When it comes to your sex life, savvy is sexy.
At some point in your life, you’ve heard about STDs - hopefully during a comprehensive sex-ed seminar as opposed to late-night television, movies, or some derisive media slam at an upcoming starlet. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely the case. As a result, most people unwittingly see themselves as being immune to the risk of an STD. That sort of thing only happen to certain kinds of people - and maybe porn star - right?
Wrong. As someone who's never viewed herself as "that kind of person" and who’s not so much as even tried to tape any of her private sexual forays (yet), I can assure you that STDs (genital herpes in my case) happen to all kinds of people. What might surprise you even more is that they don’t always indicate the end of a healthy sex life either. (Read more about Jenelle in Honey, I Have Herpes.)
Here's another thing you may not know. While you should do everything you can to prevent being infected, STDs are not always 100 percent avoidable - at least not if you want to have sex. Men cannot be tested for HPV (outside of being diagnosed based on visual symptoms), and typical STD tests for both sexes usually only include three or four of the more common STDs: syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV. That sounds comprehensive, until you find out that according to the World Health Organization, there are more than 30 different sexually transmissible bacteria, viruses and parasites, many of which do not present noticeable symptoms.
I'm not trying to freak you out. What I'm getting at is that STDs can be unknowingly transmitted or contracted by anyone who's sexually active, whether they engage in vaginal, anal or oral sex. Here's why - and what that means for you.
More than 6 million people acquire HPV each year, and by age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired a genital HPV infection. Did you know that if you’ve had an abnormal pap smear, it was most likely the result of an HPV infection?
I'll bet you didn't. But the questions is, why didn’t you know this?
Most people with HPV do not develop noticeable symptoms, and there’s an incredible stigma attached to identifying an abnormal pap smear as an STD, so most doctors don’t communicate the specifics. They tell you it’s common, it’s generally nothing to worry about, and you either schedule an additional procedure to remove abnormal cells or another pap smear three to six months sooner than usual to ensure the infection has not progressed.
And those are just statistics for HPV. It’s no wonder overall STD statistics are so staggering.
In fact, it's been estimated that as many as one in five Americans has genital herpes, a lifelong (but manageable) infection. Ninety percent of them have no idea; they have no symptoms. Unfortunately, they can still transmit the virus. Some experts take it even further, estimating that more than 50 million adults in the U.S. are living with genital herpes, a number that's growing by a rate of 1.6 million new infections each year. Based on those numbers, up to 40 percent of all men and half of all women could be infected by 2025.
Your best bet is to amp up your sexual health knowledge (you’re already reading Kinkly, so, you’re halfway there) and get smart about how to have safer sex. This includes:
The statistics about STDs can be scary, but the worst thing you can do is ignore them. When it comes to your sex life, savvy is sexy.
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Jenelle Marie is the founder and executive director of The STD Project, an award-winning, independent website geared toward removing the stigma associated with contracting an STD and living with an STD by encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. You can also look for her E-Book, "The Relationship Survival Guide to Living with an STD" available in early 2013. Full Bio
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