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Op-ed: Spread Cheer, Not STIs, This Holiday Season

Op-ed: Spread Cheer, Not STIs, This Holiday Season

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The Los Angeles LGBT Center offers three resolutions to keep you healthy during the holidays.

Maybe it's the eggnog -- or the kiss under the mistletoe. Whatever the reason, it's that time of the year again, when holiday celebrations get a bit out of control and some revelers end up with the unexpected gift that keeps on giving: a sexually transmitted infection. Numerous research studies indicate that the rate of STI cases increases soon after the holidays.

With the new year just around the corner, this may be the best time to start forming your resolutions. Here are a few to consider:

* Please yourself. Start 2015 on a clean and healthy slate. That means finally taking care of that wart you discovered on your genitals a few weeks ago and/or taking an HIV/STI test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that sexually active men get tested more frequently, like every three to six months. Getting a test really is easy. At the Los Angeles LGBT Center, for example, tests are available five days a week on a walk-in basis, so there's no appointment required. Plus, it's completely confidential, and the test is absolutely free. Check out FreeTesting.org.

* Protect yourself. There's nothing sexier than meeting someone who comes prepared. Yes, we're mainly talking about condoms, but there's an added protection you should consider: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Early research indicates that PrEP has a 99 percent success rate in preventing the transmission of HIV to people who take the medication seven days a week. The CDC recommends that people at "substantial risk" consider PrEP to prevent infection. The World Health Organization also gives PrEP the thumbs-up as an option for sexually active men who have sex with men. Imagine how protected you and your partner or partners can be when you combine rubbers and PrEP.

* Pace yourself. For many LGBT people who've been shunned by or disconnected from their families, the holidays can be a downer -- and the only way they see themselves cheering up is by mixing substances with sex. Alcohol and drugs can affect your ability to make sound decisions. One of the more effective ways to be in the jolly festive spirit is to talk to a mental health professional. At the Los Angeles LGBT Center, most of our trained mental health staff identify as LGBT and undeniably understand what you're going through. So reconsider whether chugging another drink or taking another bong hit is worth it. Who enjoys waking up next to someone (whose name you can't remember) and can't find any proof that protection was used?

Surely, these resolutions may be nothing new to you. You may have even formed similar resolutions last year. But as long as you're having sex, let me remind you: The holidays are meant for spreading cheer -- not infections.

JEFFREY RODRIGUEZ is program manager of the Sexual Health and Education Program at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.To learn more about the center's health services, visit LALGBTCenter.org.

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