This week we seemed to have a blue-light special on STD testing. Sigh. I always feel terrible when someone comes to me worrying that they may have a sexually transmitted disease. Even worse is when I suspect they may have an STD and the idea hasn’t even crossed their mind.
Whether they say it out loud or not, I always see the question in their eyes. “Is my STD my fault?”
Most of the time the answer is YES.
Let me step back from that statement for a minute to clarify. When a patient has an STD there’s a difference between BLAMING someone and JUDGING someone (i.e. seeing them as a bad PERSON), and seeing the illness as the natural consequence of a bad CHOICE.
In the vast majority of cases, STDs are the consequence of an unhealthy decision. Everyone knows you can get STDs because your spouse cheated on you. If someone has promised to have sex with no one but you for the rest of their life, and they cheat, that is NOT your fault.
Outside of that, you trust someone at your own peril. There’s a management saying: “Trust but verify.” One would do well to apply this idea to sexual activity.
I recognize the reality of the society we live in. Relationships rarely last. Even marriages end in divorce about 50% of the time.
However, when 80% of sexually active women in their teens and twenties will contract an STD and it’s so common we don’t even test for it and just assume it’s there, there’s a problem with the culturally accepted norm of sexual promiscuity.
Having sex with multiple partners is UNHEALTHY.
Having sex with someone before you know their STD status is UNHEALTHY.
Having sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs is UNHEALTHY.
Trading sex for drugs or money is pretty much the definition of UNHEALTHY.
So having said all that, what’s a girl or guy to do? First of all, we need to start with some basic facts.
YOU are worth the effort to stay safe and healthy. Your body is precious and worth the time and effort to keep it safe, healthy and protected from threats of all sorts.
When you recognize that no one is responsible for your health but YOU, it is very empowering. It takes you from being a victim (Look what s/he did to me!) to being in control of your life and your body. I made a bad choice, but now I can make different choices to respect and protect my body and keep it healthy.
If you are dating someone new, it is healthy and shows good self-respect to wait for sex until you know the relationship is going to last. (I know, I’m hopelessly old-fashioned.)
If you’re sure the relationship is solid, talk to your partner about their sexual history and ask him or her to go with you to get an STD test. Be frank about your expectations – if you’re going to have sex, you expect to be their only partner for as long as you’re together.
I know this type of conversation is HIGHLY unromantic and can be uncomfortable. However, if you’re mature enough and the relationship is solid enough for sex, it’s a conversation that needs to happen.
If you are the person sitting nearly naked in the doctor’s office wondering “How did this happen?!” I want you to understand something. Even though the answer to the question “Is my STD my fault?” might be YES, that’s a good and hopeful thing.
It means you are NOT a victim, and can keep it from happening to you ever again.