In our news story this week, “Let’s talk about sex, seriously” on page 8, we delve into the changing world of sex and STDs locally. We report that the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases in Ventura County has been on the rise over the last several years, from chlamydia to HIV, specifically in women ages 17-29. Robert Levin, health officer at Ventura County Public Health, said the two main reasons for this are: 1. Unprotected sex (not using barrier prophylactics/condoms), and 2. The increased chances in finding casual sex partners through websites and applications.
When it comes to sex, too many parents and leaders in our communities are acting as if they just got off the ship of Puritan ideals. Somehow, we figure our teenagers will just be “good” and wait until marriage or perhaps learn about safe sex in school. But the problems are, schools don’t teach comprehensive sex education, not enough parents are being frank with their children about sex, and young people are having sex, so sexually transmitted diseases are being passed around.
Adina Nack, Ph.D., professor of gender and women’s studies at Cal Lutheran University and author of Damaged Goods? Women Living with Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases, makes a great point in the news story:
“As my research and book illustrate, the psychological and social consequences of STD infections are often more severe than the physiological realities. Due to the gendered double standard of sexual morality, STD stigma impacts women more negatively than men with regards to depression, anxiety, social ostracism and feeling that they are ‘damaged goods’ with regards to hopes of finding true love, marriage, and becoming biological parents. The realities are that destigmatizing STDs will likely improve the mental health and social well-being of millions of infected women and men — and will also lead to lower transmission rates, because STD stigma can increase infected individuals’ being in denial and/or failing to disclose their contagious infection to current and future sexual partners.”
When looking at STD statistics on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the data is a bit startling. While it comes really as no surprise that the numbers have fluctuated over the last 50 years, with so many changes in cultural norms, the fact that we have seen a steady rise nationally in the number of cases in the last 10 years for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, despite what we know about sex and practicing it safely, it’s disheartening. Further, these figures are proof that the abstinence-only movement over the last decade works for most people only in theory. We need to understand our sexuality rather than repress it, lest we want more of the same.
Now is the time for a reality check. If you are a parent with a child coming of age, talk to him or her not just about healthy and meaningful relationships, but also, perhaps more importantly, about the importance of safe sex. If you are a young adult engaging in casual sex, it’s so simple: Use a condom. It’s unfortunate that young sexually active adults haven’t adopted this as the standard in their relationships with multiple partners. If you are sexually active and choose not to use condoms, then get tested regularly. Ventura County Public Health offers several testing and treatment options. For those who understand their sexuality and choose to engage in whatever best suits them, be safe, for yourself and others. As a society with nearly unlimited information on sexuality, we have no excuses for being irresponsible.
For more information on Ventura County Public Health STD testing and treatment options, call 981-5101 or go to www.vchca.org/public-health.