Throughout ASHA’s history – and especially during Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Awareness Month – we’ve focused on the “nuts and bolts” of education and prevention: STIs are at epidemic levels, you should use condoms, get tested, and so on.
Sexual health is a mixed bag, though: STIs are there, but emotional, social and cultural elements are also in the game. So is pleasure. They all overlap and each impacts the others. There is so much more to a good sexual health discussion than “wear a rubber and if you didn’t, well, then everybody go pee in a cup and get a blood test.” With that in mind, earlier this year ASHA launched new online and print resources that address these topics (and more) that are all a part of being healthy, happy, and sexually fulfilled. Let’s look at a few key points.
One size definitely doesn’t fit all. We change over life’s course, naturally, and so do our sexual health needs. Individuals need resources tailored to their age. Teens grapple with awkward new feelings and rapid changes to their bodies. Newly single older adults may need help jumping back into the dating pool and might think of safer sex primarily in terms of birth control, not STIs. Effective prevention programs and education should be tailored to fit our unique needs that shift along the lifespan.
Relationship dynamics. Good, caring relationships – whether straight or same-sex – have immense value and should be cherished. We must remain mindful that inequality and imbalances of power, both in society and relationships, can absolutely harm sexual health. For example, it can be tough for women to negotiate condom use with a man if she depends on him for support. Strong, long-term gay and lesbian relationships are too often not encouraged or supported, and generally have limited means of becoming legally validated or recognized. Ultimately, this all harms individuals and society.
Having an STI doesn’t mean you aren’t sexually healthy. Too often we think of those with STIs as damaged goods. Well, if that’s true then it applies to nearly all of us. The vast majority of those who are sexually active will have an STI at some point in their lives (as many as 80% are thought to contract HPV alone!). Most cases of STIs can be managed and steps can be taken to reduce the risks to partners. STIs should not be a source of shame or embarrassment, and even incurable infections (such as HIV) are not the end of someone’s sex life. The key is education and communication supported by the right treatment options for each case.
Visit our new web pages to learn more about sexual health and good relationships. No matter who you are or where you might be in the life cycle, we’ve worked hard to develop resources that’ll speak to you as an individual. I’d also love to hear from you if you have ideas or suggestions.
Fred Wyand (aka Fredo)
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