‘It’s okay to talk about sex’: speaker answers questions about sex you’re afraid to ask
By Geoffrey Billeter
Before he started speaking, Howard Brown representative Tony Williams passed out condoms, lubricant and sexual health pamphlets to the audience.
“We’re all going to have sex,” he said. He reminded the audience that any time we talk seriously about sex, it should be “a judgment free zone.”
Discussions like this fight the stigma around STIs and make talking about sexual health more of a second nature, hopefully prompting conversation between partners before sex, rather than after, he said.
“It’s not shaming. It’s the awareness that it happens,” said Williams, adding that the most common misconception people have about STIs is that they’ll be judged.
Williams, a disease intervention specialist, works with people who are newly diagnosed with HIV or other STIs, and with people who are starting medication regimens related to sexual health. Williams came to Harold Washington on November 1st to lend his expertise to students.
The discussion focused on three specific STIs: syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Williams went over how the infections spread, how to identify symptoms on yourself or others, and how the infections work inside the body.
“Open sores, open doors,” he said, meaning spread of STIs often requires direct contact with a sore, as is the case with syphilis. If you see something like that on your partner, wait.
He also discussed the differences in how male-identified and female-identified people experience symptoms; with some infections being asymptomatic for one gender and not the other, although, he noted, “each body is different.”
Williams added that even if there are no symptoms, infections can still spread through close contact.
Protection from STIs, including HIV, has gotten more advanced with time--a notable example being PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill which protects uninfected people from getting HIV. But the best way to avoid infection is getting tested often, about every three months.
Asked by SGA president, Samer Hassan, where students can get tested for HIV and STIs at a low-cost or for free, Williams detailed the network of Howard Brown clinics.
He said there are more centers opening on the south side, with a new one coming to Hyde Park. Williams also noted that those twenty-five years of age or younger can utilize the Broadway Youth Center for sexual health, regardless of ability to pay.
On more than one occasion, Williams emphasized the communication between sex partners as an excellent defense against contracting and spreading STIs. Or, as Williams simply put it:
“It’s okay to talk about sex.”