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Sex Ed: STDs — A reality check

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

I would love to write columns that say that sex is all good, with no “bad,” but that wouldn’t be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause both short-term and lifelong problems, so understanding and limiting the risks is essential.

Two of the most important STDs are chlamydia and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Others that I will cover in future weeks are HPV (the virus that causes genital warts and cancer of the cervix), hepatitis B, herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

Your best protections from these diseases are using condoms and limiting the number of sex partners you are with. Having a condom between your skin and your partner’s greatly reduces your chances of sharing more than a fun time. The term “safer sex” reflects the fact that it is safer with “the glove,” although a small risk still exists.

When you have intercourse with someone without a condom, in more ways than one you have just slept with every person they ever slept with before you. That’s why limiting the number of partners you have also increases your chances of staying healthy and avoiding STDs.

It’s not about what’s right and wrong, hip or not so hip, or what other people think of you — it’s about the mathematics: fewer bodies coming together leads to fewer shared infections.

It is particularly worrisome to know that rates of chlamydia and HIV infection, especially in youth, are on the rise. It is a myth that STDs don’t happen up here and that they are a big-city problem.

The fact is, STDs are very prevalent in the north and, indeed, in most communities with lower incomes.

Why is this? Lack of knowledge about these diseases and how they are spread, lack of access to condoms, not getting the infections diagnosed, power imbalances in relationships that prevent people from “negotiating” safer sex…. These are some of the challenges.

Sex is no business deal, but contract principles should apply. So — no deal unless both people agree to what’s happening and how to minimize risks. Whatever it takes to make condom use the norm is what needs to happen.

Myths: Some folks figure that a “healthy looking” person can’t have an infection and will make a safe sexual partner.

No such luck. Many men and women with STDs have no symptoms early on, but are still infectious. For example, with HIV the disease can be silent for years in a fit-looking body but all the while the virus may be replicating like crazy.

Don’t make dangerous assumptions. In steamy situations, some young, healthy people feel invincible and think “it couldn’t happen to me.” A seize-the-day, sex-now-consequences-later attitude can kill.

Reality: You are too valuable and the consequences of some of these infections can be devastating. STDs can cause problems ranging from unsightly warts to painful ulcers, chronic pain, infertility, cancers and even death. It’s no laughing matter.

So now that nobody ever wants to have sex again… Make good choices, use condoms, have fun and if you are a woman, book that pap smear now!

Dr. Madeleine Cole is a physician at Baffin Regional Hospital.

Confidential questions or comments? Send an e-mail to nunatsiaqsexed@hotmail.com or drop a note by the news office.

Next week: Chlamydia

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