On Thursday Feb. 16, UNCG’s Office of Intercultural Engagement and Planned Parenthood, hosted a sexual education workshop in the Virginia Dare room (Alumni House) at 7:00 p.m., geared towards people of all genders and sexualities.
Filled with an assortment of food, pamphlets on sexual health and condoms to encourage people to practice safe sex, the room held about 20 to 30 attendees in chairs moved to form a giant square in order to center a representative from Planned Parenthood. The event, while about sexual education, primarily focused on Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections and how this impacts one’s sexual health, particularly in the LGBT community.
One of the topics tackled, was dispelling myths about HIV. For example, a common myth regarding HIV, is that if an HIV positive person so much as spits on an HIV negative person, that can pose a significant risk for the HIV negative person to contract the virus.
To clarify this misconception, the Planned Parenthood speaker explained how unlikely removed from reality myth is, “HIV is present in saliva, but, you would have to drink like, 3 gallons of someone else’s blood in 8 seconds or less,” to potentially contract the virus. “You can share drinks, you can share an eating utensil, you can kiss someone who is HIV positive, and you would not get it that way; unless you have sores or they have sores and one of you bleeds,” said the representative.
The most common ways one does contract HIV, however, are through sexual activities involving genital on genital contact, genital on mouth contact, genital on rectum contact, oral, and sharing IV needles.
Other ways one can contract HIV, are from an HIV positive mother to their child, either in utero or at birth. In order to identify whether one is at risk for this transmission, mothers, the representative said, can be tested twice during a pregnancy, once during the pregnancy and once right before giving birth. In order to prevent a possible mother to child HIV transmission, the representative said doctors will try to give the mother antiviral drugs right before she gives birth.
The next large topic of discussion, particularly for the LGBT community, was PrEP. Otherwise known as Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, PrEP is a drug one takes as a preventative to potential HIV exposure before sex. Conceptually, PrEP is revolutionary for gay and bisexual men, transgender women and sex workers, who are most at risk to contract HIV.
PrEP was also shown to prevent the contraction of HIV in IV drug users. PrEP is often used in conjunction with PEP, a drug one takes to prevent contracting HIV after being exposed to it. Those on PrEP need to take it every single day, regardless of whether they are sexually inactive for a period of time.
While PrEP is making significant strides to prevent the contraction of HIV, particularly in the LGBT community, it has a drawback. As was discussed, PrEP can cost upwards of $2000 a month, depending on one’s issuance, leaving the most vulnerable to HIV contraction, without access to this lifesaving drug.
While the Planned Parenthood representative said that PrEP is available at Planned Parenthood, it will cost, she said, between “1,000 to 1,200 dollars; and right now not a lot of insurance plans are picking that up.”
The representative then opened the floor up to people’s question. People primarily directed questions about STDS and STIs towards the representative, and she was frank and graphic in her descriptions of how these diseases and infections are contracted, treated and tested for.
A less explicit question the representative addressed, was about HPV; “How do you get tested for it and how can you prevent it,” an attendee asked.
One can get tested for HPV, she said, during a Pap smear vaginal test at a gynecologist at 21, and then every three years after turning 21. Cervix cells are examined during this test, to check for any abnormal cells. If abnormal cells are apparent, the cells are tested again to check for what level of HPV may be present. If low-grade HPV is detected, the representative said, they want you to come back in another six months to a year to get another Pap smear. If a higher grade is present, she said they may do more testing or a colposcopy, in which affected cells are removed to prevent cervical cancer.
While emphasizing that it is extremely common, the representative also said that it has the potential to go away, and not cause cancer. Depending on the strand of HPV, she also said some people can develop genital warts.
A preventative measure for HPV is the gardasil vaccine, which is encouraged to be given as young as 11, as it becomes less effective with age, sexual activity and is no longer covered by insurance after 26. At this time, she said, there is no way to test HPV for people assigned male at birth.
Throughout the rest of the workshop, the representative answered further questions, explained female and male birth control as well as how to use a male condom and dental dams. Serving as a candid sexual health resource of information and preventative sexual care to the LGBT community, the workshop also offered a wealth of information for anyone that wanted to learn more about how to ensure their sexual health.