Yes means test—for STDs
Sep. 17, 2019
By Mary Wade Burnside
Do you like smoothies? Food trucks? Comedy?
When talking about a tough subject, it’s probably a good idea to gather as many comforting and fun items to make the discussion easier.
That’s what comedian Whitney Cummings did on behalf of the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). She commandeered a food truck and handed out smoothies to young adults to woo them into sitting down and chatting about sexually transmitted diseases, creating a video that can be accessed on YouTube by searching “Yes means test.”
It gave her the opportunity to ask them questions about STDs, such as these:
• Did you know that left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to a women’s reproductive system?
• 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.
• And now Morgantown has an outbreak of syphilis, mostly among young men who have sex with men (MSM).
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. Considering that 1 in 2 sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted disease before the age of 25, it’s a conversation we need to have.
Said Cummings to one young woman: “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.” The statistics are not pretty. According to ASHA, only 12 percent of sexually active young people get tested for STDs in a year. In that same time frame, 3.7 million new cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia are diagnosed.
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.
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.”
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Dept.