Words by Gizele Monáe, @MizzGizzy
The term sex is often used loosely—in casual conversation, film, television, social media, and business encounters. However contradictions and confusion still run rampant in society at large.
We have progressed to such a free spirited and sexually ambiguous era in time that where a person can be somewhat open about their OnlyFans account…while sex work is still frowned upon and criminalized. And on the matter of activity, people are often quick to enjoy the fun celebratory aspects of sexual identity and play, but afraid to discuss the consequences of potentially unsafe practices. Beyond the lack of transparency, we even see shame and stigma through out conversations even when they do happen.
The world was at the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the early 1990s. What you might not know is that the virus was originally called GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency. This created a wave of societal shame and discrimination that washed over the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, this stigma still exists in today’s modern society often seen through a heteronormative lens. Even though this myth has been debunked time and time again, a vast majority of society still believes HIV/AIDS is solely a “gay disease.” This ignorance only adds fuel to the flame of sexually active individuals across any and all orientations who choose not to be routinely tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), often based on fear of judgement or outcome. For this reason, sexual health professionals have dropped the term “disease” and adopted the less stigmatizing noun “infection.”
But stigma does not only affect those living with HIV and other STIs.
Although science has advanced in which we now have much more progressive preventative options, such as Truvada and Descovy for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention. Shame still exists in spaces where folks have chosen to act responsibly and use these treatments as preventative care. Yes, PrEP shaming; more specifically, the insinuation of promiscuity, leading toward other forms of shame, such as slut shaming.
READ MORE: The Intersection of Sexual & Mental Health
Shame and stigma come in a plethora of forms, especially with regards to sexual health, and it only damages society and communities within—both mentally and physically. This pervasive stigma plays a huge role in the lack of education within the sexual health and STI space. A great number of people avoid testing because of shame and fear or even for the common misconception that one would know (based on symptoms) if they contracted an STI. However it's important to remember there are several bacterial and viral infections with asymptomatic stages. For instance, while syphilis is a bacterial infection, meaning it can be cured with antibiotics, after treatment a person will constantly test reactive while not having an active infection.
The most important thing one can take away from this bit of sexual health education is that the only surefire way of knowing is by being responsible, getting tested, and practicing safer sex.
A Few Rules of Thumb:
- Sexually active individuals should get tested every three (3) months for common STIs (i.e., HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia, syphilis).
- ALL STIs have a window period for testing and if you test outside of that window you may have preliminary negative results.
- Many STIs are asymptomatic.
- Some STI symptoms can be confused as other conditions.
- ALWAYS inform your sexual partners if you do come into contact with someone with an infection, and if you cannot, health departments can assist in partner services.
- Not all healthcare providers are well-versed in sexual health resources. You should not feel shame or embarrassment in confiding in your provider about your sexual practices. If this is the case, your local or state health department can assist you with these resources, and there are many local community-based organizations that specialize in sexual health.
- Testing can be an anxiety inducing event. If in person testing does not work for you, there are many resources for at-home test kits for a number of STIs.
- Check out PrEPlocator.org if interested in PrEP.
- And don't forget irresponsible sex practices truly take the fun out of sex.
Gizele Monáe is a 33 year old drag entertainer from Oklahoma City, OK and the newly crowned Miss Gay Oklahoma America 2022. She has been an entertainer for over 12 years; being recognized as a comedy queen and most recently and profoundly the “Singing Queen of Oklahoma”. She’s held several other titles in the past years, most notably: Miss Gay Oklahoma USofA Newcomer 2014, Miss Oklahoman Comedy Queen 2017, and Miss Gulf Coast Comedy Queen 2018. She currently headlines a live show at FACES Nightclub in Oklahoma City. By day Gizele is Phillip Rideoutt II who currently serves as the Hepatitis Field Surveillance Specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. While he predominantly investigates active cases for viral Hepatitis B & C, he also performs follow up on past and present syphilis cases, and most recently the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program. Prior to working for the state health department, he was an HIV/STI prevention counselor at a non-profit community-based organization for over nine years. They truly have a passion for sexual health.