Safe Sex Can (Still) Save the World!

27 09 2010

At my very small liberal arts college in the late ’80s/early ’90s, talk of safe sex had just begun, trailing the growing HIV/AIDS crisis as public education efforts often do.

They weren’t yet handing out condoms in the student union, but our resident advisors regularly counseled us to “be safe,” and we were given plenty of bananas on which to practice our condom unrolling skills.

Out in the real world (beyond our college campus), movies like Long Time Companion, as well as the touring AIDS quilt were like a Scared Straight (as it were) for college sexual behavior.

Early commercials portrayed AIDS as a death sentence, and they were petrifying performances that had many of us reaching for condoms long before we had a sexual partner.

Fast forward two decades—the picture of HIV/AIDS has changed dramatically, both in terms of survivability and perceived risk of infection. While HIV infection rates continue to grow (approximately 56,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the U.S.),    HIV infection has now become a chronic condition for many.

Today’s commercials are less scary, with ads like this one emphasizing making the right choice (using condoms) during sex:

Once people started surviving AIDS, safe sex lost its immediacy, with a character like the “safe sex angel” now signifying a switch to a lighter, breezier approach.

Also, the fact that condom use and other safer sex behaviors reduce one’s chance of infection with a life-altering STI like gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, or HPV is often barely acknowledged in public awareness campaigns, although it should be trumpeted loud and often.  Safe sex isn’t just about HIV prevention.

The misperception that the AIDS crisis is past has allowed many people to back away from safer sex practices that could save their lives. Everywhere, there are indications that safe sex isn’t what it used to be. In Britain, an HIV+ pop star recently admitted to having unprotected sex. and a recent study found that many young gay men (a population at extreme risk for HIV infection) admitted to having unprotected sex with other men.

Studies show that at least 200,000 people are infected with HIV in the U.S. and don’t know it. According to news reports, those most likely to receive a late diagnosis of HIV and to die from AIDS are adults over 50.

HIV leads to AIDS and death, if left untreated. And there is no such thing as safe sex.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that safe sex is a thing of the past.  You can protect yourself from needless infection and chronic health complications by following these simple steps. And as parents, we need to practice what we preach:





Not My Teenager! Right?

26 02 2010

Sometimes I hate reality. I have a teenage girl and I don’t want to think about STIs, but, I also don’t want to risk her health.

Turns out, teenage girls aren’t getting screened early enough for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re getting infected and passing that infection on to their partners.

Recommendations based on recent studies are to screen girls within a year of their first sexual experience.  If they have an STI, they should be retested every three to four months until they become infection-free.

Prevention strategies include early sex education and routine HPV vaccination for 11 and 12 year olds.

One study examined rates of sexually transmitted infections occurring among girls in U.S. cities.  The study found that half of these teenagers had at least one of three common STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis) within the first two years of becoming sexually active.

The study also reported that in 25% of cases, the girls became re-infected with the same STI within four to six months of completing treatment.  Seventy-five percent of the girls reported receiving treatment for at least one more STI during the two years that followed their first infection.  Four years after getting their first STI diagnosis, 92% of the girls had experienced at least one additional STI.

Another study examined a group of 838 girls aged 14-19 and found that 24% of them had had at least one of five common STIs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus type 2, and human papillomavirus).

Among those girls who admitted to being sexually experienced, the rate of past or present STI infection was 37.7%.  The study also confirmed that for these girls, the STI infection often occurred within the first year of becoming sexually active.  Twenty percent of girls who reported only one partner in their lifetime reported they’d had an infection.

Do you have a daughter?  Talk to her about STIs and how to prevent infection.  Do it even if you think she will not have sex before marriage.  Do it even if she’s already sexually active. If she is active, get her screened for infection so that treatment can be given, should it be necessary.

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Keep Our Kids Safe

5 05 2009

Abstaining from sex is a good way not to get a sexually transmitted infection.

To get through life without any such infections, there are two choices: never have sex – ever, or never have sex except with a partner who has never had sex with anyone else, and never will.

give them the info they need to stay safe

give them the info they need to stay safe

As parents, it’s hard for us to think about our children growing up and becoming intimate with anyone, but, giving them narrow choices such as are described above is risky.  Most of our teens and young adults want to heed our wishes and even, occasionally, our rules, but there are few perfectly obedient people in this world.

Rather than risking our children’s lives by assuming they will only do as we say, the safer choice seems to be arming our children with as much knowledge about disease prevention as possible, while continuing to share our values and beliefs.

To protect them, we tell them what we want, what we expect, and why, but we include the information they need to stay as safe as possible, should they make risky choices.  Better they know how to have safe sex but not need the information, than need the info and not have it.