The Wispering Podcast - Episode 2, The Stigma
Wispers

The Stigma

By Symone Elena

🗣️ wis·per·ing /ˈ(h)wispər-ing: verb

Why no "h"? We're changing the conversation around sex, our bodies and reproductive health.


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Welcome to The Wispering Podcast, where our goal is to change the volume on some of life's most difficult conversations. This podcast is brought to you by wisp, an online telahealth community for women and men. Looking for reliable and discreet online care for their sexual and reproductive health needs. Log on to hellowisp.com and get same day, prescriptions for UTI, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, oral herpes (AKA, cold sores) and many more. Medication can be picked up at a local pharmacy or you can have meds shipped in discreet packaging directly to your home. Online consultations only take a few minutes and all medication is prescribed by US-licensed doctors for all 50 states.

Hey everyone, welcome back, and if you're new here, I'm your host Symone Elena. So I know when we last spoke about facing an STI diagnosis and all the nuances of that journey. But, honestly, if you've never experienced an STI, you're probably just really lucky, but also Kudos to you. But for the rest of us, STIs are reality for a large portion of the population and no one is immune from contracting one, even if you religiously just practice safe sex or you just only had a few partners. And, I know this is weird for me to say, but STIS are really a powerful equalizer in this way. I say equalizer because honestly they cut across all social and economic dividers, and can unexpectedly show up at any stage in life. So like, if you've heard them stories about senior citizens getting STDs, like it's a real thing. They be getting it in, like they really do. So it is a health matter and they need to be addressed as soon as possible. And again, you should never, and - and I really want to like stress that — you should never feel bad about getting one, but also you should never delay getting treatment for testing, like that is the biggest mistake that you could possibly make for you know the future health of yourself. And it's also one of the most beautiful forms of self care and self love, so there's nothing wrong with practicing that. And for anybody out there, that's judging people, or if you're even judging yourself just a little too harshly, it's not an indication of anybody's worth, especially if you're facing your first STI diagnosis. Like I promise you, it's totally understandable and this might be a concept that's a little hard to accept, but I'm also here to remind you that there shouldn't be any stigma attached to having that experience.

And I know I've tossed the term stigma around quite a bit, but basically it just means it's a mark of disgrace and it's associated with, like, a particular circumstance or quality or just a person in general. So hopefully I can help, you know, deconstruct any anxiety, any humiliation, you're feeling with the pain that you're experiencing, or just the fear that you may have on the topic. And I think the real question here is: Why do stds have the power to elicit such a negative reaction? It really boils down to, partly there's just a significant number of people who are still judgmental about sex to this day, and people genuinely associate cleanliness to godliness. Like that, that is very much a thing people live by and it's all fun and games, and it's all fun and cool, you know, when you're living your best life having sex, doing whatever you want, and you know your friends are encouraging you to just do whatever with whoever, but then it'll be those same exact people who are looking at you crazy when they find out that, you know, you got an STD or an STI. And no matter how much we try to normalize, to not slut shame to not talk about sex, and everything in between, STDs are still just a taboo topic, unfortunately. And I think it really causes people who are suffering from symptoms to just want to like, crawl into a shell of shame, simply because of the fear, you know, towards people in their life will have for them because they found out that, you know, I got something, and so now I'm not clean or I'm reckless. It could just go on for days. So, I feel, I feel like I could really talk about what motivates people to judge, but people are going to be people at the end of the day. Humans are just, they're just going to react like that, and I do think the underlying theme is that though, we've been taught to fear certain things that are, you know, deemed dangerous, that shouldn't be the case when it comes to your sexual or reproductive health. And you can truly see how that effect happens through media, through commercial health care systems, and even products that aim to promote to us, You know, how they can offer to help keep us clean or safe, and I'm putting air quotes around that, because I want to remind you that you can contract various, you know, infections or diseases, even if you are clean and safe, like I told you on the last episode, so sometimes it's just not anybody else that's bringing this into, you know, into your body, it's just your body reacting to certain things that it doesn't like. And honestly, please just don't get me started on how most of the confusion here simply just comes from the lack of, and also misinformation and shame, just centered around sex and in many cases STIs are just like other common infections.

So all right, boom, so, for example, let's talk about gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can be spread to the genitals, your throat, or your rectum. Basically, yes. And a woman giving birth could also pass gonorrhea on to her baby during labor. And then to make things even more complicated, it is common among women with gonorrhea to show little-to-no symptoms of the infection. So you know sometimes we, we say, like, "Oh, men who have, you know, diseases or any infections like that, like there's really no way to test it, and it's hard to find those symptoms in men or to even know if they have it or not." The same can go for women in some cases. So when mild symptoms do occur, they can often be mistaken for a UTI or a similar, just vaginal infection that you think you can just cure over the counter. And basically, as a result of that, the infection rates can be higher among people who have sex infrequently or those who just avoid penetrative sex in favor of something more, you know, conservative on the first date like oral sex. And again, oral sex is still sex! Like, I want you to repeat after me, like just in case you didn't know, it is still a form of sex. Like, just because it's not penetrative, it's still sex, like, because if they have any form of infection in their genital area and your mouth comes in contact with that, or vice versa, you're still spreading it through that way. So let's just go ahead and knock that out the way, but I do want to kind of like, give, like, a little story about — this one is more so about like, having to share my specific situation with a partner and then more so being afraid of the stigma behind how they were going to react. So like, just go ahead and like close your eyes for a little bit and just go along with the story.

So imagine, like, 17 year old Mo. You know she's in high school living, her best life. Really, I'm not because I was really nerdy and you know, I wasn't that cute, but it's okay and my boyfriend at the time was very popular. He was an athlete, all that, I was really none of the above, but prior to him, my boyfriend, who was a few years older than me (so I was a freshman, he was a senior). I had contracted an STD. I avoided going to the doctor because I was new to this and I'm just thinking I had, like a yeast infection or something - and I told this story in the last, the last episode, but long story short, got that. Since I waited so long when I finally did go to the doctor with my mom, it ended up turning — I can't remember if it was either gonorrhea or chlamydia, but it was just one of those horrible ones that it turned to and then on top of that I also had HPV because I waited so long and for those of you don't know HPV is it's human papilloma virus, so they which can also cause cervical cancer. So this is me at seventeen dealing with this craziness, and they also found some cancer cells. Thankfully they were benign, and you know it ended up going on going away on its own, but for like two years after my relationship had ended, I was not having sex, but when I told my boyfriend at the time, you know, what was going on because my grandpa, he was dying as well at the same time. So I'm dealing with that and then losing him. So I'm out of town - and I text him like everything that was going on and he ended up telling me that he had a conversation with his mom about like, what he should do, which I thought was — at first, I was just like, "Why are you telling your mom this?" But in hindsight they had a really great relationship to where he could talk to her about things like that, and he said for the sake of our friendship and our relationship. He thinks it was just be best for the you know for us to just break up, because he didn't want to cheat on me. Being that young and being sexually active, like we didn't know no better, but for him, he didn't make me feel bad. He didn't call me dirty, like he didn't do anything, and he, like to this day, kept my secret, like he's still one of my best friends to this day, and for me, I don't experience a lot of people like that in my life, to where I could just openly come out to them like hey this happened, and I think I got an STD or I think I got an STI like, you Just don't meet people like that, so to experience that at such a young age it also told me how it's okay, and it happens, but to not communicate that with somebody that you care about because you're afraid of what they'll say or how they'll react, isn't okay. And if I would have never told him and we just would have had sex, like there's just no telling what effect I could have had on his life, his future relationships, this, that, and the third, you get what I'm saying. So, I'm really proud of myself for being strong enough and open enough to be able to do that. But at the same time, it definitely taught me to protect myself at the same time. So I just want to remind you all like it's okay, like regardless of how that person reacts, and it's not going to be an easy conversation that you have with every person, and I hope you never have to have this conversation, but at some point or another it is going to come up and you are going to, you know, require yourself to have these talks with people, and you just got to know how to go into it. So being that we had a foundation prior to our relationship, I think that's why it went so well because he was my best friend before he was my boyfriend and he was still my best friend after we broke up.

So yeah, like see when I bring up HPV, and I brought it up for a specific reason, and it's because that's also a reproductive health issue and we often feel, like you know, reproductive health is not an important thing when it is. And you've got to get your Pap smears like on the consistent schedule that they required. I know it used to be every year that you know women were supposed to get it, but I think they've now bumped it up to at least three years, but that's the thing: people are only waiting every three years to go get their pap smears and then, on top of that, STD screenings aren't included in that. You literally have to be like, "Hey Doc, you know, I know you're only here to do my Pap, but I also want to get tested for X, Y and Z." And I always do that. I always get my blood work done and make sure that's knocked out, because, if you're only waiting within that period to see if something's wrong, you could have had a UTI something that was super curable within, like a few, you know a few days, but because you waited three years you could have HPV or you could have cancer cells. It's all these different things that could happen just because you decided not to make this a routine, you know a routine part of your life and I especially think if kids are on the table for you in the future, then it's absolutely imperative that you make sure you keep things operating properly. Just so you don't hinder that natural option for yourself in trust me, there's no one size fits all option for having kids these days, but if a natural birth is something that you truly want, regular screenings are just as important as STI testing.

And just to keep going on that whole HPV story, I'm going to have to like, use pseudonyms for for the people in this story. So I'm going to say friend A and friend B, all right. So friend A, you know, this was my best friend in high school and she ended up telling me she had HPV. Hers was just a little bit more intense than mine, so she had to go through a little bit of a different treatment process and I wasn't sure if she was still dealing with HPV or not, like it just wasn't my place to ask her unless she wanted to talk to me about it, because I know it was an emotional experience, and you know I was appreciative that she shared it with me because she knew what I went through at the same time. And friend B was a new great friend of mine, like we knew each other a little bit less longer than friend A, but she ended up contracting HPV, as well. So friend A and friend B somehow ended up dating the same exact guy who is my friend as well. So it's just like a crazy little square we got going on. It's like I'm over here, knowing everybody's business, friend A and friend B are both having sex with the same guy, and at that point I'm just, I was in a weird place because I'm like, "Hey, you had HPV. She has HPV now. I just want you to be safe." But, I didn't know how to tell friend A that without compromising the, let's see, the — I don't know what word I'm looking for — but, basically the secrecy of her condition, because at the end of the day, it's not my place to tell another person or another friend who entrusted me with their health, another person that. So it was like a random day with friend A and I was just like, "Hey, I really want to make sure that, if you're going to keep sleeping with so-and-so that you just use protection, because I don't want you to get HPV again." And she looked at me crazy and she's like, "What are you talking about? Does friend B have it?" And I've just looked at her like I didn't even respond. I just looked at her, I'm just going to repeat what I said and then that's that. So, what is friend A do? Friend A gets upset, tells the guy, the guy says some horrible things to friend B. He ends up telling his homeboys, like it just started unraveling like crazy, and I'm asleep this night, and like my phone's going off, and like a bunch of people are like hitting me up like, "Hey, is friend B talking about you on Facebook right now?" I'm like, what are ya'll talking about? So I go on Facebook and yeah, friend B is like going in. Like, sis wrote like a whole, a whole eulogy about how our friendship was just absolutely means nothing to her now, she trusted me, I broke the trust, and she took some digs at me, which I honestly, I couldn't take them personally, because I knew she was upset and she was hurt because she felt betrayed, and you know, you literally have people attacking you right now and calling you all types of stuff. So I'm in complete disbelief. So I call friend A and I was like, "What did you do?" And she's like, "I don't know what you talkin' about." I was like, "No, what did you do because friend B's writing all this craziness about me and nobody else knew about it, except you, and I didn't even tell you it was her, so what happened?"

And so, basically, she ended up telling the guy like, "Hey, you need to be careful with friend B." And he was just like, "Why?" And she was like — and then I guess his best friend was around when she was on the phone with him and he was like, "Why, does she have something?" And she was like, "Well, that's none of my business," and I'm like, "For you to insinuate that or to even make that remark, you're gonna make them believe that she did have something," and so of course, young guys being young guys, they ran with it and they kind of just obliterated her, just, her as a woman. They just yeah, they broke her down. It was really fucked up overall, and I still think about it sometimes, but you know it's neither here nor there at this point, but that's just another example of why breaking down stigmas and deconstructing getting in STI or an STD, just deconstructing that fear or anything like that, or the shame is so important, because women's sexual and reproductive health is often the brunt of many jokes and even memes online, like people have grown in their careers just because of how they reenact or make fun of women like that's, that is, you know, the bulk of how they they get by as comedians and there's even women out there who brag about not even having discharge in their panties and like will literally post a picture of having dry underwear, and it's like, and people are in the comments just going in on them, and I mean granted they're trying to tell her like, "Hey, that's actually not good," and then there's other people who are just making fun, but also that boils down to that female or that woman not fully understanding their body and what it means to have a discharge or all these little nuances within our body that tells us, hey everything's working fine, and again a discharge is just a great way for your vagina to let you know she's holding it down, and it's also a great way to show you if there is something off, because you can tell if you have any form of infection or disease based on your discharge and based on the consistency of it, the color, the smell, all of that. So, honestly the frequency varies from woman to woman, but if you literally just don't have any at all, again go see a doctor as soon as possible to make sure everything is okay, but overall y'll the best cure for STD stigmas is better sex education and encouraging discussions around sexual health. And again, that is what we're here to do, and people need to learn how common these diseases are and how easily they can be treated and managed. This will also pave the way towards making screenings more common and lessen any awkwardness surrounding doctor visits for reproductive health issues.

So in the last episode we kind of just brought up how whisper secret is like another segment on the podcast, but outside of whisper secret, we do, ask like, community questions to kind of get you guys talking about these certain topics within the theme of the episode. So I asked, "Whose responsibility is it to bring up sexual history in a new relationship," and per usual, you know the Internet gives what it's supposed to give, which is pure ignorance sometimes, and I got some interesting responses. Some of them are really funny, like one girl that I do know, she said, "You know, I'm a whore. We're supposed to talk about that?" And I'm like yeah babe, your sexual history, your sexual health history, all that in a new relationship is important. And she says she don't do that, she just be fucking, and I'm like, "Jesus, be a fence," but the responses that I did get from both men and women that were actually really good. One person said, "Honestly, no one's entitled. If they're not ready for the discussion and to prevent the idea of slut shaming, I'd want the woman to speak on it over me bringing it up, because men honestly have pride in high body counts. Women, on the other hand, often feel devalued and are made to feel less of worth because of their body counts, so I let the women bring it up." And within that response, I think they were more so answering to the sexual history aspect where it's like, all right, how many people have you had sex with, and I more so meant it in like, whose responsibility do you feel like it is to bring up the sexual health history, like hey, you know, we need to talk about have you had anything or have you dated anybody who has, like things like that, and then he also turned around and said, "I answered incorrectly. I would say it's both parties responsibility to keep each other aware of each other's sexual health if, and only if, they're currently sexually active with said partner, and if not, it's nobody's business." And I do agree, like if you feel as though you have no intentions of being sexually active with this person and ya'll when I say sexually active - I mean orally and penetratively, like if you have zero intention, this is going to be strictly platonic. If you don't think you need to confide in that person in that way, cool, fine, it's you know, it's completely your, it's completely your prerogative, but at the same time, if you feel like at some point, this is definitely going to be a thing, then it needs to be talked about. Another person said, "I think this should be a mutual discussion in the beginning, the same for discussing what sex means to each person. Apparently, some men think oral and anal ain't sex and I'm usually the one to bring up the sex talk, because it helps me feel safer in the relationship, because trauma is a motherfucker." And I do agree with that too, because sex is different for everybody. I kind of had this conversation earlier, where some people can have just full-on casual sex and they think nothing of it, whereas for other people, sex is more of a emotional connection and a transfer of energy, and you just want to be protective of yourself and not just, you know, sexual health protective, but you want to be protective of your energy and what you're, allowing into your body, because you do, soul ties are very much real, and what you take on from other people is also very real, and it's very serious, especially if it's like some days, you're feeling emotions or experiencing things that you weren't experiencing prior. But if that person that you're sleeping with has these specific issues or symptoms? That should let you know you're taking on what they're carrying within them, and you just have to be mindful of who you allow in your space and who you allow inside of you.

So I just. I really want you guys to think about that because, whether it's the body count aspect or just the overall sexual health history of it, you just got to be mindful of that and ask those tough questions and based on how they respond, that should definitely let you know whether or not you want to proceed. Beacuse, yes, sex feels good until it don't. So I think that's it for for this episode, but before I do go, I want to ask you guys a question when it comes to finances. What is the most you ever really spent on a medical bill without insurance, because I know a lot of us don't have that access and aren't able to tap into that type of financial assistance. So, what is the toughest bill you've had when it comes to trying to pay for reproductive or a sexual health treatment? But if you do want to reach out to us prior to the next episode, drop us a line we do want to hear from you and again you can reach out to a wisp on their IG or twitter. They do have their website again, but their social handles are @hellowisp. Mine is @symoneelena and I will talk to you guys soon so again be love, be light, wrap it up once, never twice.

The Wispering Podcast should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always talk to your doctor or other qualified health provider about any symptoms you may be experiencing.

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