STDs: Don't Put Your Sexual Health in Jeopardy

It's the final round of Jeopardy and Alex Trebek gives the following clue: "With 3.7 million new and existing cases each year, this sexually transmitted disease (STD) is the most common, curable STD in the United States."

When the famous jingle stops and the lights come on, Trebek moves to contestant #1 who confidently answers, "What is chlamydia?"

"Wrong," proclaims Trebek, as he moves to the next contestant who ventures, "What is gonorrhea?"

"Wrong again," says Trebek as he moves on to the third. "What is trichomoniasis?"

"Congratulations, you're today's winner!" exclaims Trebek as the two other contestants watch in stunned silence.

This episode is a fantasy, of course. But the answer to the question is very real. Trichomoniasis, or "Trich," is the most common, curable STD in the United States, yet a recent survey by the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) found that only one in five women are familiar with it. Furthermore, even those aware of Trich perceive it as the least common STD, when in reality there are more new cases of trich annually in the U.S. than syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea combined.

To be the most common STD, yet least known, is a testament to why April's STD Awareness Month is necessary and relevant. This April, public health advocates across the country are calling attention to the impact of STDs and the importance of getting tested.

There are approximately 19 million new STD cases each year in the U.S. alone. Yet many people are embarrassed by their diagnosis -- or even the thought of a diagnosis -- and hesitant to talk about it with their sexual partner or health care provider. Even in 2013, when social media has made communications more open than ever -- heck, even the Pope is active on Twitter -- we are held back in talking about having an infection, or even talking about concerns of an infection.

So, why aren't we talking about it? A large part of the reason is STD-related stigma and shame. People fear being judged negatively or being seen as promiscuous. But here's the thing. Sexual health is about much more than body parts and infections. It is a key part of our overall health and a life-long issue. We're all human. We're all sexual. And we all need to be aware and more comfortable talking about STDs.

Only then will we break the cycle of stigma.

Only then will people feel more at ease asking to get tested.

While many STDs are treatable and curable, a key component is early detection through testing. Most people think they would know if they had an STD. Not true. Many STDs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of people infected, or they have mild signs that can be easily overlooked. If you've had unprotected sex, have a new partner (or more than one partner), or for any reason are worried you have been exposed to an STD, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. Testing is the only way to know for sure.
So, take this opportunity to start a conversation with your partner. Have you ever had an STD? Has your partner? Have you been tested? Has she/he ever been tested? Are either of your having symptoms that should be checked out my a doctor? Many STDs have high reinfection rates, so it is smart for both partners to be tested and treated at the same time.

Most importantly, in honor of STD Awareness Month, commit to always practice safe sex, get tested and talk openly and honestly with your partner.

Don't play jeopardy with your health.