Both here and at Google Plus, a social network I honestly don’t understand, my posts on safer sex seem to have struck at least a few nerves. And I see from several people’s objections to what I wrote that I failed, still, to make my central point.
My point is NOT that sexually transmitted infections are not serious.
Rather, it’s that:
1) I behave as if I, and all of my partners, have every disease I might hope to avoid (in spite of my having tested negative consistently for everything for which I’ve ever been tested – which is everything but herpes, of which I’ve never had an outbreak), and I advise you do the same.
2) For me, that means disclosure of this general philosophy and religious use of condoms for vaginal or anal intercourse.
3) I believe we collectively overestimate the risks associated with sexual behavior. Note: this is not the same as saying there are no risks, or that the risks are small, or that STIs aren’t a big deal, or anything of the sort. It’s simply an assertion about our relative assessment of risk.
Finally, after all this discussion, I’m grateful for a slight evolution in and refinement in my thinking:
Because of the prevalence of STIs, and their danger, the centerpiece of my sexual safety strategy, other than rigorous condom usage, is constant testing. Not to keep from infecting others (though I imagine if I did test positive for something other than herpes or HPV, I’d take myself out of circulation ’til it cleared), but to ensure rapid, aggressive, and successful treatment of even asymptomatic infections.
I haven’t been tested frequently enough in the past. I expect I’ll change that prospectively.
I’m a little confused by the reactions the previous posts have elicited, which have ranged from judgment (I’m irresponsible) to judgment (I’m dissolute) to hurt (I’m overly casual about the potential impact of infections).
I see two basically correct criticisms among those I’ve heard:
- I am casual about the treatability of infections – caught early. The horror stories I’ve heard in the comments and elsewhere aren’t, to me, stories about the difficulty of treating infections; they’re stories about the importance of early detection.
Lizzie’s macro point about antibiotics – they weaken our herd immunity, strengthen the bacteria we fear – is true. I just don’t see it as having any real applicability here. I’m in favor of avoiding, not courting, infection, and of avoiding, not abusing, antibiotics. (Did I say otherwise anywhere?) I just think that when an infection is harmful untreated, and eminently treatable, the sane thing to do is to treat it.
I am very concerned about pregnancy, more than any of this other stuff. Most of the women in my ambit are on the pill. But I have no desire ever to have to have even one more conversation in my life about an unintended pregnancy.