My crabs or yours?

Protecting yourself from a life-threatening STD may be as simple as safe sex, but avoiding microbial diseases requires subtler methods.


Dan Stern
October 7, 1998 10:20PM (UTC)

Mother Nature must really want to put an end to this human race of
ours. Why else would she have infested our population with so many sexually
transmitted diseases? After all, if you can't do the deed, you can't plant
that seed (all techno-medical procedures aside).

But while STDs such as HIV and hepatitis C threaten to bring our reproductive
days to a halt, I'm currently more plagued by how other, non-life-threatening
venereal microbes have seriously disturbed the lives of college folk who
fantasize of waterfalls and pool bars and sunny days and naked souls all merged into one. That's why I think the less media-hyped STDs (genital warts, nongonococcal urethritis, scabies) could merely be the result of Mother Nature's resentment rather than her ploy to jeopardize the perpetuation of humankind. Aging Father Time might not have been giving it to her, so she figured, "Well, if I'm not getting any, then no one's getting any."

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I know a virgin who fooled around with this guy
the first week of her freshman year and received
from him a present. Actually she received many, all of which were tiny, clawed
things that dwelled in her pubic hair. She went a year and a half refusing to
accept so much as a high-five from another guy. These small-time VDs don't
amount to death sentences, but damn if they don't take the ho out of horny.
Eros, oh Eros, goddess of one-nighters, ruler of the G-spot, take me away from
this filthy planet.

It's a tragedy: How's a college male or female, as virile or nubile as they
respectively may be, finally on parole from the erotically void prison of Mom
and Dad, supposed to figure out who is safe to jump into bed with? And I'm not
even talking about intercourse. Oral sex, nude grinding, even kissing can
expose us to the degradation of becoming the walking petri dishes for a
host of bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Practice abstinence. Use a condom. Be honest with your partner. Get tested
together. That's what the educators say. But does this advice work for all
STDs, and how realistic is it?

The honest approach. Ha! To see how that plays out come game time, let's take a look at a male favorite -- the blow job. No guy wants genital herpes. But how does that guy approach the woman whose lips are inches away from engulfing what at that moment is his sole reason for living? What's the protocol for querying whether the wielder of such sensual power has these highly contagious, and inconveniently often inconspicuous, blisters and sores?
The wrong approach might offend her, and she could leave. And in light of how
difficult it is for most guys to attain this sacred rite, this option itself
is high-risk. And let's say it's the guy who secretly has genital herpes. I
know of no man who, after finally getting a girl back to his place, would
honestly admit to having this taboo disease. Remember, guys at this point
are being governed by an entity about three feet south of, and 10 times more
childish than, their brain. The ability to rationalize long-term benefits over
short-term gains simply isn't available.

And yet considering the nature and treatment of certain STDs, there shouldn't
be much of a dilemma. Take the common genital warts. A medical dictionary says
these start off as "soft, moist, pink or red swellings" -- probably the only
time using words like "soft," "moist" and "pink"
within the context of sex is actually a turn-off. The swellings then grow
rapidly and may develop stalks. And, soon enough, their rough surfaces give
them the appearance of small cauliflowers. Treatment ranges from cryotherapy (freezing) to anti-cancer drugs, and most methods frequently fail. Still having that dilemma?

Well, considering the libido of the average college student, the dilemma
might indeed still linger. Medical books and associations aren't much help.
They often dish out the same rhetoric: "We must educate people about how to prevent the spread of STDs, and especially encourage condom use." This is like a politician calling for world peace. It's all meaningless without a game
plan of practical, realistic steps and guidelines. Unfortunately, the
mainstream culture offers few forums for such discussion. Besides, much of
the blanket advice from sex educators doesn't really take
into account the complexity of the issue. Condoms and dental dams tend not to
be applied during oral sex, and even then, they don't prevent certain STDs, like pubic lice. Moreover, testing for STDs is not an option for spontaneous, onetime hookups. Honesty, if you're wise, shouldn't be relied on. And abstinence, well, if that's your pleasure then this article has no significance to you
anyway.

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Below is a summation of the basic approaches either as offered by health
officials and/or tested out by those who've come before you. Not one of them
will be completely acceptable to the lustful, free-loving student. It's sadly
a matter of picking the lesser of all evils:

1) Take the risk and accept the possibilities. Carpe diem! Or carpe herpum!

2) Ask your partners about their status and pray they're honest. Suspend
disbelief if necessary.

3) Choose to be only with those whom you know well and trust.

4) Get a full STD-oriented medical exam with your partner. Check his or her
results.

5) Obsess over the gruesome possibilities, avoid all sexual interactions with
others and curse this ruinous fact of life as you sit at home with your porn
collection.

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6) Take matters into your own hands (not literally -- that was No. 5). If
possible, look for anything out of the ordinary on your partner's body,
especially in his or her pubic region: blisters, bumps, reddening, swelling of the
skin, itchy rash, enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, mites (some are visible
to the naked eye) and mucuslike genital discharge (prior to stimulation, of
course). You should greet any one of these with something along the lines of,
"Hey, I'm just going to get dressed now and go home to masturbate. Thanks for
getting me drunk, though."

Sure, those involved in monogamous relationships may secretly praise the
existence of these microbes as barometers of cheating. For example, what guy
in a two-year relationship can brush off an accusation of unfaithfulness when
he's caught feverishly scratching his balls with one hand and applying
prescription Kwell to them with the other?

But for the single horndog out there, whatever approach you adopt, know this:
Somewhere between having painful warts on your genitals and experiencing the
most delicious time of your life is a decision that you're going to have
to live with.

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Dan Stern

Dan Stern lives and writes in New York.

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