Why are we so damn ashamed of STI’s?

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I’ve been ‘sexually active’ for nearly a decade. In that time I’ve been fortunate enough to have never contracted an STI. However, I have many friends who have – from HPV strains, to chlamydia and gonorrhea. Almost every time a friend comes to me to tell me that they have caught something from a partner the conversation inevitably turns to shame.

For many women, knowledge that a disease they have caught is linked to sexual activity leads to an inexorable feeling of humiliation or self-consciousness – a possible belief that this contraction is linked to their worth as a person, partner and woman who previously felt that she had a ‘clean’ bill of sexual health.

Each time a friend confides these feelings to me I tell her the same thing, ‘would you be ashamed of catching the flu? Of tonsillitis? No!’

 

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At the same time, I can’t understand their feeling of shame as I’ve never contracted one. My motive as a friend is to ensure that they feel the same way about an STI as they would any other illness, and try to ensure they stop equating what they’ve caught with their sense of self-worth.

STI’s – in particular HPV, Herpes, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are incredibly common – but they are still considered a taboo subject within society, and when entering into a relationship with a new partner. In a study of women living in Manchester, UK an estimated 40% of women between the ages of 20-24 were found to be carrying HPV. Unsurprisingly if, like me, you have ever comforted a friend through an STI scare, many of these women reported feelings of shame upon finding out that HPV was a sexually transmitted disease.

“Knowledge that HPV is sexually transmitted was associated with higher levels
of stigma and shame, but not anxiety. Women who knew that HPV is sexually transmitted but not that it is highly prevalent had the highest scores for stigma and shame.”

The same study suggested that ‘normalising’ HPV and informing the participants of the study in regard to how common HPV contractions are helped reduce feelings of shame and stigma within these women.

“The lower stigma and shame scores in the women who were aware of the high prevalence of HPV suggest that this information might have a ‘‘normalising’’ effect.”

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The study also noted that this effect was similar to those noted in experimental research which has suggested that participants felt that infections they perceived as ‘common’ were “less serious than those perceived to be rare”.

STI’s sometimes fall victim to schoolyard myths and urban legends – not to mention widespread mainstream media scare tactics designed to ‘stop’ teenagers having sex, in misguided attempts to prevent teenage pregnancy.

Personally I am of the opinion that STI screens should be introduced in schools. In Australia roughly 50% of people will have had sex by the age of 16 or 17,      It’s not unheard of to discuss sex in schools, with topics like consent, pregnancy, and STI’s covered –  high school is also the place we receive our HPV vaccines. However, the national curriculum falls short when it comes to discussing the ties between feelings of shame and lack of self-worth that can be linked to the sexual experiences, sexuality, and sexual orientation of individuals. An ‘unlearning’ where sex-based urban mythologies are concerned is a necessary introduction to help teenagers and young adults navigate not only a safe, but an emotionally intelligent and well-rounded sexual experience as they feel ready for it.

Shame and sexual health seem to go hand in hand, as yet another leftover from our days of Victorian moralising, and claims that our sexuality and sense of self-respect or societal value are interlinked. Where schools and mainstream media outlets aren’t stepping up, yourself and your peers can: To reduce feelings of shame surrounding STI’s within yourself and others, arm yourself with knowledge. Learn to self-educate with reputable sources, and to unlearn the myths of the past. 

How I Get My Articles Published Online

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Long before strip clubs and social media, I worked as a hustler of a different kind. At seventeen I was fresh out of high school and looking to make my mark on the writing world. I began by submitting articles to online publications that paid nothing. I wrote pieces on music, (hip-hop – and found out who Kendrick Lamar was) and got free tickets to DJ gigs and festivals to cover them, and sometimes even take photos of them for their websites.

A few months later I got my first paid gig and things started to look up. I supported myself on and off throughout my first years of university with freelance work.

The gig economy is a fickle one, but a necessary evil in today’s world of  casual contracts. Freelance can be a wonderful lesson in business and marketing, so I thought I’d put together a few points on how I got my freelance work back in the day.

  • Get your first few bylines – usually this means writing some free articles, but don’t do too much free work, it ruins it for everyone else.  However it does help to have one or two writing references on your resume. 
  • Start pitching articles to publications – I pitch around 5x articles to an editor in each round, knowing some will get rejected. You need a catchy title and a few sentences explaining your angle. Pitches should be short, to the point, and friendly. Don’t write in cliches, & know the style of the website you are pitching, so that you nail the kind of content they’re looking for. A health and fitness website isn’t interesting in financial articles and vice versa.
  • Most magazine or website articles sit at about 500-750 words and editors do NOT like when you go over this. This comes from print-magazines where the word-count had to be decided by what could fit in the physical layout. It’s a good rule to stick to, and it helps you keep your writing as succinct as possible.
  • Create a writing resume with examples of your work – Alternatively you could create a media kit, particularly if you create content that isn’t just writing. 
  • Having a blog is a good thing to include on your writing resume if it’s professional and well-written (read: Not like mine. Mine is the antithesis of employment opportunities, this is why I don’t use my real name online).
  • Send out short emails to media companies, blogs, and other companies you are interested in writing for,  include said resume and links to previous articles. Having a linktree or blog with a list of your articles all in one place is very handy. 
  • You can also find copywriting jobs online – often these are very bland. Writing about vacuum cleaners is mind-numbing, but they are more likely to hire you than Marie Claire. Also they pay quite well. My second highest paying freelance job was for a veterinary website. So boring. I read SO many Ceaser Milan blog posts for research. But it paid the bills and gave me lots of experience in a different style of writing. It was also consistent work. 
  • Some companies will pay a set rate, some will pay you according to your rates. I used to charge roughly 0.40c per word each article. I wouldn’t accept less than $100 per article as a new writer with a few bylines. Eventually you can negotiate your rates to be higher. I think the most I ever charged was $600 for a single article, with unedited photos for an event at a winery. It was great, I got to take a drunk ride on a horse and cart and eat ($$) cheese. 
  • Then, refer back to my videos on freelancer taxes. It’s titled as stripper taxes, but it’s all about freelance. They are both sole trader businesses. 

It takes consistent effort to keep up writing as a viable side hustle or main income.  Keep going, because you will get a lot of rejections – you will also get a lot of valuable feedback on your writing (not to mention actual constructive criticism that helps you grow as a writer).

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The Myth of the Seven Day Rule: What the Pope had to do with the Contraceptive Pill

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Earlier this week I read this article, which revealed that the withdrawal bleed at the end of the pill cycle may be completely unnecessary. The reason the withdrawal bleed was created was due to a gynecologist at the time trying to get the Pope to be more open to contraceptives.

“He [John Rock] thought he’d get the Pope on board with oral contraceptives if it could mimic a woman’s natural cycle, still making her bleed once a month. The Pope, being the Pope, did not approve and the man renounced Catholicism, but that’s another story.”

Upon reading this I rolled my eyes, thought ‘sounds about right’, took a screen-shot of the article and shared it to my Instagram story. The idea of doctors ignoring women’s health due to religious or political affiliations (not to mention personal bias!) is an idea I’ve come to terms with since my first experiences with the contraceptive pill. I’ve written about how horrific the pill made me feel before, and why I choose not to take it.

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Since turning eighteen, moving out of home and taking care of my own health I’ve been shuffled around to various GP’s, physio’s, and other doctors in an effort to manage the chronic pain I experience (which becomes debilitating as soon as my period hits every month). Each doctor has no idea why I’m in pain, even as I list each symptom, along with my family history, and ask for ultrasounds on my ovaries because I am sure the pain has something to do with my reproductive system. In her article for The Independent, Kate Leaver begs the question myself and so many of my peers are constantly asking:

“How can we possibly know so little about women’s bodies, with a medical research industry as sophisticated as ours?”

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The Health Gap: 

There’s a long history, and a lot of statistics that can back up claims of women being treated differently than men by GP’s, and in emergency room settings. From claims of pain being dismissed, to being less likely to receive opioid painkillers in response.

“Research on disparities between how women and men are treated in medical settings is growing — and it is concerning for any woman seeking care.”

The decisions doctors make about our bodies, and how they will be cared for are not immune to personal bias. These personal biases can be linked to sexual politics, and the unfair misogynistic bias inherent in laws informed by religion, or past status quo. There is also evidence to suggest that bias is also present when it comes to treating patients of different ethnicities.

I remember grabbing the morning-after pill one day in my early twenties from a random chemist in Melbourne’s CBD, the chemist who filled my script described it as an ‘abortion pill’ and used terms like, ‘this will flush “it” (it being a potential fetus – which definitely would NOT be present in the 24 hour post-coital period) right down the tubes’. These ill-informed words were coming from a healthcare professional who was supposed to be giving me advice! Advice on how to take medicine! I was shocked. He also seemed to think that any spotting that might occur after taking the pill was evidence of an abortion taking place (it’s not).

The protests surrounding the historic referendum last year in Ireland proved that there are still people in this word who don’t believe in women having the right to information about their bodies. Or maybe they don’t believe this, but they are still horrifically ill-informed about how the female reproductive system works, or maybe how women’s minds work, or what we are capable of achieving in life, and how modern healthcare affords us the necessary tools to succeed in this world. 

While these groups likely don’t represent the beliefs of your local GP, these ideas are leftovers from a period in which women’s health was heavily dismissed. These inherent biases need to be stripped from healthcare provider education, in order to bring up to date the healthcare and information we are giving women and the general public.