On STIs: Words I Didn’t Know I Needed

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 1.206% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My friend Katspaw is a medical professional who specializes in treating sexually transmitted illnesses – and she loves her work so much so that you’d better be braced whenever you go out to dinner with her, because you will hear stories of the latest trends.

Fortunately, she’s so cheerfully super-positive about her work that you look forward to the next dinner. So when she told me, “I want to do presentations on STIs for the kink community,” I was stoked to see what she’d come up with.

Which is how my partner and I wound up sitting in her dining room as she gave me a dry-run on her presentation “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sexually Transmitted Infections but Were Afraid to Ask.” Which was entertaining, because her meme game is strong.

I learned a lot of things from that presentation, mainly because there’s been a lot of advances in both the technology used to treat STIs over the last decade that I hadn’t kept up with, and STIs themselves have also changed, as evolution mandates. And I gave some feedback to help fine-tune her message, but mostly I just sat back and listened to someone far more knowledgeable than I educate me.

But the one thing my partner and I were able to help with was discussing some of the stigma around STIs in the community – we’d seen people drop out from scening altogether from the shame of picking up HSV, folks shunned from poly groups when they’d tested positive for something treatable with a shot in the butt, and a lot of fear swirling around in general.

And Katspaw raised herself up, quietly furious, and said this (though I’m paraphrasing):

“There’s no difference between picking up an STI and getting any other disease. The most common virus you’re likely to get at an orgy is the flu; from a medical perspective, there’s little difference between getting trichinosis and lice, or chicken pox and HSV.

“Anything you get these days can be treated or managed, so shaming anyone for picking up something is ridiculous. And if you can’t handle that reality, then maybe you’re not mature enough to be having sex.”

We applauded.

And of course, I can hear the usual objections about “I don’t want to get an STI,” which nobody does, but then again we don’t want to pick up a cold from dropping our kid off at school, but we don’t stigmatize and isolate people for getting it.

(And before anyone carps: from Katspaw’s perspective, HSV is so widespread and so comparatively minor in most cases that the community terror over someone having herpes is absurd to her.)

As someone who watched his hemophiliac uncle lose most of his friends for the sin of contracting HIV from a blood transfusion during the AIDS scare of the 1980s, I’m highly sensitive to people rejecting folks for overblown medical terrors. And Katpaw’s perspective was something so refreshing that I didn’t realize I needed it: she believes, quite sanely, that an STI is like any other disease. We don’t want them, we should take precautions like dental dams and condoms and routine STI checks, but at the end of the day they’re just another risk we run of dealing with other people.

Which is just nice to hear.

Katspaw was at Winter Wickedness in Columbus, and her first presentation went well. If you’re interested in having her present at your convention, well, lemme know and I’ll pass it along to her.

4 Comments

  1. Aaron Baker
    Feb 7, 2019

    I don’t know if I am part of the 10 percent of the population that doesn’t have HSV, or the 70 percent of the population that does and hasn’t been diagnosed yet. I’m just not part of the 20 percent that does know…
    Seems like before you go nuts about someone else having one of the most common and widespread diseases known to man, you should be tested and find out if you have it too.

  2. Just a small point; I thought trichinosis came from eating pork? Are you talking about trichomoniasis?

    Otherwise, thanks for a fine essay.

  3. Anonymous Alex
    Feb 8, 2019

    I agree: Nice to hear.

    I’m also continually perplexed by the reputation that HSV has, given a) its wide spread, and b) the non-issue that oral HSV infections have always been, reptuationally. Are we really still reeling from one Time magazine cover back in the ’80s?

    -Alex

  4. Megan H (noevilliveon)
    Feb 12, 2019

    I DO want to note that STIs, like ALL infectious agents, CAN be more dangerous for some. Wife and I are both immune suppressed due to treatment for autoimmune conditions.

    As a result, we have to be SUPER careful about STIs. So while most folks can accept the risk because treatment is easy, I HAVE to know the status of any partner.

    I ALSO have to go out of my way to avoid non-sexual disease, too…. But avoiding catching something like the flu or a cold via casual contact is easier than avoiding catching things via intimate contact. Like, I wear a mask and wash my hands as often as possible when I’m, say, on campus surrounded by fellow students. And I don’t hang out with folks who are sick. And I don’t have sex with people who cannot provide recent test results that show they are free of the major diseases that can be transmitted even if condoms and/or dental dams are used, bc protecting myself during intimate contact isn’t as easy as a mask, hygiene, and personal space bubbles.

    I used to be a lot less worried about everything other than HIV and Hep C, because my medical background gave me confidence in treatment efficacy. Still getting used to having to be much more careful…

    (And yes, I DO actually know that we are both herpes negative…)

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