April is the official awareness month for a lot of things and we’ve already talked about a few of them: Poetry, Sexual Assault Prevention and even Wage Gap Day where we looked at pictures of Ryan Gosling and swooned. Before this month is out, we need to shine a flashlight on one more matter.
Yes, Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.
And also, while we’re at it, it’s Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness month!
Quick FYI: We in the health field use the term sexually transmitted infection (STI) in lieu of STD anymore, since it’s more accurate (most STIs are treatable) and less covered in stigma.
Lingo aside, this is a matter that absolutely concerns you. 1 in 2 sexually active people will get an STI by 25. And yes, “sexually active” totally counts those things you do when you’re trying to still be a “technical virgin.” If your parts come in contact with someone else’s parts and one of those parts is a sexual organ, it’s sexy enough that it puts you on a spectrum of risk for an STI.
So what are we talking about when we say risk for an STI? The risk is different depending on the infection.
- HIV can only be spread through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Using a barrier like a male or female condom can be an excellent means to reduce the risk.
- Herpes can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, so even using a condom may not prevent infection. A person with herpes may not know they have it, and it can spread even when there is no outbreak but being aware of your own body and when viral shedding is happenings is crucial. Suppressive therapies can help, as well.
- Other STIs, like chlamydia, gonnorhea, syphilis and others, including the most common STI, HPV, can be cut down dramatically through safer sex practices like condoms.
So, aside from not having sexual contact and using these methods of safer sex to reduce the risk, what else is there for us to do? Obviously STD Awareness Month means nothing if you’re not aware of your current STI status. Don’t think that you’re somehow the special magical sex unicorn who isn’t at risk because you’re young or you’ve had a small number of partners or whatever. And don’t think older folks are out of the danger zone either. People over 45 are experiencing the fastest increase in STI incidence of any age group right now because they perceive themselves as being low risk. Find out more about the current STI rates here.
So if you’ve ever had sexual contact, you have a lot of reasons to go find out your status. If you have picked up an infection, there’s a good chance you can get it treated or at least begin taking steps to prevent passing it along to another person. If you’re negative for infection, it can be a real relief to know for sure and feel way better than just assuming and hoping for the best.
Find out the nearest testing location and make your way there. There are tons of spots where you can access testing services for free and pick from instant results, oral swabs and choose whether you are anonymous (no one knows your name) or confidential (your name is kept secret). The folks who help you out will be friendly, non-judgmental and able to answer your questions.
And encourage your friends to do the same.