Were you one of the 30 million people watching the Game of Thrones premier? If you were, then you’ll remember when Ser Bronn of the Blackwater finds himself interrupted by Qyburn during a foursome with three female sex workers at Kings Landing. After everyone disentangles, Qyburn deadpans, “Poor girl. The pox will take her within the year,” to which an alarmed Bronn responds, “Which one?!”
Sexually transmitted infections (STI)’s could certainly be different in the Seven Kingdoms, but if the GOT villains are talking about the sexually transmitted pox that has plagued humankind since 3000 BC and, in the late 15th century caused an explosion of disfiguring, deadly, and generational human misery, they would be talking about syphilis. (Which is now experiencing a major resurgence, as are the old-time STI’s, chlamydia and gonorrhea.)
According to a survey conducted by condom manufacturer SKYN, fewer than 60% of millennials admit to not consistently using condoms and the majority of new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year are in people between the ages of 15-24.
Despite these scary statistics, two of the most authentic, bold, and female-positive shows on TV, Shrill and Insecure, regularly forgo condoms in their sex scenes. Ironically, one of the only shows which currently plays to any condom use is Hulu’s Harlots, where sex workers of the 1700’s are shown how to handwash “cundums” which were then made of sheep entrails with a piece of ribbon tied around the top.
Shrill’s modern-day protagonist, Annie, is sleeping with Ryan who has her sneaking out the back entrance of his home and is really into “raw dogging.” Her only form of birth control is the Morning After Pill, costing her an additional $35-$50 every time he feels like texting her for sex without a condom. She later confides in her roommate her reason for having repeated unprotected sex saying, “It’s just he liked me, and I didn’t want him to stop liking me, so I just went with it.” Later in the season it is revealed that Ryan is also having sex with another partner, which, of course they never discussed. Being so “chill” puts Annie at serious risk of contracting an STI and — SPOILER ALERT — ultimately results in an unplanned pregnancy.
There is an ongoing Twitter dispute over the lack of condoms on HBO’s Insecure, with star Issa Rae even promising to bring condoms into the mix in a since deleted tweet. However, this didn’t seem to be the case in Season 3. It’s as though the producers didn’t want to interrupt the “vibe” by having their characters pause to use protection, preferring to keep things sexy and “raw.”
With so many young people not using protection, perhaps these shows are spot on. The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s/90’s is not a part of the experiential consciousness of early Millennials and Generation Z.
Today the advent of PrEP and increasingly remarkable advances in the management of HIV may have provided a false sense of security to many sexually active young people — with some wondering why they should even worry about contracting an STI if it can be so easily treated or managed?
Aside from the cost and inconvenience of doctors’ appointments, treatment, and maybe some uncomfortable conversations with current and past partners, here are a few reasons to keep a condom (or two) handy:
Reproductive Harm —
Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can all result in PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) which has been known to cause infertility, future ectopic pregnancies, and chronic pelvic pain. During pregnancy STI’s can even be passed on to the baby, either during gestation or while passing through the birth canal and/or breastfeeding. Particularly concerning, congenital syphilis is on the rise, so even if you don’t see yourself in the baby-making business any time soon (or ever), protecting your health and options, both current and future, is important.
Antibiotic Resistance —
Gonorrhea has become resistant to every antibiotic that has been used to treat it since the introduction of Penicillin. Now two antibiotics must be used concurrently and there are cases of emerging super gonorrhea which is resistant to almost all antibiotics. Gonorrhea can also lead to systemic disease and blindness.
HPV results in almost 34,000 new cancer diagnoses each year, including throat, vagina, vulva, cervix, and anus.
Not using protection, discussing partners, or getting tested for STI’s has created a casual sex atmosphere where, if it ever gets messy, a sea of replacement partners are just an app away. Have we become so concerned with being “chill” that we are willing to put our health at risk?
Angela Kelly is the founder of GutsyMother, a health and wellness informational site and blog exploring the microbiome as it relates to personal health, fitness, and family health. She is also a freelance writer, mama to three small humans, a C. diff survivor, and gut health enthusiast. You can find her drinking an obscene amount of green tea, swearing at the laundry, running, writing, or enjoying the beach with her tribe. Follow her on Instagram at @GutsyMother.