Every now and then, you may find yourself with a new sexual partner who asks you, “are you clean?” You brush it off immediately, almost defensively, by telling them that you are. Yet, you don’t really know the answer. You haven’t been tested in a while. You keep finding excuses to go. You convince yourself that you’re healthy or that it doesn’t matter. You don’t care. You think you’re better off not dealing with it, being emotionally detached. You do care, though. Of course you do.
Sometimes it starts to get the best of you. The not knowing seems less daunting than knowing. But is it? You think about all of the people you’ve been with and your imagination goes wild at the possible STDs you may have been exposed to. Now you convince yourself that you may not be so clean. You’re paranoid. You assume the worst. You start diagnosing yourself on WebMD. Your mind floods with fear and anxiety of a world that you do not know, a life that is different, and a you that is now dirty.
You don’t want to know. So you stay in this place because it’s comfortable and warm and familiar to you. And you don’t want that to change. You also think that treatment is difficult to find. That it costs a lot. You also worry about being judged: judged by your doctor, your friends, your family; judged for your sexuality, your behavior, your promiscuity. But most of all, you worry about judging yourself.
You forget that a lot of people go through this. You forget that everyone has sex. You forget that, therefore, many people in your life have been exposed to an STD. And that, probably, most of them have gone through some sort of STD scare. You forget because no one talks about it. Sometimes even your close friends don’t talk about it. And as a result, you may not realize that most STDs are easily treatable, if you go and get the treatment.
April is STD Awareness Month, and the only way to spread awareness about something is to talk about it – which is what I’m here for, I guess.
Did you know that Louisiana is #1 for Syphilis and Gonorrhea in the country and #3 for Chlamydia? And did you know that Syphilis and Chlamydia are actually easily treatable, but if left untreated could lead to permanent damage to the nervous system? Did you also know that gay and bisexual men in particular account for 74% of primary and secondary cases of Syphilis?
Well, programs such as the Gay Men’s Wellness Center, a new project through NO/AIDS Task Force funded by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, love talking about this stuff. They offer a wide range of services which includes free STD testing and treatment for gay and bisexual men (free – as in no insurance needed, no co-pay, nothing). They also have a rapid HIV test that takes only 20 minutes to get the results. And, on top of that, they offer events and workshops promoting health for the LGBTQ population and providing a community where all of this is normal. Oh yeah, and the people who work there are awesome.
They’re making STD-talk synonymous with small talk. They’re making it comfortable to chat about sex without shame or fear of judgment, specifically for sexual minorities in the city who may have trouble doing so. They’re ridding the negative stigma that comes along with being sexually active, while still promoting safe practices and making it easy to get tested.
Through open conversation, such programs are changing the way we perceive STDs, others, and, more importantly, ourselves. So spread the word. And let’s talk about sex, baby.
For more information about the Gay Men’s Wellness Center, read more here.
Joey Albanese writes about the twenty-something generation in New Orleans for NolaVie. Send him questions or tell him the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.