Why is Everyone Scared of STIs?

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Betty Dodson

Hi Dr. Betty,

First off (and I know you've heard this from me a million times before): love the site, love the work you are doing, and you are absolutely my #1 sex guru forever. I turn to you again for advice on a situation I am finding particularly difficult in my life right now.

I run around a lot in an open, polyamorous, sex-positive community, but I have a problem with the way most people in this community view STIs and treat them as a topic of discussion. There is a lot of fear about them, a lot of blaming, and a lot of shaming. Very few people, that I know, have ever gotten an STI in this community. But it is a constant issue for everyone. Oddly enough, most of the fear seems to focus on genital herpes, and not HIV or AIDs. Personally, I feel that both are currently not something to worry about the way I see others worrying about them and discussing them, but I do understand not wanting to get herpes or HIV, as they would both be with you for the rest of your life.

However, as a self-proclaimed sex-positive radical, I often find myself in a position of trying to dispel this fear, call people out on their slut-shaming and STI-phobic ideas, and work for the rights of those who are STI positive to continue to live a sexual life with those who have not tested positive. No matter how much I advocate, how many different approaches to the topic I take, I often find myself all alone in my philosophy on this. Even my closest partners and lovers, and most respected friends, disagree with me that STIs are not something to worry about if you want to live a truly sex positive life.

To me, it seems as though the choice to be poly/ open/ non-monogamous brings with it a certain level of risk. I would argue not much more risk than monogamy, but that could be a whole different rant so I won't go into it. Sure, you can try to cut down on the risk by getting tested, using protection, communicating. But I think, one way or another, many of us will end up with STIs of one type or another eventually. And I really feel like that should be OK. I don't see what the big deal is. No one wants to catch a cold, but we all do, right? And frequently. I argue that the only reason people have so much fear surrounding these is because of their fear of sexual death within this and other sexually open communities, and the only way to combat that is to truly believe that it is no big deal. And to continue with business as usual when someone does come down with something.

This point of view has painted me into an uncomfortable place. One where pretty much no one agrees with me, and one where my peers view me as a possible risk to the health of the community. As one of the few people I have ever heard/ read who has similar views to me on this topic, I ask you: how can I talk some sense into these otherwise sex-positive radicals? Because I clearly have not been doing it the right way so far.

Thanks and keep up the good work. You inspire me to stay radical.

Dear C,

I always appreciate your comments on D&R. And I understand your frustration about all the unnecessary fear surrounding STI's. Fear is the current motivator used by our sick government. And of course Big Pharma jumps on the band wagon to sell more of their useless and often harmful drugs.

I went through the sixties sexual revolution on throughout the seventies without any serious threat to my health. At the end of seventies I had my first Herpes out break. Back then, we felt sorry for anyone who never had Herpes because it meant they weren't having much sex. It was treated the same as we view a cold sore on someone's mouth. During an outbreak you didn't kiss. We applied the same principal to genital Herpes: During an outbreak you didn't fuck.

We act as though we don't have immune systems that work to keep us healthy. Part of our health includes our mental attitude and that's what you are complaining about. People who constantly get sick in many ways seem to plan on it. We need to factor in our mental state as well as our physical bodies. It's my opinion that people who focus on STI's use it as an excuse to avoid sexual situations that make them uncomfortable. I must say I'm surprised to hear this is such a big issue in your polyamorous, sex-positive community. Since fear is the primary emotion of our age, perhaps this new global revolution will begin to replace fear with freedom to enjoy our lives. Meanwhile, continue to be the voice of reason and know that you are not alone.

Dr. Betty

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