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Cover Story: Tainted Love

STDs: When you care enough to

By Kathy Y. Wilson · February 9th, 2005 · Cover Story

transmit the very worstLove does not guarantee sex, and sex isn't always a by-product of love. Lust usually comes before anything. And in the slippery, pulsating throes of athletic sex, stemming the unprotected tide of bodily fluids remains the last thing on our minds even as we continue facing high rates of sometimes deadly sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The best and most effective way not to contract or spread STDs is not to have full on, flesh-on-flesh sex at all. Yep, abstinence.

How boring.

The next best way is to protect your sex with all manners of latex, dental dams, gloves, tests and honest conversations about sexual histories. Barring that, there's monogamy and trust.

But for those who still dare to push up in -- and get pushed up in -- while unprotected and assume that a hot shower, a douche or even KY Jelly is a shield against the sneaky bacteria waiting for a soft place to land, prepare yourselves for a regimen of salves, pills, creams and embarrassing clinic visits to treat gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, AIDS and many underreported STDs.

This isn't high school health class taught by a sexually ambiguous gym teacher, but it bears an adult run-through.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), STDs remain a "major health threat" in America.

A staggering 19 million STD infections are contracted annually, half of those occurring among 15- to 24-year-olds.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the "reportable" STDs; chlamydia threatens women's health, reports of gonorrhea have decreased while blacks remain the group most affected by it and syphilis has increased among men having sex with men but decreased among women and blacks.

While chlamydia, called a "silent" STD by the CDC, is most often associated with women and can cause female infertility, it also can result in discharge or burning and itching around the opening of the penis of an infected man. Fellas, begin squirming now.

Female symptoms include abnormal vaginal discharge or burning during urination. Some women are asymptomatic, even if the infection spreads from the cervix to the fallopian tubes.

Others have lower abdominal pain, nausea, fever, pain during intercourse or bleeding between periods. Chlamydia is transmitted during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Second to gonorrhea, chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in America, according to the CDC, and 877,478 chlamydia infections were reported in 2003, up by nearly 43,000 cases.

While you're having unprotected sex with someone you don't know well or thought you did, your body is moving bacteria around without your help or knowledge like a self-cleaning oven in reverse.

Gonorrhea is a bacterium that grows and multiplies easily and rapidly in the warmth and moisture of a woman's cervix and fallopian tubes and the urine canal of men and women. It can also grow in the mouth, throat, eyes and anus and is spread through contact with an infected penis, vagina, mouth or anus. It's a self-starter and doesn't depend on ejaculation to take root.

People treated successfully for gonorrhea remain at risk to recontract it if they have sexual contact with a person infected with it, says the CDC.

Reported gonorrhea in blacks was 20 times those of whites in 2003, a decrease from 23 times greater as reported in 2002.

Syphilis, after a lag in 2000, is back with a vengeance, rising for the third consecutive year in 2003, reports the CDC. The early stages, which indicate recent infection, increased overall from 6,862 to 7,177 cases.

Men having sex with men is the main community infected with syphilis, aka "the great imitator," for its indistinguishable symptoms. It seems like a scene from a crackling, sputtering health film, but syphilis is perhaps still the STD that elicits snickers.

Maybe that's because it was once associated as the secret gift exchanged between prostitutes and married men or the "fast girls" who did the high school football team.

Nothing's funny about the disease passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore appearing in the external genitals, vagina, anus or in the rectum.

For all we know about e-mail, iPods, SUVs and reality TV, we still rely on untruths and back alley rumor when it comes to STDs. Like all other STDs, there are still sophomoric lies about the transmission of syphilis. Despite lore, syphilis can't be transmitted through toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs or bathtubs.

In this, the age of war, famine, national (in)security and tsunami relief, STDs rage among Americans who seem fear-filled against all other sorts of human contact. Except sex, the best kind.

And also the most dangerous if performed unprotected. ©



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