We’ve been talking a lot on this blog about the importance of good and clear communication around sex. Thus far, we’ve primarily talked about consent. But communication is equally important for safe sex. As it happens, April is STD awareness month, and today is National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. So I’d like to take a moment and consider how we can talk more openly about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and safer sex protocols.
The United States currently has higher rates of STIs than any other developed country. And it’s absolutely a feminist issue. The burden of STIs falls disproportionately on women—women are more at risk for catching an STI, less likely to have or correctly identify symptoms, more at risk for long-term consequences from STIs, and more stigmatized for having an STI. Moreover, good safer sex protocols are important for preventing pregnancy as well, which I’d wager looms larger as a concern for many women than any STI.
The problem is: we don’t know how to talk about STIs. How many times have you had a clear talk with a partner about STIs and Safer Sex before the first time you two had sex? When was the last time a sex ed class in high school—or sometimes, even college—talked about how to have this discussion? God forbid!
But… it’s hella awkward, right? What if trying to talk about it kills the mood? What if they don’t want to have sex with me because of what I say? What if they think I’m a slut? What if I have an STI and they reject me because of it? What if they think I’m weird or obsessive or paranoid?
This stuff IS hard. No doubt about it. It takes practice. And support. Some people have told me that my vision on STI / Safer Sex communication is unrealistic, or at least too advanced. That the onus for disclosure of an STI risk should be on the person who has an STI, or that it’s weird to proactively ask about STIs. But I think we have to aspire to a higher standard. After all, the only way we’re going to break down the stigma and shame around this topic is if we talk about it openly, and if we support each other in doing so. And I do see it working.