LifeKey Lessons Learned on HIV & STDS

Barbara's Flower Shop

By: Samantha Granberry

There is a saying that when you know better, you do better. But what about when you know better, and still don’t? In my teens and 20’s, I had unprotected sex more times than I can count. It was not because I did not know better. I grew up hyper-aware of HIV and STDs because of safer sex education in my schools; I had a communicative mother who impressed upon me the importance of condom use; I was a college graduate and career woman well aware of statistics, yet in still…I chose to have sex unprotected.

This choice I made was not because a condom somehow dulled the feeling of sex, but was made because of another feeling I thought condomless sex helped dull. That deep-seeded, hidden unaddressed feeling of not having real self-worth.

The feeling that if a man would have sex unprotected with me, somehow I was special to him; that condomless sex showed he cared about me when he would say “I wouldn’t do this with just anybody.” It made me begin to equate condomless sex with love instead of the STIs that I did contract as a result. Curable ones like trichomoniasis and chlamydia, but often have no symptoms in women.

STIs are at the most epidemic proportions in American history. More than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in the United States in 2016, the highest number ever, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The majority of these new diagnoses (1.6 million) were cases of chlamydia. There were also 470,000 gonorrhea cases and almost 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis – the most infectious stages of the disease. While all three of these STDs can be cured with antibiotics, if left undiagnosed and untreated, they can have serious health consequences, including infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased risk for HIV transmission.

Fortunately for me HIV was not something I contracted. But it easily could have been. And I was not alone. In the circle of oft dual-degreed, highly successful business women I ran with, in between our high-powered work meetings, soulcyle workouts, and “ladies who brunch” type of social gatherings, I would weekly hear whisperings of other condomless sex interactions they were having. Admittedly driven by the same misconstrued association of our value as women somehow being synonymous with a man deciding we were worthy to go raw in.

Raw is the word that finally made me change my choices. During a fateful encounter with a long-term partner who began getting sicker and sicker for unknown reasons, yet refused to get tested for HIV or STDS. It was at that moment I intently listened to my raw intuition that told me, “if you keep making the choices you do; for the reasons that you do; one day you will contract a disease you will not be able to cure.” This thought was so jarringly definitive, I finally realized that condomless sex was not love.

Then I had to do the self-work that allowed me to do better with my choices not because I knew better, but because I genuinely felt better. Discovering self-love that was not an easy journey to take, but one I had to make for my real-world health and mental wellbeing.

Changing the stats around HIV & STDS begins with me, and ends with you. It means taking a long sometimes hard look in the mirror at your own habits. Therapy might help. It did for me. Own your healthiest sexual nature so you can own your best sexual health. Do not let mistakes from your past, dictate the healthier decisions you can choose to make in your present and your future.

Make the routine of your own self-care via testing and treatment a priority. Find a location where you can tested free and confidentially with no judgment at www.freestdcheck.org. Share this information with your friends and loved ones.

You are worth it. Be the change you want to see. You will be glad you did. This is a lifekey about HIV/STDS I have learned along the way. This was the choice I finally made. And I have never looked back. Be well. Be Healthy. Be You.

#LifeKey: Condomless Sex as a single woman does not equal worth. And it is not worth the consequences that can come along with it.

Barbara's Flower Shop

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