Less awkward with an app?
My generation came of age during the start of the AIDs crisis and we were taught to fear the consequences of STDs. We sat through school assemblies with spunky speakers in brightly colored oversize T-shirts who told us to ask our partners if they had been tested. They gave us scripts and role plays for asking a partner to wear a condom but little guidance about the conversation about STD testing. But hey, we were responsible kids, not slackers when it came to sex, a lot of us did ask partners for HIV tests and maybe for other STDs as well. But few of us found a way to be comfortable or casual about this conversation.
I just learned about a new app for exactly that conversation. Silly me, of course there’s an app for that! It’s a smart concept. Hula hosts and protects consumers STD information which can be downloaded from your healthcare provider to the site. It provides Yelp type reviews and contact info for testing facilities in your area. But the part that could change people’s dating experiences is that you can give someone a code to visit your profile and verify your STD status. So no more, “yeah, I got tested months ago, no worries”, no more wondering if someone really did get tested or how long ago. If you decide you want to take the step of being fluid bonded (sharing sexual fluids, not safe sex) with someone, you have an easy and effective way to responsibly take that step together.
My hope for something like this app is that it makes checking STD status a normal part of the sexual interaction and dating cycle. People dating now cannot deny the reality of STDs. The CDC estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in this country, half among young people ages 15–24. It is a part of the sexual landscape and awareness is part of sexual responsibility. We need to find ways to make this less awkward, to normalize safer sex and the steps to take before deciding to share fluids. Can you imagine a time in which during the sexual buildup of a relationship or a hookup someone says, “U make me hot. txt me your STD profile. J”. Whether this sounds scary or sad or brilliant to you, it is a part of the modern dating reality. Anything we can do to make this conversation easier is important.
Studies looking at teenagers use of condoms suggest that 70 % of sexually active teen boys say they use a condom “occasionally”. The problem is occasionally doesn’t work. If you are effectively aware of a female partner’s fertility cycle, occasionally using a condom may provide some protection against pregnancy, but is still risky. But for use against STDs occasionally just won’t cut it. Age us up a little bit and those same people who have been “occasionally” exposed to STDs are still not using condoms very often. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, only 18 % of single women aged 20 – 40 are regularly using condoms.
There are over 24 sexually transmitted diseases that we can be exposed to and many of them are asymptomactic – but still can be spread from partner to partner. And we are spreading them. In the US, one on five people has Herpes. Nearly 50% of sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime.
STDs are so common, they are a fact of our sexual lives. It is time we stopped thinking of them as a moral issue or as something only certain people get. The most common excuse I hear for not having safer sex is that the partner seemed safe & responsible. Of course they did – because normal, healthy people have STDs, many of whom have no symptoms and have not actually been tested for any STDs because they didn’t think they needed to be. We need to accept this reality and still do what we can to reduce our chances of being infected. Getting STD screenings can be a part of the new relationship milestones for those choosing monogamy or to be fluid bonded, but for people with new sexual partners using a condom is still the best protection you have. In Victorian England they used to believe that only the “dirty poor” got certain illness, until they found that bacteria causing it was in water and impacted everyone. We don’t assume only certain sloppy people get colds. STDs are easily transmitted, it is time we see that everyone can get them - even that perfect new partner you have your eye on.
“Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones” -- John Lennon
Honesty is not insensitivity or insisting on having things your way. Honesty is letting someone else see who you really are. So when I read this quote by Lennon, I think it tells a truth that is deeper than it seems. He is not talking about there being “right” and “wrong” people out there, but about how we find the right people to love us. And coming from a man who was "loved" by millions and projected on by nearly all of them, I feel he might have known something about being loved for who you seem to be versus who you are.
Sometimes when we are dating or meeting new people, our approach is to try and be as likable as possible. This is nice, to an extent. We can learn new things about ourselves and find genuine new interests and passions that we may never have discovered on our own. But what happens when we try so hard to be likable that we appear to be someone we are not? One possibility is that we may end up never feeling truly loved. Or believe we have to perform to be loved. Finding the right match for you, whether a partner or a friend, will require you to show them who you are, to be honest about what you like, what you find funny, what your limits are, what you believe in, where you want to go. Then if they like you it is real. You can assume they will still like you when you are too tired or stressed or over putting up a front.
Dating, and early stages of any voluntary relationship, is the time to be honest. It may, as Lennon said, lead to some people stepping away as your mismatches become clear. But ultimately it may led you to the people who will recognize the colorful mosaic of who you have become, people who will hear what you have to say even when it is hard to hear, people who will be great partners in building the life that is truly right for you. I say it is worth the risk. Be honest and trust that the right people will find you fascinating.
Ahhhh, that new love or lust feeling. The euphoria, the tingles, the butterflies, the nights you can stay up talking and making love, no need to sleep. The sense that you have met the One, that nothing else matters, that this is what you have been looking for.
Researcher Helen Fisher studied people in early stages of love and she found that the incredible rush of new love is reflected or created, depending on your philosophy, by shifts in our brain chemistry. That’s right we are actually experiencing changes in brain chemistry – increased dopamine and norephinephrine in particular. New relationships light up the pleasure centers of the brain, including what are known as the addiction-like drives in the brain meaning the drive to get MORE of that as soon as possible. These parts of our brains give us more energy, they can cause us to maintain focused attention and an intense yearning for the recent source of our pleasure. During this early phase of attraction people find that they need less sleep, have strong emotions, may experience intrusive thinking about the person they are drawn to, find it hard to focus on normal daily tasks, and have a heightened sex drive.
All of this allows us, and indeed encourages us, to form stronger attachments. It helps us to fall in love deeply and to place our attention and energy on nurturing a new relationship. However, this brain state also can cause us to see our new partner in a slightly imbalanced light. You know that feeling, when you adore everything about them, even their faults are quirky and adorable. You may also recognize the feeling that can come later when you wonder how you ever thought that habit was cute and the character traits that once charmed you now get on your last nerve. Also tricky, in new relationship energy we are so drawn to attach to this new partner that problems and conflicts may only serve to heighten our drive to be with them. Romeo and Juliet never got past new relationship energy.
So maybe new relationship energy is not in the best mind space for decision-making or long term planning. It is not crazy however. This phase of relationship is a gift, one that opens us up to another person in a way that is non-rational. But love and attachment are not at their foundation about reason. Still, reason and clear judgment are good for creating a life we can enjoy and feel good about. Helen Fisher’s research also found that at some point our brain activity changes again and we are better able to process our emotions and consider other important elements in our life again. We also lose that supernatural ability to go without sleep, have sex anywhere at any time, and to see our partner as perfection embodied. Oh well.
Don’t be afraid of new relationship energy, just be aware of it. Ride this wave and know you will eventually be back on shore, hopefully with a solid attachment to your new partner and also the ability to see the big picture.
Referenced : Fisher, Helen (2004) Why We Love : the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love