#043: Breaking the Stigma with Jenelle Pierce of The STD Project

October 15, 2018

Today we are talking with Jenelle Marie Pierce, Founder & Executive Director of The STD Project, spokesperson for PositiveSingles.com, and tri-chair of the Communications Actions Group at the National Coalition for Sexual Health. We discuss hype vs reality when it comes to STIs, how you should think about evaluating risk in your relationships, STIs and polyamory, evaluating the conflicting information surrounding STI’s, the common struggles folks face when they test positive for STI’s, and the activism and education that The STD Project is providing in the sexual health arena.

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Show Notes:

[3:55] Launched 6 years ago alongside STD Awareness month, The STD Project is primarily a website focused on STI’s. It now also has a podcast and YouTube channel.

[4:31] Jenelle shares her own experience about living with an STI.

[6:09] Visitors to The STD Project are a mix of folks that are recently diagnosed, and those wanting to find resources on testing, symptoms, and ways in which to practice safer sex.

[6:55] Activism takes many different forms, and even just sharing your experience with one person can make a difference.

[10:55] Jenelle’s hope is that one day we can discuss the risks that come with sexual activity in a simple and practical manner.

[13:37] Folks remember their sex-ed classes where they were shown severe and rare symptoms of STIs, and it builds upon the existing fear and shame, which may diminish the chance of responsible and preventative care.

[18:28] All partnered sexual activity contains some risk, and that risk gets higher the more you are participating in an activity that shares fluids and exposes skin. In general the ranking of least risky to most risky sexual activity is as follows: manual sex, oral sex, penetrative vaginal sex, and anal sex. The more your mucous membranes are exposed, the higher the risk. It also may matter if you are the giver/receiver, and different STI’s have their own set of conditions that make up the risk factors. Some STI’s are either transmitted from skin to skin contact, then there are infections that are transmitted through bodily fluids.

[23:37] There are 30+ STIs, so we need to talk about risk in terms of consent and making sure we are educated and proactive, or reactive if something was to happen.

[27:37] The initial step is having a conversation about risk, and about what concerns there are on the table between partner(s).

[31:32] A “full screening” usually only tests for 4 infections. Jenelle suggests getting tested between partners, and every 3-6 months when there are new or different partners.

[32:57] Muggles tend to believe just the act of having more partners puts you at a higher risk of contracting an STI / STD. In reality, the conversation around sex can be a little less scary for non-monogamous folks, so there may be more preventative efforts than in vanilla relationships.

[35:12] Jenelle suggests asking your partners if they have been tested, and what they have been tested for.

[39:47] We share our experiences of getting tested, and why you need to be your own advocate and make sure everything you want to be tested has actually been covered.

[43:46] The approach in which we ask our partners about their sexual health and history is extremely important. Instead of feeling like they are accused of something or on the defense, open communication sets up a space for non-judgmental discussion.

[47:40] The four main tests doctors usually run are chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV. Jenelle recommends also getting tested for Hepatitis C and B, Herpes, and talking to your doctors about what other testing is available.

[51:37] If the provider is not helpful, empathetic and thoughtful,  find a new one that fits your needs. You can also go to free clinics if you don’t have the financial resources to be tested at your doctor’s office.

[57:56] The greatest struggles that come along with the shock and shame of a diagnosis are the stigma that you are damaged or dirty, and the fear that no one will want to date you. Jenelle reminds us it’s okay to feel scared or concerned, acknowledge that emotion, and then find resources and support.

[62:12] If you have questions specifically about STIs and sexual safety, send them in and we will do a future Q&A with Jenelle.