It’s STI Girl Summer. Arm yourself.
If you get into a car, you could crash. If you eat food, you could get food poisoning. And if you have sex, you risk an STI. âI’m not telling people you can prevent STIs,â says Dr. Ina Park, associate professor of family and community medicine at UC San Francisco and medical consultant for the Division of STD Prevention at CDC. “We’re all going to have an STI someday, or at least be exposed to one.”
Park literally wrote the book on STIs, and she is perfectly clear: sexually transmitted infections are more common than you would like to admit. You may not be able to avoid them completely, but you can reduce your chances of catching them and plan to catch them immediately. âWe might as well empower ourselves to take charge of our sexual health,â she says.
As social distancing restrictions ease, experts brace for a new wave of STI cases. Summer 2021 has been referred to as the start of the New Roaring Twenties, the Whoring 20s and Shot Girl Summer. But it will just as likely be the great summer of STIs. Why? Every year for the past six years of available data, the CDC has reported that cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have reached an all-time high. Basically, this is the world of STIs, and we just exchange fluids in it.
Why God? What did we do to deserve this ??
Why have STI rates increased every year for the past five years? Dr Gail Bolan, then director of the STD Prevention Division at CDC, summed up the factors in September 2020: âPoverty, unstable housing, drug use, stigma, lack of medical insurance or regular medical care; discrimination or mistrust of health systems; decrease in condom use among vulnerable groups, especially young people and homosexuals; and cuts in STD prevention programs and services at national and local levels.
In other words, until we create better public health systems, people will be sick.
To be clear, STIs are rampant among educated people who also have sufficient resources. Lisa Wade, a professor studying sociology and gender at Tulane University, has conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews with current students about their lives during the pandemic. In each interview, she asks: given the one-year lesson in infectivity that is the pandemic, have you changed the way you think about sexually transmitted infections? âMost of them make faces like I asked them something very strange,â she said. “They’re just like ‘… no.'”
Wade says she couldn’t accept the fact that undergraduates get tested up to three times a week for COVID, but don’t necessarily make the jump to STI testing. One interviewee put it into perspective: âIf you say you’ve been tested for COVID and [the other person] says yes, it’s all good. If you ask when they were last tested for STIs, it implies that they did something they shouldn’t have done, âthe student told him.
Having an STI doesn’t mean you’re dirty, having too much sex, or deserving of shame. Many of them are quickly curable. But if you have had an STI for a long time and you don’t know it, you can get seriously ill. Texas obstetrician / gynecologist Dr Jessica Shepherd warns that “some untreated STIs can have serious health consequences, such as infertility in women, pelvic pain and abnormal bleeding.”
School systems that preached abstinence instead of teaching these facts have done us a terrible disservice. Now we are paying for it when we should just be enjoying sex.
STIs are so stigmatized that it’s easier to pretend they never happen to “normal” people. I write a lot about sex and dating, which means almost every day I hear smart people say some of the dumbest bullshit I’ve ever heard about STIs. “Oh, he looks really nice, so I don’t think he would have an STI.” “We’ve had three dates so we don’t need to use condoms.” “I trust him, so I’m not worried.”
We don’t want to accept the basic facts about STIs – that they’re common, often silent, and morally neutral – because we’re busy trying to distance ourselves from the kind of people who have sex that has consequences. But all sex has potential consequences. We would be more secure if we accepted this.
Haven’t STI rates come down during the pandemic?
You might assume that STI cases have declined during the pandemic. Most people have at least held back their socialization, although social distancing has not been embraced across the board.
But a few major factors in pandemic life are synonymous with public health catastrophe: One is that many people have avoided routine checkups, including the type of doctor visit where you would get rapid STI screening. Even if you were willing to take the risk, testing was less available – a survey by the National Coalition of STD Directors found that during the pandemic, 60% of clinics had a reduced capacity to treat STIs. Many clinics have closed. And, Park points out, in the second half of 2020 there was actually a shortage of STI testing equipment, as items like swabs were used for COVID testing. Even though statistics from the start of 2020 show that the number of STI cases has declined, experts believe this just does not reflect reality.
And STI numbers can get worse. As social distancing restrictions are lifted, people will likely have more sexual partners. And after more than a year of avoiding human contact, some may feel that surviving a disaster means we are invincible. âThey’re going to feel a sense of freedom,â Park says. “And a feeling of,” I deserve to have sex without a condom because I’ve been holding on for so long. “”
But that’s just not how science works – the COVID vaccine saves lives, but it doesn’t cover syphilis.
Yeah, but I won’t have an STI, because I care
Oh, I know. You only have sex with people you trust! âMost STIs are asymptomatic,â says Park. “Most of the time, people don’t even know they have something when they give it to you.” This is something I would love to print on business cards and pass on to people when I hear nonsense about STIs. It’s not about knowing or trusting your partner.
Fewer people use condoms than you might think. âSome students say, ‘Oh, I always use a condom’ and some almost never,â Wade says. “A lot of times it’s the woman who wants to use them and then the men will do that weird, and then the women don’t ask because they don’t want the men to push back.”
But you are smart! You use condoms. And this is extremely important. But remember that while condoms protect against some STIs, they do not protect against all. They do not protect at all against STIs transmitted during oral sex (unless you use a barrier for oral sex, which is rare). transmit gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, âsays Dr. Park.
So what am I supposed to do if I want to bang?
âLiving in fear of catching an STI is no way to lead your sex life,â Park says. “Because it’s futile.” Instead, you need to follow best practices. Ideally, she says, you should have one partner at a time, use barriers (like condoms), and get partner-tested. âHaving simultaneous partners is one of the easiest ways to spread both STIs and HIV,â she says.
In the context of modern dating, this is not always realistic. So, the best thing to do is to always use barriers and get tested regularly. This way you lower your risk of getting an infection and make sure you get an infection if you do. âI have patients who change partners very quickly and have a lot of concurrent relationships, and they test every two months,â says Park. Getting an STI test is quick and easy, much easier than dealing with the long-term health effects if it turns out you’ve had a silent STI for months or years later.
Is it bad if i do get a common STI?
For the most common STIs – syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia – âthe prognosis is fantastic if you can catch it early,â Park explains. âWe have a really effective antibiotic treatment, some of which can be given in a single dose and then cured. The point is that for people who have a silent infection, especially women, it can travel up the fallopian tubes and into the uterus and can cause scarring or pelvic inflammatory disease, and repeated infections increase the chances of it. all these complications.
It can be scary to think that you could get an incurable STI, such as herpes, HPV, or HIV. But that’s one more reason to learn. Want to protect yourself from the more serious strains of HPV, which can cause multiple forms of cancer? There’s a vax for that – and this time you don’t even have to wait inside for a year. Anyone between the ages of 9 and 45 is eligible for this vaccine.
And more than ever, herpes, or HSV, doesn’t have to change your life. Park points out that, counterintuitively, having sex with someone who knows they have HSV and who is on suppressor medications might actually be safer than having sex with a random person. âPeople who know their status, take their medication and do what they can to reduce transmission are less likely to transmit than the person who just runs and has no idea of ââtheir status,â she says. .
Most of us think of STIs as that dark, hidden presence, like a seedy alleyway that smart people know how to avoid. But that’s not what STIs are – they’re everywhere, on every type of person, and they’re no dirtier than any other type of infection. If you get tested for STIs regularly, you can quickly catch infections and seek treatment. It’s as empowering as buying a vibrator or popping over and asking someone out (but why not do all three?)
This summer, don’t forget: there is nothingânothing– sexier than a clean STI panel.
Jenny Singer is a writer for Glamor. You can am here on Twitter.
Originally appeared on Glamor