April is STD Awareness Month, and there's no better time to engage productively with a subject steeped in so much stigma. If over half of all people will be infected with an STI at some point in their lives, why the hell is it still so taboo to engage in real talk about sexual health? The answer is complex and obviously tied into the sexual puritanism, sexism, and shame which pervades most conversations about sex in America.
Despite the stereotypes about sexually transmitted infections, there is no one kind of person who will contract an STI. You can have sex one time in your life and get one, and you can have dozens of partners and never get one. Your sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with it, and testing positive doesn't have to sound the death knell for your sex life. It can of course be very scary to learn you have an STI — particularly one that is incurable — and you will likely have to make some lifestyle changes, but there is still so much life to be lived post-diagnosis.
Here are four ways you can support STD Awareness Month and spread the gospel of sex positivity and sexual health:
Whether you're in a monogamous relationship, are single with a rotating cast of partners, or engage in consensual non-monogamy with a select few, getting tested is imperative. There are a variety of options for STD testing at our disposal these days, from Planned Parenthood and walk in clinics to at home tests.
One at home testing service called myLAB Box allows you to order a full panel of tests from home, collect the samples yourself, and mail them back to a lab for the results within 2-5 business days. If you test positive for anything, you also have the option to speak with a doctor on the phone. So for those who feel too awkward or shy about walking into a public clinic, now there's no excuse not to take control of your sexual health.
2Read Work By Activists Fighting STI Stigma
There are many STI stigma fighting activists to thank for working to change the often toxic conversation surrounding women's sexual health. If you have a new diagnosis and need help coping or if you just want to learn about some of the powerful women countering sex negative distortions about sexually transmitted infections, check out the #ShoutYourStatus hashtag as well as writing by folks like Ella Dawson, Mollena Williams, and Rae Lewis-Thornton.
3Brush Up On Your Sex Ed
Too much faulty information about STIs is floating around out there. Yes, you can still get herpes even if you wear a condom, and no, you won't get gonorrhea from a toilet seat. Educating yourself is the only way to combat these myths, so read up — even if you think you know everything there is to know about below-the-belt wellness.
4Talk To Your Friends About STIs
The secrecy surrounding STIs perpetuates more shame and more misinformation. One easy way to fight back is to talk about sexual health with your friends. Drop that you just got tested over drinks, ask your bestie what kind of protection she favors, and if you're feeling comfortable enough, share your own diagnosis.
If you do nothing else during STD Awareness Month, broach the subject with your social circle. You never know who else really needs to talk about their sexual health but just needs a safe atmosphere to start. In short: be the sex-positive change you want to see in the world, babes!