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July 11, 2017

How to talk about Sexually Transmitted Infections, minus the Shame.

We were kissing…Okay, we were more than kissing.

It had been several weeks of getting to know each other and we were totally into each other. It was inevitable for me to ask before the passion completely took over us, “Do you have any S.T.D.s I should know about?”

That awkward pause, and then he replied, “I’m fine. Don’t worry. I won’t get you pregnant.”

Pregnancy was the last thing I was worried about and he hadn’t yet earned my trust, so I hit the brakes on our heavy make-out session and turned it into a more flirtatious inquiry about his sexual health while openly sharing mine.

Even after decades in and out of serious monogamous relationships and being unwittingly thrust back into the dating scene, this conversation never seems to get easier. But, I’ve learned to bring the S.T.D. talk up earlier if the attraction is mutual and strong. It is important to know if our partner’s S.T.D. tests are current and readily available for us to see, because the reality is: People fib for all kinds of reasons.

So, why is this necessary conversation that shouldn’t be a big deal still such a big deal for so many of us? We easily talk about our colds, infections, and other illnesses all day long but, when it comes to our sexual health, we run for the hills.

This awkwardness around sexual health has been going on for centuries. I wish I could say things were improving with the millennial generation. Even if sex education is still archaic in many school systems, with the plethora of sex, love, and relationship information on the internet and social media they should be the generation of safe sex.

And yet…

In 2016, The New York Post reported that, according to the Health Department, S.T.D.s were on the rise for those under the age of 34. It seems millennials aren’t a fan of condoms. (I mean who is? But, darn it, they do work!)

The New York Times went one step further, when a blogger and scientist working towards his MA, pointed out that his loosey-goosey peers could spread the mosquito-borne virus, Zika, which was also spread through intercourse and oral sex.

But, the safe sex cause wasn’t completely lost on our generation’s youngsters. Both HuffPost and Bloomberg reported that if millennials were forced to choose between revealing they had financial debt or an S.T.D., they’d choose to come clean about the S.T.D. first.

I’m getting visions of Cersie Lannister in Game of Thrones doing her walk of atonement while that nasty woman repeats, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The real problem is shame—a survival emotion we think is protecting us, but is actually the root of many of our human pathologies.

Shame is an emotional response that can successfully dumb down our cognitive intelligence. It makes us think issues are bigger, more insurmountable than they are, and tricks us into believing we are alone in our internal battles, which are also fueled by our shame.

Shame can feel so big it causes us to freeze, run away, lie, and avoid many potential joys in life. It is a silent killer of relationships. It latches onto our sense of self-worth. And, when it seeps its way into our sexual health, all the potential beauty and pleasure associated with making love can be assaulted.

Let’s get real about S.T.D.s, also known S.T.I.s:

More than half of all people will have an S.T.I. in their lifetime. There are about 20 million new cases each year in the 15-34 age bracket. The vast majority of these are preventable, curable, or treatable.

In other words, the majority of S.T.I.s will not kill you. Like a cold or infection, they are annoying, uncomfortable, and can be painful, but there is no reason to be ashamed and every reason to prioritize your sexual health and the health of your partner.

So, in the age of information—which, seemingly, hasn’t helped us be more informed or open about S.T.D.s—how do we learn to talk about them with our partner and not freak out?

The cocktail of sex hormones, love, and lust (or any one of these alone) can be powerful enough to override both our I.Q. and E.Q. when sexual pleasure is imminent. Which is why we need to have this talk before things get too exciting. How we go about approaching this topic is key. Meaning, refrain from talking to your love mate as a person of interest in a crime scene. This is a topic that is beneficial to both of you!

Here are some suggestions when you need to have the sexual health talk and don’t want to destroy what could be a potentially amazing time.

1. Set your personal rules; get super comfortable with them—as if they were a run of the mill topic, like the weather—and stick by them.

2. Timing is everything. How and when you discuss what most people consider to be an awkward, embarrassing topic is key. Consider integrating it into some of your early make-out sessions.

3. Get checked regularly and skip the blind faith. It’s 100 percent okay to ask to see someone’s recent S.T.I. tests or request they get one before things move forward. In fact, it’s recommended. This is especially true for new partners, but also applies to long term monogamous relationships as infidelities can happen, even if we don’t want them to.

4. Use protection. Condoms, condoms, condoms! They work. They are easily accessible and, oh yeah, they help with not getting pregnant too.

If we find out a new or long term partner has contracted an S.T.I. or has a history of an S.T.I.s, allow some space for whatever emotions come up. We might feel surprised, scared, or even betrayed by the news. Then, do some investigation with a qualified medical doctor. The internet is not a substitute for this as it can give biased information. Also, consider finding a therapist who is educated in the field of sexual health. We don’t go to a foot specialist for an ear infection.

We should get clear-headed before we make any decisions, so we can make them from place of power and love, not fear.

Remember, more than half of all people on this planet will have an S.T.I. in their lifetime. It is not the end of the world or of our love lives.

We do need to do our part to be proactive in love and lust. What’s important is we prioritize, not only our own sexual health, but the sexual health of our partners as well.

~

Relephant reads:

Manifesto for Real Sexual Healing.

Revolutionizing Sex Education.

~

Author: Heather Dawn
Image: “Billions,” IMDB
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy  & Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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