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Out and About

APRIL IS STI AWARENESS MONTH!

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April is sometimes known as STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Awareness Month. This Spring, I sat down with Angélique Bouthot, Community Outreach Manager at the Worcester Planned Parenthood Health Center on Pleasant Street, to learn more.

Q: Why Do STIs Have an Awareness Month? A: “ Great question! STIs are a common risk of sexual activity, but they’re not always a common part of conversations about health. An awarenesss campaign brings this to the front of people’s minds. With 20 million new cases each year, it’s important to remind people of their resources.”

Q: Why Are Rates So High? A: “There’s no one simple answer to this question. We know sexual health knowl- edge varies, based on varying sex ed here and across the state. There are barriers to care, such as insurance, confidentiality, transportation, cost, etc. Stigma matters, too. People don’t always talk about sexual health with partners or medical profes- sionals because there are some common myths.”

Q: What About in the LGBTQ+ Community? A: “When students do have sex ed classes, they often don’t teach safer sex for LGBTQ+ folks. Realistic conversations with educators and medical professionals can help people make informed decisions about pleasure and safer sex practices. We encourage people to talk openly with partners and providers. Accessing care at an inclusive and affirming health center when possible can make that easier, and someone might have better access to barrier methods, like internal condoms and dental dams.

For folks concerned about HIV: testing and prevention options, like PrEP and bar- rier methods, have become more accessible in the city. We also know that unde- tectable = untransmittable, which means people with HIV cannot transmit it when they’re adhering to treatment and their viral load is suppressed.”

Q: What About Getting Tested Here in Worcester? A: “ We have several resources here in the city. There’s Planned Parenthood on Pleasant Street, AIDS Project Worcester on Green Street (still open during con- struction!), Family Health Center, Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, and people can also go to their primary care or OBGYN office for testing. Peo- ple have options if they have insurance, don’t have insurance, are undocumented, need confidential care, etc.”

Q: You Mentioned PrEP Earlier. Tell Me More. A: “PrEP is short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a daily medication that some- one who is HIV negative can take to prevent acquiring HIV from a partner. When taken regularly, it’s up to 99% effective at preventing transmission. People can ac- cess it at the providers I mentioned before.

Q: What Else Should People Know? A: “Testing, Treatment, Prevention. They’re all part of this work, just like having open conversations with partners and providers. STIs are common and treatable, and many are curable. Testing is the best way for someone to know if they have one, since many don’t cause obvious symptoms. People having all types of sex, like oral, vaginal, and anal, can transmit STIs and should get tested as a regular part of staying healthy.”

To learn more about Get Yourself Tested Month, check out pplm.org/gyt.

Special thanks to Angélique Bouthot for chatting and lending such important in- formation to the discussion about sexual health awareness. The more we eliminate stigma and allow ourselves to have these conversations openly and informatively, the healthier and happier we’ll all be.