Sexual Health: A Field Study to STIs

Our understanding of STIs starts from government complicity of Black and queer deaths

By Katie Harbinson and Maddie Womack

When it comes to our sexual health, STIs are more common than you might think. The CDC estimates that one in five people have had a sexually transmitted infection. And yet, with that prevalence, there’s still a stigma around STIs. 

You might have previously heard these infections called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs, but many professionals and activists are moving away from that term. The American Sexual Health Association explains: “the concept of ‘disease,’ as in STD, suggests a clear medical problem, usually some obvious signs or symptoms. But many common STDs have no signs or symptoms in most of the people who have them. Or they have mild signs and symptoms that can be easily overlooked. So the sexually transmitted virus or bacteria can be described as creating ‘infection,’ which may or may not result in ‘disease.’” Many public health professionals also prefer the term STI, because of the stigma associated with the word “disease.” Stigma around sexual health stems from many factors (don’t even get us started), but today we want to dive into the history of the sexual health field and how it has laid the groundwork for some of those stigmas.

It’s important to start at the beginning. Much of the information on STIs that we have today was discovered due to unethical testing on Black bodies and overall government neglect of queer health—resulting in unnecessary suffering and deaths. We’re going to walk through some of these histories, to help us all better understand and destigmatize STIs. History classes in the education system tend to skip over these stories, and even those who lived through these government-inflicted tragedies were actively fed misinformation. Hell, we still don’t even have the whole story. Not all deaths or illnesses involved in these events were accurately recorded. But these stories contribute to the rightful distrust of the government and its healthcare systems today, as well as the stigmas that resulted from them. In order to properly destigmatize sexually transmitted infections and sexual health in general, we believe we must first understand and learn of its roots. 

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For All Your Sex Ed Questions, Call the Babes: A new column from Barrier Babes and Catcall

By Katie Harbinson and Maddie Womack

So here’s the deal. We’re really big fans of sex. 

Sex education to be exact. 

We’re Maddie and Katie, the faces behind Barrier Babes. Barrier Babes is an organization passionate about bringing unapologetic, inclusive, and comprehensive sex education across the midwest. You might have seen us at Kansas City abortion rallies or Women’s Marches. You might’ve even seen our condoms at venues around town. In our spare time, we enjoy drinking iced coffee and running across the Kansas City metro area to distribute free condoms. Simply put, we try to make risky behavior less risky. We’re proud to be longtime readers of Catcall and are beyond excited to officially partner with our favorite digital magazine!

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