It’s Valentine’s Day. This means you’ve suffered through or will endure a number of ridiculous conversations about the holiday. Is it a conspiracy theory constructed by greeting card companies and the Knights Templar? Should feminism have destroyed it for supporting outdated and destructive stereotypes? Is it the pressure to find the right gift that destroys relationships or is it that you’re just really bad at gift giving and maybe don’t know your partner that well in the first place? And what on earth happens to the stuff that isn’t sold–is there a vast wasteland of tchotchkes covered in pink glitter and hearts? Can we go there?!
Oddly, the conversation we never seem to have at Valentine’s Day is about sex. So today we’re going to talk about sex! Specifically, about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), so that if your life choice is to have sex, you can do so with minimal risk to yourself and your partners.
FACT: Anyone can get an STI.
Let’s get something out of the way early. STIs don’t just happen to “those” girls or “those” guys, because there is no such thing as “those” people, there’s only us. People who get STIs include people who have sex with lots of people, and people who have sex with only one person their entire life. They happen to people the first time they have sex and the 50th time. Anyone can get one, so the important thing is safety.
Fact: You can still get an STI if you’re a “virgin.”
Because so many still define virginity as someone who hasn’t had penile-vaginal intercourse, there are a lot of ways to have sex while still technically remaining a “virgin” in the eyes of others. And all those ways can lead to STIs, including non-penetrative sex.
FACT: Lots of people have STIs and don’t know it.
You might have seen terrifying pictures or heard horror stories about the worst case scenarios when it comes to STIs. You might be picturing them right now. Stop that. Look at the adorable baby animal picture instead.
The thing is, many STIs have minimal indicators, and some like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are often asymptomatic, but can have severe consequences, especially for women.
FACT: Just because you see a doctor, doesn’t mean you don’t have, or can’t get an STI.
Things are real and happen, even if a medical professional hasn’t told you about them. Also, when you go in for your exam, do you know what STIs you’re being tested for? Is it all of them? Have you ever asked? Many doctors don’t conduct routine STI screenings, or only test for a few. And, unfortunately, some STIs don’t have definitive tests. So the only way you know you have them is if you develop the symptoms.
FACT: Condoms and dental dams aren’t foolproof.
You should still use them anyway. They don’t really make sex “safe,” but they do make it significantly safer and have decreased the spread of a number of STIs. However, even if prophylactics are used correctly, there are incurable STIs that are transmitted by skin contact, and so you need to make sure you’re talking with your partner and your doctor about risks.
So seriously, talk to your kids about the things they need to know, or to your partners if you have them. If you think it’s an awkward conversation to have before you have sex, it’s probably infinitely more awkward, sad, and frustrating to have after a visit to the doctors.
For more information you can find these at your local library:
The Book of Love: Every Couple’s Guide to Emotional and Sexual Intimacy
Sexpertise: Real Answers to Real Questions about Sex
It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health
Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person about Sex
Or you can read AP Sex Ed online here.