A tough situation we deal with in now and then in direct service is this: a user comes in, and reports having contracted an STI; a user who also isn’t a first-time user of our site or services, and who, in a previous conversation with us about pregnancy risks, blew off also talking about STIs and safer sex and turned down help we offered to them to reduce their STI risks, not just pregnancy risks.
When this happens, a person like this will usually be very upset about having contracted an STI, often angry, and even mystified about how this happened to them. Of course, we’re rarely mystified and also are not usually surprised this happened, since we already identified risks of STIs when we were talking with them in the past, which is why we brought the importance of safer sex up with them in the first place.
This is one of those things where there’s no joy or pride in being right: it stinks to be right about someone getting any kind of illness and being unhappy. Even though the majority of STIs are treatable, many of our users are not contracting HIV, but the other, less deadly STIs, and have access to healthcare and treatment, and even though most feelings of upset with an STI are happening based more on social stigma than from serious, long-term health outcomes, we would greatly prefer our users didn’t have to suffer needless distress and fear, and that they avoid any kind of illness that can be avoided.
It’s frustrating for us when we know a user had an opportunity they refused to get more information about and help with safer sex; when they could have changed their habits before so they would’ve most likely avoided an STI entirely, since most of the time with most STIs, safer sex practices are highly effective at preventing STI transmission.
Even more frustrating is that sometimes, some of the users in situations like these still aren’t interested in prevention help, and clearly still aren’t going to rethink and change their habits. So then we have to know they’ll probably transmit or contract the same STI or another in the future. Even with treatment, that really can, and often does, take a toll on our personal health and well-being, and certainly takes a big toll on the public health.
Like most public health organizations and people who work in sexual health and aim to try and improve it for everyone, we really want to change this pattern. We also know this is an ongoing challenge, and something where we all just have to keep talking, keep trying, and keep seeing if we can’t come up with new or adjusted approaches in order to help people do better with safer sex. That’s what I’m trying to do today. This isn’t a finger-wag, a scold or an I-told-you-so, but an attempt to, together with you, I hope, just work on doing this better.
Today, before I suggest some things that might help you improve your safer sex practices, I want to specifically address two of the biggest players I often see in these situations: either when someone has been in a relationship for a while, and/or when condoms, which were often once used as contraception as well as safer sex, are replaced as a contraception method by other methods, like the pill or a Depo shot.
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.