It is a scary topic even among friends, mention sex and the titillated whispers start but trying to discuss safer sex practices ends the conversation. In the Knoxville area there is a stigma about discussing Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) and ignorance about why the more accurate term is Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Almost an attitude of “if we ignore it we won’t get it” abounds.
Among those who have not been raised in sexually oppressive communities there is a much higher awareness of reality on the subject. STIs do not discriminate, HIV does not skip cisgender heterosexuals in preference for gay men or transgender prostitutes, lesbians are not immune from any STIs by virtue, a wedding ring is not a shield of protection from disease, and abstinence-only sex education in schools actually leads to unsafe experimentation by youth.
According to the Center for Disease Control, half of all new HIV cases in US are found in the South while the Southern region holds only a third of the US population. While some reports point to this being related to poverty levels it is even more strongly influenced by lack of public awareness. Whether rich or poor, every resident of the South, including Knoxville, is under the same umbrella of institutionalized ignorance about sexual safety.
But STIs go well beyond HIV. Planned Parenthood lists 16 separate STIs:
HIV & AIDS
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pubic Lice (Crabs)
The Knoxville area Transgender support groups annually meet for a presentation on “Safer Sex Practices for All Bodies” and there are always new members who are surprised by what they did not know. Discussions include use of barriers (condoms, dental dams, latex vs plastic wrap), having regular blood tests performed, being more aware of anatomical signs and symptoms of infection or disease (which is emotionally difficult due to gender related body dysphoria), and choosing sexual partners very carefully.
Publicly available resources on Safer Sex for Transgender people are fairly uncommon. There is the assumption that cisgender resources are adequate, luckily more TG resources are becoming available. A targeted sampling includes:
Trans Woman Safer Sex Guide
PRIMED: The Back Pocket Guide For Transmen & The Men Who Dig Them
Safer Sex for Post SRS
CDC LGBT Heather: Transgender
Safer Sex for Trans guys
Safer Sex for Transguys: a Guide for the Whole Spectrum
Regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity or sex anatomy, safer sex practices saves lives. And safer sex practices begin with educating yourself before committing to the practice.
For residents of Knox County, free STD testing is available at the Main Health Department in the Communicable Disease Clinic, Monday through Friday between 8:00 and 3:30 p.m. Testing is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL. Patients are seen on a walk-in bases. No appointment is necessary. Address is 140 Dameron Ave, Knoxville, TN 37917. Free tests include HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, TB test may cost $10 unless you identify yourself as at high risk. Follow-up and counseling are also provided.