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STIs – Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

July 07
12:30 2019

By: Dr. Abigail Joseph

A couple years ago, there were talks of a color coded condom that would change color according to the type of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) that it would come in contact with. Three teenagers from England won the Teen Tech Award for this brilliant concept. I mean could you imagine how wonderful it would be? Wow, the condom that changes color! (sarcastic tone). But then I thought to myself, how much would this cost? How does it work? Who is it detecting – the user or the receiver? What if there are multiple infections present? What STI would “brown” mean? After all if several infections are present I would think that too many colors would turn dark somehow. SOOOOO yeah the idea was great until I started asking the questions.

The truth is, young people are not thinking about condoms. Yes maybe they would buy a couple of them for fun in the beginning, and after paying the price…which I assume would be very expensive considering it would need antibodies on both sides of the condom and probably some sort of material that is thin enough for sensation but thick enough for protection, I guarantee you it would be more than the normal price. BUT why am I even babbling for? It is rare when you find young people using condoms. Heck, adults don’t use condoms!

There is always the “I don’t like how they feel,” “my partner will think I’m cheating if I ask to use them,” “it’s too tight” (are you aware they come in different sizes?) or “I trust my partner;” the last one is a very interesting statement because A LOT of the people that claim they trust their partner also trust their side chicks or side kick (it has become such a norm that many of you probably don’t get how twisted that is).

Let’s talk about the infections shall we? The infection is NOT the initial problem. The laid back philosophy of it “not happening to me” and the naïve concept of “seeing is believing” is what’s up. You may feel as though this column is about forcing you to use a condom. For those of you who feel that way I implore you to read it a second time. Changing the way we think is a very important aspect of protecting ourselves. Seeking to be more educated about the unknown is the best way to tackle problematic situations. When we learn about diseases and understand what we are looking for, we are better prepared to proceed.

According to the World Health Organization it is estimated that over 1 million are infected with an STI daily. Young people make up a large percentage of this group and as such targeting our young people and teaching better sexual habits, healthy foreplay, healthier choices and phasing out this wham bam thank you ma’am in the darkness behavior is just as important. When people think about sex education our mind automatically goes to a banana and a condom and we feel as if yeah we already know that, and we brush it off. We have the idea, we understand the concept but we never implement it, OR we use it once just to see how it works. So why are there so many people infected daily? Well apart from promiscuity and lack of condom preference there are unhealthy habits that we practice. We’ve established that we “love and trust” our partner so we rarely inspect each other. Women tend to be insecure about their bodies whether they are fat, have scars, stretch marks, etc…while men are mostly just insecure about penis size; while they may not say it often they wouldn’t question the request of turning out the lights when getting ready for that intimate moment. Your insecurities can become your biggest downfall.

How can you see if there is an abnormal discharge coming from the penis or the vagina? Were there any sores? Is there old scaring from healed sores? Are there warts hidden in the pubic hairs? How sure are you that the bumps around his penis head are pearls and not genital warts? Did you know that a woman’s vagina is not the outer part you look at but rather the canal itself? Sometimes the external genitalia of a woman can look nice and pink, smooth even – if she over grooms: peel. It’s important that you understand that warts are not limited to the outside skin and may be found inside the canal; and here you are thinking it’s ribbed for your pleasure. Women, we do ourselves an injustice when we offer to have sex in the dark, and even more so when we avoid having a regular pap smear done.

A pap smear allows the doctor or nurse a clear visual of your cervix which is tested for cancer. This procedure also gives a visual of your vaginal canal: its color, if there are warts present, if the cervix has fungus or discharge that is thick and so sluggish that it does not drain down and stain your panty for you to even know you have a discharge. Some women are of the habit of douching to get rid of odor instead of seeing the doctor. The odor could be a sign that something is present, as bacteria often carry a smell. Douching and shaving may increase your risk of contracting an infection as it removes good flora and shaving before sexual encounters causes micro tears and breakage in the skin which is your primary line of defense and barrier. I am not saying you shouldn’t douche or shave. I’m saying see a doctor if you have odor or discharge and do not shave immediately before an encounter. Micro tears and anticipated friction are a bad combination. Anal sex has become a practice for both heterosexual and homosexual partners, and often times the sentiments are that since it’s the rectum, and condoms are generally viewed as protection primarily against pregnancy, it is often ventured unprotected. The rectum’s lining is thinner than the vagina. It lacks the cells that create lubrication. These factors along with increased blood flow makes the risk of contracting an infection high.

I can go on and on about little habits we have that increase our risk of contracting infections. We fixate generally on HIV/AIDS and feel as if once we’ve done our HIV test we are OK. But the reality is that there are many bacteria, parasites and viruses that are capable of transmission sexually. 8 of these pathogens contribute to the greatest incidences recorded worldwide; 4 are presently curable: syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and chlamydia; 4 are currently incurable: Hepatitis B, HPV, Herpes and HIV. Condoms are not Armor. Educate yourselves on signs and symptoms. Modify your behavior to protect yourself. YOU are your first priority.

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