Living with STDs: No Laughing Matter

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Once upon a time, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were funny. People would ‘crack’ jokes about people with infections back in secondary school.

Maybe there was a girl who everyone knew was very sexually active, and she came to school bright and early one Monday morning with a cold sore on her lip that lasted all week. Maybe one of your friends came to tell your crew that they heard from their brother, who heard from his boys, that a prominent entertainer caught something from a groupie. Back then, it was common to comment about it and for laughter to ensue, but now, I’ve noticed the jokes have died and STDs aren’t a laughing matter like they were before.

When a serious issue you once thought was funny hits close to home, you’re forced to stop, react, reflect and assess.

When a serious issue you once thought was funny hits close to home, you’re forced to stop, react, reflect and assess. This was my experience when I first learned that someone close to me had contracted (sounds like you wanted it, agreed to it and signed the paperwork) an STD. I recall thinking, “Wait, what? How is this possible? You aren’t a ho!” I may have been naïve, in denial or afraid of the reality of this world, but being told that you or someone you know has an STD became a sombre experience, far removed from the humour of secondary school days.

I realised a few things when I started hearing friends’ and family members’ stories. As common and serious as STDs are, especially in our hypersexual society, they’re still a taboo topic. STDs are spoken about in hush-hush tones, only after you swore on your grandmother’s grave to keep the secret. What’s sad about all this secrecy is that so many people are living with STDs, feel a mix of emotions about it, and don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

It also sunk in that not only the neighbourhood ho can catch an STD. Everyday people, many in committed relationships, get infected. Your partner in the next cubicle, your second cousin, your favourite uncle or your best friend may have an STD, and you may have no idea. The scary part about that is that’s how STDs end up being transmitted. Check it: you’re scoping out a bess ting/hot fella. Y’all are really into each other. He/she seems real cool. You get to know their friends and meet their moms. You don’t think this person may have a disease, because they seem like a normal, put-together person. Sex happens. And unfortunately, STDs can follow.

A few real-life stories I’ve been told highlight these issues:

Case #1

Marcela* and her boyfriend have been in a relationship for the past five years. During a routine pap smear, she found out that she had Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). She told her boyfriend to get tested and his results were also positive for HPV. They aren’t sure which one of them gave it to the other, or if their previous partners also have the virus. I asked Marcela what her reaction was. Her response? “Shock. I was in real shock. I couldn’t believe this happened to me. I haven’t been sick outside of the flu in my whole life. I didn’t even have any symptoms to show I had something. And now here I am with an incurable virus.”

Thankfully, Marcela’s HPV type isn’t cancer forming, as some are.

Case #2

Laura* was dating a girl for six months, when she noticed her girlfriend’s ex had a trend of keeping bad company. Basically, Laura was concerned about the health status of this ex’s people. After fighting with her girlfriend about it, Laura asked her girlfriend to get tested. The girlfriend’s test results were positive for Type 1 and Type 2 Herpes. Laura said to me, “I don’t know what to do. I can’t handle this nuh. I real love this girl and this is what will happen?”

Laura consulted with her doctor, who advised she wait a few months before getting tested, but until then, they have to face up to an STD in the early stages of their relationship.

Case #3

Paulette* went to Miami on vacation for a month. While she was there, she hooked up with a friend of her cousin. She really liked him and they had sex one night. Sometime after, she noticed burning sensations when she urinated. A doctor’s visit later, she found out she had chlamydia. By this time, the guy was long gone. Fortunately, chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, if it’s detected early. Paulette admitted still feeling shame and guilt, although this occurred some years ago.

STDs can be prevented by using condoms or dental dams, talking honestly with your partners and doctor, having regular pelvic exams and pap smears, and getting STD screens. However, none of that can happen if you aren’t first honest with yourself that the jokes are over, and it can happen to you. Is a casual romp without protection really worth it? And if you’re sexually active, shouldn’t you protect yourself? If you’re STD-free, would you consider a relationship with someone who has contracted an STD?

Last year, a comedian, Kain, made a valid point.

“I was watching the news yesterday and I found it quite strange that with the spread of swine flu, I see a lot of people that wanna wear face masks, yet millions of people have AIDS and nobody wants to use a condom,” he said. “…That doesn’t make any f*cking sense.”

We were less likely to get infected with the swine flu than we are to contract AIDS, HIV or other STDs. However the bird, pig and cow diseases get all the hype? You’re right Kain; that makes no sense at all.

Life with an STD definitely isn’t a life sentence. It’s more of a nuisance, making intimacy difficult to navigate, and forcing infected persons to deal with the associated stigma (like the perception that you’re promiscuous). How people respond to such a situation differs, but what remains the same is that managing an STD is a normal way of life for some people. Question is… when will we stop being ‘hush-hush’ and face it openly?

*Names have been changed because I swore to secrecy, and spoke about it all in hush-hush tones.

 

Image courtesy iStockphoto.com

 

Traci S. Williams

Traci S. Williams is completing a doctorate in clinical psychology and hence, enjoys the wacky side of a story. Her passions include children and literature, which she combines into her blog about the psychology of childhood, Child Space.

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