Ottawa
3 min

Not just for the beer

So what’s new?We’ve avoided having to vote in the summer, listened to more arguments over same-sex marriage and had the news report about political scandals as though we cared. If you’re more concerned about updating your wardrobe, tanning evenly, making travel plans and wondering if you’ll actually get up in time to see the Pride Parade (not like last year where you “forgot” about the parade but remembered the beer tent), then you’re not alone.

It’s hard to care about the heavy stuff when the weather’s nice. Now there’s a new STI (sexually transmitted infection, formerly called STD), at least new in Canada, that’s floating around that health officials are tracking. I’d tell you all about it except I have been focussed on the above-mentioned non-thoughts so I’ve only heard about this STI in passing.

But don’t worry; I’m still going to complain about something. So by now, most of us should know how they work, STIs. If they’re sexually transmitted, then guess how you get them. Can you get them from oral, anal, vaginal, whatever-al sex play? Most likely, yes. Are there things we can use as protection? Only a whole bunch. We have a running short-list of the things that can kill us, a list of things that can and must be treated, things that scar and blemish, grow, recur, hurt, irritate and embarrass.

We have clinics, doctors, nurses, counsellors and services to help us find out if we’ve got any unwanted friends, and all this can be done anonymously in most cases. So why are young people still getting STIs?

There is a lack of focus on youth sexuality. Early youth sexuality is often seen as a taboo because it addresses sexuality with legal minors. When the subject intersects with queer issues and identities, it becomes even more charged. In many cases, sexual health education is not covered adequately in school. When it is addressed, queer sexuality is almost never mentioned. Many programs have a greater emphasis on reproductive functions than topics of sexual wellness. Homophobic environments compound the problem; topics on sexuality rarely extend to “non-traditional models” of sexuality. The values of educators, administrators and parents/guardians contribute either to the issue not being considered (heterosexism rears its ugly head) or to having an antagonistic view of the topic.

Sexual education is often taught functionally – the “how tos.” As a result, youth don’t learn about psychological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality. Besides, when did you learn something from sex-ed that you didn’t pick up somewhere else first?

Sex-ed often doesn’t address sexuality in power relations, between genders, differences in attitudes in social/cultural contexts, orientations and healthy sexuality. Issues of self-esteem, body image and peer pressure and the need for recognition is problematic in “grown-ups” and even more for youth.

Substance experimentation/ use/abuse in situations of potential sexual contact (parties for example) also influence the decision-making of many youth (as well as many adults) about practicing safer sex. For queer youth, these problems, along with issues of sexual identity, lead to greater problems. In cases where youth are closeted or in denial, practicing safe sex legitimizes the activity as sex. “As long as I’m not using a condom, I’m not really having sex,” some may think in error.

But, you know, being able to make convincing “irrationalizations” is part of the growing-up process. But it’s no good applied to safer sex. Myths are also floating around about how STIs are transmitted, leading to silly statements like, “We’ll only do oral then” or “I’m in the lowest percentile of infection risk, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

There is also the myth of the cure, leading some to believe that all infections can be cured. Within the queer community, there is an emphasis on HIV/AIDS that can either desensitize or overshadow all other issues of healthy sexuality.

Of course, ultimately there is still the matter of taking responsibility for yourself. Best to pay attention to what’s going on and to play safe with others.

And I must remember: get up for the parades, not just the beer.