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Life with STD girl

Aurarians do it with their heads on

By Leigh E. Rich

I haven’t dated. I’ve done research.

Really, I make a lousy first date. And I wouldn’t know about the second and third as I am rarely invited back.

Perhaps I should follow the advice of my cousin, who sternly admonishes me before I leave for what I hope will be a “meeting of the minds.”

She stares me straight in the eyes, compliments my attire, and says, “Don’t talk about STDs.”

And, if she has time, I receive an extra dose of “Refrain from topics such as condom usage, pregnancy and abortion, and, well, all infectious diseases in general.” But I can’t help it. This is what I do. I’m an STD girl.

For those of you who aren’t hip to all of these wonderful acronyms—CDC, STD, HPV, HIV, IDU, MSM, etc., etc.—an evening out with me is like a flashback to junior high school health class—though I do stop shy of whipping out a banana and demonstrating how to properly eroticize the condom and safer sex.

C’mon, how many other girls will talk about sex on the first date … and, well, all of the possible disease consequences of it?

But this is nothing new for me. I’ve been interested in health and medicine—particularly virology—since I was a wee lass, and I’ve been trained as a medical anthropologist since my early days at CU-Denver in ‘92. The combination of the two—infectious disease and human behavior—translates nicely into studying sexually transmitted diseases, even though this makes me much less popular on airplanes and at cocktail parties.

Now most of you—if you’ve even gotten this far—will scream in horror and turn back now, flipping instead to a more exciting article such as the classifieds or to contemplating what you’d do with $3,000 following the donation of your eggs. But, while an unconventional one, this is a college campus and if we don’t discuss this here, then where?

Assuming most of you are warm-blooded out there—and smooth enough to approach a member of your preferred gender—STDs are a pertinent topic and, emphasis here, a pertinent topic for you. Now, while you who have lasted 373 words into this piece begin to swirl half-remembered health statistics through your heads, research has shown that almost everyone underestimates his or her own risk.

Even standing toe-to-toe with your best friend, someone exactly like you who participates in the very same types of, ahem, sexual behaviors, you will somehow believe your friend to be more at risk for contracting (insert STD of choice in here).

Which leads me to yet another important topic. Most people can’t even name the STDs they are likely to encounter. The first on everyone’s lips, of course, is HIV/AIDS—as it should be due to the seriousness of the disease. Even though many seropositive people are living longer because of more effective drug cocktails, the stigma, personal and social consequences, and necessity of managing a grave, long-term illness continue to make HIV/AIDS an STD one should avoid at all costs.

But what about the others? Our public health messages in this country in the past decade have emphasized preventing HIV and other STDs—though many in the lay public cannot list and do not know the risks for contracting these nebulous “other.” It’s no rocket science here, really. It’s a matter of being well informed—though knowledge is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for reducing the spread of STDs—and practicing less risky behaviors.

Here, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and laid out for you in a convenient format you can clip out and adhere to your bedpost and/or ever-trusty box o’ condoms (now available in a variety of colors and flavors), is a few stats that should shock and appall you into consistent condom use and more open communication with your partner(s):

• Genital herpes: According to a recent national CDC study, 45 million people ages 12 and older are infected with HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes. This translates into one of five—one of five!—infected people in the adolescent and adult populations. For women, due to efficiency in male-to-female transmission (we women get the short end of the stick in this STD business), this statistic increases to one in four.

And, remember kids, herpes can be transmitted even between outbreaks and has no cure. Making matters even worse, “HSV-2 may play a major role in the heterosexual spread of HIV.”

• Chlamydia: Though easily treated and curable, many cases of chlamydia produce no symptoms and, when left untreated, can cause severe and expensive reproductive short- and long-term consequences, such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. An estimated three million cases occur annually in the United States.

Women often are screened during their annual exams every year, though many don’t know it. But let’s get with it, girls, and get your lil’ pumpkins tested, too. Previous chlamydia screening tests for men were awkward and painful, as a long swab was inserted up the … do I have to draw a diagram here? Current methods are much more humane, and all men have to do is pee in a cup—namewriting optional.

• Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is second in prevalence only to chlamydial infections. While treatable like chlamydia, it too often produces few symptoms, especially in women, and can go untreated for quite some time.

• Human papilloma virus (HPV): It is estimated that nearly 40 million Americans have some strain of HPV, a group of potentially 60 to 100 related viruses, some of which are believed to be the sole cause of cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell growth) and cancer. It also can cause genital warts, though only one person in 100 infected with HPV exhibits such outward symptoms.

And HPV can be spread despite condom use, as it is found on all of the genital tissues, and infection incidence appears to be increasing.

Listen up, women: Though your health provider has likely not even mentioned HPV to you, its cervical cancer link is why we don this year’s paper-towel outfit and jump into the stirrups while our favorite GYNny wheels into the examination room that tray of Inquisition-like PAP smear tools. Quite a price to pay for having sex, ain’t it?

• HIV/AIDS: According to the CDC, about 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the United States, 70 percent among men and 30 percent among women.

For men, about 60 percent are infected through homosexual sex, 25 percent through injection drug use, and 15 percent through heterosexual sex. For women, about 75 percent are infected through heterosexual sex and 25 percent through injection drug use.

And that’s just to name a few. I’d suggest grabbing your honey, pouring a few glasses of your favorite libation, lighting some aromatherapy candles known for their aphrodisiac qualities, and cuddling up to your computer and the CDC’s Web site at You can even check out what’s happening at Denver’s very own STD/HIV Prevention Training Center, funded by the CDC, at

And remember, Aurarians do it with their heads on.

Rich, L. E. (2001, November 7). Aurarians do it with their heads on. Advocate, p. 7.

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