Is there a reliable place to find real information about sex (specifically about STDs) online? I keep ending up at sites with horrible photos of blistered genitals and I’m worried now that I have everything. Where do I find the truth?
Why yes, there are!
But before I give you the exact information you seek, you’ll have to humor me as I step ceremoniously atop my STD/STI soap box...the awkward phrasing of which I’m now regretting. Moving on!
Here in the United States we’re still doing a shit job of preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, a failure which can largely be chalked up to our obsession with shame. Specifically, shame around pleasure. Biblically speaking, fornication is only unsinful if it is between a married man and woman for the purposes of procreation. Unsurprisingly this belief has permeated every single facet of our culture, and while we’re no longer stoning women for adultery, we are still trying to prevent them from accessing birth control. What does it say about our evolutionary intelligence if that’s the extent of our 3,400 year long learning curve?
Just look at sex education in schools. There are typically three kinds of sex ed curriculum:
- Abstinence Only (which typically relies on fear-mongering and inaccurate information and is often taught by unqualified school personnel)
- Comprehensive (teaches that abstinence is the best method for avoiding STIs and pregnancy, but also teaches about condom use and contraceptive methods to assess and reduce risk)
- 3. Zilch (this is when your school never teaches you anything and you wonder why your friends from other districts keep asking if you’ve “gotten to the banana part yet” 🍌).
You know what’s missing from that list? PLEASURE-BASED EDUCATION!
If we teach young people that they can - and should! - have sex for pleasure, we also get to teach them body autonomy and confidence. We get to teach them about consent, how to initiate intimacy consensually, how to decline suggested intimacy, and how to receive a rejection gracefully. We get to teach them about their own anatomy as well as the anatomy of their potential partners, and we tell them that masturbation is just as healthy as exercise. We get to validate LGBTQ+ and non-monogamous relationships. We get to tell them that people with disabilities are hot.
We get to tell them that they are deserving of pleasure.
But in the minds of those in power, all pleasure-based education does is encourage people to fuck for funsies....because of course they weren’t fucking already, and it was the SEX EDUCATION that first gave them the idea. So instead, we standardize fear-mongering. We plaster hi-res images of blisters and rashes and boils on walls. We threaten kids with hairy palms and impotence and hellish eternal flames. We warn our children that they “better not be having sex”, thereby creating an environment where they feel like can’t approach their parents if they have a question or something goes wrong.
Additionally, we make young people believe that STDs are somehow “worse” than other infections that human beings regularly pick up. You don’t see people getting slut-shamed for having the common cold, do you? And why not? It can be passed through saliva, and can’t swapping saliva be sexual?
At this point in modern history, people are living long, happy, healthy lives with even the most “serious” of the bunch, like HIV and Herpes, due to increased research, funding, and advancements in pharmaceuticals. Perhaps threatening youth in the 80s with a “grisly death” should they contract HIV was wasn’t entirely misguided, but we live in a different world now.
The next time you feel that something down below may be amiss, skip the Google search. Instead, immediately go get a full testing panel done at your local doctor’s office or clinic. Be honest with the medical provider about your sexual background and experiences. Once you receive your results (the majority of which take 5-7 days to appear), make sure you contact any recent sexual partners to let them know what’s up - no matter how uncomfortable it may be! Remember, you’d want someone to do the same for you.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk! Now, the resources you asked for. Please share them far, wide, and free of stigma!
- SCARLETEEN | “Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots sexuality and relationships education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around eight million diverse people each year -- around 5,000 of whom we typically speak with directly through our direct services and in-person outreach -- most between the ages of 15 and 30. It is typically the most popular and most widely used site specifically providing sex and relationships information and support for young people worldwide and has been so through most of its tenure.”
- The STD Project | “The STD Project is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Taking steps toward modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions, we post interviews with and the stories of those who have sexually transmitted infections or diseases, as well as a plethora of news and resources related to STIs and STDs. On our websites, our YouTube channel, in our podcast, and across all of our social media channels we cover STD testing, treatment, prevention, and more.”
- Planned Parenthood | “Planned Parenthood was founded on the revolutionary idea that women should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams — no ceilings, no limits.Today, Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.”
Thanks for having the courage to ask that!
If you have your own questions about sex, love, relationships, or any of the moving parts involved therein, drop Andre a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to use the subject line "Ask Andre," so we know where to direct your thoughtful questions.