I’m hyped, you’re hyped, we’re ALL hyped for season 3 of Insecure to come out on August 12th. I mean, let’s be serious–as an educated black, female, 20 something, teacher, and someone who is losing in this hook-up culture, it has become very common of me to mix up a plot of an Insecure episode with a week in my life and vice versa. So yeah, I can relate.
Coming from the tough streets of Milwaukee where it seems you need a magnifying glass to find well-rounded dating partners that all your hot friends haven’t already dated, a sexier city like DC that’s transient, A lot more diverse, east coast artsy and hustlin’ seems like a dating scene mecca. But yet and still, there’s this precariousness because as of right now, the biggest of anyone’s concerns when it comes to hook-up culture should be the one we keep glossing over, ahem, safe sex. And the bullsh*t that happens when you ain’t having it? Yeah, that’s a damn problem. And no, I’m not referring to how we prevent pregnancy but rather how we are preventing and dealing when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs). It’s a blaring problem played off as some nuance from the real streets of this Chocolate city that I now call home, to the “real-like” world of television.
A friend and I were talking the other day and discussed that in a lot of popular shows, especially on HBO, there seems to be a lack of camera time on the use of protection (i.e. condoms) in the bedroom. Thinking back to Insecure, we cannot tell whether that overt silence is an intentional choice made to support the storyline. For example, if Molly and one of her dudes didn’t wear a condom the times they had sex, will the show explore how Molly deals with her sexual health? Or is it all to appeal to fantasy sex?
Fantasy sex is this very adult, carefree portrayal of sex that focuses on the orgasmic, emotive and sensual nature of sex and by doing so, eliminates the visibility of its awkward and unsavory realities. By awkward and unsavory, I’m not talking just about a failure to imagine the body in its most natural, humanly form, (with fat, birthmarks, skin hair, stretch marks, moles, wrinkles, cellulite, etc.) during a sexual act. Rather, the awkward pause in asking your partner about STDs and STIs, putting on a condom, pulling off a condom, showering before sex, showering after sex, peeing after sex, and going to your doctor to discuss STD’s and STI. There's a failure to acknowledge the hygienic precautions we need to take with partners, especially, casual partners during and after sex.
As of today, unless you are abstinent, the only real thing to protect against the transmission of STIs and STDs are condoms (male or female) and dental dams. Yeah, there are vaccines like the ones you get when you’re in middle school that lower your risk against STIs like HPV, but let me tell ya those only lower your risk—they don’t eliminate the risk (because there are more than 100 strands of that virus and the vaccines only protect against a handful).
With this understanding of STIs and STDs, a number of us do use protection. According to a study by Dr. Casey E. Copen in 2017, over a quarter of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who had sex within the past year used condoms during sex and so did one-third of men. These numbers do not account for sexuality nor partner/relationship status. But you get the gist.
So I return it to Insecure and other popular shows that explore the dating scene—what’s the big deal?
So my friend and I wonder if there’s going to be some discussion on the absence of condom use during sex in the sex scenes portrayed? Because while in real-life, some of us use barriers during sex, it is accurate that even more of us aren’t using them. This does not mean that we are not using some level of birth control, but in regards to protecting ourselves specifically from STIs and STDs, many of us are not taking such precautions and even fewer of us are taking such precautions EVERY TIME we have sex. And there are very, very real effects when we don’t. Will those effects be explored through the characters who, like actual folks, aren’t wrapping up?
I’m not here to break down all of the STDs and STIs—we got WebMD, NIH, CDC, Healthline, Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood, WHO and all types of other programs/websites to do that. However, in the light of my own diagnosis with Human Papillomavirus (HPV)., I found out that most of us are living with it and barely any of us "really" know anything about it.
HPV is an STI that is transmitted orally, vaginally, and anally and it can live in your system for as long as 3 years before your doctor is able to identify it. It is identified by its symptoms, if you ever show symptoms and there are well over 100 strands of the STI that ranges in severity.
There are the HPV strands that can cause oral, anal, penile, and/or vaginal warts and with these strands of HPV, your immune system will more than likely fight it off (within a year), with over-the-counter medicine to eliminate the warts.
Then there are the strands (about 13) that can cause oral, throat, anal, cervical, vulva, penis, scrotum, and/or rectum cancers. These strands of HPV are more serious but even then, they are typically fought off by your immune system within one to two years. However, to ensure your body is fighting it, it is imperative for women to get pap smears or (for men) to see their doctor to monitor its progress.
In my own experience, I have real ambivalent feelings about HPV. I am reassured by the fact that symptoms are less likely to be severe, it is most likely not permanent and it is the most common STI/STD out there which means that I am not alone. However, I'm really struggling with how much of it is beyond my control, my doctor’s control, and how there is this heavy stigma attached to it. So here are a few facts about HPV for your information, and protection.
- You cannot tell whether someone has it or nor
- There are literally no visible symptoms for carriers, and some carriers will never show symptoms
- You can be a carrier for years before your doctor identifies it.
- You can pass it on in multiple ways including open mouth kissing.
- Most people who are sexually active will be exposed to it.
- There' s no cure. You can only manage it if they arise, and rely on your immune system to clear it- which could take up to two years.
Change the "Sexuasocial-scape"
Shows like Insecure could do two things to open the conversation on sexual health: portray the use of condoms and other barriers in the bedroom and/or portray the real-life effects of not using that protection. Especially in encouraging understanding and support in the black community where we are at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV (which is almost never transferred with the use of condoms) and where black and Latina women are at greater risk in contracting HPV.
Additionally, ensuring that those safe sex conversations are not only geared towards cisgender, heterosexual couples but LGBTQ+ couples, as well. 'Cause we could all use some real sex talk in shows that remind us of our lives, anyway.
Making STIs and STDs a natural part of the conversation in the televised hook up world would call serious attention to the realities and lessen the stigmas associated with them. Because, while the convo might be seen as a buzzkill, the physical, social and emotional effects of STIs and STDs sucks. In all actuality, with or without protection, they are sometimes just the risks that come with sexual intimacy and have nothing to do with your sexual behaviors, hygiene, social status, choice of partners and especially- your worth. But taking preventative measures goes a long way.
So in conclusion, it would be nice to see the shows we relate to most portray the preventative measures, risks, and experiences associated with our sexual health in this trash hook-up culture. It’s rough out here, but knowing our favorite character is out here dealing with their Herpes and living their best life makes it easier to deal with our own realities…and not feel too bad about it either.