This article is part of the TNGG Sex Week series on Gen Y and sex. Read more from the series here.
Once upon a time there were two young college students who didn’t want to conduct meaningless research about how music affects mood or colors on screen and tapping keys or boring stuff like that. We thought we were far too unique for that. We were on a quest to see if watching the girls on Sex and City getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) affected our young college students’ perceptions of their own vulnerability to negative sexual outcomes.
Our hypothesis was a total bust.
What we did find is that college students think their friends and strangers are bigger sluts and more likely to get an STD or have an unplanned pregnancy than themselves. There’s even major research to back this up.
Do we think we’re too smart to let anything bad happen to ourselves? Do we actually think we’re being more responsible than everyone else or do we just feel invincible? We know that Gen Y has super high expectations for ourselves, but also for others. So when we find out that our friends or strangers got an STD we’re going to judge them pretty harshly & quickly. We let our own behavior off the hook more than we do others’.
So what happens when we find out that we got an STD ourselves? We’re judging ourselves even more harshly than our friends. Yea, we’re smart but sometimes we take that to mean that we can do anything and do anything we want without any negative consequences. We’re used to taking risks and being praised for it. We’re used to accomplishment, not sacrifice and suffering. As a generation we really haven’t suffered much in our lives or seen a whole lot of suffering, so why would we think anything bad would happen to us now?
All those statistics… those don’t apply to us. We are independent and we are unique individuals for which national statistics don’t apply to. I mean after all, we did grow up feeling like there was nobody else on Earth like ourselves because we were all beautiful and unique snowflakes.
Yes, our generation is moving towards having more freedom, knowledge and openness sexually than previous generations, but we’re still stuck under the stigma of STDs. Society has come a long way, but Gen Y still grew up in a society where the federal government promotes abstinence-only sex education (aka no education at all) and only half of schools report teaching some sort of comprehensive sex education—and the meaning of that varies considerably. So yes we think we’re smart, but part of the problem is that we don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re acting under various stereotypes and myths; some of which are true, many of which are completely misunderstood.
Myth: Sluts And Virgins
I have a friend who’s had sex with 60 partners in 6 years; 45 with a condom, 15 without. Total slut in most people’s eyes, but always and still completely STD free. There is this stereotype that sluts are dirty and virgins are clean. Sometimes that’s true but sometimes it’s not and yet we still make this judgment over and over.
We usually assume that virgins are clean, but there are plenty of examples of virgins with herpes, for example, who may not even think to be tested because they’ve never had sex. Point being, don’t assume anything about anyone. It’s not fair to anyone to assume people with many sexual partners are irresponsible, to assume that virgins are automatically a safe bet, or to judge anyone with an STD as a bad person.
Because It Could Happen To You
In fact it happened to my research partner for this study, who contracted HPV just two years after conducting our research:
“I so pissed at myself because even though I do see myself as ‘safe’ I had probably made a few choices that put me at risk at points. Even though I knew the risk was there I thought ‘meh I’m okay, I’m smart’. I still thought ‘that’s not me, that’s other girls’. I was shocked I guess. It was scary at first definitely. I think if I ever have a new partner I will be more aggressive about always using protection and getting tested immediately upon starting a sexual relationship.”
Even though we all should be as safe as we can, we shouldn’t be so hard on others or ourselves when something happens. Most of the time it’s not as big of a deal as we make it out to be. Most of the time there’s a cure but if not, is it fair to assume that someone made a horrendous mistake because they had the unfortunate luck of getting a mild virus with huge social consequences?
It could happen to anyone, really and when it does, we shouldn’t feel shamed into silence. Silence will only exacerbate the problem. It’s our duty to talk to our sexual partners about STDs without being judged either way. It’s just as much your duty to talk to your friends and family about STDs to bring it all closer to home for everyone. It’s all about reducing the stigma. It happens. So let’s stop judging people and start dealing with it.
What types of myths have you heard about STDs? How do you bust the myths and stigma about STDs in your daily life?
Author: Carlee Mallard -blog- I’m a 2007 graduate of UNC – Chapel Hill where I studied Psychology, Geography and Urban Planning. I currently spend my weekdays conducting education survey research for the government, but you’ll find me dabbling in photography, entrepreneurship, traveling domestically & internationally, savings our cities from historic destruction/cars/sprawl/simplicity, relationships, lifestyle design and writing.
Photo Credit: toestubber