Jul 242013

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.


Jul 222013

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 #4: Only people who sleep around get STI’s.

Science says: STI transmission does show to have a mild correlation with number of sexual partners. However we should be reminded that correlation does not equate with causation. The number of partners can increase the probability of STI transmission because there are more instances of contact one could potentially have with an infection, but there is nothing intrinsic in the individual that makes him/her more susceptible to contraction by virtue of sleeping with multiple partners, especially if the said individual is diligent about using the necessary precautions.

Yeah, but what does this mean? If you get an STI, then you are “one of those” people who sleep around. The stigmatization that surrounds those who sleep with multiple partners can be extrapolated into a whole other rant, but for the purpose of this argument, I will keep it brief. Slut-shaming is a very powerful tool that has been used by both sexes to clearly disrespect women based solely on their sexual habits. As a result of this, women are hypersensitive to the criterion that defines someone as being sexually promiscuous (STI contraction being one of them). Generally speaking, women typically don’t view their behaviors as being “slutty”, and therefore if they do end up behaving in a way that would be thought of as “slutty behavior”, it becomes much easier to justify ignoring the repercussions.

“Well, if only sluts get STI’s, and I have an STI, what does that make me?”. The idea is distressing as it is problematic. The only thing worse than going around calling other people sluts based on their status is actually internalizing that you are one. One unfortunate aspect of this self-deprecation is it has a role outside of our sex lives as well; it carries a profound implication in many different facets that make up one’s character, including self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. None of this fosters a healthy psyche, nor does it feul a supportive society.

Solutions? Start thinking about the math. Using Chlamydia as an example, it is estimated that 4.5% of individuals will contract Chlamydia at least once in their life. Think about this when you are sitting in a crowded room, like a lecture hall, or you are on a bus. For example, if you happen to be in a room with 100 people, then statistically speaking, about five people sitting in the very same room could potentially have it. Be sure to keep in mind that these people are not necessarily women who might be labeled a “slut”, they really could be any gender, any race, with one or many partners.

***Editor’s note from Shanna; it is 100% to identify as a slut (or promisculous, etc), to choose to have multiple partners, to have as much consensual sex as you would like, or all of the above. This post serves to discuss the issues around STIs and partners, NOT to judge anyone’s sexual choices.***

Part V will be posted in a few days.

Jul 202013

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 #3: Thanks a lot for giving me an STI.. asshole.

Science Says: STIs are still infections, and thus do not possess any kind of foresight. They do not “choose” where to infect, in the same way that pollen that is picked up by the wind does not “choose” where it lands. This is a Lamarkian mindset to evolution, and it has been well documented as an inaccurate way of thinking about how organisms propagate. The design of a sexual transmitted infection** (in both bacteria and viruses) allows for an easy transmission to a suitable condition if the opportunity presents itself. If you have an environment that’s suitable for an STI to germinate (as most reproductive tracts tend to be) then the trick here is to simply look into what you can do to minimize opportunity.

Following this logic, the individual in which whose body an STI resides does not possess any kind of control over where and when the infection decides to proliferate. At no point during sex does your partner conscientiously say it him/herself “Ok, NOW I will bestow the chlamydia I have to you!”, the process is obviously much more passive and frankly, kind of underwhelming. Of course the partner with knowledge of his or her infection can take precautions to decrease the chances of transmission, which includes anything from regular STI screenings to antibacterial treatment to having an open fucking conversation about it, but the point here to show that blame cannot really be put on anyone because you can’t really blame an infection for doing what it naturally needs to do to survive.

**Here are 3 Rules for Transmission: (1) two people need to be present (2) one needs to be infected (3) There needs to be contact.

Ok, but what does this mean? As is common behavior with other unpleasant circumstances in which the receiver had no choice, people have a tendency to quickly look for who to blame. By using simple accusations like “you gave it to me”, using a blame-game approach insinuates is that there is something malicious about the partner’s character, because in order for you to give something to someone, you have to have first claimed ownership over it.  We have ownership of our fists, and therefore are responsible when we decide and take initiative by throwing a punch.  It is unfair to use that same logic to claim ownership of an infection that inhabits a reproductive tract, as medically STIs are considered a foreign body, and do not “belong to us”.

Solutions? When discussing STIs, try refraining from using subjective terms that imply personal responsibility. By being objective and nonjudgmental, it creates more space for the infected individual to be open and feel like he or she has a say about their status, which in turn promotes a more constructive conversation.

Part IV will be posted shortly.

Jul 182013

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 #2: STIs are dirty.

Science says: The medical definition for “infection” could be described as the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in body tissues, causing competitive metabolism, toxins, intracellular replication and antigen antibody response. Keeping this in mind, STI’s are still cell growth that occurs if conditions and resources are appropriate, which could turn into an infection if the environment is conducive to it. Though the effect of STIs are certainly undesirable, it is still more accurate and objective to describe them as as infections, and it is unnecessary not use the term “dirty”.

Yeah, but what does this mean? We have a natural tendency to not want ‘dirty things’ around us. This carries the same evolutionary reasoning as to why people are generally uncomfortable around the dead and decaying because from a prehistoric context, death and decay was a clear sign that danger wasn’t far behind. Proclaiming that STIs are dirty leads too much room to insinuate a “STI’s are dirty, therefore I am dirty” kind of mindset. If the implication is no one wants to be around filth and disease, then it makes it very difficult for an infected individual to feel good about being open about their status, which risks increasing reclusively.

Additionally, as one of the previous interns mentioned, it also sets up an inaccurate link between STI status and hygiene, which perpetrates the idea that if an individual has good daily hygiene, they risk thinking of themselves as impervious to disease or infection.

Solutions? Just as it is important to be open and honest about the subjects we discuss is it also important for us to be critical of how we choose to talk about these subjects. When talking openly about STI’s, it’s always a good idea to avoid using language that has intense negative connotations. Also, it should be noted that infections have implications in our health that are necessarily a detriment; for example, getting a vaccine promotes the same physiological mechanisms as sexually transmitted infections, but you don’t see medical professionals or educators calling them “dirty”. If you start thinking of STI’s as one of the same, you build a healthier relationship with the word, which will in turn, create a healthier relationship with the concept.

Stay tuned for Part III

Jul 162013

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

I was listening to a radio show a couple of years ago that dropped a statistic that essentially prompted my learning excursion into the psychology behind sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the stigmatization that surrounds them. According to the radio show, research done through the University of Cincinnati found that a little over 40% of individuals that receive calls from a health clinic regarding their STI status did not call back or, in a more technical sense, were deemed “lost to follow-up.”

Despite the fact that, in the context of the radio show, the comment was used to make a bigger point about the efficacy of health services, I still could not get that statistic out of my head. I understand that a telephone call is probably not the most effective method of alerting someone to their medical condition, but surely that alone can’t account for over 40% of non-responders based on that technicality alone.  It led me to think about the attitudes and opinions that are associated with STIs, and I wondered if stigmatization could partially contribute to this lack of follow up.

Sociologist, public health officials and health researchers have conducted many studies of the institutional factors that impact STI follow-up. Indeed, the literature I’ve read talks in great length about the role socioeconomic status, neighborhood and resource availability play, but I have been hard pressed to find literature that analyzes how stigmatization affects follow-up. Given our brains work on cognitive blueprints for processing information, saying something in a particular fashion could possibly condition one to think a specific way as the structure of how something is said could be associated with other ideas that are negative. Therefore, I decided to take it upon myself to compile a short (and by no means complete) list of common ideas about STIs, and try to break them down and bring to light some of the misconceptions that could perpetuate stigmatization.

Belief #1: If you’re smart and educated, you will never get an STI.

Science Says: Just as no contraception can guarantee with 100% certainty that you will not get pregnant, no amount of barriers can guarantee with 100% certainty that you will not contract an STI. Infection spreads by the exchange of risky fluids* (or skin to skin in the case of herpes and HPV), and so even though by wearing a condom/female condom/dental dam you significantly decrease the likelihood of exchange, if fluids are still being produced by both partners, then there is still going to be a (albeit possible, but not probable) chance for STI transmission.

*Here is a quick list of risky fluids: (1) Blood (2) Semen (3) Vaginal discharge (4) Pre-cum (5) Breastmilk (6) Anal Fluid

*Here is a quick list of non-risky fluids: (1) Saliva (2) Mucos (3) Sweat (4) Tears

Ok, but what does this mean?: Besides the false advertising, teaching that “you will never contract an STI if you do x, y and z” leaves very little support for those who actually are proactive about doing x, y, and z and unfortunately still end up with an STI. Those in that position may wonder what they did wrong, or (perhaps more accurately) if they didn’t do everything right enough. Family, and health practitioners may assume they were careless or ignorant and may offer less support. This reinforces the feelings of shame they may have, which could increase the likelihood that they will withdraw.

Solutions?: Talk about it! Not only will it decrease the big, bad, stigmatization that seems to be associated with STIs, hopefully by participating in a dialogue, there will be greater clarity about STIs and answers to some of the questions people may have about STIs. When you open up a conversation, you quickly find that you are not alone with your concerns, and support will be more forthcoming.

Part II is on its way!


Aug 252011

This week’s blog post from intern Katie talks about STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and how our society stigmatizes them, which makes it even more difficult to teach about.

“Today we’re learning about sexually transmitted infections!” No matter how enthusiastic my delivery is, that short sentence rarely inspires excitement and curiosity in my students. In fact, the usual response I receive involves a symphony of groans and eye rolls. And really, I can’t blame them: internally, I’m groaning too.

I’m sure there are some superstar sex educators out there who have mastered teaching about STIs, but I’m not one of them. Sure, it can be challenging making transmission statistics and bacterial/viral categorizations “fun” (STI jeopardy only seems to maintain student interest for so long) but the problem is more ingrained than that. For me, the biggest obstacle is tone: how do I convey the necessary information–– about infection types, about barrier methods, about testing availability–– in a way that inspires prudence but not fear? I want to reinforce the reality of STIs and the importance of practicing safer sex behaviors, but I want to do so without (1) scaring them away from sex forever and (2) further stigmatizing STIs and people who have them.

I try to be particularly sensitive to the stigmatizing messages my students receive in and out of the classroom, but these messages aren’t always easy to address in a consistent, coherent manner. If I mention herpes sores and a student loudly gasps “Ewwww,” I have to think carefully about how I proceed. If I respond by insisting, “No, sores are no big deal,” then I run the risk of diminishing the difficulties (social and medical) that people with herpes experience. I would also feel somewhat dishonest: herpes isn’t a big deal in the sense that plenty of people lead happy, healthy lives with herpes, but outbreaks aren’t a walk in the park either. But if I say nothing and let the student feign disgust, I could be sending an even more dangerous message to the other students in the class–– some of whom may have tested positive for STIs or who may have friends, family, or partners who have tested positive–– that people with STIs are worthy of fear or disrespect.

STIs are unpleasant: therefore, people with STIs are unpleasant. It’s a huge logical misstep that society encourages us to make, and that we as educators must vigilantly avoid. And the stakes are high: even if a student does not have any STIs when the lesson takes place, if the takeaway message of the lesson is that STIs are cause for shame, then ze/she/he might be less likely to tell get tested regularly or tell future partners hir/her/his status. My response to the above hypothetical question would then be carefully worded. I might say something along the lines of: “Herpes is like a lot of other chronic medical conditions. Plenty of people live happy lives with herpes, but it’s still an uncomfortable complication that most people would rather avoid. Here’s how you can protect yourself against herpes…”

Again, I still have quite a lot to learn about teaching STI awareness and prevention. Nevertheless, I’ve collected below a few of the important “dos” and “don’ts” I’ve gleaned from my own experience and from the wisdom of other educators. If you have any additional suggestions or comments, I’d love to hear them!

Avoid using the term “clean.” It can be tempting to use popular jargon when teaching a class, but referring to people without STIs as “clean” is highly offensive to folks with STIs. It also sets up a false relationship between STI status and hygiene, wherein students with good daily hygiene are more likely to think of themselves impervious to disease/infection. If students in your class use “clean” in this way, gently but firmly correct them. Someone who gets an ear infection isn’t unclean. Neither is someone with a sexually transmitted infection.

Share the statistics that apply to them. I don’t think fear-mongering is ever a good idea, but it doesn’t hurt to let students in on the information being collected about their demographic. What STIs are most common? How are they being transmitted? If presented without scare tactics, this kind of info can make students feel empowered and less alone.

If possible, act in conjunction with school health services. Obviously, not everyone who works as a sex educator does so via institutions with their own health centers. However, if you are teaching at the high school or college level, try to find out how involved the health center is in student sexual health. If nothing else, it can be incredibly valuable for students to be able to point them towards a known ally in the school.

Make it easy for students to receive testing information. In the past, I’ve written the names, phone numbers, and addresses of clinics that offer STI testing up on the board and asked students to copy them down. In my experience, they’ve become self-conscious, not wanting to look like this is information they need or want, and they’ve refused to write anything down. I’ve started instead to hand each student a printed sheet with test center information; I tell them that they can’t throw the sheets in the trash outside if they absolutely have to, but everyone needs to leave the classroom with that slip of paper.

Acknowledge stigmas. We live in a society that still strongly stigmatizes people with STIs. Don’t be surprised if this message has rubbed off on your students. Listen to their thoughts and concerns, and be patient in letting your perspective sink in.

Jun 272011

Today is National HIV Testing Day. It is estimated that one in five folks living with HIV is not yet aware of that yet, and that 40% of people aren’t diagnosed until symptoms have progressed to AIDS.

HIV testing is cheap (and often free, especially if you go to a local clinic/non-profit), quick and confidential. Why wouldn’t you want to know your status? Knowledge is power, and knowing your status (as well as the status of your partner/partners) gives you power over your own sexual health and wellness.

So why not hop over to your local Planned Parenthood, STI clinic, HIV/AIDS outreach group, or Doctor’s office, and get yourself tested today…or tomorrow…or any time in the near future. Give yourself more power.

Plus, it doesn’t have to be an “icky” experience. If you are partnered, make it a date. Go get tested together, and then grab some ice cream, or check out a movie, or go for a walk. If you’re going on your own, celebrate taking charge of your sexual wellness after testing by treating yourself to a cupcake, or a dip in a pool.

HIV is not a death sentence, but you cannot manage it if you don’t know that you have it. Be good to yourself, to your current, past and future partners, and take the step to gain the knowledge and the power of knowing your status.

Happy National HIV Testing Day!


May 302011

As some of you know, I’m incredibly nerdy, and incredibly weird. And incredibly happy to have completed my stuffed STI collection from GiantMicrobes.com.

Stuffed Chlamydia, HPV, Syphilis, and Herpes (in clockwise order)

Stuffed HIV, Hepititis and Gonorrhea

Yep. I own lots of weird teaching tools, and these are my latest additions. Little things make me oh so happy!

Apr 102011

Did you know that April is a lot of different months relating to sexuality? One of them happens to be National Get Yourself Tested Month, and I think everyone should be celebrating!

How? It’s easy! Head on over to www.GYTnow.org for information, coupons, ways of find places near by you and more. Whether you’re single, in multiple relationships, sleeping with lots of folks, or in a monogamous relationship, you should know your status regarding STIs. Being “Clean” has nothing to do with whether or not you have a sexually transmitted infection; 75-80% of sexually active Americans have or have had an STI at some point. That’s the majority — it’s OK to have an STI, but you need to know so a) you can get treated either to cure it or help the symptoms (depending whether it is bacterial or viral) and b) so you can make decisions along with your partner(s) about what type of safer sex you’d like to be having. It’s really tough to make those decisions and have those conversations if you don’t even know where you stand.

So whether you choose to head over to Planned Parenthood, your local STI clinic, your primary care physician, your gynecologist, your country health center, your campus clinic, etc, I commend you for taking the first step to power- knowledge. If you need cheap, free or sliding scale testing, it is out there. Take the plunge and get a full panel; find out where you stand so you can then take control of your sexual health and wellness to make decisions that are good for you, as well as for past, present and future partners.

Step up, and make a change!


PS – Happy National Get Yourself Tested Month…I’m waiting for my results…are you?

Feb 072011

For those who do not know, many sex educators, myself included, were recently attacked in a post/report that claimed that our education on the Brown University campus was a direct correlation of the recent four new cases of HIV within the student population. It stated that people such as myself (a “sex toy representative”) did not have the education to provide sex ed to students, to handle the emotional side of things, etc (of course, they neglected to mention my Master’s in Human Sexuality Education, which provided me with exactly those aforementioned skills). It also insinuated that I was a prostitute, that other educators are connected with obscenity charges and that some educators are contributing to STI transmission by discussion topics such as polyamory (multiple loves) and anal sex, despite our conversations about barrier methods, testing, and intimacy without exchanging bodily fluids.

I have always had a strong commitment to educating individuals and groups about safer sex, including but not limited to STI prevention, pregnancy prevention, consensual activities and emotional safety. As I continue to educate people about the spectrum of sexuality, I will keep including discussions about safer sex practices (including barriers and transmission prevention) for people of all genders and orientations, and also continue my commitment to distribute dams and gloves in addition to the more traditional condoms and lube freebies often provided. Please read and re-post/forward/desseminate the below press release if you believe the positive aspects of sex education, and refuse to condone the slanderous accusations put forth towards us.

-Shanna Katz, M.Ed

For Immediate Release
Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

Contact: ?Megan Andelloux

Contact: Aida Manduley

In yet another attempt to shut down access to quality sex education, South-Eastern New England conservative advocates hit the sex panic button in a multi-state, email and phone campaign to colleges all over New England last week.

On February 3rd and 4th , certified sexuality educator and sexologist Megan Andelloux (AASECT, ACS) received word that numerous colleges and university faculty received a document stating that colleges who brought sex educators such as Ms. Andelloux onto their campuses were linked to the increasing rate of transmission of HIV in RI. Furthermore, among other misleading “facts” that were “cited,” the author of this bulletin claimed that Brown University was facing an HIV crisis, which is false.

Citizens Against Trafficking, the face behind the fear-mongering, spammed numerous local institutions from a University of Rhode Island account with its latest malicious missive that targeted specific individuals as well as Brown University. The author of the letter, Margaret Brooks, an Economics Professor at Bridgewater State, suggested that colleges and universities that host sexuality speakers, including those who are professionally accredited, are partly to blame for the four new cases of HIV which have been diagnosed amongst RI college students this year.

Ms. Andelloux states: “My heart goes out to those students who have recently tested positive for HIV. However, there is no evidence of any link between campus presentations on sexual issues and the spike in HIV cases. Rather, I would suggest that this demonstrates a need for more high-quality sex education to college students.“ It is unclear why people at URI or Citizens Against Trafficking, a coalition to combat all forms of human trafficking, is attempting to stop adults from accessing sexual information from qualified, trained educators. What is certain however, is that this Professor of Economics miscalculated her suggestion that a correlation exists between increased HIV rates in Rhode Island and the type of sex education these speakers provided at Brown University: one that emphasized accurate information, risk-reduction, pleasure, and health.

Barrier methods have been shown by the CDC to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Research has shown that when individuals have access to medically accurate information, are aware of sexual risk reduction methods, and have access to learn about sexual health, the number of infections and transmission of STIs decreases, pain during sex decreases, and condom use increases. The CAT circulated bulletin is blatantly misleading about many issues, and often omits information that is crucial to understanding the full picture of sex education at Brown and in Rhode Island.

When individuals who do not hold any background in sexuality education speak out in opposition because of their fear or prejudice, society becomes rooted in outdated beliefs and pseudo-science that do injustice to people everywhere. Furthermore, when those individuals personally and publicly attack those devoted to providing sex education with false and misinformed accusations, it not only hurts those who are defamed, but also the community at large.

We ask for an immediate retraction of the vilifying and inaccurate statements made by Ms. Margaret Brooks and Citizens Against Trafficking in their latest newsletter. We also ask that esteemed local universities such as URI and Bridgewater State continue to hold their employees to ethical standards of normal scientific inquiry and require that their faculty hold some modicum of expertise in a field of education before raising the public level of panic over it.

Megan Andelloux is available to answer any questions the press, Margaret Brooks, University of Rhode Island or Citizens Against Trafficking holds. Aida Manduley, the Chair of Brown University’s Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council and Brown University’s is available to discuss the upcoming Sex Week and sexuality workshops held at Brown University.

Megan Andelloux, AASECT, ACS
Shanna Katz, M.Ed
Reid Mihalko
Aida Manduley