From frightening displays in 10th grade Health class to scary PSAs all over TV, and so much more, the stigma surrounding STDs is vicious. Yes, it’s important to try our best to avoid contracting and especially spreading these diseases (more on that later), but unlike the way it’s been portrayed, getting an STD actually does not need to be such a shameful event or the end of your sex life.
Let’s start with the basics. There are certain STDs that are currently curable and others that are incurable but treatable. The distinction here is that bacterial infections are generally curable, meaning that you can completely get them out of your system with the right medication, while viral infections are generally incurable but treatable, meaning that they will stay with you for the rest of your life but there are ways to suppress and manage symptoms so that your risk of passing it on to others is significantly lowered, on top of other things.
Some of the bacterial culprits include infections like chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. These sound nasty but can all be easily treated with prescriptions from your gyno. They’re undeniably unpleasant, but contracting these suckers is not as scary as it can seem. Usually gonorrhea is included on this list, but according to Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist Emma Kaywin for Bustle, what used to be a perfectly curable STD is now growing more and more resistant to antibiotic treatment. She writes that “Not everyone who has it gets symptoms, but if you do, they will include yellow vaginal discharge and vaginal itching, burning, or redness. You can also experience pain when peeing or having sex.” If these sound familiar, she still recommends going to a doctor to get things looked at. “However,” she writes, “this bacteria keeps gaining resistance to more and more antibiotic types. Until researchers figure out a solution to this, we will probably start using antimicrobials to manage the symptoms of gonorrheal infection.”
As for the viral infections, these include things like HIV/AIDS, genital herpes and warts, HPV, and hepatitis A and B virus. Though diseases like HIV, HPV, and hep A and B have been communicated to the general public as killers, modern medicine allows for the management of symptoms and for the prolonging of life with these conditions. There is even new research that shows people living with HIV who take their medication as prescribed having no instances of passing along the virus to a loved one, even without wearing condoms. That’s progress. As for herpes, you may be shocked to learn that nearly everyone contracts the virus before the end of their lifetime. Symptoms are not visible, but it’s extremely communicable and easy to pass along without the aid of protection.
Which brings me to my next point: protection, protection, protection! There’s nothing wrong with being a stickler about protection in the bedroom. In fact, you’ll be doing you and your partner(s) a favor by requiring there to be protection worn—at all times of the sexy process, not just during penetration. Consistent and correct use of the male latex condom reduces the risk of STD transmission. However, condom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD, though it is the most effective defense shy of abstaining from sex entirely or sleeping only with the same uninfected person for your entire life. My personal resolution for the coming year is to get better at asking all sexual partners about their history with STDs before we get naked. I also want to be more forthright with them about when my last tests were done (I’m getting better at going more regularly, which is excellent!). Overall, STDs don’t need to be a source of panic or shame, or a death sentence for your sex life. Get checked regularly, maintain open dialogue with partners, use protection, and remember that your health is more important than anyone’s ego.
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes