This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
Belief #5: Women get STI’s more than men.
Science says: Women [Editor’s Note: defined in most research by feminine presenting people with vulvas] have been found to have slightly higher prevalence rates than men. However, there is strong suspicion that this difference is due to flaws in the research design. With that said, women are more likely to get tested regularly and are far more likely to report and disclose status, all of which could also bias prevalence rates. So far, nothing has been found that makes women intrinsically more vulnerable to contracting an STI.
Yeah, but what does this mean? The individual who gets tested first is typically the first person who has to disclose his or her status to the other sexual partners. However, there is this cognitive assumption that the first person to gain knowledge about the infection is automatically deemed the source of the infection. If women are more likely to get tested, then women are more likely to be the first to receive the information about said STI. This sometimes could further perpetuate these issues surrounding self-confidence, which could in turn decrease the likelihood that someone would continue to display healthy sexual practices (like getting tested regularly). It’s no surprise that self-esteem and self-concept are large facilitators in exhibiting healthy practices, and sexual health should not be considered an exception.
Solutions? Perhaps it would be best to think of this issue from a larger public health perspective. Responding with shame, embarrassment and disgust to a status disclosure doesn’t make the individual want to open up and talk about it, and it certainly doesn’t support healthy sex choices. I think it would be more effective if the response to a friend or family being open about their status was support, because it reflects that the individual has taken initiative towards bettering their lives in a healthy way. We applaud those who take initiative to eat healthier, and exercise more because we know that the intrinsic motivations are not something that comes with ease. Why can’t we start thinking the same way about our own sexual health?
Some of the best advice I have ever received was from my mother, who once told me “Well, if you want to start thinking about things differently, stop talking about them with such hostility”. With that said, changing the way we talk about our sexual health helps us create a more constructive way of thinking about our sexual health. Even by making the small changes that I’ve highlighted above, I think this will help change the concept of transmission to something with a little less hostility, and a little more openness. Hopefully this piece will help you think about how you talk about STIs in your life, and perhaps lead you to having happy and healthy conversations with more objectification, support and understanding.