How do I Protect Myself From Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)?
I want to make sure that I’m taking all of the right steps to protect myself from sexually transmitted infections. Where should I start?
Protecting yourself and taking responsibility for yourself is an excellent thing to do. The most common STIs transmitted are: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, Syphilis and Herpes. So, here are 4 ways to protect yourself:
Remove stigma. Educate yourself on these infections, the more knowledge and education, the more you can make informed decisions about your care. Now, I could just sit here and give an in-depth explanation of all, but I’m a big believer that the research you conduct for yourself increases your chances of retaining that information. This could mean going to Planned Parenthood and talking to a nurse, reading articles here on Harlot )like this one), or Scarleteen about STIs. We don't care where you get the info, just get it.
Birth control and contraceptives. Educate yourself on barriers. Condoms and dental dams are practical barriers to reducing exposure. Allergic to latex? No problem, latex free condoms are available. However, latex free dental dams are not. FEAR NOT!! I have a solution; you can make your own latex free dental dams. Simply use a pair of scissors and cut off the ring, the tip, and along the side. Boom! You have a latex free dental dam!
PrEP is a medication you can discuss with your doctor. It is a medication that has a really awesome ability; it can significantly reduce the risk of infection in the individual taking it if they are exposed to HIV. It is expensive, and unfortunately not covered in Canada, but it is in the US. If you are able to – talk to your doctor about it, or a nurse at Planned Parenthood.
Do not share needles. You are a teenager, and more often than not teenagers experiment. Absolutely no judgement here, but I would be failing as a social worker and as a sex therapist if I did not bring this up. This is not to suggest you are using drugs. However, if you are going to experiment with Intravenous (IV) drug use, please use sterile new syringes and needles and do not share them with anyone. If you or someone you know is a IV drug user, please find locations in your area where you can access free and sterile needles.
Get tested. At least twice a year, go to the clinic or your doctors and ask for a full STI test. And you will have to advocate for yourself and have them include testing for HIV, Syphilis and Herpes, as they are not included in the mandatory screening. This is mostly due to the stigma that remains from the 80s. It’s bullshit, but I’m telling you, you will have to adamantly demand a thorough STI screen.
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BETHANY KILLEN - RESIDENT ADVICE COLUMNIST & SEX THERAPIST
Bethany Killen (she/her), whose time spent finding ways to navigate through her own personal struggles led her to pursue a career in social work.