By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Talking about sex doesn’t come naturally in our culture, but there are instances when talking about sex could mean a matter of life or death.
We Filipinos avoid talking about certain delicate topics, and that includes talking about sex. The ruckus caused every time there’s talk about reproductive health programs implemented by the government is enough to land as the top stories in media outlets all over the country, with pro- and anti-groups having their share of the limelight. Most Filipinos stay silent, too shy to talk about it, but where was the outcry when the news came out of birth control running out by this year?
There wasn’t much, since most were perhaps scared to be assumed as promiscuous or loose.
Plans of the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law by the Department of Health (DOH) is supposed to have started by Nov. 30 this year, which means that government health centers will need to provide free condoms and birth control pills, and provide post-abortion medical care. It also mandates public health workers to take training on family planning, and for schools to teach sex education. Whether or not all of these will be implemented and how, and in what order, has yet to be seen, but perhaps the RH Law will help educate and bring to the forefront another topic: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or STDs.
Even if Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach put HIV/AIDS awareness as her advocacy when she won the pageant, talking about STDs is still a delicate matter, if not taboo, for us. But not talking about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. The first reported case of HIV was in 1984, and the DOH stated that there was a 48 percent increase in reported HIV cases in the country in 2017, compared to 2016, as 1,098 new HIV Antibody sero-positive individuals were reported this May to the HIV/AIDS and Art registry of the Philippines (HARP). This is the highest recorded case since 1984. A huge chunk of it belongs to Filipinos who are between 25 and 34 years old, while 30 percent were youth aged 15 to 24 years.
While HIV AIDS is the most common disease that comes to mind when you say STD, there are a lot more Sexually Transmitted Infections, and some are asymptomatic, meaning the carrier doesn’t show any symptoms, but it can be passed on to a partner who will show such symptoms. Chlamydia in women, and gonorrhea in men, are the two most common STIs, and sometimes show no symptoms.
There is no one test to take or cure for all STIs (unless there’s any scientific basis to drinking coconut juice to cure it, which there isn’t). So if you suspect that you may be infected, either you might have a partner who was recently diagnosed with an STI, or you’re exhibiting symptoms yourself, there is a discreet way to go about treating it. Contact your health care provider and be transparent and detailed about your symptoms—it’s only when your health care provider has all the details that he or she can figure out what STI you might have, and what tests to conduct. It will probably entail blood work, a urine test, or a swabbing of your private parts, but it will greatly depend on the details you give to your health care provider. For bacterial infections, you’ll more often than not be given antibiotics as treatment, but if it becomes more serious, STIs can greatly affect your reproductive system for the rest of your life. For women, it seems to be more troubling to get infected, because it can result in difficult pregnancies or complications, and since HIV-AIDS can be passed on to children.
What is there to do? Knowledge about your partner’s sexual history is one thing. Protecting yourself—meaning, not relying on your partner to provide protection at all times—must also be done. There are numerous ways on protecting yourself—having one sexual partner and using condoms are some of them. Condoms may not be a surefire way to protect you, but it makes your chances of being protected greater than not using one at all.
Talking about STIs might get a few tongues wagging, but it’s precisely the lack in knowledge about it, and the stigma that comes with speaking about it, that will keep STIs a shameful secret to be kept, rather than treated. Weigh your priorities—would you rather stay silent and live with the infection, knowing that you could infect others and threaten your own life, or would you rather face the stigma and stress now, and get tested and treated? Let’s hope you’ll choose the latter.