Just because someone looks cute or clean doesn’t mean they don’t have an STI. STIs can happen to anyone!! In the US alone, around 19 million people contract an STI each year. The majority of people with STIs are undiagnosed; which means that even though the infection is inside of them, they may not have symptoms and therefore don’t know they have the infection and don’t get treated. So you can imagine how fast these STIs spread. At least one person in every four will contract an STI in their lifetime; with statistics this high, it’s surprising how little STIs are discussed. I didn’t even get basics on all of the STIs in my high school sex ed class. There are over 65 million people in the US who currently live with an incurable STI, and even though only 25% of the sexually active population is from fifteen to twenty-five years old, they account for half of all STI diagnoses every year. There is clearly a very large gap in our education system and healthcare system. This is the very reason I started this blog, because this drives me nuts! If I can use my following on the Internet to open people’s minds and spread USEFUL information to young people or anyone who needs it, then that’s what I’m going to do!
Teens account for more of the most common STIs than anyone else and these include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HPV. This is why it is really important to get STD checks regularly. You may not know you have something because many STIs don’t show any symptoms. If you are sexually active, it is your responsibility to get checked. And if you do have something, it’s your responsibility to treat it and tell your partners. If it’s untreatable, then you must tell sex partners and practice safe barrier protected sex.
As a young adults, our risks are much higher than any other age group. I live a very different life than most people my age; I don’t go to a big college where I frequent parties and sleep with people I meet there – I have a pretty secluded, monogamous sex life. But I have so many friends who tell me stories where going back to boy’s dorm rooms and sleeping together is a very normal thing. That’s fun and awesome, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of talk about STIs or being tested. But sometimes we don’t use protection in the heat of the moment or we’re too drunk to use any. Being a young adult, we are much more likely to have lots of new sex partners and we often don’t get the regular sexual healthcare or testing that we need. I know a good amount of guys who don’t think they have anything so they don’t get tested or have never been tested. I think that’s wildly irresponsible. Our society is to blame for a lot of these issues; the way sex is viewed, the shame associated with it and the lack of education. Give us the tools! Make us get tested in high school and in college. It’s not a weird thing or shameful thing to do. In fact, getting tested shows you are mature and making safe choices in your sex life.
I recently heard a story of a young woman who had only had monogamous sex with her boyfriends and then spent a summer doing an acting program overseas; there, she had her first one night stand with a hot Italian guy and contracted Type 2 Herpes. He didn’t even know he had it. For someone who has always been responsible in her sex life to contract an incurable STI after breaking her rule only once is heartbreaking to me. I think this goes to show that STIs can really happen to anyone – and to you. They happen to people who have twenty partners and also those who are just starting with their first partner. Viruses and bacteria don’t care who’s cute, pretty, clean, or a virgin. They can happen to anyone!
I know this article is probably daunting and bit scary to read. Working on this and reading all this information has definitely freaked me out too. There have been moments where I’m like “is sex even worth it” or “I should never just hook up with someone”. There is good news though. STIs can be prevented by practicing safe sex and regular sexual healthcare. We can also open up discussion and push for a more open and communicated view of sex. We can push for better education and healthcare and hopefully one day we can live in a world where there are far fewer STIs being passed around, unexpected pregnancies, teen pregnancies, rapes, the list goes on. Sex is a natural part of being human and it’s time we talked about it.
I can’t understand why we aren’t given the resources or education to always know how to protect ourselves from infections. Some of us may feel like we’re being rude by asking a partner if they’ve been tested. It can definitely be awkward and uncomfortable to practice safe sex at times but it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s never too late to start having safe sex. Safe sex actually makes sex more enjoyable because you don’t have to stress over the possible risks. When you’re not worried about getting pregnant or contracting an STI, you can relax and enjoy the sex more and have a greater chance of having an orgasm.
There are three basic things that make up SAFE SEX and ALL of them need to be done to practice safe sex:
- Have full STI screenings and sexual health exams at least once a year or every time you have a new partner. (Some doctor offices or healthcare spots won’t test you for everything and you must ask. Always ask to get a whole test done and make sure to ask about Herpes testing! They will draw your blood for these tests.)
- Limit risks during sexual activity by using barrier protection (condoms, dental dams, latex gloves)
- Make safer lifestyle choices such as limiting the number of sexual partners you have, avoiding high risk sexual behavior, elimination nonsexual STI risk such as intravenous drug use, and taking care of your general health.
If you are doing all of these, or abstaining from sex until you CAN do these – then you are practicing safer sex. Doing some of them is good and helps but you’re not fully reducing your risk unless you practice all three!
Corinna, Heather. S.E.X.: The All-you-need-to-know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You through High School and College. New York: Marlowe, 2007. Print.