"One of the great misconceptions is that people who have STDs know they have them, ... That is absolutely incorrect."
I spent the early part of my career working with juvenile delinquents at a residential placement facility, commonly known as “kiddy jail”, for inner city boys. One day, I’m running a group on safe sex and STDs. A client, a 17 year old from outside Philadelphia, raises his hand to share with the group. He begins by admitting he doesn’t use condoms, but states he still protects himself. He says, “I use the ear wax method.” A few of the young men nod in agreement and I ask him to clarify. He proceeds to explain that when he’s ready to have sex with a girl, he will discreetly get a bit of ear wax on his finger, and put that finger into her vagina. If nothing happens, the girl is safe and doesn’t have any STDs. Again, some boys in the room nod, sharing his secret knowledge.
“So what happens if she had an STD?” I naively ask.
“The wax will sizzle,” he replies. Really? This is what a 17 year old kid, who has sex with multiple (and I mean many multiple) girls believes: if you have an STD your vaginal fluids will have a chemical reaction with ear wax. And we wonder why over half of sexual active people are infected with HPV.
Another time, I was at a state conference, outside the capital building smoking a cigarette with two male colleagues from the same facility, both in middle management. We had just sat through a training seminar on poverty. We began talking about misconceptions that many inner city youth have, and I shared the above story. My co-worker, an educated man in his mid-thirties, looked at me and said he doesn’t use condoms. My mouth dropped open. He further explained, stating that he doesn’t sleep with “dirty” girls.
I started laughing. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You think you can tell by looking at a girl that she’s got an STD?”
He nodded, saying he can tell if she’s “clean” simply by how she dresses, talks, and presents herself. At that point, I shook my head, put my cigarette out, looked at him and said, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard you say. It’s no surprise that our clients are coming back from passes complaining that it burns when they piss!”
The fact of the matter is it’s not just teens who believe these myths. Its college students, educated adults, single moms, hell, maybe even your parents. There are thousands of myths out there, but below are the truths that you need to remember when it comes to STDs and protecting yourself.
- STDs are not prejudiced. They don’t care about your color or creed. They don’t care how many letters follow your name or what income bracket you fit in. They treat the prostitute on the corner the same way they treat the Wall Street businessman.
- If you are sexual active and have more than one partner, condoms are a must. They are by far your best protection, although even when used properly, condoms cannot protect you from all STDs.
- You need to get tested. Even if you have only had sex with one person, unless they were a virgin, you need to get tested. And if you are not in a monogamous relationship with someone that you trust with your life, you need to get tested regularly. I’d recommend every three months because…
- Not all STDs have symptoms. That means you can have an STD and never know about, never having a positive symptom. And therefore you’ll end up spreading it around like the green beans at Christmas dinner.
- Not only do some STDs not have symptoms, but some can’t be tested for. For instance, sometimes chlamydia goes dormant and will not show up on tests, just hiding in there, waiting to find new breeding ground. Some strands of HPV, which infects over 20 million Americans, can’t even be tested for, especially in men.
So be careful, screw smart, and don’t fall prey to the myths that are out there all around us.