On Friday, I read a short blog on The Guardian
’s website written by a public health nurse and titled “What I’m Thinking: The Sexual Health Nurse.”
The anonymous author wrote:
“I recently treated a hepatitis B sufferer who needed an injection. He was a guy in scruffy clothes; underneath he wore women's underwear. I didn't raise an eyebrow. That is my job – the nonjudgmental holder of people's sexual secrets.”
A few days later, a news release from the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that a study put out by Public Health Ontario had found that nearly seven percent of all cases of gonorrhea did not respond to traditional antibiotic treatments.
Although this may be news to many, the fact that we may be entering an age where traditional pharmacological treatments are no longer effective is not news to epidemiologists, public health officials or microbiologists.
The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are showing resistance to cephalosporin, a class of antiobiotics used to treat the disease. In February of 2012, The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle wrote about drug-resistant sexually transmitted infections, noting that even the CDC believes that antibiotic-resistant STIs are on their way.
Both articles got me thinking about how we promote information about sexual health.
Talk to people in public health, specifically sexual health, and they will tell you that one of the hardest things they face is reaching out to certain communities, such as men who have sex with men. Traditionally, the most effective way to disseminate information to men who have sex with men (including gay men, bisexual men, men who identify as straight but have occasional sex with other men, and men who do not identify sexual contact with other men as being sex) was through postering, pamphlets and occasional face-to-face communication in areas where they congregated: gay bars, bathhouses, etc. These were often places where sex would happen, or preludes to sex would come to pass.
But today, preludes to sexual contact between men who have sex with men are becoming increasingly virtual. Online personal ads and phone apps have removed the physical spaces that could be occupied and have information available to those who wanted it. You would pass by a poster on a wall or someone would hand you a free condom with a pamphlet.
It’s not the same anymore. Occupying a virtual space is not as effective as occupying a real one. The onus is on the other person to click on your ad/profile/etc to actively read and absorb the information that would’ve otherwise been gathered through other means. It’s looking for active participation in what was previously a much more passive way of spreading information.
It's not an easy job. And kudos to the people who work at it.
A few months ago, I found myself having a discussion with a friend who is a high-school teacher. We discussed how teenagers are taught about sex, but only from a reproductive aspect. I likened it to teaching someone how to drive by explaining the inner workings of the car but not telling them how to drive, how to put the key in the ignition and least of all, telling them how to take care of the car.
“Or how to deal with what happens if you scratch the car,” he continued.
We don't teach kids how to keep their cars in tune. How can we expect them -- when they become more experienced drivers -- to know how to talk to their mechanics, let alone feel comfortable in doing so?
An old activist friend of mine once said to me, "If you can't talk about sex, then maybe you shouldn't be having it." As old-fashioned as that may sound, it does ring somewhat true. So how do we talk about sex? How do we talk about all the things around it?
The answer: we do just that. Talk.
In as many ways, in as many places as we can.