'That discomfort is worth it': Why it's important to talk about sexual health
Experts say people avoid the topic because of fear and stigma
In 2019, we are more open about many aspects of sexuality, like consent and preferences, than ever before, but sexual health is still often obscured by a cloud of shame and misinformation.
Taryn Wahl, the education co-ordinator at Planned Parenthood in Regina, said there is a dirtiness associated with having an sexually transmitted infection (STI) but in reality, we should feel the same way about it that we do about getting a cold.
"There's all different types of STIs and so because that's not understood, there's tons of fear about the health implications and the social implications," said Wahl.
There's also a cultural assumption that someone has many sexual partners if they contract an STI, she added.
"That's what causes a lot of the shame, and so shame is that idea that you're a bad person now."
In her presentations in high schools, Wahl sees a lot of the same patterns cropping up again and again, where parents pass their shame and fear onto their kids.
"I myself was raised by teen parents and grew up with them saying, 'Don't have sex because you'll get pregnant,' and it instilled this fear and shame and confusion in me where I didn't know where to get good information," she said.
"A lot of adults, parents, teachers have real fears and worries for young people because of those huge risks and consequences but instead of giving them good information to prepare them, they think they're doing them a favour by scaring them."
How do you talk about it?
Because of the stigma associated with STIs, it can be a tough subject to bring it up with your partner.
Jennifer Malloy, a therapist and sexologist in Regina, said the one of the best things you can do is be direct. If you haven't had sex with a particular partner, have a conversation about health before you do.
She also said to keep in mind that not telling a partner or partners that you have an STI after a confirmed diagnosis can be a criminal offence.
"Just try to put yourself in their position and not take their reaction personally (because) that's more about their fears — that's where anger comes from, that's where confusion and being upset comes from is the fear of the unknown," she said.
Wahl said she hopes that the fear of talking about it lessens over time.
"Even if it's a little bit uncomfortable to come and get tested or get treatment or talk to a nurse or doctor, that discomfort is worth it when it comes to your health and is so much less than the discomfort of some of the other physical, mental and social consequences of not taking care of your sexual health."
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