And that human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to a variety of cancers in both women and men?
And if you’ve been reading the headlines lately, you’ve probably seen that both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are on the rise.
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. It’s not a topic that people love to discuss. But considering that 1 in 2 sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted disease before the age of 25, it’s one we should have.
Comedian Whitney Cummings, working with the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), had the right idea by handing out free smoothies to young adults who listened to her spiel on sexual health in a video.
“I feel like everyone is concerned about their health from a food and exercise perspective, but they’re not taking care of their sexual health,” she told one young woman.
And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having an STD such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis can increase your chances of getting HIV, which, when left untreated, can lead to AIDS. This is because the same behaviors and circumstances that may put you at risk for getting an STD can also put you at greater risk for getting HIV. In addition, having a sore or break in the skin from an STD may allow HIV to more easily enter your body.
However, many people avoid get tested. Why? Cummings and her crew offered some reasons: People are embarrassed, or they think they are invincible or that it’s not a big deal. Or they think there is a stigma attached. The same people might go to the gym, eat healthy and get regular dental checkups. But STD testing isn’t on their radar.
But there is good news. When caught early, chlamydia and gonorrhea are easily treatable with antibiotics. Hepatitis B and HPV can be prevented with vaccines. Children on the current CDC-recommended vaccination schedule already receive the Hepatitis B vaccine as babies. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys at around the age of 12.
While we don’t have free smoothies at Monongalia County Health Department, our Clinical Services program does offer free STD testing and treatment. We also have vaccines, including for Hepatitis B and HPV. Our public health nurses provide confidential and judgment-free treatment to all their patients.
Because STDs don’t always exhibit symptoms, Cummings noted that it’s good to get in the habit of getting tested regularly. Women can do this annually when they visit their OB/GYN. One woman noted that she thought it was a good idea to get tested before you start dating a new person. “Like a reset or sorbet between courses,” Cummings replied. Men should get tested too, with the frequency based on their sexual habits.
And to the woman who said she already does get tested, Cummings noted that it sounded sexy, like “she respects herself.”
Of course, prevention also goes a long way. The CDC recommends reducing risky behaviors and, if necessary, the number of sexual partners. Limit or eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs before having sex, because they impair judgement. Use condoms consistently and correctly.
And remember, “Yes means test.”