If I could go back in time and plan the curriculum for my Health Ed. class, I would have taught the section on STDs entirely differently. I’m not placing blame on anyone but myself here, but honestly, what is an effective way to get an uncomfortable message across?
a) scare the shit out of everybody and treat sex like it’s under prohibition
b) show the most extreme pictures that are awkwardly close up and ironically make the whole issue feel incredibly abstract and nonpersonal
c) tell your students your story of having an STD and risk whatever reactions come with that
I repeat, honestly… which one of these ways of “teaching” would you choose?
Our human psychological disposition would like to think of Our Self as immune to anything that looks horrific out there in the world, would like to think that it will maintain control over its existence and choices. The infamous last words (and unconscious thoughts of) “It will never happen to me.”
We don’t like to think that we might make a mistake or that someone we trust might actually not be trustworthy or not take responsibility for our best interests.
But these things happen. A lot.
It actually happened 3 times to me within a 3 year period. Each time came with no warning from any of the partners I had, and it’s likely they were totally unaware as well. However whether it was a case of deliberate dishonesty or true ignorance, the lack of responsibility to their own health and sexual choices affected me and the partners I will have… For the rest of my life.
I don’t know if the message is changing now, I think it is… But the vibe use to carry heavy on the end of “Don’t fuck up because you might get unlucky.” I don’t remember any of the teachers who taught sex ed. ever saying anything along the lines of “This is your responsibility to care for yourself, your future, and the life and wellbeing of others.”
WHY THE FUCK ARE WE
AS ADULTS, TEACHERS, AND LEADERS TO THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS
NOT TALKING ABOUT OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO EACH OTHER
IN OUR SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS.
I think about it every time I date someone new- “Am I going to let them know right off the bat, or am I going to wait until it seems like this might actually be a pertinent issue?” Waiting until you know sex is about to be an issue that needs to be talked about usually means making that first sexual encounter very unsexy all of a sudden. I mean that most people aren’t talking about having sex until they are literally about to have sex, precisely the time that you don’t want to do anything but sink into the experience. During those first couple of dates most people don’t want to talk about awkward topics because you’re trying to show each other the best looking sides of yourselves. If you end up over at each other’s apartment and “things start to escalate,” who wants to halt the most exciting phase of romance with the beautiful news of “Hold up, I need to tell you I have genital herpes so you need to decide if you are ok with sleeping with me, and I have to tell you now so my conscience is clear, but don’t worry it’s probably not a big deal because I have no noticeable signs of a breakout right now is that cool?”
What a hook, line, and sinker of a foreplay trick that one is, let me tell you…. NOT.
Yes, I have had to disclose that upon the first time sleeping with a new partner for years now. I’m at the point where I think I am going to start talking about it the second me and said partner know we are remotely romantically interested in each other. I don’t really know how I’m going to cooly pull this off yet, but I have come to this opinion for multiple reasons:
a) It is a part of who I am now and I have to accept that, and so does someone who is genuinely interested in being my partner. I can’t walk around feeling like I’m having to apologize for the way that I am or be with someone who is going to resent me for not being able to have sex with them at certain times. They will have to be willing to risk catching the virus as well. Fortunately, even years and many partners later, I have never received a message from anyone (miraculously) saying that they got HSV2 from me. Though I guess that doesn’t exactly mean that no one did… they might just not have told me.
b) It seems pointless to me that we have this shameful stigma around STDs. Sure it could be that someone has one because they were being “promiscuous” or whatever, but that shouldn’t mean anything about how you and I see each other now. I know it’s asking a lot, I would love to see those of us who carry STDs rise up and own the reality and not be ashamed of it. We have to think, what are we really giving power to by feeling like we need to hide this? If we allow others’ opinions of us to rule our self image and self worth with fear, then that is a reflection of the judgment we are passing on others. It is a reflection of fear, and fear will isolate us with our repressed pain. Bringing all this into the light will liberate us.
c) I understand that for many, they would face a lot of undue reprimand and even harsh exile from their families or religious communities potentially. It could even mean your friends thinking poorly of you. But the truth is that the fact you have a disease is not equivalent to a morale eternal judgment from god over your sins. I vote for you standing up for yourself versus living in hiding. Maybe, maybe, and only maybe, might you think of this as a metaphysical reflection of something you attracted for a certain purpose. But it is our choice to think of these things as judgments for our sins, and not a fact. It is a judgment we pass over ourself. No one else can speak that power over you. Do not stand for that bullshit. Mistakes happen and people do shitty things. Sure, you can play your part in choosing to be more discerning next time about who your sexual partner will be, but we are always taking risks, which means there are things that happen outside your control. And that is humbling.
I want to meet the sex ed instructor that told the class about the time that they got chlamydia. They would have a really interesting story to tell I think, both about their life and also about what kind of response they got from the class. It’s likely that the class acted all squeamish and immature, like they couldn’t believe the teacher just admitted to such crap. But maybe, just maybe, that instructor dismantled some looming fear around STDs and saved 1 in 3 of the kids in that classroom a little bit of harrowing shame when it happened to them in the future.
I think the message we send the kids when we try to tell them how horrible and scary STDs are and then act like it’s never happened to us is a message of shame and fear. And as caretakers and shapers of the next generation, that is unacceptable.
It’s freaking 2018, y’all.
HSV2 is not unbearable or nearly as bad as anybody painted it out to be, at least not for me. I know for some people out there, its symptoms are probably much worse than what I experience, and I express sympathy and acknowledgement of that for them. But for those of you who are newly initiated to the STD club, if we let the stress about “how bad it could be” run our hormones, then physiologically we are actually putting ourselves in a more immune-suppressed state where our symptoms are likely to be much worse!
So quit that!
If STDs happen to you, look at it realistically, take some time to grieve and acknowledge whatever it makes you feel. Do not invalidate your own emotions or experience. But do not give into some belief that your life is over or that it’s going to be so difficult to find someone to love you now. That belief will be tempting, but do not do it.
It’s a bold-faced lie.
“LIFE’S NOT THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. IT’S THE WAY IT IS. THE WAY WE COPE WITH IT IS WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.”