I got involved in a very animated discussion recently when the topic of ‘cooties’ came up.
Grown up cooties specifically. You know, the kind associated with specific grown up activities. Ants in your pants. Bugs on your rug.
(NOTE: to those outside the US, cooties is an infantile term used to refer to germs, diseases, bugs etc. I’m using it because this post is about STDs and I don’t want to sound like the Centers for Disease Control).
The topic came up around how people approach the possibility of ‘cooties’ when meeting and ‘doing the physicals’ with new people. Today, based on the experience of the group of chicks I talked to, it seems like fewer and fewer people even think about the possibilities of ‘picking up’ something from a partner, and it’s not just men.
A rough survey conducted among a group of women I know showed that while many had spent their 20’s playing extra safe to ward off possible pregnancy scares and the specter of AIDs (‘Just Say No’ clearly worked for most of the MTV generation), as they hit their 30’s all caution (and underwear) was thrown to the wind. No condom? No problem.
Whether it was the advent of better pills, the distancing from AIDs (especially the straight married folks or non drama students in the group), the lack of knowledge about disease prevalence, embarrassment about bringing it up or just increased sex confidence, a large majority of people in the group didn’t ask, didn’t tell and just assumed before diving in.
Growing up in the UK, condoms were just a given. Whether we’re just natures pussies or, more likely, hypochondriacs, every guy, every woman I know wouldn’t dare to ‘go there’ without wrapping up. No glove, no love. Don’t be a fool wrap your tool. Bag the dagger. Wear the jimmyhat. You know.. use protection. (and no, your parents watching TV in the next room don’t count).
But when I moved to the US, I immediately noticed – like drunk driving – that standards were a little different. As in, non existent. Dudes looked horrified at the suggestion, a few claimed that they couldn’t, some claimed they wouldn’t and one said ‘they don’t fit’ (apparently he had a knob like a U haul or a toothpick.. I didn’t stay to find out). Dudes didn’t do, and girls didn’t ask. I even cautiously asked a few girlfriends about the situation and was told ‘oh go on the pill’ as though that was somehow magically going to protect me from cooties.
To many American women, diseases – from HIV to herpes, crabs to chlamydia – just weren’t something that would happen to “them”. Cooties were for someone else. Bad girls. Dirty girls. Hookers. Sluts.
There were of course exceptions to this blanket assessment who I met through the years: those who dabbled outside of their monogamous relationship; people with gay friends who understood more about disease prevalence; people who worked in the medical field and of course hypochondriac like me*.
*Lets just say, Nancy Reagan did a number on me about condoms, drugs and red suits.
These exceptions got tested regularly, ‘suited up’ with partners, and had discussions about history and safety before even a sock was removed. But the girls in my group at that time looked horrified when I mentioned ‘when do you discuss your status?’. The only outliers were those who’d been cheated on, were in open relationships, or weren’t in a relationship at all. And of course, the few silently nursing an STD and hoping to god that I’d shut up. Apparently in the US, polite girls (and guys), just don’t talk about it.
“But I’m married” (I don’t think rings guard against chlamydia but perhaps I had the wrong kind)
“We barely have sex anyway” (even more alarming.. what if he’s having sex with someone else)
“I know he’s ‘clean’ ” (really? do you have a lab and a petri dish by the side of the bed?)
” He’d tell me if he had something” (You really believe a dude knows his cootie status and would tell you about cooties if it would in any way get between him and your cooch?)
“I don’t like/ he doesn’t like/we don’t need to use condoms” (you might be on the pill, but does it kill cooties?)
The level of trust and blaseness around cooties was remarkable.. especially given these were all mature people, most in professional jobs with degrees and apparently, no small degree of common sense.
Which wouldn’t be alarming if it weren’t for the new cooties that are just lurking around waiting for a nice warm damp environment to flourish and the number of people who don’t know they have anything and therefore assume they’re completely ok.
Here’s a few things which guys can carry with no indications whatsoever.. and hand off to any willing female
1. Chlamydia: The ‘Wal Mart’ of STDs, Chlamydia is the #1 STD in the United States and most people have no symptoms. Most alarming you can catch it from every orifice you might be using, so transmission is super easy. The CDC suggests that everyone who’s ‘active’ get tested every year, even if you don’t have symptoms…. so when was your last test?
2. Gonorrhea: Again, another super common cootie with minimal symptoms that can be passed through any kind of fun activity. I actually knew a friend who ended up with this in her throat… She’s abstained from “sex” because she didn’t have a condom but went in a different direction with pretty much the same horrible outcome. Best of all, men with gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all, and most women with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms either. And most recently, studies have shown that the cootie is developing resistance to drugs, making it harder to treat, when you realize that you have it. Starting to feel a little itchy yet??
3. Syphilis: Called ‘the great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. The painless syphilis sore that you would get after you are first infected can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump on your ‘private area’ but also your lips, or even if your mouth. (wanna go grab a mirror?). Syphilis has 3 main stages and if left untreated, 10–30 years after you found that bump or weird thingy, you might find yourself with paralysis, numbness, blindness, and dementia, eventually resulting in death. Best of all? If the Syph doesn’t get you, your likelihood for contracting HIV just went up exponentially whether you’re gay, straight or somewhere in between. Now with a rise in the occurrence of syph (up 12%) over the last few years.. condom’s and testing aren’t looking so bad now are they?
4. Herpes: Ah, the herpe. The one most people seem to fear even though it’s actually not fatal, and for most people who have it (1 in 5 women, 1 in 10 men).. well they have no symptoms at all. People might confuse a herpes sore with a pimple or an ingrown hair, so don’t trust anyone who says they don’t have it and who’s never been tested. Because so many people carry it without knowing (know 5 women?.. 1 of them has it), its easy to contract, and with no cure, a permanent reminder of that time you thought you’d skip the condom. You can catch herpes even if the person has no outbreak, and while its only really an inconvenience (it’s not, like HIV, a life changer or ender), the social stigma seems to drive both men and women into total denial. Still down there with the mirror? I’ll move on…
5. Crabs (lice): Pubic lice usually are found in your nether regions, but did you know that they can also be found on any other coarse body hair, such as hair on the legs, armpits, mustache, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes? Suddenly that hipster beard doesn’t look so sexy does it? Actually one of the less common cooties around, crabs tend to be common amongst younger people (who don’t groom as much), and those who have multiple partners. And no, condoms don’t protect against them but a brazilian will limit their spread (but not entirely). So if you’re hitting the hay with the lights off with you fixie riding, oral loving one night stand.. you might, just might, want to turn on the lights before you get into it.
6. Trichomoniasis (or “trich”) is very common (3.7 million cases in 2012), most people who have the parasite can’t tell they’re infected and – bonus- its more common amongst older women than younger (though dudes, its equal opportunity for all of y’all). On a good note, some women do have yucky symptoms up to 28 days after contracting trich, so if you get a call on your voicemail from some chick you met a while back… you might want to schedule that doctors appointment.
7. HPV: Well this one has been done to death, but suffice to say HPV (or cootie warts), can be contracted easily, cured slightly less easily, and for some people, it clears eventually on its own (if you don’t mind being all warty down there for a few years). You can get vaccinated against it, its really dangerous to women (who might have increased risk of cancer as a result), so dudes… just wrap it up unless you know you’re good to go???
Ok ok,.. so you might be thinking ‘all well.. but thats for people who are single, people who sleep with hundreds of people, gay dudes, Gemini’s, dirty girls, dudes who ride motorcycles..etc etc’. And while all of that may be true, cooties don’t care. And cooties love sex. So get tested people, and be safe. Even if you think you’re exempt because you’re married, or monogamous, or only sleep with hot blondes or dudes who drive BMWs…
…. are you sure that weird bump on your inner thigh is just an ingrown hair???