The weather's warming up, and cuffing season is coming to a close. You're getting ready to put yourself out there and swipe right on new people, but you're scared shitless because reported STDs were at an all-time high in the US in 2015. So, what's a single person to do?
Sex educator of seven years Haylin Belay, 23 (yes, she's been involved in healthy-sex-practice discourse since she was 16), coordinates the Just Ask Me peer sex ed program at Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation in New York, where she trains teen health educators to work with middle schoolers in age-appropriate programs. Here, Haylin gives us her take on how to talk your way into and out of the most awkward of subjects this summer.
First, know your own status for chrissakes.
Even if you've been stringent about using condoms, there are a lot of STIs that can spread via skin to skin contact, such as genital herpes and HPV. Also, accidents happen: A condom can break or genitals can come into contact if you're rubbing all on each other before wrapping up. A fun fact to keep up you up at night is that a common STI symptom is actually no symptom. So stay informed and keep your partner(s) informed. There are some STIs that you can get treated for and forget about in a few weeks (chlamydia and gonorrhea for example, since antibiotics mostly still work on them now) and there are others that can compromise fertility or your immune system if left untreated, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
Then bring it up, whatever that status is.
In that case, it's your responsibility to let your partner know so they can make an informed decision. For example, if you have HPV, you can say, "I want to use condoms because I had an abnormal pap recently and I don't wanna spread HPV." Or you can bring it up in the context of STI tests: "Hey, I just got tested in March—when was your last time?" The best way to go is straightforward, and do it before things go too far. The other person might even appreciate it: There are a lot of people who have had bad sex ed or immature attitudes about sex out there, and you're going to have to arm yourself to combat that, and they might actually be glad they're being taken along for the responsible ride.
When asking about someone's status, I find that it's often less awkward if you reveal something about yourself first. If you think you're going to have sex that night, I think it's safe to say something like, "The type of protection I want to use is a condom because I've had XYZ in the past—how about you?" Or, "Hey, my last STI test was X amount of time ago and I came up clean, how about you?" It can seem intimidating, but being up front communicates to your partner that you're responsible and you care.
Be prepared with what you do and don't want to expose yourself to.
In a perfect world, everyone would have that conversation with a partner prior to sex, but it's hard in our current hookup culture. If you have a clean bill of health, do your research on what risks you're taking when you have sex with someone. If you choose not to use barrier methods for oral sex, like dental dams or condoms, it's your responsibility to know what you're putting yourself at risk for. That way, you can make an informed decision, and at the very least decide if you feel comfortable with the risk of contracting whatever you might possibly contract.
To say that sex with a condom is just as good is a bald-faced lie. But as you also know, no amount of pleasure makes the health risks worth it. There's a lot of people who either have issues with condoms, or say they do because they don't want to use them. But if you're not in a monogamous relationship or you don't have a clean STI test from him or her, I'd be firm about your boundaries. It's not worth it to forgo protection. There's lots of other non-penetrative activities you can do that won't put either party at the same risk, such as mutual masturbation.
FYI, having an STI doesn't exempt you from getting to have casual sex.
You can still have the sex life you want—it just means doing it in a different way. You have to be up-front and honest, and you may even have to re-negotiate the spaces in which you meet sexual partners. So, while it's maybe not so safe anymore to have anonymous hookups in the bathroom of a club, you can meet sexual partners in contexts where there's more time to build up the conversation and say some of the above things. And TBH, that's a pretty solid sexual strategy regardless of your STI status. There are also dating sites for people with specific STIs, or ones that give you the opportunity to include any you may have in your profile (which, yea, is bold but maybe kind of great). You can still have the sex life you want and still take care of the people around you.
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