Let's talk STIs
STIs. It's one of those topics that people just find difficult to talk about. Between the judgement that people with STIs can encounter, the shame they can feel, and the way society laughs at anyone who has one, it's really hard to address.
STIs have been on the rise every year in America. Some, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, can lead to infertility if untreated. Some STIs, like herpes and HPV, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
And while there's a tendency to associate STIs with rashes, itching, or sores, they can often present with no symptoms at all. Given that, the stigma associated with having an STI can literally put people at risk. Allow me to explain:
Mary is a high school student who has sexual contact with her boyfriend Peter. She and Peter have each had relationships before where they've fooled around with their partners. Because they know each other's exes they believe that they are in a closed circle where they're safe from STIs. This can lead them not to use protection. But Mary and Peter don't know who each of those exes has had contact with, and on and on. They are so sure that they're protected from STIs that they would never think of getting tested. This puts them at a high risk in the case of asymptomatic infection.
So now let's say Peter finds out he has an STI. The stigma of having the infection can prevent him from telling his current, previous, or future partners. And if he does tell people, he may blame Mary, who will then be ostracized. But Mary is no more to blame for getting an STI and sharing it than Peter or anyone else in their circle.
Back to Peter. He's decided to be responsible and notify all of his previous partners. Some won't take his call. Some think he's gross for talking about STIs. Some are so caught up in the notion of stigma that they won't bring themselves to get tested.
But this scenario of handling an infection is only possible for people who have been educated about STIs. And in our community there seems to be a concern that by educating our children about safe sexual practices, which includes STI testing, we're giving them the okay to have sex.
I've taught my children proper wound care, what to do in case of an emergency landing on a plane, and how to safely escape the house in case of a fire, chas v'shalom. Not one time has their response been "Great, now let's actively create that situation!"
When it comes to sexuality and Judaism, I don't just talk to my kids about safe practices. I talk to them about halacha, my personal values, and what I've learned from life experience. I know, though, that while I have my preferences I don't control their choices or their behavior. Whether they'll need this knowledge or they'll have friends who need this knowledge, I'd rather send kids out into the world armed to make good choices. STI education is a fundamental part of that, even as I raise them to be shomer negiah.