This question came up at work yesterday, in relation to an article on HPV and Gardasil. I felt kind of uncomfortable about the advice “limit your number of sexual partners” related to HPV prevention, because to me, it feels like a value judgement. But what’s the equivalent? My instinct is to say “have mature, open conversations about safer sex with all your partners, no matter their number.” But numbers-wise, this technique doesn’t achieve the same goal as reducing partners. HPV transmission isn’t fully prevented by the use of barriers, though they certainly help. It’s also hard to know whether you have HPV, because a lot of people do have it, and thus screening tests aren’t common under the age of 30. It doesn’t show up on a Pap smear. So technically speaking, limiting your number of partners is the most effective thing to do, in addition to practicing safe sex.
On the other hand, when it comes to something like HPV, I’m unsure what the risk/benefit calculus really is. For example, many women who have sex with women don’t use barriers because frankly, it’s a pain in the ass. It’s not a community standard, and STI risks are low enough that some people don’t think using a dental dam or gloves is really worth it. You might make a similar choice about HPV–I probably have it or have had it, it’ll probably clear up, what’s the big deal? Maybe this is more about stigmatizing STIs than anything. It’s all well and good to give advice for prevention, but maybe what’s more important advice than anything is “get tested after 30, look for lingering cases, have regular Pap smears in case an issue does show up before then.”
For day twenty five of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki. Cara is one of my favorite bloggers because she keeps everyone updated on all the crappy victim-blaming stuff that goes on, but sex education is also one of her big topics. I remember reading this essay for the first time and being really intrigued because I knew I was for comprehensive sex education, but I had no way of picturing what that would look like. If you think about what Cara’s proposing, it really could be revolutionary.
For day fifteen of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “Hooking up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry, who works in sexual violence prevention. Perry’s essay includes the story of his own first 13-year-old attempt to have sex and some information he’s learned in working in sexual violence prevention about how effective sex education works. What I found most interesting about the essay, though, was the idea of sex as a “game” that boys can win or lose.