Men need to get tested for STIsBy Madeline Anscombe | 09/17/2017 11:19pm
I heard a story a few weeks ago about a girl who found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her when she was rushed to the hospital with severe liver damage. She had an undiagnosed case of chlamydia. She had been loyal to her boyfriend of a few years and all of her sexual encounters had been very safe and responsible. She was not having spontaneous sex with strangers and regularly got tested if she was seeing a new partner.
I thought about how things should have played out instead. First, her boyfriend obviously shouldn’t have cheated on her. I cannot think of a worse way to find that out than to be rushed to the emergency room and have to tell her parents that no, she was not sleeping around in her relationship, but her boyfriend had been cheating. Secondly, this made me curious why her boyfriend did not extend the same courtesy that this girl did for her previous partners of much less significance.
I talked about the incident with a few of my friends and quickly saw a divide amongst them; women were concerned with the health risks that are associated with chlamydia, and men remained aloof and only commented on the brutality of the breakup. I began to ask them about their experiences with STI testing and, to my surprise, almost every girl had been tested on multiple occasions and none of my male friends had been tested a single time despite collectively having more partners than my female friends. This discrepancy angered me. Why were men not taking their sexual health as seriously as women? Furthermore, why were they putting their partners at risk of catching an STI?
The quick and simple answer lies in the fact that women are more likely to go to the doctor and check up on their health than men are. Additionally, after years of absorbing the stigma of sexual intercourse, women are more receptive to acknowledging the downsides that sex has; We are constantly aware of the possibility of becoming pregnant and of the effects of STIs. Societally, it is not as acceptable to have sex as it is for men, and the desire to remain pure does not stop after becoming sexually active. There is nothing that screams “impurity” quite like an STI diagnosis.
As a woman, I am constantly reminded of the risks associated with sex. The only thing that seems more frightening than an unwanted pregnancy seems to be becoming infertile due to an untreated STI. Consequently, when it comes to sexual health, we are concerned and much more likely to urge our partners to use protection and to get tested regularly.
The more nuanced answer to this discrepancy is found in the negligence of men. While women are more susceptible to getting an STI according to the CDC, they are less likely to display symptoms of common STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. When they do show symptoms, they are more readily confused with natural phenomena and go untreated. In men, the symptoms are more abnormal, the details of which I will not go into.
Though I can not understand the why, considering that with these atypical symptoms men are still so negligent in checking up on their sexual health, I do know that the conversation needs to shift in the arena of sexual health so that it encompasses more than just women. Without testing, men are spreading diseases to other men, women and those outside the gender binary who have taken all of the precautions necessary to stay healthy. They are also jeopardizing their own health by not being honest with themselves.
I may be reiterating the words of your seventh-grade science teacher, but it is crucial to practice safe sex. This extends beyond using a condom and requires regularly getting check-ups for STIs. If you think that you are immune to infection, please look into the CDC’s prevalence estimates of STIs, which happen to disproportionately affect college students. Educate yourself on STIs and their symptoms so that you can recognize them if they appear. While not a pleasant experience, get check-ups after every new partner.
It is worth taking every precaution to stay safe and prevent some of the more serious symptoms that can come with STIs. Most infections will be treatable, but it is still important that we hold each other accountable and do not spread diseases when there are incredibly simple measures we can take to ensure the health of our partners and of ourselves.
Madeline Anscombe is a senior majoring in anthropology. Her column runs biweekly.