The sex-positive movement is having a moment.
It’s almost as if we’re reinventing the wheel over here: Women who masturbate? Unite! Vibrators and dildos? Yahoo! Sexual fluidity? Huzzah! Labels? Fuck ’em, fuck ’em all!
While sex positivity was created with the intention of inclusion, there’s one crucial thing the movement’s missing: people who have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases.
Just to give you a brief background: Sex positivity was popularized in the 1960s — under the monikers “sexual liberation” or “free love” — and is a social and philosophical movement that embraces sexuality and the many ways of sexual expression.
With an emphasis on safe and, of course, consensual sex, the sex-positive movement promotes and accepts any consensual sexual activities that are healthy and pleasurable. Facets of the sex-positive movement include masturbation, play with toys, LGBTQ+ sex, sexual fluidity, including people with disabilities, and so much more.
But spoiler alert: An STD diagnosis does not mean the end of sex. So, why wouldn’t sex positivity include people with HIV, HPV, HSV-2, hepatitis B, and other sexually transmitted diseases and/or infections?
It should. And to an extent, it does. But what I’m asking for here is even more inclusivity and more of an emphasis on the sex lives of people with sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Here’s what we can do to ensure that sex positivity includes all of us.
Incorporate STD education into sex education
Like most things, STD education starts young and in most cases, in school. But instead of treating STDs like a punchline a la The Hangover or as a cautionary tale, we should be educating students on what to do in the event that they do contract an STD.
Yes, prevention is crucial, but the flaw with only preaching prevention is that 1 million STDs are acquired each day, worldwide.
In fact, two-thirds of the world’s population has some strain of herpes. Ella Dawson, a herpes-positive sex educator, says in her TedX Talk that herpes is a statistical inevitability. At the rate we’re going, she’s probably right.
Abstinence-only sex education does not work; nor does sex education that revolves around “just get tested.” (Think of Mean Girls. Did Coach Carr’s “DON’T HAVE SEX OR YOU WILL DIE” speech work? Of course not.) Because what happens if you “just get tested” and you test positive? What next?
Most physicians and gynecologists even discourage people from getting tested for certain STDs, like herpes for example, if the person is not showing symptoms. The reason? The psychological impact of a positive herpes diagnosis is so severe that many doctors would rather spare the patient a diagnosis if they are asymptomatic. UM, WHAT?!
We need to do exactly the opposite of that so that people who are diagnosed with incurable STDs have a more concrete path of what to do next and how to handle their diagnosis.
Understand that even the safest people can contract
This should be incorporated into the movement as well as sex-positive sex education. All-encompassing sex education is crucial because as it stands now, it preaches that people who have safe sex will not contract STDs.
But that’s a false narrative. It’s totally possible to contract an STD even if you’re in a monogamous relationship and use condoms every time. (Again, I implore you to check out Ella Dawson‘s story.)
Herpes, for example, is transmitted through skin contact, not fluids. So, even if a couple practices “safe sex,” condoms don’t prevent the transmission of herpes. See? Even “safe sex” practitioners can contract STDs.
No matter how safe you are, it just takes one time.
Remember that STD-positive people can still bang
As in, bang for fun.
There’s this gross stereotype out there suggesting that STD-positive people have to find someone loving to “accept” them, “accept” their disease, and be willing to love them “despite” a diagnosis.
Man, fuck that.
STD-positive people can still bang for fun. Being STD-positive doesn’t mean you have to continue sleeping with — or find someone to sleep with — for the rest of your life. People diagnosed with STDs have as much of a right to fuck around as anyone else. Let’s please not forget that.
Dismiss the negative stigma
When it comes to ditching negative stigmas, it seems like these days, we need those personally affected to come forward and tell their stories. Somehow, when the public can put a face to the name, it can threaten the power of stigma.
It’s great that, on the one hand, people like Ella Dawson are smashing negative stigmas and forcing people who have not received diagnoses to think differently about STDs. But it also kind of sucks.
Why should we have to come forward with our own personal information just to dismiss a stigma? Let’s eradicate the stigma not because our friends and family members have herpes or HIV, but because stigmas SUCK.
People should not have to publicly say, “I’m THIS-positive” just to prove a point about there being a negative stigma.
Your personal life is your personal life and if you don’t want to shout your status, then you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.
I think what Ella is doing is awesome for the herpes-positive community and I commend her and any other STD-positive educators out there for being open and honest about their diagnoses. But it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay.
Please, the next time you talk about sex, remember to include everyone. Even people with incurable sexually transmitted diseases.
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Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared in Seventeen, Life & Style, Darling Magazine, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir.