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By Dr. Laura McGuire
Dear Dr. Laura,
I was recently diagnosed with an STD. I’m being honest and telling people about it and trying to be careful. What else can I do? I’m afraid no one will want a relationship with me.
Dear courageous comrade,
Thanks for reaching out about such an important and touchy topic (pun intended). The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are 20 million new STD cases every single year. As much as people might mock or put down people who get STDs, most people will come in contact with at least one in their lifetime. To be real, you are in no way alone—having at least one STD in your lifetime is very common.
A lot of sex education focuses on the prevention of STDs, and rightfully so, as if you can avoid them that is ideal. STDs aren’t fun, but they also are not the end of the world or your sex life. Sometimes I think well-intentioned educators focus so hard on scaring people about STDs that they forget many of their students already have them and need to know that life will go on, like Celine Dion in Titanic. Do not forget that many, many STDs are curable and the rest are quite manageable.
Let’s bust some myths around STDs to get started.
Remember to talk to a medical professional you feel comfortable and safe with about what’s going on and how to either cure or manage your symptoms. If you meet people and they make you feel shame or embarrassment, then they aren’t worth your time. Remember that your health has nothing to do with your worth as a person, partner, or lover. Demand only the best, because that is what you deserve.
In Sex Positivity,
Dear Dr. Laura,
Should all men be circumcised? Is it cleaner/healthier?
Dear curious cleanliness consumer,
Cut or uncut, that is the question. Oh, the throngs of people who endlessly and passionately debate the state of the penis. They are cleaner, healthier, lovelier, some say, if they are foreskin free. But is this really true or just cultural mythology? Let the debate begin!
As a doula, I get asked by pregnant parents all the time about whether or not to cut their kiddos kibbles or not. In general I am hardcore “It’s your thing, do what you wanna do.” BUT this is different, because it is in fact not your thing, it’s your child’s. You wouldn’t get your daughter’s breast tissue removed because of a risk for breast cancer, and so in the same way you must remember that no matter how good your intentions, your child should have a say in all body modifications.
Now maybe you are saying, “But Dr. Laura, what if it looks funny/different and what about tradition/religion?” Glad you asked! Preferences are just that, objective. Whether someone will someday adore the way your baby’s bits look or not is contingent on a billion factors. And if your baby one day meets someone who acts like they are totally down for sexy town and then flips their lid because of the way their genitals look, well pardon my French, but *#@% them! You should teach your children that their bodies are theirs and no one else’s—partners and lovers are guests who shall be shown out if they don’t show good manners and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As far as tradition, there are a million things people have done for a thousand years that need to go (can you say fruitcake). So just because it has been done doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop and evaluate if it should still be done.
Now the medical side. Lots of folks focus on the research that says that circumcised penises have fewer STDs or that intact men smell weird due to bacteria. There have been many studies that tried to find a connection between STDs and intact penises; many doctors and researchers point to this and say “Ah ha! Off with their heads!” But hold on one moment. Other research hasn’t found this connection; in fact, it has found little or no correlation and thus points out that there are probably other factors that contribute to the differences in STD rates. But let’s play devil’s advocate—let’s say it was a direct correlation. There are a million other ways to protect yourself, i.e. getting tested, knowing your partner’s status, using barrier protection, etc. None of those are traumatic to the child (including long-term, see citations), involve non-consensual body mutilation (which is what infant circumcision is), or decrease pleasure (see citations). Penis owners may even have longitudinal risks such as erectile dysfunction due to the procedure decreasing nerve sensitivity. In countries with super low STD rates AND low circumcision rates, the protective factor is great sex education. As far as cleanliness, intact penises can be kept clean and lovely with a simple rinse during a shower. Vulvas can get the same kind of build-up between the folds of skin without regular external rinsing—it’s just common sense and no biggie no matter what genitals you have. So teach your children well, as the hippies said, and let your foreskin be.
In Sex Positivity,
Taddio, A., Katz, J., Ilersich, A. L., & Koren, G. (1997). Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain response during subsequent routine vaccination. The lancet, 349(9052), 599-603.
Laumann, E. O., Masi, C. M., & Zuckerman, E. W. (1997). Circumcision in the United States: prevalence, prophylactic effects, and sexual practice. Jama, 277(13), 1052-1057.
Kim, D., & Pang, M. G. (2007). The effect of male circumcision on sexuality. BJU international, 99(3), 619-622.
Bronselaer, G. A., Schober, J. M., Meyer‐Bahlburg, H. F., T’sjoen, G., Vlietinck, R., & Hoebeke, P. B. (2013). Male circumcision decreases penile sensitivity as measured in a large cohort. BJU international, 111(5), 820-827.
Dr. Laura McGuire is certified as a sexuality educator through the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists. Learn more about her work at drlauramcguire.com.