Since this is our annual “Love & Lust” issue, of course, we are going to talk about sex! Sex is everywhere. Sex sells. Regardless of your gender or your sexual orientation, sex is something we all think about. Today, sex is more accessible than ever. With smart phones and the internet, practically anyone can find someone for quick “no strings” fun. Looking for a quick lunch break hook-up? There’s an app for that!
While it’s fun to talk about sex, most people find it difficult to discuss the health concerns and risks associated with it, even with their own partners. I wanted to look deeper into the very real health issues surrounding sex and how they are being addressed. I sat down and spoke with local public health worker Hannah Stutts to get her views on the impact of STDs in Mecklenburg County, healthy relationships and well…sex!
Currently Stutts serves as Non-Traditional Testing Sites Coordinator for the health department. According to Stutts, the idea of a non-traditional testing site is to bring testing out into the community in places where we might not typically find it; to bring testing anywhere and everywhere. The program is identified as Stopping Mecklenburg’s Acceleration of Syphilis and HIV, also known as SMASH. Currently, Mecklenburg County has the highest rate of syphilis in the state. Through SMASH people are able to access free and confidential HIV and Syphilis testing throughout Mecklenburg County on a regular basis.
So Hannah, tell me a little bit about yourself:
I’m originally a Midwestern girl born in Illinois, but I lived in Madison, Wisc., for most of my life. I moved here in the summer of 2008 and started my job with the health department in August of 2009. Prior to being hired, I was placed with the health department through AmeriCorps National AIDS Fund. My degree is in education, with a minor in women and gender studies. I knew that I wanted to do HIV education and help people understand how to have healthy, safe, sex lives.
Who all should get tested?
Every person who is sexually active needs to be tested. Its not about one type of person or one type of sex. We are all the face of HIV and that’s the main mesage. If we can teach young adults to make testing for all STDs a part of their sexual health, then I think we can end HIV. We just have to talk about it.
There is such a stigma surrounding HIV and STDs in general. How can we combat this?
To me, the main way to eliminate the stigma around HIV in general is to talk about it. We need to make everyone know that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I think if we can normalize testing, just like breast cancer screenings or getting any other health screening, then we will be removing stigma.
More recently I have seen a lot more virgins coming in to get tested: parents bringing in their children, college students going as a group and virgins planning to have sex coming together to get tested for the first time. I think this is a great way to become familiar with the process and take away the stigma.
Do you have a policy for getting tested yourself?
Personally, my policy is to date someone for three months and then go get tested together. That is what my husband and I did. Basically, by doing that you are building yourself an insurance policy. You get tested, show each other your results and then you know that you are entering into your relationship with a clean bill of sexual health. After that, its a trust thing. Do you trust your partner enough to engage in unprotected sex? And, for that matter, do you trust yourself enough to have unprotected sex? Then couples should be tested together once a year. It’s just a good way to show that you are both in it to be safe, loving and respectful of each other’s health.
In an ideal world you would not engage in any oral, vaginal or anal sex for that first three months just so you have time to really get to know each other, but if you do plan on doing any of these things, you need to use protection every time from the beginning to the end of each sexual encounter.
Can having safe sex really be ‘sexy’?
Totally! Condom use and finding a condom that feels good to both partners can be a sexy thing. When we give out condoms in our community testing sites, we give a variety pack. People can try a “condom buffet” with all the different kinds. Make it into a fun thing to try them all out and see which ones feel the best. Then, not only are you having play time with the condoms, but you are finding one that will let both partners get the most sensation.
Lube can also be a sexy part of safe sex. Putting a drop of lube, silicon is best, inside the condom will make it feel better and using lube on the outside can be a playful thing as well. Keep in mind not to use silicon lube with silicon sex toys though!
You can also try putting condoms on with your mouth. Just make sure when you do it, you aren’t using your teeth to pinch the tip.
What would you say to someone who is having trouble talking about safe sex with their partner?
If you can’t tell your partner that you need to use a condom or that one type doesn’t feel right, whatever you need, then you should evaluate if this is the best situation to be in or if you’re even ready to be sexually active with this person. You should communicate with your partner before ever having sex about what you need in a sexual relationship. Then you have laid the foundation for good communcation throughout, whether you are just hooking up with someone or looking to have a serious relationship. I always tell people we need to open our mouths and not be afraid to tell someone what we need.
What is your favorite part about your job?
I love pretty much everything about my job. The people I work with at the health department and the other HIV services agencies in Charlotte are all very passionate and committed to this work and helping our community. I love talking to people and meeting all types of clients. I get to go all over Mecklenburg County and meet people from all walks of life and that is an amazing thing.
I guess it is teaching people that I like the most. Whether it’s teaching someone the basic facts about HIV and other STDs or helping someone learn how to talk to their partner. I just want to help our communtiy be full of healthy people and every interaction I have is important.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to make sure people know they can call 704-432-TEST for more info on any STD testing in the area.
Also, the 2012 AIDS Walk is coming up on May 5, 2012. I have been on the AIDS Walk planning committee for two years. It is not only the biggest awareness event in our area, but its an important fundraiser for RAIN. The health department has been lucky to be asked to work with RAIN at the AIDS Walk to provide testing. The Walk is a great way for people to come together and celebrate that we can and are making a difference. We all walk together to show or dedication to fighting HIV stigma and working to end this epedemic.
There are a lot of ways to get involved in the AIDS Walk. The best way to find out about it is to go to the website and check it out. People can participate through starting a team, signing up as a sleep walker, getting a team together for the bar crawl that will take place in March — there’s a ton of ways to support this event. : :