Why STDs Are Not a Big Deal

They're very common and many people who have them don't have any symptoms. Without treatment, STDs can cause serious health problems, but the good news is that getting tested isn't a big deal and most STDs are easy to treat. We live in an era of sexual positivity until we get positive test results. And that's unfortunate, because Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are on the rise.

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift items to give away each month. Anyone can read what you share. I think people contact me directly because they don't have access to health care, because they feel embarrassed and think (wrongly) that they are the only ones suffering from such a misadventure, because they're worried that their providers are critical (unfortunately, this isn't uncommon), because there's a lot of misinformation online from which it is difficult to separate the good from the bad, or simply because they are very afraid and it's 3 in the morning. I am proud that people trust me, not only as a medical professional, but also as a non-judgmental person.

It seems that almost nothing is off the table. In almost 30 years of specializing in gynecology and obstetrics, I've only been asked twice about STIs outside the office. It seems that STIs are one of the last taboos. By the way, some people, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continue to use the term “sexually transmitted diseases”.

However, “sexually transmitted infectious diseases” and “sexually transmitted infections” are also considered acceptable. I think the word “disease” in this context sounds stigmatizing, which is why I don't use it. You like what you like, whether it's the way you choose to entertain yourself, your fantasies, or the way you relate sexually. If everything is consensual, everything is fine.

What makes this especially surprising is that STIs are so omnipresent. Keep in mind that 50 percent of sexually active people will have at least one STI. At age 25 (HPV is the most common) and there are more than 110 million new and existing STI cases every year in the United States. It's clear that people aren't shy to share with me, so the only logical conclusion is that the sexual revolution failed to free people from the shame and stigma of sexually transmitted infections.

I see this reflected in my daily work. No diagnosis, other than cancer, can make a woman cry as reliably as an STI. For some reason, and I don't know the definitive answer, there's a lot of stigma surrounding herpes. In 1982, Time magazine promoted it as “Today's Scarlet Letter” on a cover.

I've been a women's health specialist focusing on infectious diseases for 24 years, and my conversations about herpes (or trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia, other common STIs) haven't changed. Somehow it makes many women feel like they are damaged goods. In many ways, our society still thinks that women are “loose” when they have sex before a certain age or if they have multiple partners. That construction never seems to apply to heterosexual men.

It is also women who suffer from the ramifications of STIs. Viral STIs that persist seem to affect people more. The idea of an infection that cannot be eliminated is very difficult for many people to accept. Consider the contrasting reactions between human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the cause of cervical cancer and genital warts (as well as some types of vaginal, vulvar, oral and anal cancer), and the diagnosis of Epstein Barr virus (EBV), the cause of infectious mononucleosis.

Biologically, viruses are very similar. They can persist for years, hibernating in cells. Both can reactivate, wake up so to speak, and this causes people to transmit the virus and therefore spread it without knowing it. Many people may never know that they even had the infection early on or if they did they don't know they're transmitting the virus and are therefore contagious.

This phenomenon is called asymptomatic transmission and it is the way in which for the most part we transmit these infections to other people. As a separate comment people don't usually transmit STIs knowingly. Most people have the decency not to have sex when they have a visible sore for example just as they know not to shake hands when they have a deadly cold. HPV is the virus that is transmitted through sex genital contact and oral sex while EBV is close contact and kissing.

Why should it be more embarrassing to get an infection through sex than from shaking hands kissing or coughing? Why is it embarrassing to have genital herpes even though more people have oral herpes and everyone can see those outbreaks? In the 19th century when an indigent person had “smallpox” (either syphilis or gonorrhea at that time there were no diagnoses to reliably distinguish between the two) a public statement was required to seek help from church warders men and women with same afflictions were sent to different places women to work asylum and men to hospital people with money could of course avoid public disclosure altogether and get medical care in many ways public shame and stigma haven't changed economic disadvantage prevents many from getting screened and treated People who want to protect themselves from STIs through safer sexual practices especially those who are not white heterosexual men of cis gender may be falsely labeled as promiscuous or dirty (whatever that means). Those words can be launched by their partners their community strangers on internet even through stigmatizing interactions with health professionals And while rates of new diagnoses of HIV are stable there are still more than 30 000 cases of new HIV sexually acquired infections every year in United States almost all of which are preventable with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The only positive point is that awareness about STIs has increased over time leading more people to get tested regularly which helps reduce transmission rates.

Ethel Kosowski
Ethel Kosowski

Passionate explorer. Avid pop culture evangelist. Amateur food buff. Amateur pop culture lover. Amateur beer trailblazer.

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