Breaking STIgmas

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Certain unpleasant situations signal the end of adolescence.

Your mom won’t take time off if you have the flu and if you get a parking ticket, you’re going to have to pay for it yourself. Being an adult can be shitty, but there are some things you just have to face and deal with.

One of these responsibilities we’d all rather avoid is routine testing for sexually transmitted infections. As much as you don’t want to believe it, STIs are startlingly common yet no one wants to talk or think about them. The only way to slow the spread of STIs is to get tested — and get tested often.

STIs are still stigmatized as gross and dirty, so for most people, picking up the phone and booking an appointment can be humiliating and awkward. Unfortunately, the pleasures of sex can also come with some burdens. To protect yourself and your partner(s), regular testing is an important duty.

Karen Ostrander, director of the Student Wellness Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University explained the importance of regular STI testing for sexually active people.

“It’s something that we do all the time,” said Ostrander.

“So it’s not unusual [for health care workers]; it’s almost routine.”

“If people are having symptoms [such as] … abnormal discharge or discomfort when you’re going to the bathroom — those are things that we can see you at an on call basis because there’s something going on.”

Most people figure as long as they don’t have genital warts or blisters, or it doesn’t burn when they pee, they’re in the clear. This, however, couldn’t be more false.

A lot of STIs don’t show any symptoms, which is why routine testing is so vital.

“A lot of people [who have chlamydia], about three quarters of people, have no symptoms at all,” Ostrander said. “The challenge with chlamydia is that certainly it’s a bacterial infection — it can be treated with antibiotics — but if it goes undetected for long periods of time, it can impact your fertility.”

Herpes is also an STI that can sometimes show no symptoms. Ostrander explained that people with genital herpes could go long periods of time without an outbreak, while still being contagious.

Ostrander also asserted if you are not in a monogamous relationship, testing should be more frequent.

Another misconception is how testing is actually done. Many people are afraid that getting tested for STIs could be uncomfortable or even painful.

“The process itself, after you’ve given a little history and had a conversation with the doctor, is that the doctor will order some tests,” Ostrander clarified. “For chlamydia and gonorrhea now there’s a urine test, so that makes things a lot simpler and a lot easier.”

“There’s also some blood work that can be done … for HIV testing, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.”

Altogether, getting tested for STIs is not that horrifying. Because so many infections don’t show symptoms, there is no way of knowing if you’ve come into contact with an infection or not. The only way to really protect yourself — and others — is to routinely get tested.

“You can book an appointment at the Student Wellness Centre either by dropping in or calling,” Ostrander said. “For the appointment itself, you will meet with a physician and the doctor will ask fairly personal questions. That isn’t about making any judgments, but to evaluate the risk.”

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