Practicing Safe Sex during Pride
By: Al Gentile/TRT Reporter—
Pride officially begins in June and, cities and towns across the world are holding festivals, parades, and parties. As with any large-scale celebration, the amount of casual sexual encounters taking place can lead to an increase in instances of unsafe sex.
“There are still a lot of misconceptions about STIs, especially how you contract them and what treatment looks like,” according to Amanda Mehaffey, coordinator of prevention and screening at AIDS Project Worcester (APW). “I could go on for days about different misconceptions people have about STIs and how you could get them.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that about two million people contracted syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea in 2015, the highest contraction rate to date for those diseases. With over 1.1 million people living with AIDS, and at least 40,000 new cases of HIV each year, the issue of contracting STIs is a fight many organizations are still battling.
People are still afraid to speak openly about sex and sexual health, according to Dwayne Stewart, manager of engagement and prevention at Fenway Health in Boston.
“Unfortunately, talking about sex is still taboo in our society, but it is necessary for optimal sexual health,” he said. “Ask your partners about their sexual history before having sex and discuss when you each were last tested for STIs.”
Mehaffey said AIDS Project Worcester, along with other organizations, strives to empower people to have conversations that will ultimately keep them safe, an aspect of the organization’s work, she says, is indispensable to their mission.
“At APW, we work a lot with clients to encourage them to have these conversations with partners early,” Mehaffey said. “The best time to talk about safe sex is before the encounter starts. Be confident and informed when you talk to your partners because that will make them more comfortable.”
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM), said the stigma around talking about sex and sexual health needs to end and that people who are experiencing any pressure not to speak or not use protection should think twice about such an encounter.
“These are both big red flags,” Childs-Roshak said. “No one should be shamed, harassed, or judged because they want to use protection, have an STI, or want to have these conversations before engaging in sexual activity. Furthermore, no one should be pressured against using protection.”
Childs-Roshak continued, “Starting these conversations before sex can be challenging, but it is an important part of protecting yourself and your partners, and preventing the spread of STIs. Ultimately, using protection and talking about these issues make sex more enjoyable and stress free.”
A Surprising Reality
While misinformation about sex is an issue across the LGBTQ and straight communities, there are some groups bucking the trend. The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth has been aggressively working to educate young people on the importance of sexual health awareness.
Kurtlan Massarsky, director of development and marketing at BAGLY, said LGBTQ youth are among the best educated, in some cases more so than adults, on issues surrounding STIs.
“This is not to discount the many dedicated adult professionals working in sexual health advocacy and in the medical profession, but to discount the information, training, and drive that LGBTQ youth have to protect their communities from STIs is one of the follies that our communities tend to continue making,” Massarsky said.
BAGLY’s Health Educator and Risk Reduction Team (HEARRT) is a group of educators who are specifically trained in the sexual health needs of LGBTQ youth. This is among the numerous programs organizations have to increase education and break stigmas surrounding open and courageous communication regarding sexual health.
“Have fun, but be prepared,” Stewart of Fenway Health said. “Carry condoms with you when you go out during Pride, or keep some accessible by your nightstand.”
“Being responsible and looking out for your health and that of your partner doesn’t mean that sex won’t be enjoyable,” Childs-Roshak said.
Many organizations offer services, counseling, and, most importantly, judgment-free zones where anyone in the LGBTQ and straight communities can receive factual information on STIs. Many of the services offered are either free or of very low cost. Each expert quoted in this article urges readers to reach out ahead of Pride to find out more information.
Boston Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth
Offers onsite HIV testing, counseling, and referral services. Also hosts educational events across the state of Massachusetts.
Specialized health center for the LGBTQ community, offering many medical services.
AIDS Project Worcester
Offering screening and support services for all communities in Worcester County.
Offering screening services, testing, health counseling, and much more.