Mirrored from my personal blog’s Hump Day Special.
First things first today…I need to openly admit that I don’t have the very best memory. Life gets busy, and other issues surface, and sometimes I forget things that are important and that sometimes fly completely under the radar. Such as the point that not only is April Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but also STD Awareness Month. Given my personal and professional focus, you might think I would remember that more readily (suuuure); like I said just a few sentences up, my memory isn’t the best.
Second, to knock this question out of the way (since it’s one of the questions I am often asked) — the terms “sexually transmitted disease” (STD) and “sexually transmitted infection” (STI) are frequently used interchangeably. They are notexactly the same thing (as diseases and infections are not the same), but more people tend to be familiar with the term “STD” as opposed to the frequently more (clinically) accurate “STI” — in much the same way that just a generation ago, “VD” (venereal disease) was more commonly used. Many folks today haven’t even heard the term “VD,” but most are familiar with “STD” ~ hence the coining of “STD Awareness Month” even within the CDC.
With those two bits knocked out, I got my reminder yesterday about April & STI Awareness from one of my favorite places: Bedsider. LOVE Bedsider! Yesterday, an entry was posted – entitled “The Fine Art of Condom Negotiation” — and it is worth clicking through to and watching the videos in the entry. In today’s Hump Day special, I want to discuss condom negotiation, and its importance on a wider scale.
I know there are folks (I am one of them, actually) who get annoyed with “Awareness Months” — and yet, the importance of awareness of certain realities in our society cannot be overstated. Three major points noted in the CDC link above:
- 20 million – new STDs that occur each year.
- $16 billion — the cost of treating STDs contracted in just one year.
- ½ of all new sexually transmitted infections each year are among youth.
The numbers are truly frightening, and there are distinct connections between those numbers and sex education in public schools…particularly those that accept Title V funding for sex education (aka Abstinence-based and AOUM sex “education”).
When I began my own research for my dissertation, my initial focus was on chlamydia, which is currently the fastest spreading STI on the planet. The numbers, both in terms of transmission, the cost of treatment (compared with the cost of prevention), and the ages of the hardest hit demographic are appalling. I won’t pull those numbers, but I will note that the cost of prevention is significantly lower than the cost of treatment, and the hardest hit demographic is females between the ages of 15 and 24 — with diagnoses of chlamydia being three times more frequent than males in the same demographic. Additionally, minorities are disproportionately affected by all of the above.
What does this have to do with the art of condom negotiation? Quite a lot, actually. Particularly with respect to females. In my research, I interviewed parents of female teens for their perspectives and perceptions about sexually transmitted infections across the teenage population, and one of the themes that surfaced (with respect to condoms) was a “good girl” versus “bad girl” notion that has been prevalent in American culture (and elsewhere, too) for many, many, many years. Further, there exists a really depressing lack of understanding of how exactly STIs are transmitted across the cohort I interviewed — which translates sadly (and is documented elsewhere outside of my research) into teenagers (both male and female) lacking knowledge and understanding.
Example: Blow jobs. Oral sex is not seen as “real” sex by a large percentage of the teenage population. Why? Because the primary focus of sex education is pregnancy prevention (automatically organizing sex education by gender, I might add)…any and all sexual activity that falls outside of the singular sexual act that can result in pregnancy is ignored and omitted entirely. Further, in abstinence-based settings, kids are taught that condoms have x-percentage failure rates (without the explanation of why those failure rates exist — which has to do with inconsistent and incorrect use)…it’s essential fear-mongering in the hopes of getting kids to simply abstain from sex. And mainly females.
It’s a nice idea…and, in fact, abstinence is encouraged as a leading preventive measure against pregnancy and STI transmission by organizations like Planned Parenthood. However, given the actual reality of kids having sex…and not just penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse…the potential for STI transmission increases exponentially when complete, comprehensive information is omitted in sex education. The evidence? Look again at those bullet points above. That is the stark truth, no matter how much parents might squick out over it. It’s not girls “being sluts”…it’s teenagers doing what teenagers have always done.
So now, we have female teens giving head and not using condoms (because if oral sex isn’t real sex, and condoms don’t work anyway, and she can’t get pregnant from giving head…et cetera) — then being shocked to discover that what they thought was tonsillitis was really chlamydia. And…the numbers continue to climb.
Negotiation of condom use can be touchy…it can be uncomfortable…but it is certainly necessary. Not just to prevent chlamydia (which, as I said, was my initial focus), but to prevent most STIs — regardless of whichever sex act is involved where fluids are exchanged. Further, “accidentally” getting carried away in the heat of the moment (“turning the situation somehow more innocent”) is a notion that needs to be done away with if we’re ever going to actually reduce the transmission numbers. As a parent of both a young adult son, a teenage daughter, and a toddler son…I know how uncomfortable thinking of kids as sexual beings really is. There is a lot of what I call “Squick Factor” involved. But the bottom line is, if we wouldn’t teach our kids preventive measures for their protection when teaching them how to drive a car (which is a machine with the potential to kill), why would we knowingly treat sex any differently? Much as it squicks me out, I would rather my daughter know how to put a condom on a guy (with her mouth, if needs be) than contract an STI or become pregnant. Would I rather she not have sex at all? Sure…the Mommy in me would prefer that. The human being (and health care professional) in me knows thathoping for abstinence is simply not enough.
Learn the realities of STIs…read up the CDC numbers…learn the importance of prevention…teach your kids the importance of prevention…it MATTERS. Safe sex is the sexiest sex there is!
That’s all for today. Wishing you the happiest of Hump Days!