Have you ever had to tell a partner that you have a sexually transmitted disease? Have you looked into their eyes, seen the disgust, felt the fear, and noticed the depletion of attraction? Have you sensed the disappointment? Or felt a deep sense of shame as they passed judgment on your health status? Or maybe you decided that this emotional rollercoaster was not worth the conversation. And thus, we, as humans, avoid the vulnerability of admitting that yes our bodies are susceptible to contracting viruses and diseases when we kiss and stroke each other. We hide behind our condoms during intercourse in hopes that everything stays safe and covered; instead of simply admitting that with sex, oral and intercourse, comes risk. It is great to take precaution and practice safe sex, but it is also very possible that you could contract something if you are sexually active, protection or not. That doesn’t make you a “bad” or “irresponsible” person. It just makes you human. And perhaps, it is about time that we open up this conversation.
I’ll start. I’ve been fortunate to only experience minimal health problems as a result of sex. I’ve gotten a few yeast and urinary tract infections, along with a year and a half long experience with low-risk HPV. Thankfully, antibiotics helped clear up my various experiences with yeast and urinary tract infections within days. And my immune system cleared up the HPV on its own. I am healthy, and according to my most recent tests, STD-free. But regardless of my current health status, I’m also aware of the following things due to those experiences. One, I am human. Two, I am not invincible. Three, any type of sex is a health risk. Four, the more I talk about my experiences, the less shame people feel to talk about theirs.
Unlike other body illnesses, STDs have this undying stigma of sexual irresponsibility and reckless behavior. But the truth is, very few people practice completely responsible sex, as “irresponsible” and “unprotected” have become synonymous outside the confines of marriage and long-term monogamous relationships. Let’s be truthful for one minute. By this definition, how many people have practiced unprotected oral sex or sexual intercourse without knowing their partner’s STD status at least once in their lifetime? Or even within marriage and long-term relationships, how many people know deep down that their partner isn’t being truthful about their sexual activities outside of the relationship, but still choose to practice unprotected sex, oral and intercourse, anyway? There are so many different situations in which people contract STDs, regardless of their relationship status, sexual orientation, or number of sexual partners. And honestly, there are so many people that have experienced a STD in some shape or form at least once in their life that we should be able to drop the stigma and discuss it like any other health issue.
If you’ve already made the decision to be a sexually active human being, then you’ve made the choice to take a risk in contracting a STD. With millions of people contracting STDs every day, it shouldn’t surprise you to come into contact with someone that could currently have something or had something in the past. While your health certainly should be your main priority, it’s unnecessary to look down upon anyone that’s having or had a health problem as a result of sexual activity. Decide who to sleep with and how you want to sleep with them. But also recognize that one day the person that you’re pointing your finger at could be you. It’s important to treat that person’s emotions and honesty with care, in addition to creating a safe space between you and your partner for transparency.
Some may argue that stigma is a tool for STD prevention, but the flipside is that it doesn’t make honesty the easiest policy for those that have already experienced a STD. I encourage people to simply focus on reducing transmission, as it’s better to have a partner feel comfortable in confessing a sexual health issue than feel the need to hide it.
As prevention has two sides, not just one, do you agree it’s time to implement conversation strategies that accommodate truth instead of shame? Have you ever had to tell a partner that you had a STD? Or been on the other side and had your partner tell you?
Speak on it.