According to Healthline.com (and others), April is STD Awareness Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness (and Prevention) Month. That makes April a great time to start a conversation about sexual choices, risk factors, partner selection, and the relationship between our sexuality and overall health and wellness.
In the restroom of a local coffee shop there is a beautifully decorated basket filled with snack-size Ziplock baggies containing a variety FREE colored condoms. The marketers of condoms are genius in their approach and have done their homework. The condoms come in bright, colorful blue and green hues, conveying qualities such as trust and nature. The signage on the basket reads, “Safe sex is the best sex.” That sounds reassuring and hopeful and, ‘safe’ as implied in the catchy slogan (I guess?).
What defines safe sex? The implication from the above marketing technique is that by taking the condoms and using them properly (instructions were included) along with getting tested (a GYT business card is also included in the baggie) thereby protecting your sexual health.
Is this message true and is it working? Health surveillance data indicates the “safe sex free condom message” is not working as well as stated. In light of the fact that the CDC Condom Fact Sheet gives caution regarding the myth of ‘absolute protection against any STD’ provided through condom usage, rethinking the “unlimited sex condom message” is in order.
The CDC, as well as state and local health departments, remind us of the shockingly high and continually rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Sadly, society’s youngest sexually active individuals bear the greatest weight with the highest infection rates.
Some blame funding, lack of adequate health care, education, and decline in condom usage, to name a few, as root causes associated with the rapid increase in STDs. But blame is harsh, negative, and truly ineffective. By changing the conversation to controllable aspects of sexual health, both on an individual level and a community level, perhaps a shift can be made to a healthier community. Empowerment, personal choices, and individual ownership and control over our sexual choices may be a better path to a healthier sexuality and a healthier community.
Sexual Risk Avoidance
Many aspects of daily life are associated with risk. For example, car insurance protects us from accidents resulting from road conditions, the mistakes of other drivers and our own mistakes, like texting while driving. (I am not recommending that – by the way.) Home owners insurance is not only a required part of a mortgage but it also brings peace of mind to home owners. These and similar tools are associated with risk management and risk avoidance which protect our valuables and our loved ones.
Where do our bodies fit into this paradigm and how many of us hold our overall health as a thing of value? Tom Brady is a great example of an individual owning his personal health responsibility and living a remarkably disciplined life through diet, exercise, electrolyte balance and other things beyond the average lay person’s understanding. His goal is preserving his health, allowing him to compete in a competitive arena against much younger and stronger athletes. Much can be learned from his example and the example of others about owning our own health, whether referring to general health or sexual health.
Ownership of our sexual health risk is more attainable than most of us care to admit. It also comes with responsibility which begins with awareness. Awareness begins with education, followed by application of the information. Empowering individuals with accurate information encourages better choices. Regarding individual sexual health and avoiding or decreasing the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, there are behaviors (controllable factors) that significantly reduce infection rates. These controllable factors include limiting the number of sexual partners, increased age of first sexual experience, regular testing of self and potential partners (BEFORE sexual activity), use of barrier methods, and others.
This is a hard truth, but there are at least 2 proven methods to absolutely avoid contracting an STD. They are abstaining from sex altogether (horrifying words like celibacy and abstinence) or by having an exclusive sexual relationship with an uninfected partner (notice singular). Realistically, most people live between these 2 realities, reducing risk and totally avoiding risk.
The point is this – for years a message of “safe sex” (which is code for “condom usage”) has been viewed as the answer to decreasing STDs and improving the sexual health within our communities. Data indicates this simply has not worked. Maybe it’s time we all take larger stock in our personal ownership of control and the power we have to make healthy choices regarding our own sexual health and our overall wellness and wholeness.
You can start a path to better health and protection by making an appointment for free STD testing and treatment at Anchor of Hope Health Center.