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Undoing the STIgma: Normalizing the discourse surrounding STIs

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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!

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Before European Christians Forced Gender Roles, Native Americans Acknowledged 5 Genders

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By Pearson McKinney

It wasn’t until Europeans took over North America that natives adopted the ideas of gender roles. For Native Americans, there was no set of rules that men and women had to abide by in order to be considered a “normal” member of their tribe.

In fact, people who had both female and male characteristics were viewed as gifted by nature, and therefore, able to see both sides of everything. According to Indian Country Today, all native communities acknowledged the following gender roles: “Female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and Transgendered.”

“Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh Manidoowag (two spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few. As the purpose of “Two Spirit” is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for ‘women who feel like men’ and vice versa.”

The “Two Spirit” culture of Native Americans was one of the first things that Europeans worked to destroy and cover up. According to people like American artist George Catlin, the Two Spirit tradition had to be eradicated before it could go into history books. Catlin said the tradition:

“..Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded.”

However, it wasn’t only white Europeans that tried to hide any trace of native gender bending. According to Indian Country Today, “Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native beliefs and history, including those that told of the Two Spirit tradition.” Throughout these efforts by Christians, Native Americans were forced to dress and act according to newly designated gender roles.

One of the most celebrated Two Spirits in recorded history was a Lakota warrior aptly named Finds Them And Kills Them. Osh-Tisch was born a male and married a female, but adorned himself in women’s clothing and lived daily life as a female. On June 17 1876, Finds Them And Kills Them gained his reputation when he rescued a fellow tribesman during the Battle of Rosebud Creek. An act of fearless bravery. Below is a picture of Osh-Tisch and his wife.

Osh-Tisch (Left) and his wife (Right)

In Native American cultures, people were valued for their contributions to the tribe, rather than for masculinity or femininity. Parents did not assign gender roles to children either, and even children’s clothing tended to be gender neutral. There were no ideas or ideals about how a person should love; it was simply a natural act that occurred without judgement or hesitation.

Without a negative stigma attached to being a Two Spirit, there were no inner-tribal incidents of retaliation or violence toward the chosen people simply due to the fact that individuals identified as the opposite or both genders.

“The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Indians believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.”

Religious influences soon brought serious prejudice against “gender diversity,” and so this forced once openly alternative or androgynous people to one of two choices. They could either live in hiding, and in fear of being found out, or they could end their lives. Many of whom did just that.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why men and women lie about sex, and how this complicates STD control

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When it comes to reporting the number of sex partners or how often they have sexual intercourse, men and women both lie. While men tend to overreport it, women have a tendency to underreport it. Although the story is not that simple and clear-cut, I have discovered some interesting reasons why this is the case – and why it matters to doing research on sexual health.

Lying is an inherent aspect of reporting sexual behaviors. For instance, more females report being a virgin (i.e., had not had sexual intercourse) despite having had genital contact with a partner, compared to males.

I have studied sexual avoidance and also frequency of sex in patient populations. In this regard I have always been interested in gender differences in what they do and what they report. This is in line with my other research on gender and sex differences.

The low validity and usefulness of self-reported sexual behavior data is very bad news for public health officials. Sexual behavior data should be both accurate and reliable, as they are paramount for effective reproductive health interventions to prevent HIV and STD. When men and women misreport their sexual behaviors, it undermines program designers’ and health care providers’ ability to plan appropriately.

Pregnant virgins, and STDs among the abstinent

A very clear example is the proportion of self-reported virginal status among pregnant women. In a study of multi-ethnic National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health, a nationally representative study of American youth, 45 women of 7,870 women reported at least one virgin pregnancy.

Another example is the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which are not expected among young adults reporting sexual abstinence. Yet more than 10 percent of young adults who had a confirmed positive STD reported abstaining from any sexual intercourse in the last year before STD testing.

If we ask youth who have had sexual experience, only 22 percent of them report the same date of first sex the second time we ask about it. On average, people revise their (reported) age at first sex to older ages the second time. Boys have higher inconsistency reporting their first sex compared to females. Males are more likely than females to give inconsistent sexual information globally.

Why don’t people tell the truth about sex?

Why do people lie about their sexual behavior? There are many reasons. One is that people underreport stigmatized activities, such as having multiple sexual partners among women. They overreport the normative ones, such as higher frequency of sex for men. In both cases, people think their actual behavior would be considered socially unacceptable. This is also called social desirability or social approval bias.

Social desirability bias causes problems in health research. It reduces reliability and validity of self-reported sexual behavior data. Simply said, social desirability helps us look good.

As gender norms create different expectations about socially acceptable behavior of men and women, males and females face pressures in reporting certain (socially accepted) behaviors.

In particular, self-reports on premarital sexual experience is of poor quality. Also self-reports of infidelity are less valid.

Although most studies suggest these differences are due to the systematic tendency of men and women to exaggerate and hide their number of partners, there are studies that suggest much of this difference is driven by a handful of men and women who grossly inflate and underreport their sexual encounters.

Even married couples lie

Men and women also lie when we ask them who is making sexual decisions regarding who has more power when it comes to sexual decision-making.

We do not expect disagreement when we ask the same question from husbands and wives in the same couples. But, interestingly, there is a systematic disagreement. More interestingly, in most cases when spouses disagree, husbands are more likely to say “yes” and wives “no.” The findings are interpreted in terms of gendered strategies in the interview process.

Not all of the gender differences in reported sexual behaviors are due to men’s and women’s selective under- and over- reporting of sexual acts. And, some of the sexual behaviors do vary by gender. For instance, men have more sex than women, and men less commonly use condoms. Men have more casual partners, regardless of the validity of their report.

Secretive females, swaggering males

Studies have found that on average, women report fewer nonmarital sexual partners than men, as well as more stable longer relationships. This is in line with the idea that in general men “swagger” (i.e., exaggerate their sexual activity), while women are “secretive” (i.e., underreport sex).

Structural factors such as social norms shape men’s and women’s perceptions of appropriate sexual behaviors. Society expects men to have more sexual partners, and women to have fewer sexual partners.

According to the sexual double standard, the same sexual behavior is judged differently depending on the gender of the (sexual) actor (Milhausen and Herold 2001). Interestingly, men are more likely to endorse a double standard than women.

In the presence of sexual double standards, males are praised for their sexual contacts, whereas females are derogated and stigmatized for the same behaviors, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut.”

Research suggests that lifetime sexual partnerships affect peer status of genders differently. A greater number of sexual partners is positively correlated with boys’ peer acceptance, but negatively correlated with girls’ peer acceptance.

Self-serving bias is common

As humans, self-serving bias is a part of how we think and how we act. A common type of cognitive bias, self-serving bias can be defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute positive events and attributes to their own actions but negative events and attributes to others and external factors. We report on sexual behaviors which are normative and accepted to protect ourselves, and avoid stress and conflict. That will reduce our distinction from our surroundings, and will help us feel safe.

As a result, in our society, men are rewarded for having a high number of sexual partners, whereas women are penalized for the same behavior.

The only long-term solution is the ongoing decline in “double standard” about sexual morality. Until then, researchers should continue questioning the accuracy of their data. Computerized interviews may be only a partial solution. Increasing privacy and confidentiality is another partial solution.

Complete Article HERE!

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…warts and all.

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Name: BD
Gender: Male
Age: 50
Location: ??
Hey doc,
Ok. I’m a 50 year old male homosexualist and I have apparently contracted genital warts at this late stage in the game. I have had 4 burned off so far, and think I detect other small, new ones. My understanding is that after this initial outbreak my immune system will control the virus.
My question is, I know they’re extremely contagious to others, but am I going to be spreading them around every time I masturbate? Cause that’s a lot. Thanks

Before I answer your specific questions, BD, let’s talk about genital warts. They are also known as venereal warts, anal warts and anogenital warts, don’t cha know. They are a highly contagious sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by some sub-types of human papillomavirus (HPV). genital warts spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Warts are the most easily recognized symptom of genital HPV infection.

Genital warts often occur in clusters and can be very tiny or can spread into large masses in the genital/anal area. The often have a tiny cauliflower shape. In women they occur on the outside and inside of the vagina, and sometimes on the cervix. Both women and men can get them on, around, or even inside their ass. Men may also find them on the tip of their cock, the shaft of their dick and/or on their balls. Only rarely do genital warts develop in one’s mouth or throat from oral sex with an infected partner.

The viral particles are able to penetrate the skin and mucosal surfaces through microscopic abrasions in the genital area, which occur during sexual activity. Once these cells are invaded by HPV, a latency (or quiet) period of months to years (even decades) may occur. HPV can last for several years without a symptom. Having sex with a partner whose HPV infection is latent and demonstrates no outward symptoms still leaves one vulnerable to becoming infected. If an individual has unprotected sex with an infected partner, there is a 70% chance that he or she will also become infected.

Alrighty then, to your specific questions, BD. I believe you are correct in your assumption that your immune system will control the virus. As to your other question, will you be spreading them around every time I masturbate; I’d have to say that there is some slight chance that your could spread the virus if you cum on someone’s skin and there happens to be a cut or an abrasion on the skin where you shoot. You also wouldn’t want to get your spooge in anyone’s eye, mouth or ass for the same reasons. But if you jerk off and your spunk falls on some inanimate object, like the floor, a wad of Kleenex, or your Aunt Tillie’s favorite antique comforter, then I think you’re fine.

Good luck

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Untying that knotty BDSM

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Not abusive or deviant, this sexual kink is based on communication, consent and trust, says a ‘professional’ Sub(missive) Asmi Uniqus. Here’s a quick myth buster

By Barry Rodgers

“While it’s great that people are exploring their sexuality,” says Asmi Uniqus, an active BDSM practitioner and lifestyle coach, “it’s frustrating that there are so many misconceptions.” For example, BDSM does not have to be driven by sex or risky forms of play that involve drawing blood, asphyxiation or other such extreme practices.

According to Uniqus, “BDSM is a different form of expression of intimacy, love and care. It is sacrosanct consent. It’s about shared responsibility for safety and sanity, and detailed communication. Anything that violates consent, manipulates it or abuses the trust is not BDSM,” she says. “When trust supersedes the possibility of harm, the result is something incredibly erotic and intimate.” She would know. Uniqus has been a lifestyle submissive for over 10 years and has written several e-books on the subject. Here are some myth busters:

1. You can’t trust anyone blindly. Basic safety checks, personal responsibility and support systems are a must.

2. Uniqus calls it one of the most nurturing and intimate forms of human contact and play. “In vanilla or non-BDSM space, people can jump into bed without conversation, negotiation, or emotional connection. In BDSM, the players always arrange things in advance with clear, intimate communication.

3. Finding the right partner to ‘play’ involves communicating what works and what doesn’t. For instance, the Dominant partner may be a sadist, but the Sub may not want pain. “However, while not many people communicate clearly in vanilla sex, in BDSM that choice of not communicating isn’t there,” says Asmi.

4. “There are pre-decided safe words,” she clarifies. “These may or may not indicate that I want to close the book on the entire session. ‘Red’ may indicate closing the book, while ‘amber’ is for when I’m done with a particular aspect of it. ‘Green’ means I’m in my comfort zone.” When using gags, people decide on non-verbal cues to indicate distress.

5. Submissives in erotica are portrayed as doormats manipulated into ‘slavery’ by smarter dominants. “I am not coerced into being a submissive,” says Uniqus, “It is a lifestyle choice. The sexual aspect of my relationship is completely separate from other aspects of it.”

6. Alpha men, who always call the shots and men, in general, are expected to be in control all the time. For them, it helps to ‘let go’ in a safe environment, with a trusted partner.

7. “For some, BDSM may not be about sex,” says Uniqus. “There is an emotional connect between a submissive and dominant, but there may not necessarily be sexual contact. Some submissives are into domestic servitude and derive pleasure out of maybe just washing their partner’s dishes. I could kneel at my dominant’s feet without shedding a thread of cloth and still be satisfied. It is as gratifying as a sexual act.

8. Then, isn’t BDSM the same as submitting to one’s elders or authority figures? “In a socio-cultural context,” answers Uniqus, “we do submit to our elders’ authority, but we do not develop sexual bonds with them. BDSM may not always be about sex, but it has an undercurrent of physical and sexual intimacy, even when fully clothed,” she says.

9. “Choosing BDSM as a lifestyle just because you’re going through a bad phase in life is the wrong way to approach it,” says Uniqus. “Fifty Shades of Grey did help bring BDSM out in the open in India, and when its popularity increased, people’s sensitivity towards it decreased. Now 20-year-olds want to try it because it is a fad.” She warns that considering the legal ramifications involved, with some kinky acts coming under the purview of Section 377 (anal penetration, or oral pleasure, for instance), it is important to figure out which activities are medically and legally safe.

10. There are international books to guide you through the technique, however they have a different cultural context. There’s also Uniqus’s BDSM Concepts: A Practical Guide.

11. Keep a First Aid kit handy, and also arrange a ‘safe call’ i.e. a trusted friend who can come and rescue or support you, should anything go wrong.

12. Monogamy is still the leading form of relationship in the dominant and submissive equation. Couples who enjoy BDSM together, do not feel the need to add other people to the mix.

13. So what happens when only one partner is inclined towards BDSM? “Most spouses stay restricted to an academic interest in the lifestyle. People value families, relationships and marriages,” says Uniqus. “Some people may experiment outside wedlock, but there are also marriages where a spouse has been patient enough to slowly and lovingly initiate the other into the lifestyle, sometimes taking 10 or 15 years to do so.”

14. Those who enjoy pain are not necessarily wired that way because of trauma. “Pain acts differently for different people. For some, it is cathartic. For others, it’s as an aphrodisiac. Think of the adrenaline rush a heavy workout gives you. Although your body is sore, that pain gives you a high,” she illustrates.

Complete Article HERE!

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