Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's so embarassing about an STD, anyway?

The young, lovely and talented Julianne Hough of Dancing With the Stars has been in the news lately for revealing that she has endometriosis, which caused a cyst on her ovary that need to be removed. This will cost her a couple of weeks on the show, in order to recover, and she wanted her fans to know why she would be temporarily off the show.

I heard this story reported by Teresa Strasser on Adam Corolla's radio show. She then commented on the fact that some people have expressed that this is too much information, or Julianne should be embarrassed about talking about this. Teresa then something along the lines of "Why should she be embarrassed? It's not like it's an STD."

Thankfully, Teresa then said something really quick and sort of undecipherable like "and even if it was that would be ok," but Adam had already begun talking. Like she caught herself and realized that maybe, just maybe, having an STD or STI is also a perfectly valid and normal medical concern which people might be allowed to possibly talk about as well.

I have read that STDs are so common that they come in 2nd place as far as commonality behind the flu! Yet we can't talk about it?

One of the most common topics of discussion amongst humanoids seems to be complaining about our health. Whenever someone has the slightest ailment, they talk about it. They tell their friends, family and coworkers exactly what is going on. Even if it's slightly embarrassing and has to do with nether regions (yeast infections, hemorrhoids). Even if it is contagious (the flu). Even if it has to do with having sex (UTIs.)

Where do they draw the line? Here's what I've noticed. People don't seem to be comfortable talking about problems which are something caused by sex AND are potentially contagious. That combo, for whatever reason, is not generally socially accepted.

For example, I've never heard a casual mention of having caught syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or herpes, even though they are common. We can talk about UTI's (usually caused by sex), but we CAN'T talk about type 2 genital herpes, even though 1 out of 4 women have it? We can talk about cold sores, but we can't talk about type 1 genital herpes, which are caused by the same exact virus that causes cold sores? (HSV1, which up to 60-90% of the population has depending on their age group.) Huh?

One exception - I've noticed it's okay to talk about having gotten an abnormal pap and having had pre-cancerous cells detected and removed, even though that means that they caught a dangerous strain of HPV, a common STD. I have even heard more than one coworker give this as a reason for being out for a few days. (I suspect I would never hear of a coworker being out for a few days because of a primary herpes outbreak.) Maybe this is just because people didn't know for a long time that HPV was the cause of most cases of cervical cancer, and that you get HPV from sexual contact? (since sexual contact is so BAD and all.) Or maybe it's because it is so common that it is just accepted, and people don't think of it that way. ...Or maybe, just maybe, they just don't care that HPV is an STD and they are starting to get over the attitude that STDs are somehow embarrassing and we need to hide away and never talk about having had one.

Ironically, some strains of HPV cause genital warts rather than cancer, but it would be a cold day in hell before I walk into work and hear a coworker complaining of having genital warts. It's kind of strange to think it's okay to talk about cancer, but not warts.

People don't talk publicly about these things because of puritanical attitudes still deeply ingrained in society. But I want you to know it does NOT mean that other people aren't getting STDs. You don't have to feel awkward when one ignoramus makes some stupid comment or joke about STDs. Chances are very, very high that most people who are laughing along are just doing so so they won't stick out or be suspected of having actually had one, or having one. People have sex. They get STDs. They are treated and cured, or managed. Just like any other infection or disease that people get. And that's that. It doesn't mean they are having sex with everyone they meet. You don't have to have sex with everyone you meet to get an STI. It only takes one person, and a bit of bad luck. (Remember, condoms don't totally prevent transmission of herpes or HPV, and these things can be had or spread with zero symptoms.) And many times, that one person is our monogamous partner. It doesn't make either of you a bad person. If you gave one another the flu, it wouldn't make you bad people, either.

Sex is everywhere we look, and people don't seem to be ashamed about having sex. I think they are more embarrassed or self-pitying when they are NOT having sex. So why are they so embarrassed about being exposed to things that come along with having sex?

People have been marginalized in many ways for many kinds of things, and are often gradually more and more accepted until it becomes strange to NOT accept them. I hope that in time, as people can finally face the fact that genital herpes is more common than diabetes, we will get real and just let it go, already. I don't need to talk about it with everyone I meet, but I certainly don't need to feel marginalized for it or that I need to be embarrassed. And I won't.