The conversation to save your life

Melissa Treolo

The new trend in contraception isn’t made of latex. It is, simply, just a little conversation.

“You have to have dialogue with your partner before you sleep with them,” said Jennifer Taylor, case manager at the Topeka Aids Project.

“Dialogue,” is basically made up of that dreaded of all subjects: the past. Only this isn’t how many lies you’ve told or how many times you’ve maxed out your credit card. This kind of dialogue is more along the lines of a sex play-by-play.

“It’s really important to talk about each other’s sexual past,” said Taylor. “You should be asking your partner things like whether they’ve always used condoms and how many partners they’ve had. Finding out whether they’ve had, or currently have, an STD is also really important.”

As shocking as the idea of dredging up your and your significant other’s sexual history might be, Taylor said your safety is dependent on it. The belief that you’re in college and therefore exempt from having to worry about things like HIV is merely a false sense of security.

“We have about 10 [HIV-diagnosed] clients in our case load that are college-age,” said Taylor. “Four out of those are going to college and one out of that four is going to Washburn that I know of. People are forgetting that it’s still around, but HIV is definitely still something that people should be worried about.”

Taylor should know. A student herself at Washburn, she has worked at TAP for a year-and-a-half and has first-hand knowledge of the effects this type of illness can have on people. She does, however, have a decent amount of job satisfaction because of that.

“A lot of times, people will come in with nothing,” said Taylor, “and I get them into housing and get them help and that feels really good. Once I know that they’re doing well and taking care of themselves and living a healthier lifestyle, I feel I’ve done my work.”

With known HIV/AIDS cases reaching almost four million, about two million of those being in the United States and parts of Europe, the light at the end of the tunnel looks rather dim. Taylor insists that this is not the case. HIV is a much more hopeful illness now than it ever has been before.

“It’s so much more manageable now, like diabetes,” said Taylor. “There’s always a new drug coming out and so people are living a lot longer. People don’t really compare [HIV] to something like diabetes, but I think that’s just because of how it’s transmitted, through things like sex and drug use. That’s what stigmatizes it so much.”

Taylor said the real STD to be worried about right now is Human Papilloma Virus, an incurable virus that can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. Taylor also warns that those infected may not have any symptoms.

“It’s so silent, so HPV is definitely a concern,” said Taylor.

Needless to say, a good precaution to take in order to prevent receiving or spreading an STD is to protect yourself. Condoms now come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and even flavors. And as we are not a discriminatory society, female condoms are also available.

Whichever condom you choose, or even if you decide your best bet is to abstain from sex altogether, don’t forget to communicate. Talk is cheap, and it may even save your life.