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If the mere mention of “STD” makes you blush, it’s time to face facts: It’s estimated that today — and every day — over 1 million STDs will be contracted across the globe. And at least 1 in 4 Americans will contract an STD at some point in their lives. That means you’re more likely to contract an STD than have blue eyes. 

The cure for these shocking statistics isn’t to panic, lock yourself into a chastity belt and throw away the key — it’s education, communication and STD testing. Jenelle Marie Pierce, the founder of TheSTDProject.com and a spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com, is on a crusade to get people talking about sexual health, bust the stigma around STDs and help people recognize that living with an STD isn’t the end of the world or the end of your sex life. In fact, it’s common. “All STDs,” Pierce says, “can be relatively easy to live with given the right access to STD testing, medication and treatment.” 

The more you know

Unfortunately, Pierce explains, one problem with the silence surrounding STDs is that it allows misinformation to spread. A key step towards safer sex is separating truth from the fictions that could be harmful to your health. “One of the biggest misconceptions about contracting STDs is that you can only get them if you are having traditional, penis-in-vagina sex,” Pierce shares. “In reality, you can contract STDs from manual sex, like hand-jobs, oral sex, as the giver or the receiver and during all types of penetrative sex, including anal sex.”

Another myth is that condoms prevent against all STDs. “Condoms are awesome, don’t get me wrong,” says Pierce, “but they only reduce your level of risk; they don’t eliminate it. Condoms can greatly reduce your risk of contracting infections like chlamydia and syphilis, which are transmitted via bodily fluids, but with infections like scabies or herpes, which are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, the condom will only protect the area of the skin that covers.”

Bone up on proper condom usage, such as: never use more than one condom at a time, avoid condoms with spermicides, skip flavored condoms for anal or vaginal sex (but go for it when it comes to oral sex) and use water-based or silicon-based sugar-free lube.

Testing is sexy

Pierce points out that another danger can lie in our assumptions and judgments about what an STD — or a person with an STD — looks like. “The most common symptom of all STDs is no symptom at all,” says Pierce. “That means that it’s very likely that someone could have an infection and transmit it to their partner(s) without ever knowing they were infected in the first place. Physical symptoms often come and go, even when the infection isn’t necessarily gone, so the only way to know for sure is to see a professional and get tested.”

Pierce recommends full STD screenings and sexual health exams at least once a year, but more frequently if you have new or multiple partners. Testing can be done by your health care provider, at health centers or even in the comfort of your own home with at-home STD testing kits like the comprehensive options Private iDNA offers.

Talk safe to me

Ultimately, Pierce points out, “it’s up to you and your partner(s) how you would like to incorporate comprehensive safer sex into your sex lives.” But she advises that a critical aspect of comprehensive safer sex is communication, and suggests that a pre-sex conversation should cover consent and boundaries, sexual history and contraception preference. 

“No partnered sex is 100 percent safe,” says Pierce. “but a lot of activities can be made safer.” If you’re not ready to have sex, that’s perfectly normal, but if you are sexually active, protect yourself and your partners by speaking up about STDs and what you need to be safe and have fun in bed. “Remember, all things contain risk, but we accept that risk, to some extent, because we want the reward associated with the activity,” Pierce concludes. “Partnered sexual activities are no different — there’s risk involved, and there’s also possibility of reward and satisfying our wants, needs and experiencing enjoyment. When you are ready to accept and take responsibility for some risk — understanding that there are things you can do to reduce your risk but not eliminate it entirely — then you are ready to be a sexually responsible, sexually active person.”

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