Undoing the ‘STIgma’ Around Sexual Health and Men

Talking about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STI) can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, and to that end, the responses to these topics often include judgment and combatting the uncomfortableness with humor. But often, for those who have been diagnosed with an STI, seeing the judgmental reactions of others can lead to stigmatizing and negative side effects, and there really is no logical reason to stigmatize STIs. Being proactive about one’s sexual health is incredibly powerful and healthy, as having STIs diagnosed early leads to prompt treatment and often cure.

Here are seven things to know about STIs and Sexual Health:

1. STIs are very common and they can happen to anyone.

  • North Dakotans in all walks of life, from all corners of the state, are diagnosed with STIs each year. It’s also likely that many more go undiagnosed. The American Sexual Health Association states that half (yes, look left, look right) of all sexually active people will contract an STI by the time they are 25.
  • You can check out STI trends for your area here.

2. Don’t have symptoms? You could still be infected and infectious to your partner(s).

  • For most people, and especially men, symptoms are often not present when infected with an STI. Even without symptoms, someone with an infection can pass it unknowingly to their partner. This is why it is recommended that everyone is tested for STIs regularly and especially before entering a new sexual relationship. Without routine testing, people could spend years spreading their infection before they experience any unintended consequences, often putting those they love at risk.
  • To find out where to get tested, visit gettested.cdc.gov.
  • To have a test sent to your home, visit nddoh.mybinxhealth.com.

3. You can get STIs from all types of sex.

  • A lot of people think that the only way to get an STI is from sexual intercourse, but this is false. Oral sex, anal sex, and other intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected area can transmit infections. For infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea, taking specimens from the throat or rectum as well as from urine/vaginal swabs are often the only way to know if you are free of STIs. It’s important to talk to your doctor about all the kinds of sex you have and ask for multiple sites to be tested.
  • To know more about your risk, visit ndhealth.gov/hiv/knowyourrisk.

4. Condoms WORK!

  • When used appropriately, condoms reduce the risk of pregnancy and most STIs with almost no side effects. While there is no perfect way to have sex and be protected, the better you are about using condoms or other barriers every time you have sex, the better they will work.
  • There are places to get condoms for free in your communities!

5. There are vaccines for many STIs.

  • There are safe and effective vaccines to protect against STIs like hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus). The CDC recommends all people under 60 get vaccinated for hepatitis B, and everyone 26 and younger receives the HPV vaccine if they did not when they were younger.

6. Most STIs are curable, others are treatable and some are PREVENTABLE!

  • Many STIs are curable, while others can be treated or controlled, but unfortunately not yet cured.
    • Examples of STIs that can be cured include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B and HIV can be treated and managed with medications.
    • HIV treatment, when taken as prescribed, allows for people to achieve viral suppression. When a person is virally suppressed, they will not transmit HIV to their sex partners.
  • • HIV can be prevented by either taking daily medicine or by getting an every other month injection. These medications, when taken as prescribed, reduce the risk of HIV infection from sex by 99%. Find a provider near you today: HIV PrEP | Department of Health (nd.gov)

7. STIs can lead to other serious health issues.

  • STIs, if left untreated or without proper care, can lead to serious health issues including cancer, infertility and death from the infection itself. Also, it is important to note, that talking negatively about STIs can lead to depression and thoughts of self-harm among people at risk for, or experiencing, an STI diagnosis because of shame and stigma. Being mindful of sexual health and having honest discussions with your health care provider are integral parts of taking care of your whole self.