I hate STI images in sexuality/health education textbooks. Every image you have ever seen of STI afflicted genitals are the worst cases encountered by doctors. Some argue that we need to show these images so that people understand the dangers associated with unprotected sex but I say cauliflower dick pics do more harm than good. Some very NSFW photos will illustrate my point nicely. (Do not click through if you are squeamish about STI photos.)Imagine yourself in a Human Sexuality course. Today’s topic is HSV (herpes) and the following images burst onto the projector:
Scary, huh? Now imagine you wake up one day to find a small painful blister on your junks. You get freaked out, you heart races and your mind goes into cognitive dissonance mode. You think back to your class or Google STI images and none of them look like what you see on your own genitals. Eventually the blister goes away on its own and you mentally deny anything was there in the first place.
The big problem with these STI photos of doom is that they focus on diseased genitals instead of infection symptoms.The more responsible approach would be to simply show a single blister on the skin.
This photo is a more accurate representation that enables people to recognize STI symptoms. Instead of insanely inflamed penises and vulvas, the focus in this photo is the blister itself, evidence that something is going on with the body and needs medical attention.
Genital warts are another STI that gets the medical fetishization treatment. Most photos look like a hybrid between broccoli and human genitals. Even I, after years of desensitization to sexual topics, feel the ick factor bubble up when I see these pictures.
The vast majority of STIs do not look like these pictures. The medical community has a strange preoccupation with atypical cases and photograph any extreme diversions or medical cases but fail to document accurate examples of STI symptoms. For the sake of comparison, here is a more common case of genital warts:
The two extreme cases started like the photo above. Most people ignore symptoms at the early stage because they only know what the most extreme, advanced symptoms look like and willfully ignore the mild symptoms.
I spoke to the professor who I work for and expressed my concerns with the photographs he shows in class. He agreed completely and told me he avoids showing syphilis photographs: they look like a still from a horror film.
A chancre is evidence of the primary stage of syphilis and appears at the bacterial point of entry. These photos show good examples.
What we show in classrooms is very, very different.
The message delivered by the extreme photos is simply DOOM DOOM DOOM instead of “This is an STI symptom. Be aware and get checked often. Most STIs are curable/treatable. Go science.”
In my ideal sex education world, we would show images of chancres, warts, blisters and discharge without focusing on the diseased genitals. STIs happen and have been happening since time immemorial just like, *gasp*, any other type of illness, disease or infection that can befall a human body. I need to start a petition to the organizations providing images to sexuality education textbooks/websites. Stop the madness!