I have sex. You probably have sex. You might call it “making love” or “gettin’ down” – whatever. Plus, there’s a really good chance that you enjoy it – I do. Affection is a basic human need, and sex is a pretty great way of attaining this need. On top of being awesome, it forms emotional bonds, relieves stress, promotes mental and physical health, and is nature’s natural Ambien. Not to mention that you can do this alone with the help of your hand or maybe some double As.
It’s no surprise we engage in sexual activities; with all the benefits, there doesn’t seem to be a reason not to. But then, like anything enjoyable, there are some things to look out for. An unplanned pregnancy for example, could throw some wrenches into one’s life and no one really wants what was formally known as a Sexually Transmitted Disease.
The word ‘disease’ immediately invokes images of illness, pain, and sometimes death. No wonder no one talks openly about diseases, can you say mood killer? The failure to engage openly in these discussions implies a certain taboo. “If we aren’t having this dialogue openly, there must be a reason” right? It must be because it’s a dirty subject not meant to be approached in the open. This taboo is internalized by society until it becomes commonplace to not discuss these matters. When we refuse to discuss a topic like sex, because it’s “uncomfortable” or “awkward”, people are left vastly uninformed.
So what does this mean for us? Well, it means a good portion of society has far too little knowledge concerning sex and all that comes with it. Sex, sexuality, STIs, pregnancy, and even physiology are all placed into this awkward category, never to be discussed. If we never approach these topics, we’ll never learn how to deal with them when they happen. The barriers formed by the social stigmas are too powerful.
Recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with an STI. Devastated comes close to describing how she felt upon hearing this news. Now, as far as STIs go, gonorrhea isn’t the worst diagnosis. It, along with other bacterial infections, such as Chlamydia and syphilis, are completely curable with the help of antibiotics. Yet there seems to be something especially awful about catching an STI. You wouldn’t criticize or judge someone with other common bacterial infections like food poisoning or pneumonia, would you? Yet my friend knew and dreaded the awkward conversations that awaited her; she was ashamed, as society has taught her to be. She worried that people would judge her, think she was dirty, and label her as a whore for enjoying sex – all fair concerns in my opinion.
When it comes to STIs, people are left relatively in the dark. When STIs are spoken of, they’re often all put under the umbrella of “incurable” and attention is often given to the most dangerous, notably HIV and Hepatitis. Fronting the STI conversation with infections like HIV and Hepatitis only serves to frighten individuals into having safe sex or no sex at all. However, most STIs can even be transmitted through oral sex, with or without protection. We’ve successfully paralyzed each other with fear over STIs, thereby furthering the barriers to discussion and even treatment.
With the strong stigma surrounding sex and STIs, individuals may also be concerned about seeking treatment for their symptoms. They may be worried about what people will think of them, they may be unsure where to seek treatment, or they may not be sure they have symptoms at all. Plus, very few people want to approach their parents or friends with these questions, and no one wants to be seen with an STI pamphlet in their hands. This is incredibly dangerous as many curable STIs can become extremely dangerous if left untreated, not to mention one risks passing these infections to other partners and then they risk passing it on again and again.
But all is not lost! To me, it seems as though, slowly, we are becoming more knowledgeable and tolerant of STIs. The change from Sexually Transmitted Disease to Sexually Transmitted Infection represents an effort to move forward, towards a broader definition, one not invoking the connotations of ‘disease’, thereby creating a more relaxed atmosphere in which to have this dialogue. As well, information is becoming more accessible; various health centres are available for anonymous phone calls or chats and a quick Wikipedia search often yields decent results.
The shame surrounding sex will slowly dissipate (hopefully) and then all these conversations can be had at younger ages, in the safety of educational institutions or with parents. Starting this education at a young age will help shake the foundation upon which our society bases its fear of sex and lead the way for these honest discussions. What we really need is a society that accepts us and supports us, not one that shames us away. So if you ever find yourself with an STI, don’t worry, don’t be ashamed, it happens to the best, and to the safest, of us – we’re only human after all.