Modern Manners + Etiquette: Talking About STDs + HIV
Monday, June 06, 2011
If we the grownups don't know how to talk about STDs and HIV, how are we to protect our young adult children? We're not talking about head lice here, and it's more than just the birds and the bees. With HIV, we're talking about a worldwide disease that has infected 60 million people—half of whom are dead. What's important is talking about the fact that as the world's population continues to grow, so does the sexually transmitted disease epidemic—and there's no consensus as to how to handle disclosure.
The hidden epidemic
As parents, counselors, teachers, coaches, doctors, homeopathy doctors, nurse practitioners, writers, editors, journalists, guidance counselors, or therapists, we are not only advisors, but role models responsible for discussing
Not to be overlooked, is genital human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. There are over 40 types of HPV and most of those infected don't know they have it; some strains even infect the mouth and throat. Dare we neglect to tell them about genital herpes and the fact that those infected have no or minimal signs of infection. In the US, one in six of the population between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with genital herpes. We won't even go into gonorrhea (which is very common and can have none or mild symptoms, yet both women and men can become infertile), and then there's lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), a bacterial infection in the lymph nodes. Even the rate of primary and secondary syphilis that was in decline until 2005, has increased 59% in the past four years.
Starting the conversation
Q So how do you warn someone that if they have sex with you they might become infected with one of the above?
A You ask them: Have you ever dated anyone who has had an STD? Then tell your status.
In the heat of the night, it might sound like an instant mood breaker, which is why you would discuss your sexual history before the night gets too hot.
How to advise young adults? The surest way to avoid transmission of STDs and HIV is to abstain from intercourse, or be in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is not known to be infected. It is realistic to also say that: Used consistently and correctly, latex condoms for men and women can lower the risk of transmission a tiny bit, if the condom is worn from the beginning to the end of the sexual activity. For more information, go to the Division of STD Prevention (DSTDP) and HIV at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Let's reiterate that we need everyone involved to talk about their sexual health before having sex. Think of it this way, if you're intimate enough to have sex with the person, you're intimate enough to ask about the last time they were tested, and disclose your own status.
Since there is no consensus as to exactly what to say, the etiquette (which isn't carved in stone either) that's evolving is about how-to have “the talk.” There is most definitely the need to start the conversation and continue the conversation until HIV and STDs disappear, like polio. Before anyone gets too hot and too bothered for distraction, please, say, “Have you ever been tested?” Or, if the person is a bit older, “How often do to you get tested?” If that seems distrusting, then offer information yourself, tell the person when you were last tested and your current status. Think of getting tested as a badge of courage, which anyone can do at a clinic anonymously, for a nominal fee.
When was the last time you were tested?
Didi Lorillard answers questions on all matters of relationships, manners and etiquette on NewportManners.com, however, please, no medical questions. After reading her previous golocalProv columns listed below, you can find Didi on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
- Modern Manners + Etiquette: Cheating
- Modern Manners + Etiquette: Sharing Household Chores
- Modern Manners + Etiquette: Bystander Behavior
- Modern Manners + Etiquette: Unwanted Internet Advances
- Modern Manners + Etiquette: Telling It Like It Isn’t