Undoing the STIgma: Normalizing the discourse surrounding STIs

April is STD/STI Awareness Month.

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Let’s talk about sex. It’s fun, it’s natural.

Now, considering that April is STD/STI Awareness Month, let’s take it one step further and talk about sexually transmitted diseases and infections, or STDs/STIs.

They’re not so fun and not “natural,” per se, but they can and do happen to many people. In fact, according to the American Sexual Health Association, or ASHA, “one in two sexually active persons will contract an STD/STI by age 25” and “more than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point in their lifetime.”

Yet for the most part, society hasn’t entirely accepted the reality of STIs. Instead, mainstream conversations about STIs rely on seeing them as punchline. This quote from “The Hangover” is a good example: “Remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes. That shit’ll come back with you.”

If STIs aren’t portrayed as comical, then they’re seen as shameful.

“Some people believe that having an STI is horrible and people who have them are bad,” explained John Baldwin, UC Santa Barbara sociology professor and co-author of “Discovering Human Sexuality.”

In other words, there is a stigma associated with STIs.

“It’s not a death sentence.”

– Reyna Perez

Reyna Perez, the clinic lead for UC Berkeley’s Sexual Health Education Program, or SHEP, defined STI stigma as “shame with oneself (about) having an STI or amongst other people.”

“(They think) they’re ‘dirty’ or (use similarly) negative terms,” Perez said.

She went on to explain that campus students often think contracting an STI is the end of their sex lives and lives in general. But this is not true.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Perez said. “Most of them are curable or at least treatable.”

Despite the prevalence of STIs, people don’t know much about them. This lack of understanding reinforces the misconceptions surrounding them.

To help resolve this issue of ignorance, Baldwin first shed light on the difference between STDs and STIs.

“STD is the common language that a lot of people use and (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC) uses because it communicates with large numbers of people, but medical doctors sometimes like to use ‘STI,’ ” Baldwin explained.

According to Baldwin, the term “STI” is more inclusive because it also considers people who don’t have symptoms but are infected and could infect others.

It’s true: People can be asymptomatic and transmit STIs to their partners.

“Large numbers of Americans have HIV and no symptoms and have sex with lots of others and infect others,” Baldwin said.

Additionally, sexual intercourse isn’t the only method by which STIs can be transmitted, a fact that more people should be aware of. There are many ways in which STIs can be spread, but they often go unnoticed.

According to Perez, “(People) don’t realize how you can contract them and there’s a gap in knowledge.”

Perez said STIs can be transmitted through oral sex or, in rare instances, fingering, which many people are unaware of. She also pointed out that HIV can be spread through non-sexual bodily fluids such as blood and breastmilk.

STIs can also be transmitted by something as simple as skin contact — Elizabeth Wells, lead and co-facilitator of the Sex 101 DeCal, said genital warts and herpes can be spread this way.

Even when it comes to sexual intercourse, the way by which most people believe STIs are spread, people don’t always take preventative measures.

“It’s not like everyone is consistently using condoms or barrier methods,” Perez said.

Another notable fact is that some STIs aren’t even viewed as STIs at all. For instance, cold sores on the mouth region are a form of herpes.

“They don’t realize it until someone brings it up to them,” Perez said. “Once you attach the title of ‘STI,’ suddenly it becomes something to be ashamed of. But it shouldn’t be that way.”

When the facts are laid out like this, it becomes apparent that there’s no reason to make STIs something to feel ashamed about. Many people contract them at some point, and although there are preventative measures such as condoms and other barrier methods, there are many possible avenues through which people can get them.

“Shit happens,” Wells said. “Who are we as individuals and society and people who are sex positive to vilify people that made decisions in the heat of the moment, or it just happens (that) the condom breaks?”

Yet the stigma surrounding STIs persists, largely because of the long societal tradition of suppressing discussions surrounding sex as a whole.

Baldwin expressed his belief that the stigma stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Judeo-Christian culture has been a prominent force that has shaped society’s views for hundreds of years. It frowns upon sexual activity, and looking down on STIs — perceived to be spread through sexual means alone — is part and parcel of that general disapproval.

“Society doesn’t evolve very fast in terms of thinking that I think you still see that mindset permeating today,” Wells said. “(STI stigma) is rooted in this idea that we’re not going to be talking about sex.”

Delving even deeper into the issue of STI stigma shows that it is further problematic because it is linked to racism.

According to a 2015 report by the CDC, STIs are more prevalent among certain racial or ethnic minorities than they are among white people. Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.

“It’s largely an issue of access, and you’re seeing a lack of comprehensive sexual education in those areas,” Wells said.

To vilify someone for getting an STI when they don’t even have the resources to know how to prevent them is to vilify them for not having access to sexual health resources. It is to vilify them for structural inequalities in access to education — inequalities which they did not ask for and cannot control.

“Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.”

Not only is it problematic to treat STIs as a taboo subject when this attitude stems from sexually repressive and prejudiced notions, but STI stigma also is harmful because it inhibits people from seeking medical treatment.

“If someone has an STI, we shouldn’t stigmatize them,” Baldwin explained. “We should try to help them get the best medicine and treatment.”

STI stigma also causes “intense emotional distress,” according to Perez.

“It’s so difficult to start support groups at the Tang Center because there’s stigma,” Perez said.

Considering all these facts and issues, the obvious final question is, “How do we get rid of the stigma surrounding STIs?”

One key component is awareness.

Awareness that people with STIs can and do lead normal lives helps. Modern science has allowed for medication that can either cure or treat STIs.

“It’s a world changer,” Perez said.

When engaging in sexual activity during an outbreak, there is also world of possibilities.

“There are creative ways to have sex while having an outbreak,” Perez explained.

She expanded upon this statement to say that, for instance, partners could use strap-on dildos when the involved parties are having a herpes recurrence.

“I believe that we are moving away from the preceding era of ignorance and successfully moving to have more scientific knowledge of STIs and their treatment so that more people are, in fact, getting good care,” Baldwin said. “Our society is moving in the right direction.”

“The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.”

To promote awareness, according to Perez, the Tang Center and SHEP offer programs for people who are curious to find out more about STIs as well as for people who have already been diagnosed with an STI who desire health coaching and/or emotional and mental support.

Awareness includes being conscious of preventative measures.

“Just being aware of sexual health resources (is) also really important,” Wells said. “A lot of people don’t know about it because it’s not talked about, because sex isn’t talked about.”

Wells explained that, for instance, people can take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, before having sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS. This will lower the chance that the partner without HIV/AIDS will also get the infection. Similarly, taking post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS will help prevent transmission of the disease.

Although STIs aren’t the end of the world, if left undiagnosed or untreated, they can become serious health risks. The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.

According to Wells, on the last Friday of every month, the Tang Center offers free STI tests that take approximately 20 minutes. She clarified that there is, however, a six-month period after the initial infection in which the tests might not detect its presence.

Another key factor to destigmatizing STIs is simply talking about them. To emphasize this point, Wells quoted a SHEP saying: “Communication is lubrication.”

In other words, people need to start talking about STIs so that it will become acceptable to talk about them as well as to prevent them.

“It shouldn’t be uncomfortable for people because the way I see it, it’s mutual respect within relationships,” Perez explained. “I’m respecting my partner and getting myself tested and taking preventative measures, and my partner should respect me back by also being open to talking about STIs and … getting tested and (taking) those preventative measures as well.”

The way in which the discussion around STIs is being framed is also something to consider. For instance, discerning between STDs and STIs is important. Likewise, it’s crucial not to define people by their STIs.

“We don’t even like to use the word ‘HIV-positive,’ ” Perez said. “We like to use the phrase ‘a person living with HIV’ because they’re a person first before their STI.”

Awareness and communication aimed at undoing the stigma around STIs are imperative for the sake of public health but also for the sake of true sex positivity.

Complete Article HERE!

A stressful life is bad for the bedroom

If you are consistently emotionally distressed due to social, economic or relationship pressures, you can be sure to lose erections. Being annoyed with your intimate partner all the time, and feeling undermined or frustrated are bad for your erections.

By JOACHIM OSUR

Lois came to the sexology clinic because she was sexually dissatisfied with her husband. It had been six months of no sex in their 11-year old marriage. Before that, her man had suffered repeated episodes of erection failure. “The few times he did get an erection, it was flaccid and short-lived,” Lois explained. “You can only imagine how that can be frustrating to a faithful wife.”

Lois suspected that her husband was getting sexual satisfaction elsewhere, and had angrily told him she didn’t want to have sex with him anymore. “I thought he was no longer interested in me because I had gained too much weight after bearing our two children, a very hurtful thought,” she explained sadly.

And so for six months the couple kept off each other. The relationship got strained and unfortunately Andrew, Lois’ husband, threw himself into his work. He stayed late at work and came home after everyone was asleep. He woke up and left the house early. He paid no attention to their two children anymore.

“So how can I help you?” I asked, lots of thoughts going through my mind due to the complexity of the case. You see, the man, who was the one having a problem, had not come to the clinic. Erection failure or erectile dysfunction (ED) is a complex symptom that requires a thorough assessment for its cause to be pinpointed. I needed Andrew to come see me himself.

VICTIM OF THE RELATIONSHIP

“What do you mean that it is a symptom of complex problems?” Lois asked, frowning. ED is simply a failure to be aroused sexually. This could be due to the derangement of some chemicals in the brain such as dopamine. It could also be due to hormonal problems such as low testosterone, high prolactin and so on.

What we are also seeing at the clinic is a rise in cases of diabetes and hypertension, usually accompanied by obesity. Most of the affected people have high cholesterol. These diseases destroy blood vessels, including those in the penis, making erections impossible. Further still, the diseases can destroy nerves, and if the nerves of the penis are affected, erections fail. People with heart, kidney, liver and other chronic illnesses may similarly get ED either from the diseases or from the medicines used to treat them.

Stressful lifestyles are also contributing to ED quite a bit these days. Many people work two jobs to get by, and have no time to relax or get adequate sleep. A physically worn out, sleep-deprived body is too weak to have an erection and you should expect ED to befall you any time if this is your lifestyle.

But emotional distress is even more dangerous for ED. If you are consistently emotionally distressed due to social, economic or relationship pressures, you can be sure to lose erections. Being annoyed with your intimate partner all the time, and feeling undermined or frustrated are bad for your erections. Further, feeling like a victim in the relationship can lead to ED. All these are further complicated by anxiety and depression, which are bound to set in as part of the relationship problem or as a result of the ED itself.

“So can’t you just give me some medicine for him to try then if it fails he can come for full assessment?” Lois asked, realising that my explanation was taking longer than she had anticipated.

Unfortunately that was not possible. We get this kind of request all the time at the clinic. In fact, people make phone calls asking for tablets to swallow to get erections immediately. Sometimes they call from the bathroom with their partner in the bed waiting for action yet the erection has failed. There is however no alternative to a thorough assessment and treatment of the cause of the ED.

Andrew came to the clinic a few days later. A full assessment found that he had a stressful career and relationship difficulties, and both had taken a toll on his sex life. He had to undergo a lifestyle change. Further, the couple went through intimacy coaching. It was another six months before they resumed having sex.

Complete Article HERE!

In defense of opposite-sex friendships

By Heidi Stevens

My friend Jeff does not want to impregnate me.

And thank God for that, since his wife is expecting their third child this summer.

“Let me be clear,” he told me Thursday morning. “I have two, almost three children. I don’t want to impregnate anyone.”

I called him to check, since Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene put me and my fellow females on notice earlier this week.

“You don’t have any guy friends,” Fiene wrote in The Federalist on Tuesday. “In fact, you can’t have any guy friends.”

“Quite simply, men can’t be at peace being just friends,” Fiene wrote. “And there’s nothing you can do to change that. Platonic chilling won’t stop your inner (and outer) beauty from pulling a man towards romantic love. Telling him he’s like a brother to you won’t stop his brain from shouting ‘Marry that woman and impregnate her now’ when he encounters your femininity.”

Maybe Fiene didn’t mean my femininity, since I already have a husband. Maybe he didn’t mean Jeff’s brain, since Jeff already has a wife. But between his essay and Vice President Mike Pence’s no-dining-with-women rule, it’s a tricky time for opposite-sex friendships.

I’m here to defend them.

Jeff and I are friends because we work in similar industries, we live in the same neighborhood, our kids get along and we make each other laugh. I adore his wife. He likes my husband. Sometimes we meet for coffee. Sometimes we get together with our kids — with and without our spouses.

My husband, meanwhile, has a handful of female friends. He sometimes shares meals with them. With alcohol. Without me. I can’t overstate how much I prefer this setup over a husband who views all women as potential vessels to grow his babies. His female friends give him a greater understanding of half the world’s population. My male friendships do the same for me.

“It helps un-bro me,” Jeff said of his friendship with women. “I don’t know how bro-tastic I ever was, but certainly more so when I was younger and had exclusively male friends.”

Now his female friendships lend valuable insight and awareness to his home and work life. (He works in media relations.) “I haven’t had a male boss in 15 years or so,” he told me.

Friendships give us a different lens through which to see the world. They help us walk in someone else’s shoes. They give us people to care about, protect, laugh with, cry on, learn from, respectfully disagree with, cherish.

Friendships with people who don’t look and live just like us can open our minds and alter our behavior in ways that are immeasurable and invaluable.

And we should turn a skeptical eye — or avoid altogether — people whose reproductive parts don’t match ours?

I don’t think so.

We can acknowledge that some men are sometimes attracted to their female friends, and some women are sometimes attracted to their male friends. (And some men are sometimes attracted to their male friends, some women to their female friends, while we’re on the topic.)

We can also recognize that mature adults go through life, every single day, not acting on all our impulses. We don’t eat the whole pan of brownies. We don’t tell our bosses to take a flying leap. We don’t order martinis at lunch. We don’t sleep with our friends.

We don’t do the things, in other words, that sabotage our goals and our lives, even if they sound sort of fun at the time.

You can be friends with the opposite sex. You should, I would argue, be friends with the opposite sex.

The benefits of opposite-sex friendships far outweigh the possible, occasional risks, especially since we’re perfectly capable of mitigating those risks.

Men and women have far more to offer each other than our bodies, in bed. It’s insulting and, frankly, a little sad to suggest otherwise.

Complete Article HERE!

The Swinging Over-Sixties: most older couples are happy with their sex lives

By Katie Grant

It is a common assumption that once a couple ties the knot, sex goes out the window. Indeed, the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who said “I do” nine times, once quipped: “I know nothing about sex, because I was always married”.

Yet new research indicates that most couples in long-term relationships remain happy well into their sixties.

While it is not uncommon for couples to disagree about how often they should have sex, this does not necessarily alter their commitment to the relationship, scientists at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Manchester will hear on Wednesday.

Levels of sexual desire

Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 16 to 65 to discuss their relationships.

Around 60 per cent of respondents believed that sex was an important part of their relationship while 15 per cent disagreed. The remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.

One third (33 per cent) of women reported that their partners wanted sex more frequently than they did, while a larger proportion, 40 per cent, said this was not the case.

Only 10 per cent of men said that their partners wanted sex more frequently than they did, compared with nearly two thirds (60 per cent) who said they did not.

‘Part and parcel’ of relationship cycle

The research, conducted by Professor Jacqui Gabb, of the Open University, and Professor Janet Fink, of the University of Huddersfield, and presented in Manchester on Wednesday, reveals that differences in sexual desire are not considered “particularly significant”.

“Couples are saying that differences in sexual frequency and desire are just part and parcel of the relationship cycle and are accepted as not particularly significant,” Professor Gabb said.

Still going strong

The study also found that many older participants continued to derive pleasure from their sex lives even when sexual activity was less frequent than it had once been.

One older woman who participated in the research described sex as “one of the prerequisites of a relationship” for her.

However, she added: “There are other areas of a relationship which I think need a lot more work and are far more important, like trust, money, love [and] teamwork.”

Long-term love

Professor Gabb said of the findings: “Fluctuations in desire are inexorably tied into other life factors, but it is the sharing of a life together, the investment in that joint venture and the acceptance of change as an integral part of this shared life which enables couples to weather the ebbs and flows that characterise sexual intimacy and the passage of time in long-term relationships.”

She added: “The longevity of partnerships seems to be connected with couples’ capacity to negotiate changing circumstances. For older couples, the first blush of a new relationship may have worn off but the relationship has not tarnished.”

Complete Article HERE!

This Sex-Positive YouTuber Is Taking Sex-Ed Online

The personal is political

by Miranda Feneberger

California native Laci Green started uploading videos to her very first YouTube channel at age 18. Nearly 10 years later, Laci owns and operates the number one sex education channel on YouTube: LaciGreen. With more than a million subscribers, a Webby award-winning spinoff series for MTV, and content produced on behalf of Planned Parenthood and Discovery News, Green is now the reigning queen of the online sex-ed industry.


 
It all started while Green was studying law at UC Berkeley; while there, she also taught a course on Human Sexuality, organized peer-led sexual health programs for local high schools, and launched her Streamy award-winning sex-ed series, Sex+. She got a certificate in domestic violence and rape crisis counseling from the state of California in 2010 and was also featured last year in TIME magazine’s list of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.

Green approaches topics like masturbation, contraception, BDSM, and sexuality with the relatability of a sister and the credentials of an expert. Her channel is informative, fun, and, best of all, positive. Can you see why we’re obsessed with her? Below, we speak with Green all about online activism, sexual health, and how young people can join the sex-ed conversation.

How do you feel the internet, and YouTube specifically, has changed the way young people learn about sex?
The internet is amazing because it has offered an open platform to talk about sexuality in ways we haven’t been able to before. Whatever has been kept in the shadows is on full display online—for better or worse. It’s great in the sense that it’s more accessible, and people who live in sex-negative communities can just hop online to find community and information. But the openness of the internet has also created new challenges, like distinguishing fact from fiction.

Have you, over the years, seen a change in the way the high school and college students are responding to sex-ed, feminism, and LGBTQI+ issues?
Yes! I think the conversation is elevating, and some of the more basic myths about anatomy, safer sex, and sexual assault are slowly being debunked. My experience is that young people are, and have been as long as I’ve been doing this, very positive toward LGBT and feminist causes.

What are the resources you would recommend to young people who have questions about sexual health?
Go Ask AliceScarleteen, and Planned Parenthood are fantastic non-YouTube internet resources. As for books, every young woman should own a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves.

What is the most important thing young people should know about sexual health?
Taking care of your sexual health is just as important as taking care of your overall physical health. Things like STI screenings, birth control, and Pap smears are nothing to be embarrassed about; they’re part of adulting.

What do you think is at the root of the recent YouTube censorship of LGBTQI+ and feminist content?
Based on YouTube’s comments about this, I don’t believe it was deliberate. I think LGBT content got swept up in an algorithm change that was meant to offer parents a way to moderate the content that very young kids see. I don’t think there’s a problem with such a feature, but they need to figure out how to make sure LGBT content, couples, and creators are not targeted by the filter in ways that straight couples are not.

What advice would you give to a young person who might be interested in changing the way sex-ed is delivered at their school?
Politics are the reason sex education is so terrible, so it’s really important to hold our city and state level politicians accountable. Google who your representatives are, and pay attention to what they are doing. Reach out to them directly to voice your opinion. Talk to administrators at your school as well and ask questions. Remember, government officials work for you, not the other way around.

Complete Article HERE!