by Mariah Lord
Outside of a painfully awkward 10th grade health class, STIs are very rarely brought up in daily conversation. However, 50% of sexually active people contract an STI before the age of 25 (American Sexual Health Association). STIs are not as uncommon as you would think, it’s just that no one wants to talk about them. Chances are, you or your friends probably have or will have an STI in your lifetime.
Our society uses scare tactics to promote sexual health, or rather, abstinence. The only 100% chance of preventing pregnancy, STIs, and STDs is to not have sex at all, remember? This type of mentality is problematic because it insinuates that STIs are devastating and life ruining situations, and places blame onto the individual. The truth of the matter is that STIs are treatable by medical professionals. If you are sexually active, it’s very important that you get yourself tested regularly. Many STIs don’t have any symptoms or may lie dormant for years at a time. If get rid of the negative stigmas associated with STIs, getting testing/having STIs won’t seem scary anymore.
Half of all the diagnoses for STIs are contracted by young people, and only 12% of young people actually get tested for them. We need to move away from the mentality that we will never be the one to contract an STI and begin to see the reality of their pervasiveness. I am proposing the radical idea that we all become a little more comfortable with talking about STI’s. Normalizing STI information will eventually reduce the negative stigmas associated with STIs, STDs, and sex in general.
Education and support are the most important components to changing the way society views individuals with STIs as well as stopping the spread of STIs. For many people, the only education they receive on the topic of safe sex and STIs is in middle school and maybe a brief refresher course in high school. My personal experience with this was a room full of giggling pre-teens who weren’t mature enough to realize that, statistically speaking, 80% of them would contract HPV at some point in their future. Maybe if our society encouraged safe sex instead of abstinence, sexually active young adults would be able to make educated and safer decisions when it comes to sex.
It is important to reach out to younger people in case they do engage in sexual contact earlier in life. Since sex is such a taboo subject, often times the only time a teenager/young adult learns about sex is in school. Since sex education in all of its complexity is crammed into one class in middle school/high school, there is no way that a student could remember everything. That is why it is vitally important that we ensure schools have proper education about sexual health that goes into more depth as they enter high school (a time when it is much more relevant for many students). There are many schools that have an extensive sexual health education program, and I commend them. Unfortunately, my own alma mater did not go over the material again adequately. If this was true for my own experience, I am positive that there are many other districts in the US that are not proficient meeting the health needs of their students.
We can all take on a more open and understanding approach in our relationships to help one another out when we it comes to sexual health. This means talking to your teens about sex. Talk to your siblings about sex. Talk to your friends about sex. Encourage the people in your life to go in for regular check-ups. Pay attention to your body and ask your doctor if anything looks or feels different than usual. These are ways we can reduce the number of STI diagnoses.
For the entire month of April, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin will be offering free STI testing. They are offering this as a direct response to the shocking influx of HIV and Syphilis in the Milwaukee area recently. Here is a link to more information about the free testing offered through the rest of April: https://www.tmj4.com/news/local-news/free-std-testing-at-planned-parenthood-of-wisconsin.Many insurances cover STI/STD tests. If you don’t have insurance you can also get tested at a reduced-cost depending on your income. You can also visit the Norris Health Center for STI testing. https://uwm.edu/norris/health-services/laboratory/
For more information on STI statistics, visit http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/.