April Is STI Awareness Month!

When was the last time you got tested for STIs?

If the answer wasn’t “within the last six months”, it is time to get yourself tested.  If the answer wasn’t “since I started seeing my most recent sexual partner”, it may be time to get yourself tested.  Not sure if you’re at risk?  Planned Parenthood has a handy quiz to help assess if you’re likely to be at risk for STIs and if you need to get tested, and it’s worth taking a look.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because April is National STI Awareness Month.  I know what you’re thinking, we know what STIs are, we all got to hear about them from our tenth grade health teachers.  I wish that sex ed were doing enough for STI awareness-~-but of course, it isn’t.  Let’s take a look at some facts and stats, shall we?

  • 15-24-year-olds make up 25% of sexually active individuals, but account for almost 50% of all new STI infections
  • The CDC estimates that there are about 20 MILLION new STI infections each year
  • Many STIs don’t have visible symptoms, and a large number of infected individuals don’t know their status
  • 1 in 2 young people will get an STI by age 25
  • Women are disproportionately impacted by STIs, due in large part to biological factors

(Most of those statistics came from the CDC and Planned Parenthood)

Those are some pretty incredible stats.  One in TWO?  20 million new infections per year?  STIs are a major public health concern in the United States, and around the world, and we aren’t talking about them nearly enough.  Having another STI increases an individual’s risk of HIV infection.  And you can’t tell if an individual has an STI just by looking at them-~-you may not even know if YOU have an STI.  The only way to know is to get yourself tested.

There are a couple more things you should know about STIs.  First, the most common STIs are chlamydia and gonnorhea-~-and they can be cured.  Syphilis can also be treated/cured.  This means that a positive STI diagnosis doesn’t have to have a permanent impact on  your life.  There is no cure for HIV or herpes, but both conditions can be managed to reduce the likelihood of transmission and manage symptoms.  The only way to make a decision about your health in order to give you the best outcome, however, is to know your status.

This is not true.

I just want to take a second to talk about barriers to testing.  Money should not be one of them.  You can use this website to search for a free or low-cost clinic in your area if you are in need of testing services.  That said, there is stigma surrounding testing for STIs.  People often think that getting tested means they have done something wrong, that they are tainted, that there is something dirty about them. This is not true.  STIs can impact anyone, regardless of whether they are gay, straight, etc.; you can get an infection even if you’ve been faithful to your partner; you can get an infection even if you have only had one partner.  It can often be uncomfortable to talk to a partner about getting tested together, but experts in the field recommend this if it is possible, because it’s important for both partners to know if there is a problem.

A related problem has to do with condom usage.  I’ve talked multiple times on this blog about issues surrounding condom usage and how important they are.  A couple of things: 1) condoms are not perfect, but they are the only method we have for preventing STI transmission, 2) female condoms are, statistically speaking, just as effective as male condoms for preventing STI transmission and can be a good option if this is a problem, and 3) if you are dealing with issues related to sexual health and people aren’t using condoms, don’t assume it is because of stupidity; women are often made to feel like they don’t have a right to ask a man to use a condom, and there may be other reasons why a couple may choose not to use a condom.

At the end of the day, how you conduct yourself sexually is your choice.  But you can make the best decisions when you have the most information.  Get tested.  Give yourself a chance to make the best healthcare decisions for yourself and for your relationships.  For more resources, please visit this website, or go to www.plannedparenthood.org.

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~ by Randi Saunders on April 4, 2013.

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