Ahh good old Sex Ed. Vague memories and incredibly random pieces that stand out from that chapter of life. I recall watching a video in 5th grade about puberty and what to expect as our bodies change. I remember everyone being uncomfortable and making jokes more than any actual content. There was a part when the video talked about your hips getting wider and changing shape, and a classmate innocently turned to me and said that my hips were wide, so I must be going through puberty. And that is all I remember from that ‘introduction.’
I also remember health class in high school. Our health class was held in the auditorium every day, even though it was a regular-sized class. I couldn’t tell you specific details that we went over if you gave me a million dollars. We definitely didn’t put condoms on bananas, but we were told they were to be used at all times. We did talk about STIs and how terrible and scary and world crushing they were. I’m sure they went over some details but the take away was the same — STIs are ugly and disgusting and if you get one you are ugly and disgusting too. Teen pregnancy? BAD. Sexually transmitted diseases? Exponentially worse. I was embarrassingly old when I learned what the STIs actually were and that they usually aren’t deadly. You would certainly think they were all deadly given how terrible society makes them out to be.
I don’t remember a long sit down talk with my mom — but the general “I hope you don’t have sex; but if you do, wear a condom” certainly was ingrained into me somewhere along the line. My mom got pregnant with me at 16, so there was definitely an emphasis and understanding of what sex could lead to.
I knew that condoms don’t always prevent pregnancy, but they prevent it 98% of the time when used properly, which are pretty good odds. I ignorantly assumed that the prevention rate was roughly the same for passing along STDs. I certainly wasn’t going to be sleeping with any people who have STIs, but, just in case, I felt like my little rubbers protected me. They did not.
I now have herpes. I wish someone had told me that condoms do not prevent herpes. I wish someone would have told me how incredibly common herpes was. I wish someone would have told me cold sores and herpes are the. same. thing. I honestly just wish someone had told me literally anything other then “STIs are bad and gross and terrible.” The herpes virus sucks sometimes, sure, but nowhere near as much as how some people treat you when they know you have it.
Having a virus that everyone is scared to contract, and being treated like a leper, is not fun for anyone. I am thankful that I didn’t get herpes until I was 30. I was old enough to know that life throws you punches, but the world keeps spinning, and life would go on. I can’t imagine getting this diagnosis when I was in my late teens or early 20s. I’ve met too many people since getting diagnosed who got herpes in that timeframe and have lived a sexless life full of shame for DECADES. There are people who are literally committing suicide because they have herpes, and our kids (and ourselves) deserve better knowledge than this.
I do not want to be the mother of someone who took their own life because of an STI diagnosis. I want my kids to know that for a substantial amount of the population, STIs are a part of life, and if they find themselves with an STI they are still valuable beyond measure. That there are people who have had one sexual partner their entire lives and get STIs, and people who have had 30 partners and never do. STIs say absolutely nothing about your character or about you as a person. If in their lifetime they become one of the millions and millions of people who have herpes, or any other STI, I want them to know they are not alone, and I want them to be educated with where and how to seek support, accurate information, and treatment. Sex talks with my children will still include the importance of condoms, the overwhelming importance of consent, and the impacts of an unwanted pregnancy. And you better believe we will talk about the reality of living with an STI.