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Ask Dr. Laura: STDs and Circumcision

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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.

  1. STDs do not mean you can’t have sex again. Yes, you have to be honest about your status and, yes, some people will say thanks but no thanks, but that’s true about a million factors in dating. Confidence is the sexiest thing on this earth, and saying “Hey, I have an STD, and I know how to manage it, and I want to keep you safe, here’s how” will go a long way at opening up dialogue and put your partners at ease.
  2. You don’t have to tell everyone. You didn’t kill a kitten for fun…you simply have an infection—you aren’t a dangerous or bad person. Yeah, you have to tell people you wanna get freaky with your status, but that doesn’t mean you have to “confess” your STD to your cubicle buddy, mail person, or wait staff (unless you get freaky with them, too). Remember, having an STD doesn’t make you less than anyone else and tons of people are walking around with them and just not saying anything or not even knowing.
  3. Having an STD doesn’t mean you are dirty. A lot of the stigma around STDs is the idea that to get one, you have to have not cared about your health or hygiene, which is not true. The other myth is that you must have been had casual sex without protection with anyone you bumped into on the street. First of all, even if that is true, that does not mean you are a bad or immoral person in any way. Secondly, tons of people who think they can never get one do. Sometimes people think they are in a monogamous relationship and their partner isn’t and gives them an infection. Other times people contract them from sexual assault and rape, which of course they have zero control over. The point is you should never feel like you should be judged on your character by your STD status.

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,

Dr. Laura

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,

Dr. Laura

Sex Geekery

Taddio, A., Katz, J., Ilersich, A. L., & Koren, G. (1997). Effect of neonatal circumcision on pain response during subsequent routine vaccination. The lancet349(9052), 599-603.

Laumann, E. O., Masi, C. M., & Zuckerman, E. W. (1997). Circumcision in the United States: prevalence, prophylactic effects, and sexual practice. Jama277(13), 1052-1057.

Kim, D., & Pang, M. G. (2007). The effect of male circumcision on sexuality. BJU international99(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 international111(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.

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Laura McGuire

Dr. Laura McGuire is certified as a sexuality educator through the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists.
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