full of mixed information which is adding to the issue, there is so much misinformation online that it is hard to separate good information from bad information, and because of the sheepeople attitude of believing “everything you see online must be true so there is no need to do any actual research” the amount misinformation being circulated is alarming.
STIs are are still something of a taboo to some who are afraid to seek actual advice from a medical professional. But in this new era of easy access to sex this attitude needs to change. If one can accept pornography being a click away, full frontal nudity and graphically simulated sex scenes in movies/tv, magazines with explicit articles on fellatio and anal sex, and dating apps specifically for hook ups than this outdated fear of talking about STI with a health professional can change too. If you are looking to be entertained sexually to consensually fulfill your fantasies than you should be educated and safe about it, or else don’t do it at all, after all it’s more than just your own health at risk, so be responsible.
We are able to talk more publicly about other aspects of sex such as lost condoms, misadventures with food and other items, abortion and contraception choices, so why is there a hard line drawn at sexually transmitted infections, especially when the are so VERY common. Facts are that 50% of sexually active people will have at least 1 STI by the age of 25, and there are more than 100 million new and existing cases of STI every year in America alone.
It would seem as if this new found sexual revolution has stopped shy of liberating people from the shame and stigma of sexually transmitted infections. Take herpes for example, it has been billed “Today’s Scarlet Letter” in Time magazine, there is much stigma around herpes, and it brings tears to many eyes after being diagnosed.
Most women feel as if they are damaged goods if they acquire any STI, women also bear fertility and pregnancy repercussions of STIs, and society still often labels a woman as being “loose” if they have sex before a certain age or if they have multiple partners while straight men are cheered. These are other areas this sexual revolution still falls short in as well, yet STIs are still increasing.
People seem to be hit the hardest after being diagnosed with a viral STI, the idea of having an infection that can’t be completely cured is very challenging and hard for some to accept. Take for example reactions to HPV which is the cause of genital warts and cervical cancer versus EBV which is the cause of infectious mononucleosis, biologically they are very similar viruses. Both can persist for years hibernating in cells, both can reactivate and cause people to shed the virus to spread unknowingly, and many may never even know they had the infection to start with. Yet despite the basic biological similarities only HPV is associated with shame.
Is this shame because HPV is transmitted via sex while EBV is transmitted via kissing and close contact? Just why is it that it is more shameful to be infected from sex than it is from a kiss or being coughed on, or shaking a hand? Why is it more shameful to have genital herpes than oral herpes when everyone can see those outbreaks?
Much of this shame remains from the 1800s, at that time when a person had the “pox” a public declaration was required from churchwardens to gain medical attention; men were sent to a hospital and women were sent to a workhouse. Pox was either syphilis or gonorrhea as at the time diagnostics did not exist to reliably distinguish. However, those with money could avoid the public disclosure completely and obtain confidential medical attention. Workhouses were institutions that were created to correct idleness, which at the time was regarded as the root cause of poverty, and poverty made people more vulnerable to diseases, perpetuating the stigma that the disease was a result of moral failings rather than limitations of treatment in a self reinforcing circle of inequality.
The public shame and stigma has not changed much since then, economic disadvantage still prevents many from access to screening and treatment for STIs and many other health issues. For some reason even today those wishing to protect themselves from STIs through safer safe practices can still be falsely labeled as being promiscuous or dirty, especially women.
The consequences of this are more than evident as STIs are on the rise; the number of gonorrhea cases for example has increased by 67% and syphilis has increased by 76% since 2013. New diagnosis of HIV infections are stable, but there are still 30,000 new cases of infection every year in America alone.
Suffering with an STI should be enough, having one should have no more stigma than having the flu. Judging a person or making them feel shame for their choices will make them less likely to be screened, treated, or get the help they need which includes starting with asking questions that can prevent infections and save lives. This so called new found sexual revolution needs to be adjusted to today’s society in full, this STI taboo/stigma from the 1800s needs to end, for the sake of health and well being.
What is really alarming about the increase in STIs is that the majority of infections are preventable by using safe sex practices, and this is no secret or new information. In short, if you are mature enough to have sex, please be mature enough to be safe about it.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.