The Bad (or Good) News about STDs

Fearful WomanThere’s one part of my job as an OB-Gyn physician that I dread. And I’ve had to do it several times in the last two weeks.

I dread telling a woman she has just been diagnosed with an STD.

Within just the past few days I’ve had to address HIV, HPV, herpes, and chlamydia. There’s just no easy way to tell someone that kind of news. The tears, the physical distress, the fear, often the shame, in a woman’s face just tears at my heart.

“I never thought this would happen to me.” “I thought I was being careful.” “Will this stop me from having children in the future?” “How am I going to tell my partner?”

The especially distressing part is that the vast majority of the time it’s totally unnecessary. Except in cases of rape there would be absolutely NO chance of having an STD if one woman and one man waited until after saying “I DO” to become physically intimate, and then kept the vows they made on that day.

In any discussion of STDs there’s always a flurry of discussion about better diagnosis, more effective treatments, better protection, better education, vaccines, etc. And now results of large studies are coming in about the effectiveness of antiviral medications for those who are repeatedly exposed to HIV.

And then there are the psychological and environmental issues – poverty, oppression of women, media portrayal of sexuality, child abuse, and more. And yes, STDs have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, and we have better ways of dealing with them now than we ever have in the past.

Let me say something clearly. I am all for public and private efforts to deal with prevention and treatment of STDs, appropriate education, and women’s empowerment. I hope a vaccine and a cure for HIV is found – soon! Money spent to develop better drugs is worth it. And society can and should help make prevention and treatment more available to more women.

But for an individual woman the message is clear: YOU DON’T HAVE TO!

  • You don’t have to experience the shame of an STD.
  • You don’t have to give yourself away for cheap.
  • You don’t have to worry for the rest of your life about some virus “getting” you.
  • You CAN say NO!

If you have already experienced the trauma of being told you have an STD, I wish I could wrap my arms around you and tell you that you are still precious, beautiful, lovely, and worth everything. As a doctor I’ll give you the best treatment I can. As a women I will reach out my hand and join yours. As a Christian I will affirm that the gospel declares you can have a fresh start today.

And if you have not experienced that trauma, please hear me. It’s not worth it! Please don’t take the risk! Save your body the pain and your mind the trauma. Wait until “I DO.” Otherwise, there is no truly safe sex. You’re worth protecting!

Your turn: How are you protecting your body and soul? What messages about STDs and intimacy have made an impression on you? I’d love to hear from you.

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