This month at Planned Parenthood we are working closely with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on the GYT – Get Yourself Tested, Get Yourself Talking campaign. GYT encourages young people to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and open the lines of communication with partners, parents and health providers about this issue. As many as one in two sexually active young people will contract an STD by age 25. As if the stats for all young people in the U.S. weren’t alarming enough, among Latinas, the rate of gonorrhea infection is nearly twice as high as for non-Hispanic white women and for Chlamydia, the rate is three times higher.
When I was growing up in Dominican Republic, I never heard anyone talk about STDs. Ever. By the mid 90s, there was a general consciousness about HIV, which was everyone’s biggest scare. But even so, it seemed to exist in some abstract world that you never really associated with yourself. In general, the big and usually only fear about unprotected sex was getting pregnant. In our 15 year old minds, it was almost as if by discussing STDs you would be assuming some fairly negative stereotypes about the other person. With many of my friends, the way they approached safe sex was, you took precautions to not get pregnant, and crossed your fingers about all the other scary STD stuff you didn’t want to think about. It certainly wasn’t going to come up in any of my OB-GYN appointments — with the doctor that delivered my mother! Not to mention, there were no campaigns for young people on STDs. And there was absolutely no mention of sex or anything related to sex by our teachers and advisors in school, and you would be hard pressed to find parents ready to have those conversations with their teens. My first STD conversation and test was at my OB-GYN checkup in college once I came to the U.S. It was routine, easy, and painless.
For many who’ve grown up in the U.S., I wonder how your experiences have differed. Some of you may have had comprehensive sex ed in schools (lucky!). Some may have had abstinence only education. Some of you may have had parents who had open conversations about being sexually active and getting tested. Some may have had old-school Latino parents who probably would have locked you up in your room until you were 25 as a precautionary measure if you brought it up. As a teen, were you aware of STDs? Did you take precautions to have safe sex with this in mind? Were you tested for STDs? Did you have these conversations with your partner and was he/she tested too?
For Latin@s especially, it’s going to take campaigns like GYT to expand the national conversation about STDs and normalize STD testing – not as something to be afraid of, but a regular part of our overall health care. It’s up to us to spread information on safe sex in our communities and make getting tested a normal part of our lives, and a normal and necessary discussion with our sexual partners.
So make it a point to get tested this month. It’s easy: (1) find a health center, (2) make an appointment and (3) get tested. If you want to help spread the word, share our posts and get in on our conversations about GYT on Facebook – you’ll be doing your part in taking care of your health and turning these stats around!
Gaby is the Bilingual New Media Coordinator at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. If you are interested in learning more about reproductive and sexual health and rights in the Latino community, check out the Latinos for Planned Parenthood Facebook Page and join the conversation.
by Gabriela Lazzaro