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Why teaching kids about sex is key for preventing sexual violence

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Sex ed can be awkward. It can also be life-changing.

You may think of sex education like it appears in pop culture: A classroom of teens looking nervously at a banana and a condom.

Amid the giggling and awkward questions, maybe the students get some insight into how sex works or how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

While that’s valuable knowledge, comprehensive and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed actually has the power to positively influence the way young people see themselves and their sexuality. It may also help prevent sexual violence when it teaches students how to value their own bodily autonomy, ask for consent, and identify unhealthy relationship behavior.

That possibility couldn’t be more important at a time when the public is searching for answers about how to stop sexual violence.

It’s a familiar cycle; one person’s predatory behavior becomes national news (think Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby), the outrage reaches a peak before fading from the headlines, and we end up back in similar territory months or years later.

 

Nicole Cushman, executive director of the comprehensive sex ed nonprofit organization Answer, says that teaching young people about sex and sexuality can fundamentally shift their views on critical issues like consent, abuse, and assault.

When parents and educators wait to have these conversations until children are young adults or off at college, Cushman says, “we are really doing too little, too late.”

Comprehensive sex ed, in contrast, focuses on addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of sexuality starting in kindergarten and lasting through the end of high school. There’s no single lesson plan, since educators and nonprofits can develop curricula that meet varying state standards, but the idea is to cover everything including anatomy, healthy relationships, pregnancy and birth, contraceptives, sexual orientation, and media literacy.

“Comprehensive sex ed builds a foundation for these conversations in age-appropriate ways,” Cushman says. “That [allows] us not to just equip young people with knowledge and definitions, but the ability to recognize sexual harassment and assault … and actually create culture change around this issue.”

Some parents balk at the idea of starting young, but researchers believe that teaching elementary school students basic anatomical vocabulary as well as the concept of consent may help prevent sexual abuse, or help kids report it when they experience it.

If a child, for example, doesn’t know what to call her vagina, she may not know how to describe molestation. And if a boy doesn’t understand that he can only touch others with their permission, and be touched by others upon giving his consent, he may mistake sexual abuse as normal.

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that early education could impart life-long lessons about the boundaries that separate respectful physical contact from abuse and assault.

 

Some adults, however, think children learn these lessons without their explicit help. While they do internalize signals and cues from the behavior they witness, that’s not always a good thing, says Debra Hauser, president of the nonprofit reproductive and sexual health organization Advocates for Youth.

If a child grew up in a household witnessing an emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive relationship, they may not feel they have a right to give or revoke their consent. They may also believe it’s their right to violate someone else. Moreover, young people rarely, if ever, get to watch as the adults around them navigate complicated conversations about things like birth control and sexual preferences.

That’s where comprehensive sex ed can be essential, Hauser explains.

“You want young people to learn knowledge, but you also want them to learn skills,” she says. “There’s a particular art to communicating about boundaries, contraceptive use, likes and dislikes. It’s not something you get to see that often because they’re private conversations.”

So while parents — and some students — grimace at the idea of role-playing such exchanges in the classroom, that technique is a cornerstone of comprehensive sex education. Staging practical interactions that are inclusive of LGBTQ students can help reduce the stigma that keeps people from expressing their desires, whether that’s to stop or start a sexual encounter, use protection, or confront abusive behavior.

But learning and practicing consent isn’t a silver bullet for prevention, Cushman says: “Plenty of young people could spout off the definition of consent, but until we really shift our ideas about gender, power, and sexuality, we’re not going to see lasting change.”

Research does suggest that a curriculum that draws attention to gender or power in relationships, fosters critical thinking about gender norms, helps students value themselves, and drives personal reflection is much more likely to be effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

 

There’s also research that indicates that clinging to harmful gender norms is associated with being less likely to use contraceptives and condoms. And women and girls who feel they have less power in a sexual relationship may experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

While researchers don’t yet know whether comprehensive sex ed can reduce sexual violence, Hauser believes it’s an important part of prevention.

“Comprehensive sex ed is absolutely essential if we’re ever going to be successful in combatting this culture,” she says.

But not all students have access to such a curriculum in their schools. While California, for example, requires schools to provide medically accurate and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed, more than two dozen states don’t mandate sex ed at all. Some don’t even require medically accurate curricula.

The Trump administration is no fan of comprehensive sex ed, either. It recently axed federal funding for pregnancy prevention programs and appointed an abstinence-only advocate to an important position at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Research shows that abstinence-only education is ineffective. It can also perpetuate traditional gender roles, which often reinforce the idea that girls and women bear the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.

Cushman understands that parents who don’t want their children learning about comprehensive sex ed are just worried for their kids, but she says the knowledge they gain isn’t “dangerous.”

Even if some parents can’t shake the worry that it might be, the firestorm over Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the outcry from his victims are proof that we need to better educate young people about sex, consent, and healthy relationships.

It’s simply unconscionable to teach girls and women, by design or accident, that sexual violence is their fault.

“We have an obligation to make sure [youth] have the knowledge and skills they need to make the decisions that are best for them,” Cushman says. “Sex ed really does have the power to shift our perceptions.” 

Complete Article HERE!

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Children raised by same-sex parents do as well as their peers, study shows

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Comprehensive review in Medical Journal of Australia concludes main threat to same-sex parented children is discrimination

 

Rainbow Families lobbying against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage in September 2016.

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As the marriage equality vote draws toward its close, a comprehensive study published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows children raised in same-sex-parented families do as well as children raised by heterosexual couple parents.

The review of three decades of peer-reviewed research by Melbourne Children’s found children raised in same-sex-parented families did as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers.

The study’s findings will undercut one of the arguments that have been used by the No campaign: that children need both a mother and a father to flourish.

The study’s authors said their work aimed to put an end to the misinformation about children of same-sex couples and pointed out that the results had been replicated across independent studies in Australia and internationally.

Titled The Kids are OK: it is Discrimination Not Same-Sex Parents that Harms Children, the report comes as the postal survey voting period enters its final days. Votes must be received by the Australian Bureau of Statistics by November 7 and outcome will be announced on November 15. So far polling has indicated that the Yes campaign is headed for a convincing win.

Among the studies reviewed were the 2017 public policy research portal at Columbia Law School, which reviewed 79 studies investigating the wellbeing of children raised by gay or lesbian parents; a 2014 American Sociological Association review of more than 40 studies, which concluded that children raised by same-sex couples fared as well as other children across a number of wellbeing measures; and the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ 2013 review of the Australian and international research, which showed there was no evidence of harm.

“The findings of these reviews reflect a broader consensus within the fields of family studies and psychology. It is family processes – parenting quality, parental wellbeing, the quality of and satisfaction with relationships within the family) – rather than family structures that make a more meaningful difference to children’s wellbeing and positive development,” the researchers said.

The researchers said that studies reporting poor outcomes had been widely criticised for their methodological limitations. For example the widely quoted Regnerus study compared adults raised by a gay or lesbian parent in any family configuration with adults who were raised in stable, heterosexual, two-parent family environments, which may have distorted the outcomes.

However, the study did find that young people who expressed diversity in their sexual orientation or gender identity experienced some of the highest rates of psychological distress in Australia, said the study’s senior author, Prof Frank Oberklaid.

“Young LGBTIQ+ people are much more likely to experience poor mental health, self-harm and suicide than other young people, “ he said.

“Sadly, this is largely attributed to the harassment, stigma and discrimination they and other LGBTIQ+ individuals and communities face in our society,” Oberklaid said.

He warned that the debate itself had been harmful.

“The negative and discriminatory rhetoric of the current marriage equality debate is damaging the most vulnerable members of our community – children and adolescents. It’s essential that we recognise the potential for the debate about marriage equality to cause harm for our children and young people,” Oberklaid said.

He said there was solid evidence in countries that had legalised same-sex marriage that it had a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of same-sex-parented families and LGBTIQ+ young people.

“As part of the medical community we feel a duty of care to all groups in our society, particularly to those who are vulnerable. Our duty extends to making sure that accurate, objective interpretations of the best available evidence are available and inaccuracies are corrected in an effort to reduce the destructiveness of public debate,” Oberklaid said.

He called for an end to the negative messages that could harm children in the final weeks of the voting period.

Melbourne Children’s is made of up of four child health organisations – the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Royal Children’s hospital, the University of Melbourne, department of paediatrics and the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s Surprisingly Hard to Ban Toxic Sex Toys

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But Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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These days, most of us will carefully check ingredients lists for gluten and trans fats, demand that our water bottles be made without BPA, and seek out paraben-free, body-safe cosmetics. But the average person can’t tell you what a toxic sex toy is—or even that they exist. Unfortunately, in the unregulated sex toy industry, plenty of sex toys are potentially rife with products that can hurt you (and not even in the fun, kinky way).

Perhaps the most well-known offender in terms of toy toxicity is a group of chemicals known as phthalates, a plasticizer that can be blended with other substances to make them softer and more flexible. A spotlight’s been shone on phthalates in recent years, as publications like Bustle and Bitch, and feminist-oriented sex shops like Good Vibes and Babeland have spoken out against them.

So why all the hullabaloo? It turns out that phthalates may have side effects when they come into contact with your body that could potentially be terrible for you—and aren’t disclosed by most sex toy manufacturers. According to Amanda Morgan, D.H.S., a faculty member at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wrote her master’s thesis on harmful sex toy materials, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can cause health problems. “[Phthalates] mess with your hormones; they can cause birth defects, or other things related to liver or kidney functioning,” Morgan told me, referencing studies that have linked phthalates to irregular fetal development, early-onset puberty, and lower sperm counts, among other issues. “They can really mess you up because they pretend to be your hormones, and so your body’s hormonal cycle gets knocked out of whack from exposure to these things.”

When you hear horror stories about sex toys, though, it’s not necessarily phthalates that are to blame. One of the most common anecdotal complaints about toxic toys is that they cause skin irritation: “I first thought [it] was a yeast infection or BV, because of extreme itching and burning on my inner labia,” reports one reader who wrote in to sex toy review blog Dangerous Lilly. “My ass suddenly felt like it was on fire. A burning sensation spread throughout my butt,” recalled sex educator Tristan Taormino about a questionable dildo she used. One Playboy story described a dildo that caused a woman “such severe pain that she could barely speak.”

I asked Emily S. Barrett, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Health who has done extensive research on the prenatal effects of endocrine disruptors like phthalates, whether these reported burning sensations fit with her understanding of the chemicals. She told me she hasn’t seen evidence that phthalates irritate the skin in this way, and that they tend to “act on a much more subtle level most of the time.”

So what is causing these health problems? According to Amanda Morgan, phthalates aren’t the only sketchy ingredient still getting into our sex toys. As part of her thesis research, Morgan tested 32 sex toys to determine their chemical makeup. What she found was pretty scary: The toys she tested typically contained 30 to 35 percent chlorine. She said PVC, a material commonly used to make inexpensive sex toys, always contains chlorine (hence the chemical name “polyvinyl chloride”). Even scarier, in 2006, BadVibes.org—an organization that, full disclosure, is linked to pro-toy-safety sex shop The Smitten Kitten—ran lab tests on four popular sex toys. They found that two of them were made of PVC and contained “very high levels of phthalate plasticizer.”

“We use chlorine to kill bacteria in things,” Morgan said. “If you are being exposed to this high level of chlorine, especially in a sensitive membrane area [like the vagina or rectum], we could definitely chalk that up to causing irritation, burning, or messing up the environment by exposing it to something that is, as we know, a sterilization product.” So with the short-term burning effects of chlorine and the long-term endocrine effects of phthalates, PVC is, Morgan said, “definitely one of the worst sex toy materials we’ve seen.”

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, great to know! I’ll just buy only safe toys from now on!” Well, it’s not so simple. Since the sex toy industry is unregulated, it doesn’t fall under the current purview of the Food and Drug Administration. According to FDA press officer Angela Stark, that’s because the agency “does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure. It does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use to treat sexual dysfunction or to supplement Kegel exercises.” Of course, the vast majority of sex toys don’t fall under this “health aid” umbrella.

The responsibility of regulating sex toys could potentially fall to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but Morgan told me the understaffed CPSC is already in charge of regulating over 15,000 types of products—not to mention the products themselves. The complex issue of sex toy regulation would be a big ask on top of all that.

Add to all of this the fact that the current Congress likely wouldn’t rush to make a bold, sex-positive statement by mandating sex toy safety, and there are plenty of reasons your sex toy might not meet body-safe standards. “Our government doesn’t generally like to talk about people pleasuring themselves,” Morgan pointed out.

Beyond that, though, Morgan adds that regulating the sex toy industry might not even be the best solution to getting rid of toxic toys anyway. “If something is federally regulated, that means that the federal government—depending on where they are in their political leanings at that time—could potentially make it illegal to have these products, by saying they are ‘dangerous’ and then regulating them out of existence,” she reasoned. “You get certain types of people in power, and they may not believe in sexual health, wellness, [or] self-pleasuring. It might go against their core values, and therefore they [might] use their political agenda and the federal regulation system to regulate these products out of people’s hands.”

It’s a conclusion that Zach Biesanz, a legal assistant in the office of New York’s Attorney General, came to in his 2007 paper in the journal Law & Inequality: “Special regulation of the sex toy industry would be unreasonably burdensome from a regulatory standpoint,” he wrote. “Only banning these toxins outright will suffice to protect consumers from phthalates’ harmful and even lethal effects.”

In the meantime, how do you tell if a toy is safe? Sex toy experts like Morgan, Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett, and seasoned sex toy reviewer Epiphora all recommend buying toys made of phthalate-free, body-safe materials like pure silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Still, it’s difficult to know what’s what in an industry that mislabels its products so frequently. “Sniff your sex toy,” said Morgan. “That’s the easiest thing you can do. If you smell these products and they don’t smell like anything, then it most likely is a stable chemical compound like silicone.” Phthalates and PVC, however, smell “like chemicals,” according to Morgan, “like a new shower curtain,” according to Epiphora, and “like a headache,” according to Pritchett. The sex toy smell test might sound a little weird, but it’s a pretty good first line of defense.<

Morgan also recommends buying toys made by “companies that take a lot of pride in making good-quality, body-safe toys,” citing Tantus and Jimmyjane as examples. Other companies that proudly declare their products body-safe include We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Vixen Creations, and Funkit Toys.

And when in doubt, find a reviewer you can trust. Sex toy review blogs abound on the internet —Epiphora, Dangerous Lilly, and Formidable Femme, to name just a few—and while you’d be wise to take claims about sex toys with a grain of salt in this unregulated industry, sometimes the preponderance of good or bad reviews about a particular company or toy can suggest conclusions about its safety (or lack thereof).

Most important, though, demand body-safe sex toys by buying only from companies you can trust. “Consumers vote with their pocketbook,” said Tantus founder Metis Black. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” She added that while pure silicone toys are expensive now—especially in comparison to PVC toys, which can often be under $30 a pop versus $100+ for silicone—more consumer demand for body-safe toys will create a larger supply at lower prices, as bigger companies with more resources start making nontoxic toys in larger quantities. That’s just sex toy economics.

Bloggers, consumers, and ethical toymakers alike all dream of a future in which no sex toys will burn your junk, give you infections, or cause long-term bodily harm. It seems reasonable enough. And if we keep fighting for it, maybe one day it’ll be reality.

Complete Article HERE!

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Debunking Common College Sex Myths

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Sex is among the most talked-about subjects on college campuses. Yet myths and misconceptions pervade almost every discussion of sexual activity and sexuality, subtly infiltrating the beliefs of even the best-informed people. Sexually inexperienced young people are likely to become confused by the dizzying array of information and opinions that assails them in conversations about sex.

Only by evaluating common sexual myths and the harmful effects they can have are we able to move past ignorance into a healthier understanding of our bodies and ourselves.

Myth 1: The withdrawal method is safe.

The withdrawal method, which is when the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation, is among the most dangerous and least effective birth control techniques. According to Planned Parenthood, this method is 78 percent effective. Pre-ejaculatory fluid can sometimes contain sperm, which can put a partner at risk of pregnancy. In addition, physical contact and the exchange of fluids can put both partners at risk for sexually transmitted infections. Just because the man has not ejaculated does not mean that the sex is safe.

Moreover, this technique requires very good timing and self-control to be successful.

“It’s just not very reliable to rely on that in the heat of the moment,” said Talia Parker (COL ’20), director of tabling for H*yas for Choice. If the man accidentally ejaculates before pulling out, the woman will be at an even greater risk of pregnancy, have to deal with a sticky cleanup and sex will end without satisfaction. Plan B, emergency birth control, costs more than $50, too. Getting a condom might seem inconvenient or less fun, but it’s worth it to prevent the consequences possible with the pull-out method.

Myth 2: Men just want sex all the time.

One of the most pernicious sex myths is the notion that men only think about sex all the time. This myth would have us believe that the primary motive behind male behavior is lust. But men have many motivations and drives apart from their sexuality. Relationships between men and women do not always have to be about sex, nor should we callously assume that a man’s actions are motivated by the desire to have sex.

The next time we attribute a man’s actions to his desire for sex, we should take a step back and evaluate why we believe that. More often than not, we will find that we have been making gendered assumptions. Moreover, if a person who identifies as a man does want consensual sex, we should accept this and not try to shame him.

Furthermore, we must remember that not all students in college are having sex. Some students may be choosing to abstain for personal or religious reasons, and others, including asexual students, may not be interested.

“Just having a positive attitude about sex is important and not judging other people for their choices as well,” Parker said.

Myth 3: The only way to experience pleasure is through penetration.

In most of our imaginations, sex means one thing: intercourse between a man and a woman with vaginal penetration. But this image is deeply flawed. It neither incorporates the experiences of gay, queer or intersex people nor accurately conveys the whole array of sexual possibilities available to people regardless of preference or gender.

“The arousal period for a woman is almost twice than [that of] a man,” Lovely Olivier (COL ’18), executive co-chair for United Feminists, a student group dedicated to combating influences of sexism and heteronormativity, said. “Oral sex, erotic massage, hand jobs, mutual masturbation, petting and tribbing, to name a few, are all non-penetrative options for you and your partner to consider. Furthermore, non-penetrative foreplay can increase satisfaction in intimacy altogether. Talk with your partner, share what you want and be open to new experiences.”

Myth 4: Protection doesn’t exist on a Jesuit campus.

Throughout the week, H*yas For Choice tables in the middle of Red Square from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving out lube, latex condoms, internal condoms and dental dams for free. For some, long-term birth control, like the pill, may be a better solution. Although intrauterine devices do not prevent STI transmission, the Student Health Center hopes to start giving the devices out next month.

Myth 5: Women do not masturbate.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior published by the Indiana University School of Public Health found that 24.5 percent of women aged 18 to 24 said they masturbated a few times per month to weekly, compared to 25 percent of men in this range who masturbate a few times per month to weekly. Masturbation can help people achieve pleasure and help individuals in relationships by “finding what is best for you,” Parker said.

Trying sex toys can also allow women to embrace their sexuality and experience their first orgasms.

Complete Article HERE!

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Here’s what happens when you get an STI test — and if it comes back positive

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By Erin Van Der Meer

If you’ve never had an STI test, you’re probably imagining it’s a horrendously awkward experience where a mean, judgmental doctor pokes around your nether regions.

But like getting a needle or going to your first workout in a while, it’s one of those things that seems much worse in your mind than it is in reality.

For starters, often you don’t even have to pull down your pants.

“If someone comes in for a routine test for sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and they don’t have any symptoms, they usually don’t need a genital examination,” Dr Vincent Cornelisse, a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, told Coach.

“The tests that are ordered will depend on that person’s risk of STIs – some people only need a urine test, some need a self-collected anal or vaginal swab, and some people need a blood test.

“We aim to make this process as hassle-free as possible, in order to encourage people to have ongoing regular testing for STIs.”

Cornelisse says the embarrassment and stigma that some of us still feel about getting an STI test is unnecessary.

“STIs have been around for as long as people have been having sex, so getting an STI is nothing to be ashamed about, it’s a normal part of being human.

“Getting an STI test is an important part of maintaining good health for anyone who is sexually active.”

If you’re yet to have an STI test or it’s been a long time, here’s what you need to know.

How often do you need an STI test?

On average it’s good to get an STI test once a year, but some people should go more often.

“Some people are more affectionate than others, so some need to test every three months – obviously, if someone has symptoms that suggest that they may have an STI, then a physical examination is an important part of their assessment.”

As a general rule, people under 30, men who have sex with men, and people who frequently have new sexual partners should go more often.

To get an STI test ask your GP, or find a sexual health clinic in your area – the Family Planning Alliance Australia website can help you locate one.

What happens at the test?

As Cornelisse mentioned, the doctor will ask you some questions to determine which tests you need, whether it’s a urine test, blood test or genital inspection.

You’ll be asked questions about your sexual orientation, the number of sexual partners you’ve had, your sexual practices (like whether you’ve had unprotected sex), whether you have any symptoms, whether you have injected drugs, and whether you have any tattoos or body piercings.

Your results will be sent away and returned in about one week.

What if you test positive?

There’s no reason to panic if your results show you have an STI – if anything, you should feel relieved, Cornelisse says.

“If you hadn’t had the test, you wouldn’t have realised you had an STI and you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to treat it.

“Most STIs are easily treatable, and the other ones can be managed very well with modern medicine. So don’t feel shame, feel proud – you’re adulting!”

You’ll need to tell your recent sexual partners. While it might be a little awkward, they’ll ultimately appreciate you showing that you care about them.

“People often stress about this, but in my experience people appreciate it if their sexual partner has bothered to tell them about an STI – it shows them that you respect them,” Cornelisse says.

“Also, if this is a sexual partner who you’re likely to have sex with again, not telling them means that you’re likely to get the same STI again.”

The risks of leaving an STI untreated

You can probably think of 400 things you’d rather do than go for an STI test, but the earlier a sexually transmitted infection is caught, the better.

A recent spate of “super-gonorrhea” – a strain of the disease resistant to normal antibiotics –can result in fertility problems, but people who contract it show no symptoms, meaning getting tested is the only way to know you have it, and treat it.

“Untreated STIs can cause many serious problems,” Cornelisse warns.

“For women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic scarring, resulting in infertility and chronic pelvic pain.

“Syphilis is making a comeback, and if left untreated can cause many different problems, including damage to the brain, eyes and heart.

“If HIV is left untreated it will result in damage to the immune system — resulting in life-threatening infections and cancers — which is called AIDS.”

There is a long-term treatment for AIDS, but this depends on it being caught early.

“People living with HIV now can live a healthy life and live about as long as people without HIV, but the chance of living a healthy life with HIV depends on having the HIV diagnosed early and starting treatment early.

“Which it’s why it’s so important to be tested regularly, particularly as many STIs often don’t cause symptoms, so you won’t know you have one.”

Looking at the big picture, if you have an undiagnosed and untreated STI, you could give it to your sexual partners, who pass it onto theirs, which is how you got it.

“Getting a regular STI test is not only important for your own health, it also makes you a responsible sexual partner,” Cornelisse says.

“I encourage people to discuss STI testing with their sexual partners. If your sexual partners are also getting tested regularly, it reduces your risk of getting an STI.”

Complete Article HERE!

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