The S Word
The first time I had a real discussion about Sexually Transmitted Infections was when my mom told me I would inevitably get one if I had premarital sex. Before that, things like chlamydia were just rumors I read about on bathroom walls. My health teacher had practically whispered the names of infections when the subject came up which left my peers and I to believe that as long as we had condoms and nice partners, we were saved. My mother, on the other hand, is passionate about discussing safe, responsible intimacy. She became a sex educator through our town’s women’s center during my senior year of high school. I had been there when she pitched the importance of safe sex advocacy to my alma mater and emphasized how essential emotional awareness is when it comes to physicality. I looked up at my mom with heart eyes, admiring her candid nature and compassion when it came to the subject. She was so cool: the lady who passed out free condoms and taught my peers that you couldn’t actually get HIV from a toilet seat.
So when I turned eighteen and started exploring the world of intimacy, my mom was the first person I wanted to talk to. I remember how silently she sat on the couch, as I timidly asked permission to get birth control. I assumed that she would understand my request, both as a seasoned sex educator and a former pregnant college student. I had faith that we could have a mature, woman-to-woman chat about physicality and growing up and—
“You know you can get herpes in your eyes,” she said. One of the many one-liners she used during the talk she gave me that night. I was quickly educated on how effortlessly you could get anything from everything. Without an inkling of what to say, I sat there as she explained from kisses to vaginal intercourse, gonorrhea to HPV, all that could be awaiting me once I became sexually active. I was utterly horrified.
While her speech didn’t dissuade me from continuing my self-exploration, it did get me thinking. What were the facts behind these so called “diseases?” If they’re so common, why doesn’t anyone ever talk about them? Out of concern for my own well-being and that of my partners’ and their partners’, I started to research.
What I found was that I wasn’t alone in my naivety. Stigmas surrounding STIs are common, widespread, and often blown WAY out of proportion. Due to a lack of awareness, the public has a very skewed view on what it means to actually have an STI. Getting one is actually a very common part of life. The American Sexual Health Association states that “One in two sexually active persons will contract an STD/STI by age 25.”
While these infections affect a large part of our population, it’s often difficult to find resources that don’t perpetuate stigmas, misinformation, and DO promote self-love and acceptance.
Luckily for you, my mother scared me badly enough that I created a list of some of the best:
- The STD Project:
This organization’s website is like the Costco of STI information and awareness. From facts on infections, to information on affordable testing and treatment, blogs by those effected, question hotlines, and safe sex barriers for purchase, The STD Project has it all. If you’re just looking to educate yourself, trying to come to terms with a diagnosis, or anywhere in between, the website is definitely worth taking a look at.
- Planned Parenthood:
An obvious go-to, Planned Parenthood offers affordable testing, safe sex advice, tons of STI facts and resources, FAQs, articles, etc. You’re able to call their hotline and talk to a clinician right away if you have a concern, and they have a separate resource hotline if they are unable to help you. For instance, if they don’t take your insurance they can connect you with affordable clinics in your area.
- The Center for Sexual Health and Pleasure
Based out of Pawtucket, RI, the center is definitely worth a visit (at least to their website). They do a lot of workshops on sexual health, confidence, and safe sex, travelling around to different establishments throughout the year (they visit Emerson annually).
They also have a library of resources, articles, books, pamphlets, and videos available both in their center and online. If you can’t find the information you need from them, they can direct you to more resources.
This website is not only really cute and clever, it provides extensive info and tips on safe sex, STI testing, and STI prevention. Some of my favorite featured articles are “8 Tips for Safer, Smart Hook Ups” (originally from Bedsider, see below), and “All Barriers All The Time.” The latter is an extensive safe sex guide, complete with a few humorous, informative cartoons.
Safersex definitely strives to break down stigmas and provide comprehensive information, all while taking the edge off with a playful approach.
Another great organization that works to promote safe sex and birth control information. However, they also have a smaller section on STIs, with some very thought-provoking articles. Their real selling point is Guy Nottadadi, an advocate and spokesperson who wants to “Make Sex Great Again” through communication and awareness. His light-hearted videos are perfect for gearing up for any “have-you-been-tested?” talks with a partner.
- Mark Manson: Your Honest-to-God Guide to STDS.
I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t one of my favorite features on STIs. Written by author and blogger Mark Manson (of markmanson.net), the guide includes a very upfront view at dealing with STIs as a sexually active human. Humorous and honest, Manson really emphasizes the “no-blame” mentality that should be associated with getting a diagnosis. He also breaks down what each STI entails, and focuses on how the symptoms affect the health and comfort of the infected person, rather than their love lives. The really unique part? Manson includes a “Raw Score” of how many people you’d “have to sleep with” to get a certain infection. While it’s not logistically accurate, the numbers he presents are based on statistics, and give readers a better idea of just how common STIs are.
Fear no more, these resources have your back whether you’re concerned about a sexual encounter, or just trying to educate yourself. With compassionate approaches and expert advice, they’ll be your best friend, and a much better alternative to a herpes talk with your or my mom.
Art by: Hayley Joseph