When it comes to sexual health, you should be as curious as possible.
In 2016, Ella Dawson gave a TED Talk about her experience as a person who is open about living with genital herpes. She explains that, when she got the diagnosis at 21, she felt shocked and confused because she simply didn’t think of herself as the kind of person that would get an STI like herpes. Throughout the talk, she points out the negative stereotypes associated with it, the social stigma that those stereotypes cause, and how she decided to fight the misinformation that perpetuates them:
“I’m not proud that I have herpes, I just refuse to be ashamed of it. But I celebrate the fact that I am still here. I am still here after three years of the universe telling me that I’m a disgusting slut who got what was coming to her. I have a voice, and it has never been stronger. I am happy.”
How often do we see positive portrayals of people who have STDs? How often do we see negative ones? Those negative ideas, along with the lack of good sex ed that teaches scientific information, prevent young people from enjoying their sexuality in a healthy way. Just telling people to “keep it in their pants” doesn’t work at all, so here are a few debunked myths about sexuality that you need to be aware of to enjoy your sex life freely and more safely.
STIs only affect promiscuous people
In her talk, Ella Dawson mentions that two out of three people in the world have the same strain of herpes that she has, not to mention other strains and STIs. This means that, statistically, you don’t have to sleep with a bunch of people to get it: it only takes one person. This myth also perpetuates the idea that you don't need to use protection when you’re sleeping with a “nice, decent person,” which only increases the risk of infections.
Oral sex is totally safe
As Gail Bolan (director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention) explains, any kind of bodily fluid can spread an STI and many of them are transmitted through oral sex. Because of this myth about oral sex being perfectly safe, specially when you’re receiving it instead of giving it, many people have unprotected casual encounters without considering the real risks. The problem here isn’t the “casual” quality of the encounter, but the lack of information about ways to protect yourself during oral sex. Just think about it: have you ever seen a TV show showing people using protection during oral sex?
A toilet seat can give you an STI
This one is a little silly, but at least it invites people to take unnecessary precautions instead of not taking any. Still, it’s worth mentioning that, no, a toilet cannot give you an STI. There’s no scientific evidence proving this. Bacteria and other organisms that carry STIs can’t survive on a toilet seat. Even if you could get it from a toilet, why would your genitals be touching the seat? That’s just weird.
You can’t get an STI if you’re monogamous
A lot of people show no symptoms of their particular STI, which makes them assume they’re perfectly healthy. That's why they don't get tested to make sure they aren't carrying anything and end up spreading it to their partners. In addition to that, you can be monogamous and have several committed relationships (one after the other) in a few years. Obviously, we can't forget that those partners have had others partners as well, and they’ve had other partners, and... you get the idea. So, please, get tested.
Condoms can protect you from every STI
Not true! This is one of the reasons why there’s a lot of shame around STIs: people think it’s totally easy to prevent them by just wearing a condom, and for that reason those who have STIs are simply irresponsible. The truth is that some STIs are spread just through skin contact, not genital contact. Therefore, condoms can’t protect you in every case.
When it comes to sexual health, you should be as curious as possible. That means considering all the scientific information before judging someone or judging yourself. Don’t be ashamed of being a sexual being with a history, and focus on enjoying your sex life with the care and attention it deserves. As Ella Dawson explains, “An STI is not a reflection of your character or a consequence of a bad decision. It is an inevitability of being a human being on this planet who comes into skin contact with other human beings.”
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Illustrations by Maria Uve.
Photographs by Gab Bois