Protect yourself: a Between the Sheets guide to STI prevention
By Viv Steele, Sex Correspondent
Welcome back, readers! I hope you had a wonderful break from essays and readings, and that you got some time to cozy up with your loved ones and try some of my winter warm-up sex tips.
For my first column of 2013, I want to talk about an issue that’s dear to my heart as a sex columnist, sexually active human, and all around pro-sex person. The issue is that of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, and the stigma surrounding the testing and care of them.
In our generation’s pop-culture, it’s completely acceptable to make jokes at the expense of those who suffer from STIs, such as herpes or gonorrhoea. These kinds of jokes take place in movies, on TV, and in casual conversation: “Come on, share that drink with me. It’s not like I have herpes or anything!” You know the jokes. The thing I find ironic about this form of humour is that, while youth are so willing to hop on the laughter bandwagon, they’re not so quick to board the safer-sex train and actually do the hard work to avoid passing on STIs.
It seems completely backwards, right? We’re in this society that vilifies people who, through doing nothing different than their peers, contract painful and sometimes life-threatening diseases, yet the very steps to prevent spreading these diseases is conspicuously absent from discussions in pop culture. People in porn don’t wear condoms, you never see How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson heading to the clinic to get tested, and there are no good examples on television about how to have an open discussion with a new partner about their (and your) sexual history.
Safer sex practices (like using a condom, no matter how inconvenient or bad it feels), regular testing, and open communication are the best ways to stop the spread of diseases. Testing for HIV in particular has been embraced in countries like France, according to a November 2012 article in the Vancouver Sun, which also reports that “at least one quarter of those infected at any given time are unaware they have HIV.” HIV/AIDS scientist Dr. Julio Montaner and his coauthors wrote in a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial that “a 20-year-old who receives a diagnosis of HIV and treatment […] can expect to live until the age of 73 years.” HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, but it can be if testing and discussion continue to be stigmatized.
When’s the last time you bought condoms? When’s the last time you got tested? How did you find the experience? My experience with STI testing has been overwhelmingly negative. I don’t want to say that my experience is the norm, but I worry that it is. When I went in for a routine test at a walk-in clinic I was interrogated by the clinic staff about why I thought I should be tested. I thought that simply being a sexually active person was enough to warrant a test. After all, it just takes one sexual experience with one person to expose yourself to risk.
Students can do a number of things to protect themselves and their friends. Ask your friends if they use protection. Head to the DSU or the Womens’ Centre to pick up some free condoms. Talk to your general practitioner about getting tested, or if it’s more comfortable for you, go to a walk-in clinic or youth clinic. Practice having frank discussions with your friends about your sexual history and condom use so that when the time comes to have that talk with a potential partner, it will be less awkward. Take control of your sexuality so that you can enjoy it for many years to come.