Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Journey Through Sexually Transmitted INFECTIONS

Some of you who aren’t in the sex ed world may notice that throughout my blog posts I refrain from using the acronym ‘STD,’ and instead use the acronym ‘STI.’

Have you ever wondered why?

I am going to take you on a journey through STIs to give you the lowdown on what I think is important for everyone to know.  This journey will also enlighten you as to why I'm ditching the 'D.'

1. STIs come in two basic varieties: Curable and Treatable.
What does “curable” mean? It means that if you get it treated right away, the antibiotics get the infection completely out of your body. Of the most common STIs, the following are curable: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea (The Clap), Syphilis, Trichomoniasis and Pubic Lice (Crabs).

The other four STIs are classified as “treatable.” This means that while there are no medications available to get them out of your system completely, they are manageable with a regiment of medications. HIV/AIDS, Herpes, Hepatitis, and HPV (Genital Warts) are all treatable STIs.

Want an easy way to remember the difference?  Of the most common STIs, all the treatable ones start with “H.”

Side Note:  You can’t cure crabs by shaving off all your pubes (or even waxing for that matter). Why not? Because the little bugs in your pubes lay eggs in the hair follicle. Even if you don’t have a bushy forest for them to grow in, it’s possible for the eggs to last long enough to sustain your infestation when your pubes grow back in. The only way out of a crab infestation is to get a medicated pube shampoo from a clinician.

2. When treated, STIs will not kill you.
Unless you leave an STI in your body without taking medication, you shouldn’t have any fear of STI related death.

And because of the advances in HIV meds, people are living long, long periods of time.  And although HIV sets up your immune system for failure, it is actually an opportunistic infection (i.e. a type of illness that wouldn't normally kill you, or wouldn't affect a healthy immune system) that becomes cause of death for folks that have HIV/AIDS.

3. The most common thing that will happen to your body when you get an STI is …
…NOTHING.

That’s right kiddies. Even without symptoms, you still have the STI. This means that you can still spread it to others AND that it’s still in your body. If you leave some STIs in the body untreated they can result in complications to your reproductive system later on down the road.  Also, if you’ve been rocking STI symptoms and they go away … that doesn’t mean the STI is gone. You could totally still spread whatever you’ve got.

4. How do you figure out if you have an STI?  Get tested.  When?

At a time where someone calls you up and says “Um, hey brah, I have Chlamydia. I’m pretty sure I had it while we hooked up.” That’s a time where you should get tested right away.

Or maybe, you’ve decided that you and your partner are going to (safely, of course) stop using condoms. That’s a time where you should get tested right away

Or you look down and your genitals are unexplainably itchy, drippy, smelly, swollen, bumpy, or in any other way not looking or feeling like they usually look or feel. That’s a time where you should get tested right away.

Or if you’re deciding to sleep with somebody new and you happen to have two weeks to wait for test results. That’s a time where you should get tested right away.

If none of that is going down, rocking to your doc every 6 months for an STI screening is a good call. Note: This is even important if you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship. Not because STIs will magically arise out of thin air, but because People Are Probably Going To Sleep Around, Even If They’re In A Relationship.

5. STIs are spread through sexual contact.
Like i just mentioned, STIs don't just magically appear.  Either you or one of your partners has to have one for it to spread.  If one of you does have an STI, keep reading to see what kinds of stuff will spread an STI.


If you’ve got a penis, you can spread or get an STI when you…
• Put your penis in an anus (butthole).
• Put your penis in a vagina.
• Put your penis in someone’s mouth.
• Rub your penis on someone else’s penis, vulva or anus (without putting it inside).

If you’ve got a vagina, you can spread or get an STI when you…
• Wrap your vagina around a penis.
• Wrap your vagina around a sex toy that someone else used without cleaning it first.

If you’ve got a vulva, you can spread or get an STI when you…
• Put your vulva in someone’s mouth.
• Rub your vulva on someone else’s vulva, penis, or anus.

If you’ve got an anus, you can spread or get an STI when you…
• Wrap your anus around a penis.
• Wrap your anus around a sex toy that someone else used without cleaning it first.
• Put your anus in someone’s mouth.
• Rub your anus on someone else’s anus, vulva, or penis.

6. There are things that are more likely to spread an STI than others.
The order is Anus-Penis Sex, Vagina-Penis Sex, Oral Sex, and then Skin-To-Skin Contact.

STIs can also sometimes be spread with fingers, but the likelihood is pretty low. Wait, how, you ask? If you’ve got an open cut on your fingers, an STI that travels via blood could possibly get into your partner, or your partners fluids could possibly carry an STI into your blood stream.

7. STIs are preventable.
One of these ones is not like the other one. Guess which one and think about why!

• You’re on public transportation and the person who you were lucky enough to get crammed next to coughs on you the whole bus ride home. You wake up the next morning with a wicked cold.
• You’re walking down the street and all of a sudden a crazy dog starts chasing you and bites your forearm. You go to the hospital to get patched up and find out you’ve got rabies.
• You’re having sex with a slammin’ hottie and you decide you want to fuck them without latex getting in the way. You wake up a week later and your genitals are dripping and itchy.

I’ll give you a moment to think.

So, obviously the third one is the one that’s different. Why? Because of the choice factor.  Although you could choose to not take the bus, walk down the street, or have sex ... you can’t choose who you stand next to on the bus, you can’t choose not to get attacked by a rabid dog, BUT you damn well can choose to use a condom when you're fucking.

Important Note: I want to acknowledge that despite my former example there are times when people are forced to have sex against their will and contract STIs as a result. Obviously in a scenario like that, there is little choice in being able to prevent an STI.

8. Barrier?
When we’re talking about sex, a barrier is a piece of latex (or sometimes Polyurethane or Polyisoprene) that stops STIs from jumping from one body to the next.

Condoms can be used when a penis involved, either during insertion OR during oral. Condoms can also be used when there are plans to share sex toys. Dental dams or plastic wrap can be used on a vulva or anus during oral sex. Gloves can be used over fingers.

REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: DO NOT. And I mean seriously … DO NOT try to use plastic wrap (or plastic bags or sandwich bags) as condoms. Seriously. It won’t work.

9. Condoms are pretty damn good, but not perfect in preventing STIs.
Condoms have been shown to be super effective in preventing STI transmission when they’re used correctly.

However, some STIs (like Herpes and HPV) can spread through skin-to-skin contact. So if there are any parts the condom isn’t covering, STIs could spread.

And … sometimes condoms fail. There is a 2% chance that any condom you use (even if you’ve used it perfectly) will malfunction.

This means that the most effective way to prevent an STI is through avoiding all the activities listed in #4. That doesn’t stop you from some hot dry humping, a sexy massage, convincing your partner to rock a sexy strip tease for you, or even jacking off out a window. (That last one is stolen from Ricky Gervais’ standup.) There are some seriously creative ways you can still have hot sex with your partner without putting yourself at risk.

10. Time to bring it home.
So, now that you know all this new information about STIs, why is it that there has been a switch from using ‘disease’ to using ‘infection?’

Disease. Say it out loud (or think it in your head if you’re at work). What do you think about?

When I asked this question to high school students, the answer I usually got went something like, “When you have a disease, you get really really really sick. And then you probably die.” Not only is that the connotation that comes with the word disease … but then there’s also the idea that it’s uncontrollable and non-preventable. Also, if we’re talking specifically about the definition of disease, it is generally associated with some sort of symptom.

Now think about the word infection. Say it and/or think it. What do you think of now?

Still not the most pleasant of words, but ‘infection’ definitely has a different swagger than disease. It’s still not something you want, but it does have the connotation of at least being something manageable. Infection is defined by the characteristic of the body being invaded and preyed upon by whatever has gotten in there.

Although there are lots of justifications that folks have come up with in terms of phasing out the "D", the information I've shared with you today shows you why I use STI instead of STD.  I feel like calling them STDs would be misidentifying them both in terms of raw definitions AND in terms of the connotations associated with them.  As someone who likes to promote accuracy, calling them STDs, to me, feels inaccurate.

And now, my friends, you know.

Keep Thinking.

-Becca

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