Treat Me Right, the 2018 CDC slogan for April’s Sexual Health Awareness Month, pretty much sums it up! As a center focusing on sexual health, pregnancy and healthy relationships, these selected taglines can serve as reminders for us to pause and ask ourselves a few deep questions:

  • Are my relationships healthy?
  • Do my sexual choices fulfill my relationship needs (emotional, social, and physical)?
  • Do I find freedom and empowerment in my choices or have I given over control?

A portion of the CDC campaign focuses on the relationship between patients and the individuals/entities they seek out to properly detect and treat infections. Another focus is the importance of honesty with your provider, and tips on how to develop a strong and truthful patient/provider relationship. This includes essential questions to ask annually, how to find a provider who is a good fit for your needs, the plethora of available resources, and most importantly, the fact that your individual health matters!

Treat me right, I matter

STDs are at record highs across the country and rates of gonorrhea and syphilis have been increasing annually at a double digit pace. In Sheboygan County alone, an 18% increase in reported cases was observed between 2015 and 2016. The alarming article published by JS Online in early March reporting an HIV/syphilis cluster in Milwaukee County should make us stop and consider our sexual health choices.

Yes, you really do matter

How do we get to a point where STD data from our communities continues to rise at alarming rates? This is not new news. Numeric values change but trends demonstrating increased STIs surfaced well over 20 years ago (even longer). What in our human nature drives us to engage in behavior resulting in these trends? After all, people make up trends. The CDC numbers and data from the state and county reflect the people facing a sexually transmitted infection or disease. Every data point is a person, not a number.

One group sums up the solution in the 3 Ts: Talk, Test, and Treat. Is that the answer? Will more talking (and listening) followed by testing and treating, when necessary, decrease or even hold at bay the onslaught of STIs seen in our communities?

Could it be that we are asking the wrong questions? Are we looking to fill a deeper need common to humanity, and trying to fill a void by believing what culture, marketing, the media, and others have to say about our sexuality? These influencers would have us believe the physical act of sex alone (no strings, no worries, etc.) is enough to fill that void.

We’ve all been there – well most of us have. We have a desire to know and be known by another. We seek to fill an emptiness inside, a type of loneliness, a longing for intimacy and soon we find this desire becomes a behavior. Later, we realize the behavior has become a pattern or way of life. This pattern has the power to convince us to lay aside or compromise ultimate life goals, lower personal standards of integrity, allow others to influence our self-identity and self-worth, and much more. All for sex?

A healthier, happier you

As we observe the #STDMonth18, perhaps focusing on the ‘I Matter’ portion of the CDC message has the strongest potential impact on reducing the STI epidemic? Testing IS important! Treatment IS necessary! Great relationships with our health care providers ARE essential! Knowing the available resources in our communities WILL help!

All of these recommendations are good! However, starting with a strong conviction that I MATTER may have the greatest potential to impact individuals and their choices. Restoring value to individuals and encouraging healthy choices may be an option to begin turning trends around. It is worth considering.