Don’t be shy: Let’s talk sexual health and destigmatize

By in Opinions

Sexual health is really just everyday health — whether you’re sexually active or not, engaging in safe-sex practices or otherwise. Likewise, sexually transmitted infections are a common health issue — much more common than the normative narrative acknowledges.

When it comes to the topic of STIs, it seems our hang-ups tend to manifest as fear of the person rather than the ailment — because being infected must mean that person is dirty, right?

The stigma and prejudice against individuals living with STIs is an ugly, prevalent reality that we’re not willing to acknowledge. We live in a society that paints things like genital herpes, HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea as shameful and dirty.

Whether you’re actively engaging in sex or not, the implications of understanding your own personal sexual health are much broader than mere sexual activity. Human sexuality manifests itself in a variety of behaviours and expressions.

Sexual health connects to a number of topics — be it the activities we engage in, concerns regarding accessible resources and reproductive rights, body image, gender identity, feelings of attraction, relationships and orientation.

Yes, sexual health is a topic that should be approached with heightened sensitivity and consideration, but the topic is too often avoided due to a variety of sociocultural factors. Each person has a different relationship with their own sexual health, and yeah, it’s a difficult conversation to facilitate, but it shouldn’t be — and it doesn’t have to be.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.” Therefore, in order for us to have a healthy relationship with sexual health and our own well-being, we should have access to resources and be willing to educate and inform ourselves.

Most STIs may not show immediate or recognizable symptoms, and they often go untreated or undetected. STIs warrant proper medical care and attention, and some, if left untreated, can result in infertility, cancer or birth defects.

Consider the measures you take for everyday health concerns — battling the winter cold with layers upon layers, lining up for flu shots, sneezing into your elbow, washing your hands and arming yourself with an extra cozy, warm scarf.

Make sexual health another part of your wellness routine — get tested on a regular basis, and make sure it’s part of your annual doctor’s checkup. There are a number of places in Saskatoon that offer applicable educational resources regarding sexual health, as well as affordable and confidential STI testing.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Student Wellness Centre, located on the fourth floor of Place Riel is among the organizations that offer this service. Additionally, you can check out Saskatoon Sexual Health, OUTSaskatoon’s Queer Sexual Health Clinic, the Saskatoon Health Region’s Sexual Health Clinic and most family clinics.

Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights provides information on reproductive and sexual health and connects individuals to resources such as doctor’s referrals or even just a listening ear for someone who needs to disclose their situation to a nonjudgmental party.

Modern medicine and technological advancements have produced wonders, but these are only helpful if you allow them to be. Further measures beyond regular testing involve communicating with your partner or partners.

If you choose to engage in sex, make an effort to do so safely. Discuss your sexual history and safe sex practices, engage in consistent and proper use of contraception, disclose if you have or have had multiple partners or have been in contact with anyone who is positive, and be sure to follow your health-care provider’s instructions and recommendations when receiving treatment.

Communication, honesty, accountability and healthy physical and emotional boundaries should all be part of a healthy relationship. Be sure to establish your physical boundaries, your preferences, what you’re comfortable with and what you’re uncomfortable with.

When it comes to sex, it is the responsibility of all parties involved to seek and uphold consent. If it’s not clear, ask. Sexual pleasure is a healthy, normal part of human function, but it’s not fun if it’s a product of sexual coercion. Consent should never be implied or presumed it is an ongoing process, and these rules are applicable in    well-grounded relationships, too.

Consent is simply a matter of respect, and respect is one of the core objectives that good sexual health practices promote. Sexual health is absolute care for your well-being.

Cleo Nguyen

Graphic: Alterna / Flickr