It Won't Happen To Me: Why Aren't We Afraid Of STDs Anymore?

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couple in bed kissing
STIs are no longer a badge of shame but why aren't we protecting ourselves from getting them?

As a kid of the 80's, I grew up with a very intense fear of AIDS. Before I was old enough to truly understand what sex even was, it had been driven into my brain that without protection, another term that I had yet to really grasp, sex would inevitably lead to death. It was as simple as that in my head.

I think for my generation the impact that the AIDS scare had on all of us at such a young age, was the reason for safe sex becoming all but tattooed on our brains. We were forced to take sex education every year throughout high school, and each year the photos of symptoms for STDs in the textbooks got more and more graphic. It was hard to rationalize how anyone could NOT want to use a condom to protect themselves from those horrifying photos of herpes laden vaginas becoming a reality. However, if you've yet to experience a proper orgasm, you can't fathom the "heat of the moment" mentality. By the time I was in my mid-20's, I was singing a different tune when it came to safe sex. I was guilty of skipping the condom step of it all, and I was not alone.

New research shows that people, especially those between 18 and 30, just don't seem to be as concerned about contracting STIs (Note: In medical terms, infections are only called "diseases" when they cause symptoms. Having a sexually-transmitted infection, STI, doesn't always mean you feel sick or have signs of a disease.) as they used to be. Not only did the study find that 20 percent of people will go to bed with someone who has an STI, but 39 percent of those people actively choose to NOT use protection when doing so. That's like literally walking into a bear's den, and saying, "It's cool. I got this."

As we learned last week, condom use has stalled, with only 1 in 3 of singles using them during sex. Although shooting for a 100 percent usage rate is probably something you'd only find in a fantasy world, the fact is with only a third of people using condoms, we've seen a drastic jump in STI cases; a jump that will continue to rise as long as condom use remains secondary to passion.

The thing is, having sex with someone who has an STI, if you use protection, doesn't have to be a bad or scary thing. Just because someone has an infection it doesn't mean that they should be locked away on an island and disregarded as a potential mate or lover. We talked to two gentlemen who have dated and/or been in relationships with people who are HIV+ but have, and are, handling it responsibly.

"My initial thought was, 'f*ck, I knew there had to be something wrong.' Here there was this unbelievably adorable, sexy boy that I'd coveted for years coming on to me hard right after a breakup, and of course there had to be this one not-so-tiny issue to make it all more complicated," explains Jacob, 29. "But moments after that, I knocked some sense into myself, kissed him, and we talked about it for the next two hours."

Antoine also had his reservations when he met someone who was positive, but managed to put things into perspective: "Although I have positive family members and had a positive childhood friend, I had been rather fortunately untouched otherwise until I was 21, when a good friend and former lover was diagnosed."

Antoine's former lover's diagnosis put his life in a tailspin. It may have been his past, but sometimes the past has a way of catching up with us. It was only when he met someone in whom he was genuinely interested, who was forthcoming about his own positive status, that Antoine was forced to face his fears about his status, so he could proceed honestly with his new relationship. Antoine was negative. He also gets texted every six months.

These particular cases are just two of thousands and thousands of stories of STI-free people who are in relationships with people who have a sexually transmitted infection. Whether people act responsibly in protecting themselves and their partner, or not, those with STIs no longer have a sign scrawled across their forehead that illuminates "BEWARE." Is it because we're numb to the possible consequences? Or do we just not care because medicine will "fix" it?

Of course, there's the "it won't happen to me," factor. As YourTango Expert Dr. Michael Aaron explained, "I think younger people are more likely to be risk-takers, as they may have a feeling of being 'invincible.'" It's true. Who at 18 or 19 didn't think they could beat the odds of everything and rule the world? KEEP READING ...

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