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Sexually Transmitted Diseases: it’s time to smash the stigma.

Photo by Charles De Luvio for Unsplash.

April is STI awareness month and what better moment than now to make sure we can all enjoy a caliente night of sex without a future annoying diagnosis of syphilis or gonorrhoea? Given the topics of the last few articles (and for those who do not know, click here to read them), and the recent increase in infections, I thought would have been ideal to talk about STIs and, finally, stop being scared of mentioning them. I am aware that they can be terrifying and can let you stay for ages with annoying itchiness in your equipment, too scared to get checked, but it is also time to be brave: let’s face them without fear or judgement.

Let’s start by saying that, as you can imagine from their names, they are transmitted sexually. What do you think might be the best way not to have an unfortunate encounter with them? Somebody might say sexual abstinence, but I am not that somebody. As a midwife, I will stick to appropriate and accurate information which, along with education, prevention and common sense. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be able to know STIs better and face them without panicking.

But now stop beating around the bush and let’s dive into the scary world of sexually transmitted diseases.

Photo by Charles De Luvio for Unsplash

As mentioned above, we can find a lot of them: HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, HPV and so on. The World Health Organisation estimated that more than 1 million infections are acquired every day worldwide. Unfortunately, however, the stigma towards not only these diseases but especially towards people suffering from them is still the order of the day. And stigma, my friends, is so strictly related to stereotypes that you might cringe reading them.

Unfortunately, as a Midwife, I have to admit that this same stigma is present also in the healthcare environment, making people who contracted the infection even less likely to report it and find a solution. The result will be a continuous increase of not treated cases and the reiteration of stupid prejudices.

For this reason, a few days ago I conducted a quick quiz on Instagram, where you can find me here, asking about the main stereotypes related to STIs and their awareness in general.

Let me show you the 3 biggest wrong assumptions about STIs that came out from the quiz!

1- STIs are contracted only by “dirty” people

As you can see from the image on the side, sexual promiscuity is mentioned more than once when it comes to sexual stereotypes.

A study conducted in 2012 reports they are often reconnected to prostitution (and I am not talking about the more modern regulated sex work but the not-so-well-seen idea of the term). In addition, women who are affected tend to feel isolated and judged, with a strong feeling of unworthiness.

To give you another example, in 2018, it has been estimated that 1 in 5 people in the USA had an STI on any given day. All promiscuous people? I don’t think so. It is important to remember that you can always get an infection if you do not pay attention, and sometimes also if you do so. It can happen. And this does not make you dirty or promiscuous. And yes, you can get an STI also if it is your first time in the mysterious land of sex.

2- STIs always give you symptoms

Photo by Maria Talks for Unsplash. Edited with Instagram.

I would be more than happy to tell you that you can always be aware of having an STI because you have a strange rash on your penis or an itchy area on your vulva, but that would not be true. The truth is sometimes these hideous infections do not give any problems, and you might find yourself discovering to have one only when randomly getting tested. Most of them have “incubation time”, and that means that the virus/bacteria/whatever the disease is based on needs time to fully develop and give you symptoms. Chlamydia? 50% of men and 70% of women never have symptoms, in other cases usually, it takes 1 to 3 weeks to start seeing them. Herpes? You can see the lesions even years after having been in contact with it.

When asked on Instagram, 12% of the responders, thought that STIs always give you symptoms: my friends, I hope this makes it clearer. Not having symptoms does not mean you are not infected (and infectious).

3- Condoms always protect you from STIs

This, my friends, is the biggest trap we tend to fall into when it comes to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and 21% of the people answering my quiz on Instagram did the same. No, condoms do not protect you from every STI and always, despite how much I would love to tell you the contrary. Having said that, it is not a good reason not to use them.

Condoms, when correctly used, protect against infection related to genital fluids. However, when it comes to lesions on the skin, and it is the case of herpes and genital warts, on the vulva and the scrotum, they are not going to do the good job you were hoping for.

Consequently, make sure you, despite the flirty atmosphere and the hormones jumping all over you, pay attention to yourself and your partner to avoid unfortunate experiences. Like PID, greenish discharges and annoying internal examinations.

In conclusion, my friends, what can we do to avoid STIs? As mentioned before, one very effective option is complete abstinence but, to be honest, I am not going down that road. As a consequence, let’s start with the most important step: get tested. Whether it is a new relationship, a long-term one or just a night of intense “mucho calor”. Get tested regularly, and go to your GP or to the many places where you can find services for free available to you and your sexual health (you can find here all the information).

Second rule: be cautious. They do not want to use a condom because it’s uncomfortable? Dump them. They told you you are the first one in ages and for sure that do not have STIs? Dump them. Mind your health, always. Prevention is the key to these infections.

Rule number 3: education. How are young girls supposed to know that the pill does not prevent STIs if we do not explain it to them? How can young boys know that an annoying condom today is better than HIV tomorrow? They don’t. Education is key. Don’t be scared of asking, don’t be scared of answering.

I am well aware that there would is much more to say about STIs, starting from their treatment and ending with their consequences, but unfortunately, our time is limited.

Let me know in the comments section what you think it might be done to improve awareness towards STIs and what you would like to read about next week!

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