Sex-Ed of STI's in 4 Lessons
As humans, we all have carried at one point in our lives, a sickness or infection (unless you immortals exist out in this world). As with our regular health, our sexual health is treated the same way, with the usage of barricades, medications, and boundaries that help keep both you and your partner(s) safe. With sexual health, however, people can find themselves to be trapped in a storm of worries, shame, and stigmas surrounding the 3 words of STI- Sexually Transmitted Infection.
This article will not only help open up your awareness towards the risks, but also will open up the world of TRUTH towards the myths surrounding those living with STI’s that your high school sex-ed class probably never taught you… as regimented sex-ed likes to say… “Abstinence is Key!” Though abstinence is definitely a 100% guarantee against STI’s, it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily expressing your sexuality the way YOU want to, so let’s start this education session!
1. Types of Transmission:
Ahh these lovely lips- so lusty! One VERY common STI transmitted through smooches is Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1). This virus is commonly known as “oral herpes” as it results in cold sores developing around the lips and mouth area. There is also the possibility that if you perform unprotected oral sex with HSV-1, you can transmit it to your partners genitals, resulting in “genital herpes”. Just as HSV-1 can be transferred to the genitals, If you perform unprotected oral sex with someone who carries HSV-2, you could be at risk for receiving “oral herpes” with the HSV-2 strain!
Other STI’s that you can receive, if your partner(s) is infected, via oral sex are both Chlamydia and Gonnorhea. Just like HSV, these infections stay locally to exposed area- so if YOU performed oral sex with someone who had either of these 2 conditions, then your genital area would not be infected! Usually symptoms in the mouth show up as a sore throat.
PENETRATION WITHOUT PROTECTION is probably the most common form of STI’s being spread. Unprotected vaginal, toy, and anal sex, all consist of body fluids that are easily transferable within the moist (yummy) environments we create with sex “down there”!
As mentioned above, HSV-2 the the more commonly passed of the 2 strains for exposure to “genital herpes”. There also exists the risk of HIV, the old-time Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the most common STI’S that is spread; though symptoms can show up as genital warts, some people do not carry symptoms! Hepatitis C (HCV) is also something that can be transmitted through sex, though it more carries through blood than through semen and spit - having rough unprotected sex, especially without lubrication, makes it easier to transmit these STI’s as you have more chance of breaking the skin for the open wounds to trade their cooties!
Even though these activities are outside sex, you will want to be careful of risking yourself both HIV and HCV by not sharing razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers! A very common method of contraction is also the act of sharing needles. Any open wound/sore on the skin can be a great landing spot for these transmitted viruses, so be sure to be open and honest with your partner(s) if you have any before sharing your sexy skin! So, as much as you were taught “Sharing is Caring”, be sure to share only with yourself those items!
You can use condoms for penile stimulation (though, be aware that the testes are exposed, so be sure to be careful around that pair if either of you have an STI)!
For the rest of the genitals… Dental dams are where it is at! These are basically thin pieces of plastic you cover a vagina/or anus with to perform oral sex.
TIP: Instead of buying dental dams, you could very much as well use cling wrap as a protective barrier.
CONDOMS, CONDOMS, CONDOMS! Whether it be through a penis or toys that you share (unless they have been properly cleaned- though there still is that 1% risk), condoms are your go-to for saving yourself from contraction. Be sure to put it on with proper lubrication so the rubber won’t break, as well as NEVER double up your condom wearing- that is a recipe for condom breakage, not extra protection!
Whether you are a male-identified or female-identified, if you are having penetrative sex, YOU are solely responsible for your own sexual protection- so carry a condom!
For skin abrasions:
Be sure to use clean and disinfected things that could potentially carry traces of blood (I’ve mentioned the items in Types of Transmissions) and do NOT reuse needles- they are a one-use sort of deal.
To get properly tested (no WebMD please), simply visit a doctor or sexual health clinic (for those in the U.S., some sexual health clinics provide free testing- look in your area for some!) and they will do one or more of these things: a swab (for genital warts and such), urine sample, and a blood sample. Usually about 2 weeks after unprotected sexual contact is when you have the most accurate results and it is the best time to test yourself.
There are a lot of STI’s that can be cured. However, there are ones that have no cure, but there is proper treatment available for every one of these infections that either make it dormant or untransmittable:
-Herpes (both HSV-1 and HSV-2)
4. Undoing Stigmas Interviews:
I had the chance to interview three people who are involved professionally or personally within the world of STI’s and the change of how we look at them. One is a person who lives with HIV, another is Jason Motz, the magazine editor for Positive Living Society BC, and last we have Jenelle Marie Pierce, the Executive Director of the STD Project. Here is some of the their stories:
Anonymous HIV positive person:
Does having HIV affected your sex life? If so, in what ways?
At first, there was a lot of stigma in the beginning, though I was also dealing with substance abuse issues at the time as well. I went back and forth for a while putting it on my dating profile. When it was on my profile, I had no one interested, but when I hid it, I would receive messages. I finally decided that I want to keep it private- I don’t want to share that part of myself with people until I build a connection with them.
How do you feel when you disclose to someone about it?
I feel fine. I learned a lot through personal development that it is their own issue- it has nothing to do with me. They are rejecting themselves with the lack of knowledge they have around HIV.
What advice do you have for a person who has had someone that they care about disclosing to them that they are HIV positive?
Keeping in mind their autonomy, I would ask how they are doing and if they are connected to any support right now. I usually say it is better to know where to go for support beforehand than scrambling to find it after you find out you’re HIV positive.
Jason (Positive Living BC Magazine Editor):
What is your personal relation to STI’s? (job or personal, etc.)
I started working for Positive Living Magazine as the managing editor in 2014. I read through many past articles and information that there is surrounding HIV- there are so many medications and research now out there that has come a long way since the 90’s. I realized that I was more ignorant than I thought before working there
What are the myths/stigmas surrounding HIV positive people?
I think one of the biggest things people outside of the community of people living HIV positive is that they don’t realize that it is a chronic manageable condition- it is no more a deathly illness, as people thought 30 years ago. There is also still an assumption, especially in the hetero community, that HIV is “just for gays”, which wasn’t really shed into light until Magic Johnson disclosed publicly that he has HIV. On dating apps, even with medications that allow HIV positive people to practice sex without transmission and the prep-drugs for those without HIV, there’s people who reject a person because they have HIV. Dating with cancer, you more likely get sympathy; with HIV, you are met with fear.
On the subject of medications, in the POSITIVE LIVING magazine, I notice there was a campaign called U=U, could you please explain about it?
It means “Undetectable equals Untransmittable”. The U=U campaign has been gaining legs around the world, basically explaining that people who have HIV can take a medication daily that diminishes their viral count until it is so low as to be virtually zero. These medications work differently for everyone, as some have higher viral counts than others, but the main point is to get across to people that you are able to have sex with your partner if they have HIV [I later researched, even condomless sex], without getting the virus yourself, as long as they are on consistent treatment.
Jenelle Marie Pierce (Executive Director of TheSTDProject.com and Spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com):
What is your personal relation to STI’s? (job or personal, etc.)
When I was 16, I contracted genital herpes. The practitioner who diagnosed me, not only didn’t give me much information or resources, but also shamed me for contracting an STI, which I internalized. It got me thinking that if a doctor, the one who is meant to be most empathetic, shames me, what would others think? Later on in my life, I contracted scabies, as well as HPV, which might seem like a lot, experiencing 3 STI’s, but it’s more common that you think- I just am speaking more publicly about it, because I feel people need to know.
You have created the STD project, an award winning website, how did it start?
I was working as an accountant, when I realized there is something more I could be doing. I wanted to show people that STI’s are not a big deal if you have the proper support and resources. I basically wanted to provide to people what I wish my 16 year old self had. I bought How-To books, such as creating a website, and built the STD Project from research.
What is your advice for those if someone they care about comes forward about having an STI?
Best thing to do is listen. Let them tell their story; try not to judge or find solutions in that moment for them. It can be a traumatic incident, finding out you have a STI with all these huge stigmas surrounding them, so try and honor them with a safe space. Acceptance is key.
Do you feel like being diagnosed with an STI has been holding you back?
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And remember, you are always worth it to live the sex life that you want.
Love and Light,
Sex + Empowerment Coach
Creator of Femme Forth